Week 178

On the effects – or lack thereof – of a classic media mention.

Look, Mum, I’m in a newspaper.

It wasn’t the first time I could say that, but at this point I both have a better understanding of what that means and how I value a mention by a classic media outlet like the Berliner Morgenpost.

How did the story came about?

It’s one of those things that don’t make sense until they happen.

My post on startups and Berlin wasn’t just well received by the tech community. A friend of mine who worked at that time for the World Economic Forum saw it too and asked me, if I would contribute something along those lines for their blog post. It took some time, but a few days before the rich and mighty gathered in Davos, my post went online.

A few days later, as we are watching with interest how one of our themes is being discussed at the Forum, a journalist asked about an interview, assuming I was in Davos. After clearing that up, she surprisingly remained interested. The journalist in question, Viktoria Solms, said that she looked at our site and developed an interest portraying us for the local business section of the Morgenpost.

Flattered, but also curious as to what had made her want to talk to us, I agreed. A few days later, Johannes and I sat down with her at our office and talked for 90 minutes. The result: a big, splashy portray by a daily Berlin newspaper.

Expectation management

Now, while everybody decrying the death of print and classic news publishers, there is something ingrained into our cultural DNA that makes people’s mind pop when they see either themselves or people they know in a newspaper. Nobody cares at that point how many people have seen and read the whole thing. It’s in a newspaper and that still means something.

It does mean something, but usually not what most people expect or think.

Let’s start with what is usually not happening after a media mention from our experience:

  • Nobody will call you and tell you that they saw a report on you in the newspaper and now they want to give you money to do some amazing project. Media mentions do not generate direct leads.
  • You will also most likely not see a spike in traffic on your website or a rush of new followers on twitter. That applies both to a mention in print and online.1
  • You will not learn what people think about that article unless you promote the existence of the article in your network.

Which brings us to what an article like that usually does for you.

  • Such an article is a nice, sharable object. It’s easy to share, people like to see and interact with it. You usually score a significant amount of likes for it on your Facebook or LinkedIn profile.
  • It is a fantastic way get back into the attention, refresh everybody’s memory about your work and / or projects.
  • Usually it’s also helpful to reconnect with some older acquaintances and looser part of your network. They tend to react to media mentions in a fairly strong way.

Now you know what it means when you tell your mother that her kid is mentioned in a newspaper.

(To be honest, I didn’t even mentioned it to my mum. She just liked our companies Facebook page and saw our post in her news stream.)

So, if you like that article and know someone who could be interested in our work, please consider sending them a link to the online version or the pdf.

  1. Newspapers and journalists design their product in a way that prevents you from wanting to know more beyond what the article or the outlets provide on that topic. The assumption is that it’s the sole responsibility of those outlets to inform the people. That’s a logical flaw and one that hinders publishers significantly

What we read this month (February 2014)

Our second installment of the monthly reads. This time we have a theme: the publishing industry. Enjoy!

For this year, we decided to focus on three main topics.

  • The future of work, as mentioned in the last week note
  • The future of cities, as it has always been the case
  • The future of publishing, which is not a big surprise for frequent readers of this blog

We’ve read quite a bit this month, but this time we decided to give our monthly reads a theme: future of publishing. You will find below six links to extraordinary reads both on the literature side of the industry as well as more news focused articles.

Reading those articles was both enlightening as well as reassuring for us. It’s always good to read an expert opinion that proves to us that the work we have been doing in this industry has been on the right track so far. If you enjoy those reads and want to have a more elaborate conversation, please drop us a line or come by our office.

  1. How much my novel cost me — Editor’s Picks — Medium
    The difficulty of becoming a payed novelist. All displayed in a brutally honest tale of a young writer.

  2. George Packer: Is Amazon Bad for Books? : The New Yorker
    George Packer set out to write one of those epic New Yorker articles. About Amazon, Bezos and what their cold, alogirthmic logic does to the publishing industry. While being balanced, it might make you want to cancel those Prime accounts. And if that articles doesn’t this piece on Amazon Mechanical Turk and how workers there being treated will sure do that.

  3. FEATURE-Beyond cute cats: How BuzzFeed is reinventing itself
    From Listicles and cat photos, to long-form journalism. We’ve been avid fans of Buzzfeed. Both of the content as well as the business. Jonah Peretti is playing the long game.

  4. The future of news – The Week
    It has been a while since we linked to something from Alain de Botton, but his analysis of the news industry is a must read. We especially liked his attentive observation about the relationship between the news outlet and the reader.

  5. The Future of the News Business: A Monumental Twitter Stream All in One Place | Andreessen Horowitz
    On this day 19 years ago, Netscape 1.0 was released. Marc Andreessen has been on the fore-front of everything that is web. That’s why we still link to his analysis, despite his openly libertarian, techno-solunist world view. While the title is misleading, his points are well received and we’ve been making them in a similar fashion for a while now too.

Week 177

Changing the new business rhythm. Igor highlights a new approach and our focus on the future of work.

A long time ago, I used to work for what today is Lufthansa Systems AG. You can think of it as a oversized IT department that grew large enough to be considered a company in itself. Those constructs aren’t rare for airlines. It’s a complex IT business and a few players in the field invested a significant amount into infrastructure in the 80s. At that time my employer maintained its own backbone as well as the size-wise largest data center. In addition, the company employed many people for an enormously long time. Some of them well over 15 years. Which made their jobs as secure as they can get in a free market society.

While being a separate unit – a company, not a department – the airline maintained full control over the company. More importantly most of the revenue came from Lufthansa itself.

At the time when I was there, the order came down that the revenue stream – well over a billion Euros at that point – would need some diversification. A goal was set out to reach 50% revenue from non-Lufthansa companies in three years. An ambitions goal for an organization that has grown slowly, humanely and failed to motivate to remain interested and competitive.

The goal meant that the company would have to compete with the likes of T-Systems, IBM, SITA, etc. I only witnessed the first 12 month of the new strategy. From what I could tell, it wasn’t going well.

It is easy for management – especially with high fluctuation – to set out goals. On paper, they don’t seem to be unreasonable. The hard part is to align strategy with the capabilities of the people who will be charged with executing it.

This is all a long pre-text for saying that we are trying something similar.

Changing a rhythm

For three and half years now, almost all of our business comes from people approaching us. They usually find us through one of the following categories:

  • Preceding relationship (either a former co-worker or client from previous employments)
  • Recommendation from our network
  • Search Engines

That works out fine for us, but it also means that at times we have to accept jobs that we are accepting mostly because they help us pay the bills. I know that this is not something that people talk about, but I also know that even those big names out there do that. No reason to hide behind facts, not everything out there is awesome.

We decided that while it has worked great so far, we want to explore, if we can change that a bit. And in our case the people in charge of strategy are also the people executing it. A significant vantage.

One of the things that we never succeeded in doing is to make ourselves more approachable to others. We are good in telling the overall story, but not the details. Those matter. It’s the small bits that people hire consultants for at first. Few people are ready to handover the keys to their company to a bunch of guys they don’t know. Easing into bigger, more elaborate jobs through smaller engagement is a natural process.

How are we doing this?

We decided to start with one topic: the future of work. According to a study by the Oxford University, 47% of all jobs in the US are at risk to be replaced through automatisation. We will help companies answer questions like:

  • How will this affect my company?
  • What does it mean for my employees?
  • Who is going to by my products, if algorithms replaced such a big chunk of the work force?

Johannes gave a well received talk on the subject last year, we’ve been writing and giving interviews on the matter for a long time. Mr. Kleske even managed to end up on the cover of the Brand Eins Magazine that focused on said topic a few years back. We know a lot about, it we have the skills and the methods, we just didn’t make it easy for people to talk to us about it. We decided that there are three overall goals for our new business strategy:

  • Enable our network to recommend us
  • Extend our network
  • Approach industry relevant conferences and events to target executives

The deck we made is aiming for German speaking companies. Specifically their management and / or their HR departments. The time is ripe to talk about it. It’s a well publicized topic, there is awareness for it, but very few answers. We are not aiming high. The goal is get hired for some speaking gigs behind closed doors, maybe some extended workshops. If the chemistry is there, we would want to proceed from there and see where we can help the clients. This is a subject that will be around for years and years to come. We are ready for it.

If you yourself would be interested in speaking with us on that topic, let us know. If you know somebody who can benefit from our expertise, please consider forwarding them this article.

Week 174

A report on a new, long-term client relationship and a few comments about this years Transmediale.

While we are not specialized on a specific industry, we do have preferred ones, in which we apply our services. Beside the finance and the automotive industries, it is the publishing business that is both plentiful in new commissions and close to our heart.

Over the years, we have worked for various players in the field. Newspapers, Magazines, huge B2B publishing conglomerates, both nationally and internationally. Both from conversations with the clients, at conferences and with peers, we know that we have gathered significant experience in this field over time.

It still came somewhat as a surprise to us when our friend Caroline pinged us about an intro that she wanted to make between somebody she knows who is looking for some high-level consulting to start a new venture.

Little did we know what we where getting into when we said “sure, lets do it”.

Unfortunately, yet again, I can’t name the client just yet. The setup is fresh, preparations and companies are being formalized. It would be premature to go into detail, but I can lay out a comprehensive outline of our scope of operations.

What is exactly that we do?

The client – who is a known, public figure in the German publishing world – wanted high-level, strategic consulting to setup various businesses. One, the core business, is up and running and has a traditional, well prevailed business model that doesn’t need much of our attention. The second business is still in the formalization phase and one where we help shape it from the ground up.

It is both fascinating and feels pertinent to be charged with shaping the business model, working together to find an aesthetic language and the people who might be able to execute it, consulting on potential business partners and deliberate whether or not this should be rolled out nationally or internationally first.

We are fortunate in that regard and we are looking forward to being in a position to contribute something of consequence and impact onto the German publishing business.

A few notes about Transmediale

Last Wednesday, this years Transmediale started. So far, both Johannes and I only attended single events at previous ones. This time, we decided early on that we wanted to dive in deeper and bought early-bird tickets for the whole conference. The theme of the conference – afterglow – and the exceptional curation of speakers hit close to home.

At times, the conference program didn’t seem too connected to the rest of the event and to be honest, I didn’t care for much of the media-art installations that I have seen. They seem outdated, too unequipped to significantly deal with a world in which nothing anymore is absurd. We know that we passed the Rubicon without knowing where to now. In that sense, maybe the installations indeed managed to express just that.

That being said, we mostly focused on the conference program and been rewarded for it, too. The Benjamin Bratton / Metahaven Black Stack keynote has been a cognitive fireworks, one which gave us a lot to chew on for the months to come. I’d have liked to say that I understood more of it than I did, but at least now I know which way to look further. Also, there Bratton’s book that is coming out soon and that will be on top of our digital book shelves.

Than there was the Art as Evidence keynote. It was a privilege and an honor to see Trevor Paglen and Laura Poitras speak about their work. Both in what they do and how they express themselves, they differed strongly from Jacob Appelbaum who’s contribution to the panel seemed out of place and a bit self-involved.1

On the last day, William Binney, Alexa O’Brien and Annie Machon spoke about their extraordinary work and contribution to society. While I was mesmerized by their contribution, I left the panel with a feeling that I only can contribute something to resolving an unmeasurable conflict by following Assange’s and Applebaum’s plea to join the government with one goal in mind: become a whistleblower. Not because this is actually an option, but because everything else pales in comparison with the sacrifice that whistleblowers bring.

At first glance, it felt amazingly out of place to have Sputniko! be the closing speaker of this year’s event, but it might have been deliberately and a strike of genius. To be sure, her presentation felt in many regards as exactly the kind of thing that Ben Bratton critisized in his TED talk on what was wrong with TED, but after many days of charged, emotional and heavy-weight thinking, we were exposed to a character – I’m not sure where the character ends and her true self begins – that strives to understand the complex world with all the tools at her disposal in a naive, truly playful way while being fully aware that reaching out is the key to affect and change people. In that sense, Bratton and Sputniko! are as far away on one spectrum as they can be, but something tells me that they do what they do to achieve similar outcomes for us all.

  1. I like to describe what he does this days as Assange-ing it. Make of it what you will, this is my personal opinion. That is not to intended to marginalize the tremendous work that he does in various positions and occasions. It’s the public speaking that is slowly evolving into something unfavorable… 

Week 172

Igor is kicking off the Week Note season with a deep dive into a mobile payment lab that we helped start last year.

Some time in early September, we began a conversation about establishing a Mobile Payment Lab of some sort for a client with whom we had an ongoing relationship for roundabout three years now. In fact, we collaborated on the project with our friends from Edenspiekermann, who have been working for the same client since 2009. Our roles on this project have always been complimentary and I can’t imagine a smoother collaboration process with anybody out there.

Scope of the project

The task was both clear and complex: the goal was to provide an external setup for a strategic approach to finding and prototyping ideas for future features and products. The client is a technology company with a banking license and an established contender in the payment-processing field. They have also invested heavily into the field of mobile payment and been enjoying a good run in the market building mostly white-label solutions for various corporations around the globe with a focus on Europe and Asia.

Product development so far has been approached via market demand (i.e. clients asking for specific features) and a management team that has deep understanding of the field. What had been lacking was a comprehensive roadmap for how to explore future developments without waiting to react to an immediate client request. Basically, the goal was to be able to shape the market instead of only being shaped by it.

Labs are rarely successful and can’t operate as startups

People who know me well also know that I’m not necessarily a believer in the Lab idea. Both internal as well as external Labs usually have one major setup problem and that is lacking the ability to appropriately transform their work back into the larger organization. That doesn’t mean that the work in those labs can not be interesting or innovative. They often are. Even if corporations staff labs with internal people. Given the opportunity to break certain habits and working under different (not necessary more relaxed) conditions, people tend to produce very different results and that’s great. But if those results aren’t in any way usable to their colleagues who are busy churning away at the “normal stuff” which is also known as the thing that currently pays the bills, than all of the work that is being produced in a lab is usually fairly pointless.

Another down side of labs is the fact that they are usually handled as some sort of pet project by well funded members of the management board. That is to say that they are not necessarily strategic and often fairly political. By being used politically – labs require people, people equal money, money equals power – they become even less able to transfer their work into the rest of the company, because the kind of rivalry tends to make people less open about adopting the work of “the other guy”.

At the end of the day, the goal for whatever is created inside of those labs is to become a source of revenue for the whole organization. This is crucial. Otherwise the life expectancy of the new structure is minimal.

  • Generating creative ideas and building presentable and maybe even sharable prototypes can be fun. But more often than not it results in services and products that do not resemble in any way something that can be build and maintained by the company itself. The idea and the prototype are about 10, maybe 20 precent of the work.
  • In most corporations, the approach can rarely resemble the one of startups. I know, this is largely different from the advice that most people in my field will give. The real-politics of a modern day corporation will never allow for the kind of flexibility that the VC funded startup ecosystem can provide. I consider advice that ignores that fact as harmful, because it ignores one core principle of how the funding of startups works. While there are certainly exceptional funds that have a better success rate, usually 8 out of 10 startups fail. Meaning that only 20% of extremely well funded and nurtured ideas generate enough return on invest for the investors. It also helps that VCs don’t actually use their own money for taking larger bets. The same is just not possible for a corporation that attempts to find new sources of revenue. To allow 8 out of 10 ideas to fail, they would have to allocate too many resources and thus potentially harming the overall organization. The only way for corporations to part-take in this process is by creating their own fund and hire good talent that will manage the cash allocated to that fund wisely. This is being done by most blue-chip companies, but differs significantly from the lab structure.

The most important piece of the puzzle for setting up a lab is not how many or what resources will be allocated to it, but how the work will be transferred back into the organization. We have spent a significant amount of time on deliberating how to do this right. While I’d like to share more useful advice, this is as far as non-contextual insight will get you, unfortunately. Those kind of projects seem only on paper or in TED-like talks as something that can be adoptable by reading an article or applying one rigid framework. While learning as much as you can helps, this is all about the individuals involved, with whom they talk, who they go to lunch with, who there allies are and who their opponents. It probably helps more to play chess from time to time too.

Our role

Our role was both a strategic one – in which our knowledge of the client and the market came into play – as well as a product-oriented one. Together with the Edenspiekermann Service Design team, we found a way to work that was both feasible for us as well as the client.

We chose a short iteration cycle. We aimed for 4 weeks between new iterations and ended up on a 5 week cycle. One cycle consist of establishing the scope of inquiry aka defining the work. We should have started with a maximum of two different tasks. Instead we had four. Which was definitely a strain for the whole team, because it put us under more pressure than is good for morale and quality of the output. Mostly, it worked out fine, but we definitely are planing to change that piece of the process in the next round. That being said, pulling some longer evenings in which everyone churns away also brought the team closer together. Which is immensely valuable for Labs in general. While those are, as described, not startups, they do work similarly on an interpersonal relationship level.

While having a mainly strategic position, I oscillated between different roles heavily. At certain points, I felt a bit like a Creative Director, other times I was happy about deep dives into research, connecting the dots between previously read articles, designing print prototypes and having the excuse to buy a Little Printer in the process.

It is important to have clear roles in Labs, but it’s equally important for everybody to be part of everything. Small teams and narrowly defined exploratory missions do have the luxury of actually getting everybody’s input. That’s what they can excel at. We, thankfully, managed quite alright from the start.

At some point, I will have to share a few insights about payment and especially mobile payment. After being involved in this topic for almost three years continually, we accumulated a fair share of experience and good judgement about the industry and opportunities in the field. Both locally – Germany is always a special case for that –, but also internationally. As part of the ongoing project, I have been learning everything there is to learn about iBeacon as well as payment solutions in Africa.

Week 162 + 163

Igor reports back from two packed weeks, building labs, starting new projects with a focus on Brazil and buying a Little Printer.

Look, it’s a double feature again. Last week flew by without me realizing that I missed out on writing a week note.

Here we are, second half of November. Before soon, it will be Christmas and 2013 will feel like ancient history. I blame my early end-years attitude on our friends from MoreSleep / Freunde von Freunden who’s Christmas dinner we attended last Friday. It was fun. Great to see some familiar faces and a surprisingly large amount of new ones as well. Things are good.

Things are good at Third Wave as well. In fact, they are more than just good.

A project that we collaborated on with Edenspiekermann got green-lighted. We have been commissioned by a shared client to be their mobile payment laboratory. Based closely on the OODA loop, we developed a process that helps us tackle two major obstacles:

  1. Validity of the setup – Each cycle is only 4 to a maximum of 6 weeks long. After that the client gets to see our work which can formalize itself in form of a concept, a storyboard, prototypes or something entirely different. With every concluded cycle there is the option to adjust the process and change the team structure.
  2. One of my biggest issues with Labs in general, but especially ones that aren’t part of the corporate structure is that they by and large do not contribute to the company itself. That doesn’t mean that they do not create value. Often this value can not be utilized by the company who was paying the bills. To make sure that this is not the case here, we installed a solid protocol for measuring success.

As always, I regret not to be able to share more details on this project. It has been a great experience so far.

That being said, this lab reminded about work that BERG London has been doing all the way back in 2010. Which, unsurprisingly, triggered my urge to buy a Little Printer. So now we have lots of fun exploring what we can do with our new gadgets beside using it for the project itself. If you have a BERG Cloud account, have been developing things for it or just bought a Little Printer yourself, let us know.

Little Printer

That’s not the only new collaboration that we started. A new client – who, surprisingly, found us through googling – wants us to do some work on the topic of Concentrated solar power – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia in Brazil. Since both our local knowledge as well as our Portuguese are limited, we found ourselves some help and are happy about having more people at the office.

On that note, have a coffee and enjoy a great week.

P.S.: There is a new coffee service on the block. Check out Kaffee bitte!.

Week 160

Johannes and Igor went for a strategy weekend to Amsterdam, attended the Dread Exhibition the accommodating symposium.

Johannes and I left for Amsterdam for our strategy retreat on Friday. We used to do this more often. But being only two people makes it easier to have a common vision for what we are trying to accomplish.

We usually tend to pick places for these retreats that are significantly more remote and calmer than Amsterdam. Nature can be a gracious guide when it comes to finding a pace to do some long-term thinking. This time, we just couldn’t resist attending the Dread Exhibition Symposium (just look at this lineup) and the exhibition that sparked the need for a symposium in the first place. Juha, the curator, might be a friend, but I’m certain that anyone who will get to see the exhibition in Haarlem will be able to affirm for themselves that it’s an exceptional testament to many current conversations. If you have the chance, please consider going.


Stimulating your brain as prep for a strategy retreat is a contrarian approach to what we have been practicing so far. Nevertheless, it helped us, although clearly in a different way. Immersing one self in the incredible work of people who are able to grasp, understand and explain the more complex structures of todays world jolts you right back on the track and into the realization of how many exciting things there are still to be done.

We decided to adjust some of the things that we have been practicing in the last year.

  1. We decided to automate the weekly reads. We are still reading a lot and we will still share those findings, but we will just let the machines do what they are good at and aggregate those things more or less automatically for us. It didn’t took us too much time to add some context for the five articles that we always have selected so far, but it was one of currently many things to be done.
  2. The input day will become the input/output day. Instead of having to separate days, in which we can lean back and read, consume information, we decided to have Friday as a non-client work related day, in which we focus on not only consuming important information, but also making something with it. We accomplished a few things in the last few month, but we want do dive deeper into things like creating an Onion Pi, migrate away from some cloud services or polish our coding skills. Those are just some examples of topics that we discuss often, but don’t get do. We hope that tinkering away together on a Friday will get us closer to learning by doing.

Week 158: About the Berlin Startup Scene

Instead of their pilgrimages to San Francisco, startup founders should travel to South Germany to learn from the Mittelstand how to build sustainable companies that benefit their communities as much as their founders.

I have became a technology industry skeptic.

That’s not a sentence I’m uttering lightly. After all, just a few years ago, I would have described myself as a technology determinist, a true believer in the power of technology’s ability to transform the world for the better.

Tech is the new finance industry. I’ve said so before and, unfortunately, I’ll have to stand by this statement. When Entrepreneurship centers are flourishing and universities like the MIT can’t cope with demand of new applicants, when professors teaching at those departments are announcing that young people don’t want to be investment bankers and instead are seeking their luck as tech-startup founders, I feel the urge of pointing to history and reminding us how the same happened before in finance. With its final transformation to a self-observed, self-deterministic sphere in the 80s, the finance industry became a huge magnet for young people who believed in the promise of becoming something bigger than themselves and not minding to earn more money than they could possibly need in their life-time. The demand was so huge, universities and colleges had to invent new departments just to cope with the demand of people wanting to acquire the right qualification to become an investment banker.

The same happens in the technology industry, especially in Silicon Valley. There is no doubt in my mind that it all started with good intentions, but when looking at things today, I doubt that we are on the right track.

Just take a close look at incubators in Silicon Valley. Despite talk of changing the world, they are fundamentally not significantly different from military boot camps. Despite the promise to cherish individuality and creativity, those institutions are rewarding conformity and punishing differentiation from the proposed model of the particular organization. Said models of executing upon predefined processes, usually created by rich, most likely white, males. Again, despite the talk, those processes aren’t there to help founders. Instead they are built around financial risk assessment models. Those rich, white men do want their money back. And then some. All of this is by no means an accident. It’s an elaborately designed system, which is in place to ensure and increase inequality. To put that into numbers: “between 1992 and 2007, the income of the 400 wealthiest people in the United States rose by 392 percent”.

All of this is surprisingly Ford’esque and I’m not one of the people who are saying that as a compliment.

I find this all especially appalling when I hear the talk about and by Berlin’s tech scene. In recent years, Berlin was pushed into becoming a potential place of investments. So far, with only mild success. A flourishing new industry is by itself not a bad idea for a city with above average unemployment rate. That is, when this industry has the potential to contribute something meaningful to solving the problems of the environment that it’s becoming part of.

While there are significant factors why Berlin is a great place for new things to emerge – still fairly cheap, high quality of living – it is by far not because so many potential employees for a technology startup are among Berlin’s unemployed. This is not exactly news. Most founders and CEOs are openly talking / complaining about how hard it is to hire good people, how they have to lure people to Berlin. Apparently Eastern European developers are in high demand.

Said startup hype lead to a furious emergence of new initiatives and new incubators. Seemingly any company with some change to spare and the desire to become part of the new gold rush. The saddest part here is that all those companies don’t even try to create a romantic, technology deterministic narrative like their Californian counter parts. Their language and footprint is corporate, they are here for the profits.

Which begs the question: what would be the virtue of welcoming this industry into the city with open arms? Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s mayor in his third term, thinks that he has an answer. Recently, McKinsey published a pro-bono study for the city of Berlin. “Berlin gründet – Fünf Initiativen für die Start-up-Metropole Europas” (Berlin founding – Five initiatives for the european start-up metropole). Therein Wowereit postulates in a forword that the tech industry can have a significant contribution as a tax payer and employer. This comes from the man who sold out this cities real estate to the highest bidder without any regard for cultural and societal impact. With no significant contribution to fight unemployment, he leaves the city with a future promise for tax income. An unlikely scenario.

Unfortunately, there is no way out of this. Pressured by overwhelming attention from around the world, the city governments is cornered into shaping legislation or at least appearing authentically as if it can contribute something of significance to a development that mostly emerged because there was little to no regulation at all.

With pressure rising from investors waiting to be wooed, the government does what most governments would do and that is looking at so called best practices. Despite the fact that there is an overwhelming body of theory to the fact that is impossible to copy same models and various, failed attempts to copy Silicon Valley else where. Before anybody points toward Tel Aviv, let me say this: There is a strong correlation between a long-standing, overwhelming presence of huge facilities by US tech giants and the success of Tel Aviv’s tech scene. There is also a geo-political factor that can’t be replicated and it doesn’t hurt having a man of Yossi Vardi’s stature in your corner either.

Just last week I heard Joachim Bühler from BITKOM – an tech industry lobby group – say that he discusses many initiatives with city officials and all of them are trying to emulate Silicon Valley. One of the various observation documented by the McKinsey study states that there is lack in funding for technology companies seeking A & B investments rounds. There is plenty of seed money to go around and it hasn’t been easier to get some cash and hack away for six month, but when it comes to financing your dream to become bigger than Facebook things eventually get tough. The only reasonable hope that bureaucrats in this city can have to change something about this is fact is by luring financially strong and successful investors into the city. That, in turn, means luring in more US-based funds to the city.

There are three most likely outcomes for startups these days. Die unsuccessfully, get acquired by an US based technology company, or IPO. Most tech startups end up in the first category. This is by design and has been a long standing practice in the technology sector. Only the most successful of all companies end up in the last category and there is no reason to believe that the Berlin tech scene will produce a likely contender for a big tech IPO. That leaves the second category, acquisition by an US company. It’s that category that will ensure that neither qualified people, nor tax income will be left in the city as soon as something of significance will emerge here. This will not stop Berlin’s government walking down this path, because of the lack of courage to come up with a unique, feasible and realistic approach for a city in need and because those US investors will make everybody work according to those risk assessment processes that they teach in their incubators.

This is a dangerous path and one that is not only being applied in Berlin. All over a financially unstable Europe with high youth unemployment numbers, technology and startup culture is en vogue in city, state and federal governments. The same mistake of attempting to copy our spying American friends is happening everywhere.

We stand at the crossroads. We have a generation of founders that are unwilling and unmotivated to pursue anything else than world fame and the attempt to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. Those desires are fueled by investors who don’t care about fame, but about the returns on investment that is associated with finding the company that can become the next Facebook. And as addition to the team of people who will not help us get out of the financial crisis, we are seeing politicians completely incapable of coping with a rapidly changing world that are eager to build up those “ecosystems” that seem promising enough to help them campaign in the next election.

The technology utopia transformed itself from a hippy’esque LSD dream where technology will solve all of humanities problem to a well oiled machine in which the brightest people in the world are busy building new features that will make advertisers spend more money on the information that those apps gather about us and in which only a small fraction of the extremely hard working people can say for themselves that they are in fact Mark Zuckerberg.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I am a staunch opponent of anything tech, on the contrary. It is now that we have to debate how we want to see the technology industry evolve beyond its Californian Ideology model. I am all in favor of Berlin becoming the new startup capital. The question is: what kind of startups do we want? What kind of people do we want to start them? This is far more about goals and demeanor than about market opportunity and finance. We in Europe have the privilege to learn from companies that are building products and solving problems for generations now. Germany’s Mittelstand is still the backbone of its economy. European founders should stop traveling to San Francisco and instead focus on their national and European markets, the problems that those markets experience and how they can be part of the solutions to issues like massive youth unemployment. But foremost, they should concentrate on building a company that can stand on its own feet, that is not setup to race from one venture round to the other with the sole goal to exit as quickly as possible and be part of a machinery that never seems to be interested in being sustainable in itself.

Let me finish with a question: what do you think who employs more people? A company like Facebook with a world-renown brand that is worth about $100 Billion on the stock market or a hundred companies that most people have never heard of which are each worth a billion dollars each?

Week 156

Igor reflects on a weekend spent at retune conference.

Over the weekend, Johannes and I attended the retune 13 conference.

It’s always a nice change of pace to both attend an intellectually stimulating event and sleep in your own bed. Even in Berlin one doesn’t get to do that very often.

To my dismay, I’ve only learned of retune shortly after the second iteration of the conference happened last year. Dismay, because there are currently very few conferences that are of any significant interest to me and it turned out that retune is one of those.

Addressing questions at the core of technology, culture and art, retune primarily managed to jolt my brain, stimulate it by confronting me with people of amazing intellect and abilities as well as to give me a coherent framework to address the issues at hand.

On Friday, when the first speaker asked the crowd who was an technologist, who was an artist and who was a designer, I couldn’t raise my hand at any of those questions. With Third Wave, we fit into none of those drawers and I feel very comfortable with accepting that. Our strength is derived from our ability not to be any one of those disciplines, but knowing and understanding them and their implications onto everything that is happening.

That being said, there is a reason why we tend to quote James Bridle so often. His argument, well known to regular readers of this blog, is that we lack a language for a networked, complex world. As for so many, this is also of big frustration to us. Both individually, but especially as a company. Why do people need us? And how is us being interested in the themes discussed at conferences like retune or resonate relevant to what we do for our clients?

There is only a fleeting understanding of what it means to live in a networked world. We all embraced the Californian Ideology without knowing that we did. We are facing the necessity of reverse engineering the consequences of this world that we all helped to create.

One of the outcomes should be a massive, almost unquestioned embrace of the fact that the world is in fact complex. When Germany overwhelmingly elected Angela Merkel to lead the country into the future, what Germany actually voted for is the preservation of a status quo. Not that it is not understandable why people would want that, it’s just not possible anymore. Most people struggle immensely with that despite the fact that they can feel it in the air, in the fabric of things that none of the things can really be as they were anymore. If anything, one should admire Angela Merkel for getting so many people to trust her to preserve them from the complexity of the world. Unfortunately, and this is a spoiler, she won’t be able to.

With that, I want to point you to the things that some of the speakers have been speaking / showing at retune. Enjoy.

Julian Oliver

Web: http://julianoliver.com/output/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/julian0liver

Known for:
Newstweek: http://julianoliver.com/output/newstweek
The Transparency Grenade: http://julianoliver.com/output/transparency-grenade
No Network: http://julianoliver.com/output/no-network

Critical engineering: http://www.criticalengineering.org/

The Critical Engineer considers Engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.

James Auger

Web: http://www.auger-loizeau.com/

Known for:
Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots: http://www.auger-loizeau.com/index.php?id=13
Afterlife: http://www.auger-loizeau.com/index.php?id=9
Sublime Gadgets: http://www.auger-loizeau.com/index.php?id=24

Jeremy Bailey

Web: http://jeremybailey.net/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeremybailey

Known for:
His works on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/jeremybailey06
VideoPaint 1.0: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oQ821cQjyc

Scott deLahunta

Web: http://motionbank.org/

Known for:
A Choreography of perception, of attention and relation in time and space: http://scores.motionbank.org/dh/#set/sets

Olof Mathé

Web: http://olofmathe.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/olofster

Known for:
Art Hack Day: http://arthackday.net/
Related: http://vimeo.com/45841989

As far as I know, all the talks have been recorded. I will make sure to give a shout out as soon as they are available on the retune conference website.

Week 154

Dog on a roomba! Also: a few additional thoughts on the NSA leaks and why we discuss it here.

In case you’re wondering why we’re continuously using our company’s blog to voice our concerns about the NSA revelations and government overreach, you have to understand how we ended up doing the job that we are doing and being company owners in the first place.

The web had a large influence on my overall socialization and on my understanding of the world as it works and of how I wish it would work. I was too young to participate actively in what happened during the New Economy, but when the first ripples of the Web 2.0 came to be, I was – mostly out of pure luck and genuine curiosity – at the right place at the right time. I met the right people and had the fortune of being taken into various communities that supported exploration and tinkering early on.

With the help of a community on IRC, I stopped using Windows about ten years ago and switched fully to Linux. By learning how to use this powerful technology, I acquired an understanding of the technologies that power the internet. One doesn’t need to be a developer to have the ability to understand how a system works (although it certainly makes it easier).

Later on, I started blogging around 2004 without knowing about the fuzz that was being made about it at first. For me, publishing on the internet wasn’t really new. Back than I didn’t make a distinction between having hourl-long discussions about the things that make the world work on various IRC chats and publishing with the help of a CMS. It was all “the web” for me.

Obviously, things have changed. We all developed a stronger awareness of what was happening and what we all have been accomplishing. I started to be more interested in the technology’s influence on human behavior than in the technology itself.

We all were of the web, not only on it.

The disillusionment with how the web is evolving started long before the Snowden leaks, but those are the most substantial ones. Yesterday, at JSConf, Alex summarized it quite adequately:

We’ve turned mankind’s greatest technical achievement into a lifestyle magazine that spies on you.

Dang. That is exactly how many people, those who are of the web, feel these days. Somebody came along and pulled the rug from under our feet. Things that where taken for granted are not so anymore.

It is time to take back what is ours.

Whatever political or economical consequences might arise from those leaks, the real implications are still hard to grasp. Many people in the technology community are ready to do whatever it takes and attack the struggle for power head on and however this will materialize itself, it will shape the work of this company too, because it will shape us as people.

But beware, this is a story without a clear ending. While Silicon Valley will still try to determine for a long time how new technologies come into the world, it shouldn’t be regarded as an archetype anymore. Technology as industry has been corrupted by the same things that it wanted to disrupt in the first place. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at how those tech giants have responded so far to those leaks. Or take a look at how those big shot technology investors are talking on the record about what should be done.

With all that being said, I don’t want to end this week note with those dark scenarios. So I will finish with a Vine of a dog riding on a Roomba instead.

Have a nice week, everybody. Oh, and if you are interested in learning how to make your Mac a bit more secure, come by our office at Rosenthaler Str. 34/35 on Thursday at around 5pm. We will show you how to encrypt your emails, how to use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and the TOR browser bundle and other little tweaks that won’t stop the NSA completely, but will make their dragnet surveillance a little harder.