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?

Ignite Berlin 2 is a wrap

Ignite Berlin 2 is over and what a night it was. We collected all the presentations so you can lean back and enjoy them.

Ignite Berlin 2 is a wrap, and we couldn’t be happier.

Below you’ll find the 8 talks in chronological order, so you can lean back and enjoy them.

Thomas Schindler: Unfuck the planet by redesigning our currencies

Louisa Heinrich: The inadvertent time machine

Matt Patterson: The strangeness of advertising in comics

Alice Mrongovius: Creating Collaborative Environments

Caroline Drucker: How to give great talks

Jeremy Tai Abbett: I make therefore I am

Joanna Bakas: Unlearning

Marcus Brown: Stories and digital personas

A big round of thank you! is in order! Thanks to our fantastic speakers for their delightful talks, the audience for the lovely conversations throughout the night, our drinks sponsor Weavrs in the person of former Ignite Berlin speaker David Bausola, and our incredibly helpful location hosts, Supermarkt Berlin. You all made this a truly memorable night.

All videos are available at a glance over on Igniteshow.com.

Original post on IgniteBerlin.com.

Event: Digitale Selbstvermessung – Leben nach Maß?

Am 11./12. Mai veranstalten wir gemeinsam mit der Hybrid Plattform ein Event rund um die Themen Quantified Self und Personal Analytics. Das Programm steht, die Anmeldung läuft.

Note: As this event will be held predominantly in Germany, we’ll keep the announcement in German, too. For a brief summary, see the end of the post.

Wie bereits angekündigt laden Third Wave und Hybrid Plattform ein zum Event Digitale Selbstvermessung:

Details

11.05.2012, 14:00–18:00 12.05.2012, 10:30–14:30

Beschreibung

Third Wave, Agentur für digitale Strategien, und die Hybrid Plattform, Ort für transdisziplinäre Projekte der UdK Berlin und TU Berlin, veranstalten am 11. und 12. Mai 2012 ein Symposium mit anschließenden Workshops zum Thema Mensch und Datensammlung in den EIT ICT Labs in Berlin.

Mit jedem verkauften Smartphone gewinnt die Thematik der Selbstvermessung und Selbsterfassung an Relevanz und an Brisanz. Es handelt sich dabei um die eigenständige Erhebung und den Vergleich von Zahlen um Körper-, Gesundheits- und Lebensdaten mit Hilfe von digitalen Geräten. Die Anhänger der Quantified Self-Bewegung sind davon überzeugt, dass die Analyse von humanen Daten wie Schlafzeiten, Blutdruck usw. jedem Einzelnen hilft, sein Leben zu verbessern. Die weit verbreitete Bewegung hat weitreichende Auswirkungen, und zwar nicht nur auf den Einzelnen.

Das Symposium am ersten sowie Workshops am zweiten Veranstaltungstag beleuchten die Thematik Mensch und Datensammlung aus den unterschiedlichsten Blickwinkeln: Welche Daten kann man sammeln und was ist daran ablesbar? Was passiert mit den Daten? Welche gesellschaftlichen und wirtschaftlichen Auswirkungen hat das Sammeln der Daten? Welche Entwicklungen dieser Technologie zeichnen sich ab? Welche Wissenschaften werden in welcher Tiefe eingebunden?

Diese Fragen möchte die Veranstaltung gewohnt transdisziplinär und hybrid angehen, um durch die produktive Kollisionen neue Erkenntnisse für unsere Zukunft abzuleiten.

Programm

Das Programm wird aus heutiger Sicht wie folgt aussehen, Änderungen und Ergänzungen sind noch möglich:

Freitag, 11.05.2012, 14.00-18.00

  • 14:00-14.05 Begrüßung durch Christoph Gengnagel, UdK Berlin
  • 14.05-14.10 Begrüßung durch EIT ICT Labs
  • 14.15-14.35 Johannes Kleske, Third Wave, Einführung in QS und Feedback Loops
  • 14.50-15.10 Kora Kimpel, Professor UdK Berlin
  • 15.25-15.45 Florian Schuhmacher, Münchner QS-Gründer
  • 16.00-16.20 Yasmina Haryono, Fjord, Datenvisualisierung, Personal Analytics
  • 16.35-16.55 Prof. Sebastian Möller, Deutsche Telekom Laboratories und TU Berlin, Quantified Self in HCI: Models and Implications
  • 17.10-17.30 Daniela Kuka, WiMi UdK Berlin

Samstag, 12.5.2012, 10.30-14.30

  • 10.30-10.45 Begrüßung/Vorstellung der Workshops
  • 10.45-11.15 Awareness Talk von Ahmet Acar
  • 11.15-12.45 Workshops Runde 1
  • 12.45-13.00 Pause
  • 13.00-14.30 Workshops Runde 2
  • 14.30-15.00 kurze Präsentation der Ergebnisse/Abschlussrunde/Feedbackrunde

Workshops geben voraussichtlich: Daniela Kuka, Moritz Greiner-Petter, Wolfgang Spahn, detaillierte Beschreibungen der Workshops finden Sie im Anmeldeformular.

Teilnahme & Anmeldung

Die Teilnahme ist kostenlos, die Anzahl der Teilnehmer ist auf 100 begrenzt (Link zum Anmeldeformular).

Für einige der Workshops benötigen die Teilnehmer Laptops und/oder Verbrauchsmaterialien. Diese können mit vorbestellt werden; die Bestellung ist verbindlich und muss vor Ort bar bezahlt werden.

Presse & Medienvertreter

Für Journalisten haben wir begrenzt zusätzliche Plätze zu Verfügung. Auch hier erfolgt die Anmeldung über das Anmeldeformular – am Ende des Formulars finden sich die relevanten Formfelder. Für Interviewanfragen richten Sie sich gerne jederzeit an Peter Bihr, Geschäftsführer von Third Wave, oder Marguerite Joly, UdK-Projektkoordinatorin der Hybrid Plattform.

English summary: Together with Hybrid Plattform, we organize a two day event around the idea of the quantified self, self-tracking and personal analytics. It’s a two day event, held predominently in German, in Berlin on May 11/12 with one half day of talks and one half day of hands-on workshops.

Quantified Self @ Hybrid Plattform

With our good friends over at Hybridplattform, we are planning an event around the Quantified Self. While we are working out the details, let us know if you want to contribute.

With our good friends over at Hybrid Plattform, we are planning an event around the Quantified Self. While we are working out the details, here’s the basic deal:

Date: 11/12 May 2012 Location: Berlin Price: Participation will be free (you might have to buy some workshop supplies) Primary language: German, with some English talks

To gauge interest, it’d be great if you let us know in the Google form below if you’re interested to participate, and in what role:

Week 71

An “average” week in Berlin

About last week, well, it was … kinda average, which I’m hardly able to say about any week so far. Nothing really big or exceptional happened. Just the usual of running a small shop in Berlin. A startup-breakfast-meetup where everyone is in pitch-mode but you nevertheless meet a couple of friends who enjoy catching up over coffee. A short-term booking by an agency1 that has one of us in Hamburg for most of this week. Drinks with friends from Copenhagen who are in town for a quick visit. A workshop about implementing the strategy we build with an enthusiastic client. Editing some excellent writing for our forecasting report and getting excited and inspired by the level of thinking. Seeing the Makers Loft slowly transforming into one of the best working environments while welcoming new friends. Getting “word on the street” about a new coffee place2 and discovering an instant hit for the local coffee scene. Booking a trip to a new-media-festival that will happen in March in Belgrade, Serbia and that is right up our alley: a fresh line-up of the up and coming, an emerging city and not too many familiar faces. Trying out another restaurant on Oranienstraße and instantly adding it to our list of possible lunch spots, you know, the list with about 40 spots already on it.

Yes, we really enjoy working in this city, no matter how hard the weather tries to connivence us of the opposite. It’s an excellent place to be right now. Btw. if you’re considering moving here, have a look at Peter’s article on that topic (Also check out his thoughts on embracing serendipity in our work.).

After enjoying the city almost uninterruptedly for some weeks, we nevertheless are looking forward to a lot of traveling throughout the next months. It’s New York and Iceland for Igor, Japan for Peter and London and above-mentioned Belgrade for me. We just want to make the best use of Tegel airport while it’s still there3. It will take us some time to getting used to being welcomed by Berlin-Brandenburg airport. But once we hit the city, there won’t be any doubt where we feel at home.


  1. Sorry for the redundancy of mentioning “short-term” while talking about an agency booking. 

  2. It’s at SUPERMARKT at Brunnenstr. 64 and is open from 10 till 6 from Monday till Friday. 

  3. We agree with Tyler on this one. 

Week 34

Last week was fun. A lot of fun.

We met a bunch of new people, like Kelli and Darius from Wells Fargo. They found us on the interwebs and asked us if we wanted to meet during their visit to Berlin. And so we did. Very interesting conversations, and a great chance to swap insights from the US and Europe. We always appreciate this kind of open and frank discussion a lot – for us, internationalisation of our operation is always a very important topic as we like Third Wave to operate from Berlin, but on a global level.

On this note, it also felt as if it was a very startup-driven week in Berlin. Amen emerged on the interational stage with nice press coverage. With a rockstar founder team they are definitely a very welcome addition to Berlin’s technology landscape. It’s also good to see some locals in the core team. There was a lot of buzz about Berlin’s startup scene, but people also rightfully pointed out that most of the well known teams are expats who come to Berlin and not Germans or Berliners who take it upon themselves to create something big.

In addition to that our friends from Readmill – in cooperation with Eyeem – had a great party in their new offices. It was packed, and in true Berlin style even the police showed up in the end. Big up for organizing a cool event with amazing people. If you don’t know Readmill yet, you should definitely sign up and await the beta invite. What we saw so far is very slick and well thought out. They’re very well positioned to become a really interesting player in the market.

On top of that, we enjoy watching Yourneighbours transform themselves completely into their new startup Gidsy. Sharing an office with them is inspiring. Have you ever watched people just go? Doing their thing with whatever energy they have in themselves? Having an idea for a startup is the easy part. Mustering the courage to follow the dream is the hard part, but one that is essential for the success of a company. And Gidsy has it all. (They’re hiring, too.) You go, guys!

Week 29

The last months have been super busy for us. So I was kinda excited by the prospect of a few quieter days, spent mostly in Berlin. With all that traveling, one could get the idea that we don’t like Berlin very much. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The last months have been super busy for us. So I was kinda excited by the prospect of a few quieter days, spent mostly in Berlin. With all that traveling, one could get the idea that we don’t like Berlin very much. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. We haven’t regretted the decision to set up shop in Berlin for one second yet.

The current vibe in the city is amazing. All that talk about Berlin as a startup mecca or a startup in itself are certainly true. And it finally feels like people are much more open to share and collaborate. We hear a lot more about meetups, hackdays and new spaces opening then ever before and we most certainly want to add to that wherever we can. This is a good time to big up Betahaus and all the stuff they are doing. I have now seen international guests on several occasions (like day 2 of CoCities and the recent Seedcamp Berlin) walking around the floors with their jaws dropped, mumbling “We soooo need a space like this in our city.” I think, we’re starting to get a real taste for the potential of the city and it’s citizen. Now, if only we could resist its nightlife and great coffeeshops a little more…

Flat White

Nevertheless, I took a day last week to go to Hamburg. A lot of people have asked me lately to come by if I ever should be there. So I spontaneously decided to be there for a day and take them all up on their requests. Among others, I had a great conversation with an old friend. We’ve both been in agencies before and have started our own businesses since we last met. And talking about it, we realized that we’re not the only ones. There seems to be a growing movement of agency people our age that are not willing to take it anymore (‘it’ being the old-school, hierarchical, authoritative working model of most agencies). But instead of just quitting to freelance like others have done before, they quit to do their own thing, have their own go at it. It feels great to be part of that.

We also agreed that it will be super tough as clients still mostly go for the safe option by the established player instead of opting for the new, the bold and the risky with the low overhead. But things will change and have started to do so already. Just look at all the attention that BreakfastNY is getting in the US.

One of these newly found shops is elbdudler who I had lunch with. A great crew of young people doing their own thing, especially in the social media business. Felt really great to share bread and war stories with them. If you’re looking for an operations-heavy social media shop in Hamburg, definitely have a look at them.

While I was having a more relaxed time in Berlin and Hamburg, Peter and Igor spent another week in New York for a bigger workshop with a client as Igor mentioned in the notes for week 28. Today, we are finally all getting back together in Berlin after the long Easter weekend.

Our travel schedules this week: Igor will be in Vienna for SIME at the end of this week. Peter and Johannes will stay in Berlin this week.

Cognitive Cities is a wrap!

As we wind down from the Cognitive Cities weekend, we’re rubbing our tired eyes and asking each other “Did this really happen? Did it really exceed all our expectations?” The answer is – Yes, indeed, it did. Thank you.

As we wind down from the Cognitive Cities weekend, we’re rubbing our tired eyes and asking each other “Did this really happen? Did it really exceed all our expectations?” The answer is – Yes, indeed, it did. We had an absolute blast having you all as our guests. We’re super grateful for your participation, your enthusiasm and your feedback.

How we got here

When we started the Cognitive Cities blog, it was just a place of a few friends to share their findings about this emerging topic around cities and technology with each other. We are all geeks and were thrilled about the new possibilities of using our smartphones and other gadgets to interact with our urban surroundings.

The more we dived into the field, the more excited we became by the opportunities of all kinds of disciplines involved like architecture, design, mobile, city planning, politics, gardening and technology in general. Finally, being interested in everything made sense. Unfortunately, almost nobody else in Germany seemed to know about this field. So we decided that the best way for us to push it forward was to organize a conference.

Photos, videos, slides

We’re now trying to connect all the conference documentation and artifacts to make sure that the content and conversations continue and expand. While we’re compiling a comprehensive list of the coverage as well as our own videos (soon on the CoCities website and Twitter), here’s a first glimpse of what has been popping up on the interwebs.

There’s a Flickr group where you can add your photos from this weekend here:

Some of the presentations are on Slideshare already (more soon):

KS12 also did an interview with our lovely moderator Ben Hammersley:

Future Perspectives TN2020: Ben Hammersley from KS12 on Vimeo.

Connect

The conversations started at CoCities shouldn’t fade anytime soon. Make sure to connect to the other attendees. A good place to start are the Facebook event page and Lanyrd.

Thanks!

There are so many people we want to thank for making this possible, we can only highlight some of you. First of all, our speakers: thank you so, so much for agreeing to pitch in on this one. We really appreciate it. Second, a big thumbs up to all of you who attended and participated, either live at one of the conference days or by contributing online. Third, a big thank you to our sponsor smart, without whom CoCities wouldn’t have been possible and our media partners. And last but not least the whole team, all of whom put in tremendous efforts without any financial rewards – CoCities was truly a work of passion: Yourneighbours, Martin Spindler, Fabian MürmannMarkus Reuter, Axel Quack, Wiebke Herger and our lovely volunteers.

Feedback

We don’t want to miss the chance to hear from you about what worked and what we could do better next time. We’ve created a short survey with just four questions. It would be great help if you could take a couple of minutes and let us know what you think.