Open Berlin


Living for two weeks in Berlin is already more than enough to explore the city and the startup scene here in depth. And that is because there are so many opportunities to interact with the startups over all sorts of meetups.

So welcoming and friendly, the city itself has the ingredients of a good startup: fast scaling, acting global, bootstrapping, great team spirit, uniting different talents and attracting investors.

Below some facts and opinions that might be of interest for entrepreneurs and investors that either have an interest or curiosity in Berlin (check all the points below), either would like to develop their local communities or startups (check Great Team Spirit and Uniting Different Talents).

(picture taken at Betahaus)

Fast Scaling

Berlin Chamber of Commerce announced that around 1300 internet startups have been founded in the city since 2008, of which 500 were established in 2011.

Deskwanted counts 70+ co-working spaces to accommodate entrepreneurs in Berlin at beginning of 2012.

With all the media attention lately and the startup stars that are already in town (like SoundCloud, Wooga, Gidsy, Amen, 6Wunderkinder), most probably this number will grow. I actually keep on meeting around entrepreneurs that came to Berlin to check the pulse of the startup city, thinking already to establish here.

Acting Global

“Berlin is the most un-German of German cities” says Om Malik from GigaOm after a visit here. That is for its unique history, geography (the border between West and East) and culture, but also for being so international.

So many nationalities here, that the most encountered language is actually the international well-known English. Ich spreche kein Deutsch and is really not a problem for working and living here (which is really good for startups that need to tap into talent pools of other countries). There are lots of entrepreneurs who came from different lands here (like Swedish and Dutch founders of SoundCloud and Gidsy).

And most of the new startups address the global market from the beginning (example: 6Wunderkinder has about 30% of the its market in US).

Bootstrapping

Berlin is (still) cheap. Known for being cheaper to live here compared to other Western cities and especially capitals, I would add that is as cheap if not even cheaper compared to Eastern capitals as well – I am comparing living expenses here with those in Bucharest, and I tend to say Berlin is actually cheaper.

However, it might not be so easy for a new-in-town entrepreneur to rent a house. It is already a big competition in some areas and landlords check incomes and stability before accepting tenants. It is really easy though to rent for short terms as many people have to travel for business here, as it is not much of it in Berlin yet.

Work expenses for entrepreneurs are also low: renting office space varies from about 15 euro per square meter in the famous The Factory (where I’ve been at a housewarming bbq of a startup last week) to about half of that in West Berlin (which seems to start developing as well, but nothing compares yet with Eastern Silicon Allee). And hey, salaries to be paid are not too high (yet).

Great Team Spirit

The collaborative spirit and the knowledge exchange amount here is absolutely fantastic. Daily there are meetups in the startup scene, ranging from pitch competitions to breakfasts, barbecues and parties.

(bbq at The Factory, organized by MentorApp, 10th Aug)
(EyeEm meetup, 10th Aug)
(Pitchslam at Yaam, 1st Aug)

It is amazingly easy to network here and to meet lots of people from startups in a very short time. So if you want to come by and feel the pulse, I would say two weeks would do it (at least from my own experience). People are really open and share without concerns their experiences and knowledge.

And the best proof of this great team spirit of Berlin startups is actually the project I came here to work for: Tech Open Air Berlin –  a festival made by the community for the community, co-initiated by two of the best Evangelist of Berlin as an interactive community, Nikolas Woischnik and Lutz Villalba.

At first, it was successfully backed by local startups to achieve the crowdfunding goal (We would say Tech Open Air Berlin is the first crowdfunded European conference, if no one else can claim it. At least a google search supports this theory.)

Secondly, local startups really got involved in the organization, coming up with ideas and organizing their own “showtime” in the shape of satellite events all over Berlin for 24th August, and even elements for the first day of the festival, on 23rd August (like klashes).

Another cool proof of this team spirit is The Factory, a huge place bringing together many startups in order to foster collaboration between them.

Uniting Different Talents

Berlin is well-known for its artists, that makes the entire city very unconventional.

Tech Open Air Berlin celebrates tech, music and art and aims to show how the borders between these fields are fading. Plus it is itself an unconventional festival (if you look at things like the crazy location, Kater Holzig, the way it is organized and sponsored etc.)

And how does this artistic touch translate in the startup scene?

Well, it seems that Berlin startups are world wide famous for their design and user experience. That is because they really focus on this from the beginning, while most other startups leave this for later and firstly they focus on the algorithms behind.

6wunderkinder’s best initial marketing was simply building an easy to use and great looking product (which popped out from a discussion with Simon Chan, who works on their Community and Marketing, and that is also proven by their previous intern, Ricardo Sousa, in this article)

Another interesting discussion on this topic was with Peter Sikking, a 19 years experienced Interaction Architect consultant in Berlin. We both shared the importance of hiring designers and UX experts from the first days of a startup if you really want your first customers to love your product and evangelize it.

Yes, not all the startups do it, but Berlin seems to be one of the places where startups seem to get this right from day one.

A good wrap up article on this matter was written last year by Martin Bryant from The Next Web on why Berlin is home to a new generation of beautiful apps.

Attracting Investors

Yeah, Berlin still has a lot to improve on the investments side in order to be the Silicon Valley of Europe, but things started to look good in this arena as well (as Mike Butcher said a few months ago: “Berlin is still sexy, but no longer poor“).

You have here an eye peek from Union Square Ventures (invested in SoundCloud), Atomico (invested in 6wunderkinder), Index Ventures (invested in Amen), JMES Investments (building The Factory), Point Nine Capital (a Berlin-based spin off from Team Europe, created by the entrepreneur and business angel Gadowski after successfully building Spreadshirt, StudiVZ and Brands4Friends), Atlantic Ventures (through Maire, who lives in Berlin since 1993, who invested in SoundCloud, Readmill, EyeEm, txtr), EarlyBird (who moved HQ to Berlin recently). Even Ashton Kutcher keeps an eye on Berlin-based startups (investing in Gidsy and SoundCloud). And there are many more visiting the city from time to time.
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I will be in Berlin just until end of August and I will take all opportunities to explore even more the city and the startup scene here. Meanwhile, I can say I found my dream place and I am looking forward to come back here, either for working on a great project/ startup or with a media (so give me a ping if you are looking for an editor/ communicator/ marketeer for customer development and community management), either for building my next startup on this new-born entrepreneurial land.