A Day in Berlin: Co-Working & Polarising Incubators

I’ve had the rare fortune of having a day in Berlin to myself, without any meetings or other annoying duties. Just to go my merry ways and let this place talk to me (I’m getting a little bit over-excited, this is what this town does to me).

First of all I had breakfast with a good friend of mine who is planning to set up a combined local/online book store with a cool new concept which I will surely write more on as things develop. Afterwards I went on a cliché tour of the co-working scene here in Berlin, starting at the Betahaus and contiuing my work-in-a-coffee-house type of quest in the infamoust St. Oberholz. (Apart from maybe an Apple store, I’ve never seen a higher concentration of Macbooks anywhere else.) I had the pleasure of meeting a programmer colleague for lunch in the Torstraße – you might call this Berlin’s incubator junction – and visit friends from hosting provider SysEleven afterwards for a cup of their most splendid coffee.

Originally, I had planned for a post on the interesting new developments in startup Berlin. However, when talking to people today, this motivated me to actually write about how incubators such as Rocket Internet and the newly founded Project A Ventures are being discussed quite controversially. On the one hand there is the let’s call it glamorous side of things that is being portrayed in many startup blogs and that we also pick up once in a while. With the help of decent funding, business ideas can be put into practice at a very high pace and markets can be tested in a way that seems hardly possible otherwise. Or, to cite a well-known example: I doubt that something such as Zalando would have been possible given a “natural” company growth.

But there’s a downside to it. As it seems, the incubators such as Rocket Internet have an incredible high rate of  burning people. What it comes down to is sacrificing everything for speed. (And I’m not talking about the white stuff here. Although this actually might not be far from the truth either. But I’m digressing.) I was aware that working in such a high-speed environment does not make for a especially great work experience – the leaked Samwer email revealed a lot – but the extent was kind of scary. After all the ideas have been fixed and the funding have been secured, all it comes down to is technology, ie. coders and their code. But because everything bows to the time-to-market paradigm, neither sustainable code nor sustainable company ethics have a chance. People are exchangeable, talent is scared away by an atmosphere of fear an 16 hour shifts.

As far as I’m concerned, what makes me interested in a company, both as a customer and a journalist, are authenticity and originality. Combine that with a decent amount of fairness within the company and I’m a fan. If someone builds his company from scratch, cares for the products he’s selling and has some great marketing ideas to let his business grow, that really resonates with me more than technocrats coldy planning their ventures and looking for the fastest exit. Why do you think Apple has had these amazing business figure lately? Because somebody has taken the risk to put a shitload of their oown money into the development of the iPhone at a time when everybody thought that we would use Nokia feature phones into all eternity.

Plain to see that this is polarising, huh? So what’s your stance on this? Does such a startup culture propel commerce further of it it just a fad to be gone soon? Please discuss!

One Response to A Day in Berlin: Co-Working & Polarising Incubators

  1. The way I see it, with technology for eshop deployment, especially payment processing, and logistics becoming more and more widely available, it will soon be time for small (niche) consumer centric businesses to thrive.

    Right now, the barrier to entry is much too high. The webagency I work for is based in China and still can only offer prices between 15000 and 25000 Euro for a fully featured, Magento-based webshop. You can pay Amazon a high fee to use their logistics – it only starts being affordable for the average joe if you sell on Amazon and use their ship technology – effectively rendering your new business part of Amazons.

    Entrepreneurs out there: make us a good German payment processor with an out-of-the-box solution and sane fees and a flexible logistics partner with good whitelabeling capabilities.

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