I get it. San Francisco is so 2003 – when did 6th and Mission become hip? Buzzfeed is giving you 22 reasons to move here (by the way, they are sooo wrong about no one paying for the Ubahn – you will be caught your first time without a ticket) and, according to the New York Times, half of Brooklyn’s DJs have already immigrated. While some say that Berlin is over, if your goal is to work for a startup, or build your own, this could not be further from the truth. Berghain may have fallen from grace, but the startup scene is just heating up.
With the (far too many) accelerators and ever expanding tech hubs, people spent too much time last year asking: is Berlin just hype? It could have gone either way, but only three months into the new year, Berlin has proved that it has staying power. From Delivery Hero’s whopping $88m funding round this January, to TVSmiles’s 7 million series A, to Outfittery’s 13m round, Berlin is settling into its startup ecosystem skin. This means more opportunity for you entrepreneurial expats to come in and conquer the scene. Want to move to Berlin to work for or build your own startup? Here’s my advice.
Just Show Up.
I’ve received dozens of emails from people who are interested in moving to Berlin and want advice. Most of them want to find jobs before they move here, or plan to come network for a week. This biggest piece I have to offer is to just show up. Unless you are an absolutely amazing developer, most startups here won’t have the budget to fly you out for an interview. You need to be on the ground and it will take more than a week. Is it risky? A bit. You can stay in the EU for three months which will give you plenty of time to build connections and find a job.
Just show up to events, and to the speakers room at conferences. Doors won’t open for you, you need to kick them down, but be strategic about it. Do your research and have a goal. For most events, you will have prior access to the list of who is attending, whether it is from a Facebook group, an Eventbrite page, or one of the popular conference apps like Bizzabo. Comb through that list and decide on the top ten people you want to talk to you and why. Research those people and their companies. If you can walk into a busy conference and single out an investor, or the founder of a company you are interested in, and congratulate him or her on their latest achievement, they will be more likely to remember who you are.
Know Your Shit.
Do your homework before you arrive. Start reading Venture Village, Silicon Allee, and uberlin. (Especially this right on post – Stereotypes: The Different Expats You’ll Meet in Berlin). Start looking at the companies that are doing interesting things, and which ones are raising money, as they will be the ones that are not only hiring interns. (Stayed tuned for more on this topic in next week’s post: The Biggest Berlin Startup Deals in 2014). The ecosystem is growing, exits are starting to happen. Pawel Chudzinski, a Partner at Point Nine Capital notes some of the meaningful transactions that have taken place in Q1: “Sociomantic selling to Dunnhumby for up to $200m, Plista selling to GroupM for rumoured EUR30m+, Skobbler being acquired for $24m and Aeria Games being acquired by Pro7 for an undisclosed, but potentially sizeable amount. Also, rumours about an upcoming massive Zalando IPO continue.”
Network Way More Than You Want To.
Go to every. single. event. Trust me, this will get old fast, and incredibly boring, but if you do this for a month, you will meet 60% of the people in the scene. The other 40% are harder to meet – 20% are running successful startups and you will only see them at events like TechCrunch Disrupt or Tech Open Air – and the other 20% are VC’s and angels that you will meet through accelerators, or mutual friends further down the road. I’ve compiled a list of the best event resources below.
Lady Expats – Become a Berlin Geekette.
Through the Berlin Geekettes, I found a mentor who happened to be connected to the founders who hired me, one month after arrival, for my first paying gig. I also met two women who have become my closest friends, received free tickets to pricey conferences, and have been alerted to amazing business opportunities. The Geekettes have been instrumental to my career and my integration in Berlin – I can’t recommend them enough.
Making the Move To Berlin. What I Wish I Would Have Known.
1. Get a lawyer for your immigration stuff if you are a freelancer, or starting your own company. If you are hired by a startup, they will handle this for you. The immigration process is completely arbitrary. Your chances at getting a visa depends on who you get at the front desk and what kind of mood they are in, and they are rarely in a good mood. Imagine disgruntled DMV employees, then throw in the German’s utter lack of customer service, and then try to explain inbound marketing in another language. Don’t attempt this – just pay a lawyer.
2. Employment vs. Freelancing – It used to be easy to move to Berlin and work as a freelancer, but with the huge influx of Americans and Australians, the rules have become much more strict. As a freelancer, you must first prove that you have health insurance, two years worth of savings in a bank account, and several German clients must write you letters of intent basically saying they will give you a contract if your visa is approved (but you can’t work for them before that). This is bullshit, as it can sometimes take a long time to have your visa approved – 7 months in my case – in which time you are expected to live off your savings and your German potential clients are expected to wait for you. As an employee, you get a visa pretty much immediately and it is handled by your company.
3. Finding a good, long-term apartment is like finding the holy fucking grail. Start early. If you don’t want to pay high finder fees, make friends with Germans and ask them to alert you if any apartments are opening up in their buildings. Same goes for accountants. The ones that speak English and can file in both the States and Germany are often not taking new clients.
4. Tinder. I’m going to get shit for this, but whatever. 70% of my Tinder matches are in the startup scene, including founders, investors, and mentors. While my goal of online dating was not networking it oddly ended up that way.
5. Learning German is very, very helpful. (I was recently misquoted in the Sunday Times on this subject.) While you do not need German to work in Berlin, knowing the language would open more doors. When I first moved here, there were several companies I would have wanted to work for, including Waymate, that required both English and German.
Moving to Berlin is not easy. Along the way there were so many roadblocks (mostly visa, housing, and tax office related) that made me question how badly I really wanted to be in Berlin. After my first couple of months my ego was thoroughly trashed. You can’t be shy, you can’t take it personally if people don’t want to talk to you at networking events, or when investors blatantly ignore you only to ask you out months later. That said, if you are ambitious and talented, it is so much easier to a name for yourself in Berlin than in the States. The scene is new, it doesn’t matter who you know, all that matters is whether you are good at what you do.
Interested in coming to Berlin for the summer? I’m hiring a paid intern. The position is part time and would be be split between Berlin Startup Girl, Uproar Media Group, and my exciting new travel and wellness project Mat + Hammock. You need research and strong writing skills. Photoshop and design skills would be a bonus.
Resources for Events
The Fetch – Weekly curated event list for Berlin featuring events for business folk, technologists, and creatives.
Entrepreneurs Club Berlin - publishes a fairly detailed list of events on their site, but I’d also recommend paying attention to their Facebook page or signing up to their mailing list for events that don’t make it into their blog. Last year, the Entrepreneurs Club posted about the special Peter Thiel event, which turned out to be one of the best networking events in Germany, and had links to the application.
Berlin Startups Facebook Group – This is a community-driven group for the Berlin startup scene which features a handful of events posted by other tech folks that might not be published elsewhere. It is definitely worth joining.
SugarHigh – Okay, okay, this one definitely isn’t tech specific, but it just happens to be the best Berlin event newsletter. Written in both English and German and published daily, this newsletter continues to feature the most interesting events in the city. If you are interested in cultural going-ons like Berlinale Film Festival, vegan supper clubs, and nocturnal flea markets, sign up now.