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In Berlin and on start-up ecosystem self criticism

I spent a couple of days in Berlin this week with other members of the Balderton team. Balderton has been going to Berlin for a very long time and we have a great history of investments in the city (Wooga, RTT and Adjug are among the big names) and while it’s still relatively new to me I’m really excited to have joined the board of our portfolio company Contentful and so will be returning to the city frequently from this point on.

One of us is probably in the city almost every week of the year, but it’s rare for a bunch of us to descend at one time and, when we do, it gives us an excuse to organize bigger things than individual meetings, so we were able to set up a lunch to bring together some of the most interesting angel investors in the city and then take part in an event organized by the awesome Kerstin Bock and Nico LeWoi of Tech Berlin and @opnrs.


Nico expounds with my colleagues Rob Moffat and Daniel Waterhouse

The session was called #ScalingBerlin and there was a good discussion on where Berlin is in the entrepreneurship ecosystem lifecycle and how it compares to other hubs including London, Stockholm and, of course, the Bay Area. Hopefully the video that was being made will come out soon, but in the meantime, a few memes that kept re-surfacing and I think are worth repeating:

  • Depth Matters: It’s hard to start and build companies in a void. The Bay Area has decades of history in this and generations of people who’ve done it before who are ready to pitch in and help. This sort of historical depth is finally happening in Berlin. Ciaran O’Leary wrote about this is his post The third wave of Berlin Startups in more detail than I can or will here and is well worth the read.
  • Embrace Rocket: Once upon a time, plenty of people were happy to dismiss Rocket Internet as nothing more than a clone factory … as though that was all it did and as though that was an easy thing to achieve. I think that mood has changed in Berlin. It’s impossible to argue with Rocket’s success (in many, many different verticals and many, many different markets) and its model is a totally unique one. For once a European city is leading on what entrepreneurship and innovation looks like, rather than following the lead of the US or Asia – this is something to be proud of. Rocket is also a breeding ground for talent that is multi-faceted, experienced, hungry and knows how to build fast.
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    Openers event at the Axel Springer Entrepreneur space

    Patience: Perhaps the hardest thing of all for people who are, by their nature, very impatient, is the need for patience. Ecosystems take time, success takes time, building companies takes time. It’s good to be self-critical and to ask how your city is doing vs. others but be sure not to do this so much that you’re really just navel gazing and don’t let the pundits who need a new story every month get you down – this will take time to get right.