My last job was for a software media company operating out of Silicon Valley. There I was introduced first hand to the Silicon Valley phenomenon. As you know, Silicon Valley is the financial and creative epicenter of new media and has a fascinating recent history, with some of the most innovative, society changing technology companies emerging out of there. It’s companies have redefined business culture & business models and spread its ethos to other industries and regions. It has attracted tons of brilliant programmers, visionaries and problem-solvers, some of whom I had the pleasure of working with. They have the start up dream, the hope to work in a high energy, cool, cutting edge environment.
But in reality this is may be more of a dream for a time gone by. While the companies in Silicone Valley may have changed the way others do business, it seems that in the process they have since themselves have been changed. I saw that my company was trying (in vain) to prop up the image of a lost start-up spirit. Employees wanted to feel that the company was hip and relaxed, there was a lot of focus on “cool” office decorations, casual and light info presentations, open brainstorming sessions. But behind the curtain, it proved to be a highly corporate environment, with a highly corporate mentality and a surprisingly strict hierarchical organization. The brainstorming ideas and input from non-executives was appreciated, but rarely implemented into the process.
I have since read a few articles about how changed silicon valley has become since its inception, how much of the “magic” has been lost. Which leads me to believe what I experienced is likely a widespread phenomenon. Once you get huge capital investment and the attention of the market, something new starts to be expected of you. And the executives focus changes. It is no longer so much about innovation but rather strategy, brand positioning and market share.
Like they say in any given music scene, “it was better in the old days, before everyone else got into it.”
So if Silicon valley is on the out, where else can the new media entrepreneurs (i.e. me) of the world look to get their start?
The Answer is Berlin!
There is so much potential here: a highly skilled workforce, high unemployment (which means a largely available and hungry workforce), cheap living costs, transportation and infrastructure efficiency, its capital city status, its geographic position between western and eastern europe, a soon-to-be open huge International Airport. As a result, small app companies, new start-ups, conferences about start-ups, organized meetings with entrepreneurs in the new media field have been popping up increasingly in the last 2 years. SoundCloud a very popular music application is based here, and more established companies are also opening up branches around the city. A new media community has sprung up around Rosenthaler Platz in Mitte and the city has started to notice.
But there are some downfalls to operating in Berlin. The city is kinda broke, there is not a culture of venture capital investment here on the scale of San Francisco or London, and while Berliners are known for trying out every- and anything when it comes to parties, they are pretty broke too and not so likely to be early adopters. This means that the local market, which has traditionally been the testing ground, may not be ideal.
But besides this Berlin feels electric right now.