“You feel like an animal in the zoo” – frestyl on breaking down gender bias and revolutionising the live music industry


You couldn’t describe the team behind frestyl as being representative of the Berlin startup scene. Made up of three young women, all with PhDs and all first-time entrepreneurs and working on their passion – live music, frestyl breaks the male-dominated mould of the startup and tech scene in the capital.

Fresh from their three month incubation in Startupbootcamp Berlin, the team is working on redefining the way venues, clubs and promoters attract fans to events – and what a “typical” startup is.


The founders at partner venue Mein Haus am See

The three cofounders are American CEO Johanna Brewer (centre) and Italian CPO Arianna Bassoli (right), and CMO Emanuela Tumolo. Launched in Italy, where an alpha version of the app is available, the team is now working on going live in Germany this January.

The founders moved to Berlin to join the Startupbootcamp incubator, which resulted  in them being in a bit of a post-SBC depression when VentureVillage caught up with them –  though the founders are trying to overcome it by looking for a coworking office in Berlin with several of the other teams.

The freestyl web application is aiming to crack the lucrative events market – an industry that’s becoming increasingly popular with young startups. Frestyl offer event organisers a platform to push their shows, with event calendars, social media plugins and interactive event pages. Venues can use the site to get analytics on attendees while fans get something back too, logging into frestyl’s location-based mobile app to search for last-minute recommendations for nearby music shows and access special deals.

And while the number of startups in the industry seems to be growing rapidly, the frestyl founders are confident that they are offering a service that will revolutionise the industry. At the moment, their biggest competitor is Songkick, the world’s largest concert database, but the Berlin startup has a different approach from the database, working directly with organisers to put together the information on site, and share it with fans.

Ciao Italy, hallo Germany…

width="300"Brewer explains that frestyl is “trying to do what Myspace did for the artists, but for the venues”. That’s why Berlin, with its thriving live music events and nightlife, along with a vibrant startup scene, was the obvious choice for the startup – especially after having struggled with a scattered and inefficient industry in Italy.

“It’s more challenging to have a startup in Rome as there isn’t as much of a startup scene there, it’s under-stimulating, and there are no good accelerators. We hit a ceiling of growth there, we were the big fish in a small pond.

“Also, in Italy it’s ageist – you have to be old to get things done. It’s not likely someone who is 50 will take 20-somethings seriously. Plus the startup scene is fragmented, there is no hub in Italy – although everyone claims to be one, even Sicily!”

Though Bassoli is optimistic for the future: “The scene is growing, I think in a few years it’ll be better.” And the frestyl team won’t forget their Italian beginnings – they are targeting the Italian and German markets initially, planning on expanding “Gidsy-style” by starting locally and then city-by-city.

Entrepreneurship is in Brewer’s blood

CEO of frestyl and former programmer at the supercomputer in Zurich, Brewer began programming at age five, following in the footsteps of her father, a serial entrepreneur. Unlike the rest of her team, Brewer was well aware of the challenges of taking the plunge and launching their own startup.

“The others didn’t realise how big a change it would be starting a company. But I remember, because my dad is an entrepreneur, that one Christmas we’d have two aeroplanes, and then the next year they’d ask my grandma for money to buy shoes. So it was massive extremes.”

Luckily, the team is up for a challenge, after struggling through tough years doing research for their PhDs. “I think we like to make our lives more complex, because of working on PHDs. So we decided to take on the B2B2C market, the toughest market to crack,” Bassoli says.

Sexy Berlin partners

So far, so good – they already have a fair few venues on board in Berlin, including Mein Haus am See, Kommerzpunk, Columbiahalle, Flamingo, White Trash, Kesselhaus in Kulturbrauerei, among others. They are in talks with O2 World about a collaboration, too – the mega-venue is keen to appeal to appeal more to the 20-somethings and internationals. As Brewer puts it: “They’re not thinking, ‘I really want some more executives in my venue!'”

The co-founders are relying on word-of-mouth marketing, hoping the well-connected music scenes in each city will spread the word on frestyl and drive more sign-ups. To speed up the process, they’re commissioning staff on the ground in each new city to launch the app. Brewer recognises “we’re an attractive startup for interns – they think, oh cool, live music!”


frestyl cofounders with Startupbootcamp founder Alex Farcet

“You feel like an animal at the zoo”

While the differences between the founders at frestyl and a “typical” startup team seem insignificant when discussing their passion and work, the fact remains that all-female teams in Berlin are few and far between. But do the three women find cracking the male-dominated startup and tech scene a challenge?

“I think we get more attention and more bias. I have people coming up to me after my pitch and asking who does our programming, and I wonder if they listened to any of the pitch at all – like, I have a PhD in computer science, who do you think does the coding?!

“And people ask what its like being in a startup of all girls and I don’t know how to answer because I don’t know what it’s like being in a startup of all boys. I mean, I’ve always been a girl and this is my first startup. It seems like a silly question,” Brewer says.

Bassoli agrees: “It’s a double-edged sword, because there is a lot of talk on how there needs to be more girls in the startup and tech scene, and people write about “pink startups” and mention you, which is cool, because you get publicity, but it is weird because you’re considered to be in the minority. You feel like an animal in a zoo.”

Breaking new markets (and stereotypes)

“I think we’re just a weird thing for most people – we’re an all-girl startup and we have technical talent, we’re not doing something typically girly, we’re not girly at all and we’re doctors. And VCs don’t know how to respond to us – because the typical startup is made up of 20-something-year-old men,” Brewer explains.

“I think it’s just the attitude – you invest in what you know. Because the VCs think there are 16 things you need to have a successful startup, and they look at us, and they’re think, there are at least nine things going on and I don’t even know what they are! So they look at us and think, we love this, we feel this, this tastes amazing, but is this going to work?”

Time will tell, but there’s no doubt that the freestyl team have the energy and commitment to see them pretty far…

Image credit: Flickr user Stig Nygaard

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