2. September 2013–
Christoph Raethke, never a man to knowingly own a tote bag, explains why we need to stop obsessing about the Berlin Startup Hipster stereotype and just go on creating excellent new businesses.
A few weeks ago, a startup founder from Buenos Aires moved to Berlin. While she's German herself, she had been following the Berlin startup scene only through blogs and media. In her first week here, she set up a meeting with a well-known Berlin startup CEO, talked to him for an hour or so, and returned, saying: “That was just such an intense, down-to-earth, valuable discussion! What a break from all the hipster talk about Berlin!”
This made me realise how far the “Berlin hipster” image had perpetuated around the globe. And in turn, this made me realise, too, that it’s time to draw in the reins on this joke. Because that’s what it is – the whole “hipster” moniker and the fake observations around it – a joke. Initially, everybody knew that, because the realities of working on a digital product with no money are everything but hipster...
Constructing a "latte macchiato" lie
The realities are, in fact, the total opposite, which is how I think the whole joke came to be. In the same way that surgeons find casual words for their bloody work and how policemen play down stress and tedium of their job, entrepreneurs made up a "latte macchiato" side of their industry.
That becomes clear as soon as you seriously ask people if they can name a single startup CEO or founder in Berlin who actually fits the hipster cliché – who, in other words, is a superficial, lifestyle-driven, intrinsically lazy, metrosexual wimp relying on mom and dad’s subsidies. The answer – also from the Latin American founder I mentioned earlier – always is: “Hmmm… now that you’re asking me… Well, actually… No, I can’t.”
Earlier this year, when I lambasted January’s onslaught of self-celebratory startup events, I already mentioned that the founders put into the limelight there were the opposite of the events’ shallowness. Today, as I read an article about the supposed “Hipster-Dämmerung” marked by Amen’s and Gidsy’s demise, it strikes me again how wrongly overused the hipster cliché is when commenting on what’s going on in Berlin.
Hipters don't start companies, committed founders do
In my opinion, the reason why Amen went under is that it was a useless product that nobody wanted, that addressed no pain point, that served no market need. Even an amount of media coverage and money that other startup founders would kill for could not make people use it. But I’m rather certain it didn’t go under because of the founders not having put in the work or being in any way hipster-y.
Other companies often mentioned in cliché-painting articles about the startup scene are 6Wunderkinder and EyeEm. But for the life of me, I can assure you that their founders and teams are the most level-headed, thoughtful, and even humble people you'll find – that's no coincidence. When taking the train back from Pirate Summit in Cologne on Tuesday, Google Adwords man Marc Preusche and I had a few hours to talk about why we love to be in Berlin and work with startups. The answer was that here, you have the chance to work and talk to the best people you could ever want to spend your time with.
The sincerity and intensity shared between people who have on average four university degrees, speak five languages, and could easily be making six-digit salaries at consulting companies, but chose to build their own startup that in 90 per cent of cases will fail, is sometimes heartbreaking.
But it’s real. Their commitment and modesty is far beyond anything found among corporate employees. The risks that highly educated young Italians, Spaniards, Poles take when arriving here without a job, apartment, or speaking German, are enormous – and, yes, noble.
There is no Berlin hype
So when I read journalists write about the supposed “Berlin hype” and the related “hipsterdom”; when I hear business consultants paid €1200 per day to have answers for all questions (as long as they can be put into PowerPoint slides) scoff at the “latte macchiato scene”, what I really hear is jealousy. What I really hear is the envy of people who haven’t found anything in their lives that makes them want to take a risk and build something. What I hear are excuses for why they’d rather stay in a safe job. What I hear is fear of freedom.
I think we should remind ourselves of that from time to time. There is no Berlin hype. There are no hipsters. Instead, there is a community of people who are the crème of their generation, and nothing they do is ultimately in vain. Let that be known from here to Buenos Aires.
For related posts, check out:
Too many accelerators: Are corporate startup programmes doing more harm than good?
Opinion: Politicians and startups – time for entrepreneurs to ditch the skepticism
Corporate Germany’s love affair with startups: Axel Springer Plug and Play Accelerator opens for applications