What’s the recipe for success in Silicon Valley?

This post appeared on the Startupbootcamp blog back in April 2013 but I hadn’t added it to my personal blog. The majority of the information is still very relevant now!

On the 23rd and 24th of April, Startupbootcamp Berlin went to the NEXT Berlin conference, and in between seeing Google Glass in action, hearing from the CTO of Obama’s winning campaign, and watching Startupbootcamp Alumni LoyaltyLion pitch, we also spoke to several well known names. Here we share their advice for startups pitching in Silicon Valley.

Know who you’re pitching to

Max Niederhofer from Sunstone Capital, who was named Best Startup Advisor/Mentor 2012 at last year’s The Europas in Berlin, says that Europe doesn’t understand venture capital. He finds that European startups often offer too little equity, which is unappealing to VCs as European startups tend to make less money anyway. But for Max, a surefire way of spotting potential in a startup is when he has FOMO (fear of missing out) – if other investors are sniffing around a startup, they probably have something special that’s worth knowing about.

Be an engineer. Or think like one.

Hermione Way, journalist for The Next Web and serial entrepreneur, has lived in the Valley for the last 3 years, and finds that investors tend to look for engineer founders. As engineers have the potential to go straight from Stanford into high-paid jobs (as much as $200k), they are considered gold dust – Stanford’s top engineers provide much of the lifeblood of Silicon Valley startups. So if you don’t have the advantage of being an engineer, you still need to think like a techie. Julia Hartz, co-founder of ticketing giant Eventbrite (based in Silicon Valley) says that part of the success of Eventbrite is down to thinking like a tech company rather than thinking like a ticketing company. Indeed the overwhelming conclusion of the conference was that we all need to fail faster; “You can’t get anywhere unless you’re willing to fail” says Julia.

A great product alone isn’t enough

“We put emphasis on the product and the customer. It’s a dual focus”. A lot of companies offer a simple, self-service product but do not provide human support. At Eventbrite they set out to create a product that’s easy to use but they married that with human contact. Combining these factors with a carefully-selected, well-supported team makes for a fantastic package, and could be what helps you gain investment.

Thank you Julia, Hermione and Max for sharing your experiences.

This post originally appeared on the Startupbootcamp blog in April 2013.


Meeting Twitter followers in real life

Twitter follower

“How do you know this guy?”

“He’s my Twitter friend.”

“What does that even mean? Is it like that?”

“No, it’s not Like That.”

Ever met up with a stranger who follows you on Twitter? Neither had I, until last night. Neither of us are sure who made the first move when it came to following each other, but @EdwardJamesH and myself (@fakebananas) had a few months of back and forth; replies, retweets and favourites.

I suggested a pub in central London – suitably neutral. I was nervous that he might be slightly arrogant – after all, if your impression of a person is when they are on “broadcast” mode, you never know if that might also be the case in person. I was nervous anyway cos he was a Random Internet Stranger, the sort you’re warned against when you’re younger. I wore trousers with my geeky stripy socks showing so he would know we were friends from Twitter not Tinder (hey, women move in mysterious ways, don’t judge me). He was in a suit, straight from work. As it turns out, we got on really well and had more in common than I would have expected from a Random Internet Stranger.


So why did our paths even cross in the first place? Truth be told, I can’t actually remember. But the two of us do have overlapping interests, especially copywriting and online marketing. Both of us had been doing what you’re supposed to do on Twitter to get more followers, which is that we helped each other out. Which led to more conversations. We borrowed each other’s content, and offered each other industry-specific advice. Recently Edward even tweeted the link to a cover letter I wrote, to support my job application. We weren’t afraid to ask for each other’s help – after all, “it’s only Twitter”. No biggie. 140 characters of effort.

Something that took me by surprise and I was really pleased about was that we’d both really listened online. I had provided feedback on Edward’s blogposts, he said he found the articles I tweet really interesting, and we talked about some of them in detail, made recommendations and… Well, it struck me that we had exactly the sort of conversations that brands would love to have with their customers. Taking it from 140 characters a pop to nearly two hours of animated chatting. A great experiment for two people in the online marketing world.

In keeping with the blind date feel to this piece, I’ll tell you the gory details: I insisted on paying for the first round (Ed understood, he’s big on equality and all that!), we walked to the station together, but there wasn’t really a chemical spark. That wasn’t what I was looking for anyway. And it turns out you can’t tell from Twitter that I’m 6’1, so the major height difference was a lot more noticeable offline!

This post also appears on BuzzFeed Community.

The Berlin Startup Cheat Sheet

Berlin Startup Cheat Sheet

In September a group of TechCrunch employees were in Berlin in preparation for TechCrunch Disrupt Europe at the end of October, so I decided to prepare a document of usefulness. The aim was simply to provide a starting point for people who are new in town, with varying amounts of knowledge of the startup scene in Berlin. So I condensed everything I felt is important into one document, and made it shareable so that anybody can see it and download a copy for themselves. I’m considering creating Part Two with further info, so stay tuned.

So here it is:

The Berlin Startup Cheat Sheet

Enjoy. And if you tweet about it, do me a small favour and credit me @fakebananas. Thanks!

Pitching for the first time? 5 tips on perfecting your pitch from Startupbootcamp mentors

Are you an early-stage startup preparing for a potentially business-changing pitch? Here are some top tips from mentors in the Startupbootcamp Berlin programme, who are in the perfect position to give advice after spending the weekend listening to over 20 pitches…


1) Tell a personal story

Blinkist‘s Head of Communications Sebastian Rumberg found that startups spend too much time and effort on proving their point using figures and graphs. Instead, you should try to focus on one message, cut the excessive buzzwords, and put a story in the middle of your argument – one that’s personal will likely be the most engaging.

You only have a very small window to make an impression on your audience, so grab their attention early by connecting with their emotions. After all, people tend to make decisions, such as liking a business idea, based almost entirely on gut instinct and then tend to retroactively decide on a logical reason for it.

2) “Have a vision”

That’s what Jonas Piela, former CTO of Suxeedo, finds most engaging when hearing from young companies. He’s convinced that “people buy it for why you do it, and not what you do”. What impresses him most is when a startup says “this is our vision and we believe in…” Additionally, it’s important to communicate how your product reflects company values and beliefs.

3) First impressions really count

Hubraum‘s Head of Business Development Gaurav Singh makes up his mind about a company mostly based on the pitch rather than the conversation that happens afterward, which usually only provides about 20 per cent of what he wants to know.


It may sound obvious, but when you do get in front of an investor or mentor, make sure you’ve done your research so you can quickly get down to business. Ask relevant questions and don’t repeat the pitch you did on stage: “Just summarise your idea in two or three sentences to make sure everyone has a mutual understanding, then you can see whether they have questions for you.”

4) Acknowledge doubts

Business angel Tobias Wittich says the first thing you should do when you get a one-to-one session with an investor or a potential mentor is ask them, “Why wouldn’t you invest in me?” Provoke them into voicing their concerns: “They really have to give intelligent answers to that question, and you can reflect on the feedback.”

Also, he thinks it’s okay to admit your own doubts in a one-on-one conversation because this gives you more credibility – you’re also only human.

5) Proofread, proofread, proofread

Lastly, Wittich advises getting someone to check for spelling or grammar mistakes in your presentation. After rehearsing your pitch late at night, you’ll need fresh eyes to catch the small errors and someone who’ll be honest with you.

This article first appeared on Venture Village, a news site reporting on the European tech startup scene.

Sick of Silicon Valley?


From what can be gauged from recent opinion pieces online, people are getting fed up of Silicon Valley. The startup ecosystem is now very mature and there are a number of technology giants, several of whom have been in hot water recently over data protection. Yet still more people are flocking to the Valley and neighbouring San Francisco, looking to make money and maybe enemies too. So can we expect to see the same in burgeoning startup scenes like Berlin in the future? We found this post about San Francisco last week on Valleywag (the Silicon Valley news and gossip site) and it really struck a chord with us in Berlin. It was rather like gazing into a crystal ball to see what the city might be like in 30 years or possibly much sooner.

In the article, Chris Tacy laments the enormous rent prices in San Francisco, the overabundance of wealthy entrepreneurs and the lack of respect that new arrivals in the city have for their local area. He admits he was also once a new arrival looking to make his fortune, but declares “Now it’s worse than it was in 2000. Now it’s only about the money”.

What Tacy says about The Mission, an area of San Francisco, is alarmingly similar to how many feel about Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg and more recently Neukölln. These areas are changing, becoming gentrified and as this affluence arrives, some of the interesting aspects get drowned out. According to the Guardian, in the 90s and 00s over 60% of Prenzlauer Berg’s residents were driven out – presumably by rising rents. Gentrification is a particularly hot topic here, with journalists musing over it, young locals spraying the streets with Go Home Yuppie Scum, and expats bickering over who was here first. Discussions in the forums of Toytown Germany, an English-speaking website, often point the finger at foreigners: “Friedrichshain is chock full of hipster imports. Suggesting they are not having an effect on rents is downright silly.” Of course, gentrification and the startup scene are not one and the same – in Berlin, San Fran, or anywhere – but they definitely overlap.


When reading the Valleywag article, we substituted San Francisco in 1992 with Berlin in 2008, and found that much of it still reads perfectly, such as this paragraph:

“I moved to Berlin in 2008. I was looking for a job – but I was also looking for a new life and a place that had hope and excitement and which provided a bigger, wider and more diverse world to play in. I found a city made up of wildly different people – of all types – spread across a huge range of little tribal neighborhoods. It was a massive melting pot of values, ethnicities, world views, ages and economic classes.”

Berlin certainly has a huge variety of lifeforms like San Francisco, and some of its diversity is potentially being watered down with the influx of hipsters and those looking to start their business here, which is causing tension with longer-standing expats. But unlike San Francisco, we’ve not really attracted the money-hungry set. Not yet anyway. People come to Berlin to start their business in a fantastic, welcoming ecosystem – not to make their millions, or even billions.

If the article really shows what’s to come in Berlin and other young startup scenes, we can potentially expect big exits, big cars and a lot of “douchebaggery”. We should maybe view it as something of a warning. Currently we’re so excited about helping make Berlin into Europe’s most important tech hub (with some even wanting to make into ‘the next Silicon Valley’) that we’re not paying attention to the potential downsides of this process. So can we slow down the negative impact? Some starting points would be caps on rising city rents, more initiatives such as Give Something Back To Berlin and on an individual level, doing your best to be aware of the impact you have as a person, as a foreigner and as part of a startup. Our impact is a mixture of positives and negatives, so our main job is to be considerate of our surroundings.


Berlin, as a city, is still changing and finding its identity – one that is quite different to San Francisco and the Valley – and we should aim to help maintain its amazing diversity and rich culture. In 10 years’ time, people might feel the same disdain for the omnipresence of startups as they do at the moment about Starbucks. So, in the words of Marissa Mayer, we should “promise not to screw it up”.

Photo credit: Dunkin’ Berliner and The Exiled

This post originally appeared on the Startupbootcamp blog on 19th June 2013