Angels Among Us in Berlin, Germany
When given a chance to meet in Mitte with the OG of the startup capital of Germany, take it! And so it was, that after discovering our 400 shared LinkedIn connections, I had a good feeling that Christoph Raethke and I would have something meaningful to talk about.
I was curious about his studies abroad in Costa Rica, which I too had contemplated before studying abroad further south in Mendoza, Argentina. We both focused on Latin American history and Spanish and yet, here we sat in Kaffee Mitte, dissecting the current state of the startup ecosystem in Berlin, Germany. Wondering together: is it friendly enough for more in-person events to return and flourish? Or will it follow the Tech Open Air path that resulted in an online learning cohort?
The pandemic has absolutely doused the fire of what used to be a pretty happening scene here of Meetups and in-person events, where people en masse could exchange ideas, recruit each other, brainstorm, etc.
When I suggested Twitter as a potential solution to generate online interaction leading to IRL encounters among like-minds, that platform was quickly dismissed by him as a playground of vanities — where only a self-selected group tries to outdo each other in 280 characters or less, without diving deep enough into topics, the way that Substack or Patreon encourage.
On the topic of “packaging knowledge”, Christoph is an outspoken advocate for mentorship. He has mentored countless startups; his free resources can be found on christophr.de, for example the pitch method (pitchbridge.org) and monthly Meetups. Christoph previously productized his knowledge via an evergreen podcast, Angels of Deutschland.
(Interestingly, his content is split 50/50 German and English — podcast German, Meetup English, Pitch method English, with some articles in German etc. — this is because in some areas, he aims to reach Germans outside the startup bubble who are not familiar with the lingo.)
But back to why was such a podcast necessary? Because sharing actionable information with the people who want to start companies here in Germany still needs doing. And it’s not only information that entrepreneurs need, but also funding.
When I asked him: Why IS angel investing so vital for the German economy? I unearthed some things that are a bit hard to swallow. Namely, did you know there are 18 accelerator programs in Berlin alone? I did not. That sounds good at first for encouraging innovation until you realize that those are mostly funded by a limited pool of public money, i.e. taxpayers and government. Compare that to something like Y Combinator in the US.
The problem here is that startups going thru these accelerators come out the other side with mentorship or some contacts but still no money on the table.
But angels have ‘skin in the game’, something that the majority of people working in big German companies whose job titles contain the word innovation, actually have not had. They may never have worked in, nor backed a startup. Christoph says the best way to understand entrepreneurship is either to launch a startup, or invest in one, (and I would add work in one.)
There is an economic benefit here. If more people from large organizations became part of the startup ecosystem it would not just be about M&A and sales. When I questioned if somehow there would be a conflict of interest he said, yes and that is precisely what he wants to create.
So what’s Christoph’s idea here? Well, what if management insisted that people in these “innovative” roles had to actually invest in a minimum of three companies? There is no steeper learning curve than that!
Christoph also sees a problem at the university level in Germany, where public institutions appear hostile to entrepreneurship. Unlike say Stanford or MIT, which are clearly motivated to invest in promising startups. (For this, I decided to send him over to Earlybird UNI-X who is tackling this.)
So that’s about where we landed after just one brief coffee together. Imagine what we would discover with more! ☕️
Fun fact: Want to check out Europe’s only band of tech investors where Christoph is playing gigs soon? Check out https://www.bcandthevcs.de/