Hamburg It starts with Nico Rosberg. The former racing driver sits in front of the webcam – in the basement, so that the children don’t suddenly burst in. “In difficult times you learn the most about yourself,” he says. The difficult time – that is of course the corona crisis, the sudden natural disaster that can throw even a world champion off the track.
Rosberg has therefore acquired a retro cell phone that replaces the smartphone during the day. It shields itself from the breaking news, the disaster reports. He only reads emails twice a day, so he meditates in the morning. Rosberg himself finds this somewhat unusual, for safety’s sake he shouts a half-ironic “Ommmmmm” into the camera.
On Sunday, Rosberg was the first speaker at the first virtual founder breakfast of the Munich start-up conference Bits & Pretzels. The three conference founders filled three and a half hours of video stream. An attempt to move the tech conference from the exhibition hall to the network showed that the start-up scene is just as perplexed as the new investor Rosberg.
The Bits & Pretzels makers brought up plenty of well-known speakers – investors like Frank Thelen, experts from law firms and consultants, founders like Amorelie front woman Lea-Sophie Cramer. As a supposed highlight, even the US actor Kevin Spacey, who had fallen out of favor in his home country, was allowed to report on what he learned from his abrupt career end.
But the start-up industry cannot look into the future either. So a lot of things inevitably remained vague, garnished with the optimism typical of the scene. Investor Thelen, for example, promises that the crisis is also a special opportunity. Start-ups could adapt to new events much faster than large corporations. “You have the cloud, you have 3D printing,” he called. And of course: “You have to act agile now.” “Thinking out of the box” is another piece of advice off the shelf.
Advice with gut feeling
Of course, he doesn’t have any more concrete insights than just about any user on Twitter. “My gut feeling tells me: we have no fundamental problem, we just press the pause button”, he suspects – and predicts that larger events with more than a hundred participants would have to be canceled by early 2021. Nevertheless, investors should stay tuned – even if not every start-up can be saved: “We don’t want the Chinese and Americans to intervene even more in our ecosystem due to an imbalance.”
He agrees with Bits & Pretzels man Felix Haas: the crisis shows the true character of an investor. Does he take advantage of the difficulties of his founders to cheaply secure additional shares, or is he really helpful? For Haas, however, it is also clear: “No founder has the right to have his valuation held.”
The response to the problems is roughly divided into two directions among the speakers. One faction preaches a new kind of inwardness. In addition to Rosberg, Amorelie boss Cramer is one of them. The founder of Sextoy-Versand recommends a new thankfulness, gentleness for own mistakes, to act in small things, and if it is only the postcard to the grandma.
The second faction plunges into action more than ever. Zarah Brunn, a regular guest at conferences as the founder of the social enterprise Social Bee, which wants to integrate refugees into the job market, has brought together partners who program a new app at an impressive speed. In a few days, “Bring and Ring” should enable practical neighborhood help for high-risk groups: Seniors, for example, can then put lists of purchases online that a neighbor provides. Brunn already has sponsors like Alexander Samwer on board, and she is still looking for a payment specialist so that cashless payment can still work.
Christian Vollmann, founder of Nebenan.de, reacts similarly. He started a free hotline for senior citizens, including Telekom. Needs for help received in this way can be seen and answered by neighbors online. 3000 calls have already been received, response rate 90 percent, says Vollmann. He also benefits from business: his commercial neighborhood portal records five times more new registrations in the crisis.
Unique guest appearance for Spacey
Graduated by actor Spacey. “It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to so many people,” says the former house-of-cards superstar, considering up to 35,000 viewers on the stream. In 2017, his career broke down after several allegations of harassment. “I can understand what it means when the world suddenly collapses and you lose control,” says Spacey.
Successful people wanted to keep pushing the gas, driving the car without measuring tire pressure and checking the oil level. When an engine breaks down, they then no longer know where and who they are, he says. “I defined myself through my work. Suddenly I had to ask myself: who am I now? “, He says. “You can discover a new part of yourself begging to be heard,” said Spacey, who only spoke publicly about his homosexuality after the allegations. His hopeful message: “It gets better!”
The founders of Bits & Pretzels were obviously aware that Spacey’s appearance was delicate. After all, the lawsuits against him have fizzled, but the allegations of harassment have not been refuted. The three organizers explained several times why the actor would be switched on: they had been in contact since appearing at the conference in Munich, and Spacey had become a real crisis expert.
Originally, Spacey was even supposed to join the conference in 2017 shortly before the allegations of harassment became known. However, this should not happen now. The appearance was a unique thing, said a conference spokeswoman on request.
However, the virtual start-up breakfast should not remain a one-off. Haas and his partners Andreas Bruckschlögl and Bernd Storm want to be in front of the cameras again on one of the coming weekends. Then your connected experts will have even more concrete helpful information about applying for short-time work, grants from the rescue packages and the details of KfW loans.
There was a lot of encouragement online for the conference, which was also free thanks to sponsors – with a few detailed suggestions. The lectures were interesting, complained on Twitter, but the event dragged on a bit. Indeed, the program would have been enough for two virtual conferences.
Because, this is also a realization of the committed experiment: In such a virtual conference, the chat in the hallways is missing. The improvised business meeting and the quick exchange with potential investors are eliminated. But that’s at least half of the benefits of the real Bits & Pretzels conference during the Oktoberfest season. Discussion offers for small groups of participants on Zoom and Google Hangouts could not replace that.
Nevertheless, the virtual conference could be one of the positive remnants from the Corona period when the virus is defeated. The conference participants hoped for positive effects. “It is difficult to say which good resolutions and how much less we really end up flying,” said Blossom Capital investor Ophelia Brown. The virtual founder breakfast could be one of them.
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