What it’s really like to work in Berlin’s startup scene

Secret insights into the inner workings of a startup…

I decided to talk to startuppers in Berlin. I wanted to find out: What is it actually like to work in the famous ‘Berliner startup scene’?!

In addition to the varying success of start-ups in Berlin, I guessed some part of what the work entailed isn’t made public in the romanticised cliches that you hear…

I tried to talk with people in person to learn about their daily life in a startups and capture the image of a person who would feel comfortable and happy working in a small team of a startup in the German capital.

Their Worries, first impressions, their ups and downs, and the experiences they have gained – that’s what we were talking about.

Now I want to introduce you to my findings.

Maybe you are looking for a position in a start-up, maybe you want to found your own organisation or perhaps you’re just interested in the experience of working in a multicultural environment.

So, let’s go – let’s lift the curtain to see what the Berlin startup scene is really about.

#0 Why Berlin is a start-up hub?

Berlin is known for many things…

… among them are cheap living costs, modern art galleries, hipsters, black clothes, sneakers, and some good techno beats. However, in recent years Berlin has also become renowned for being a highly sought-after place for startups and young entrepreneurs…

It is super international. And, again, maintenance is SO cheap in comparison to other startup cities like London, NYC or Silicon Valley. Like SO much cheaper, haha. Even with the rents increasing, as they are right now, in comparison it’s still a good price…

In any case, young and aspiring people from all over come here. Indeed, they enjoy its pragmatic way of life and look for new opportunities and inspiring encounters.

As a result, this is also the reason why Berliner startup scene is growing so quickly.

It’s no secret that during a casual encounter in a cozy café in Friedrichshain or a noisy smoky bar in Kreuzkölln, you’ll be likely to come across start-uppers – open-minded smiling people who are passionate about what they do, trying to bring new ideas to their hubs, discover their own potential, find their place in the vibrant city that never sleeps.

As you may know, start-ups build their business on the basis of innovative ideas and technologies. Usually, they don’t have their own capital for development, that’s why no matter how many start-ups appear, the majority of them are closing down quickly, perhaps a year or two after they started… The lucky ones manage to collect some funding and may survive a little longer; a tiny minority turn into functioning (and if really lucky, into profitable) businesses.

It’s hard to believe it now, but Google, Uber, Airbnb, and N26 were also startups in the beginning. Moreover, N26 has now grown to be a top company to provide cheap business accounts for other start-ups in Germany – despite the recent criticism it’s still remarkable how super fast they have grown!

It makes me think: To have such a great success you have to be 100% devoted and work hard, no matter what position you currently hold. Is that always true?

Apart from that, my interest in connecting with people from start-ups was to understand what exactly attracts young people to this job opportunity that comes with little pay and a great deal of uncertainty.

To put it into other words – why do startups in Berlin are more attractive to some young people than jobs in large international organisations that come with excellent reputation, financial stability, and foreseeable career opportunities? Is it a shift in our generation or is it really an atmosphere that one wouldn’t trade for a traditional working place? Or maybe it’s the curiosity of young people who simply want try out something exciting before settling down properly… – when you still have no responsibilities and taking risks seems easy…

So let’s see what the startuppers told me. Some of them had already spent more than a year working in different types of start-ups in Berlin.

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#1 Berlin’s start-up space – how to blend in?!

It turns out start-ups in Berlin are not ONLY about having fun and meeting like-minded people (it’s a part of it, though, that’s true…).

Indeed, there are some unwritten rules. Some things you may just want to know about BEFORE you work in a startup.

Unless of course, you prefer to jump into the cold water. And learn by doing ;)

That being said, ‘jumping in’ is actually a very entrepreneurial thing to do!

Anywayyyyy, here I present key takeaways from my interviews.

Why work in a small company that’s most likely to fail?!

Definitely for the creatives – Startups in Berlin are THE place when it comes to trying out crazy ideas. Be able to be your own boss. Make mistakes and learn from them. That being said: If you want to be accepted by your team or just to feel comfortable with given tasks – you better be up to speed with the latest skills and trends in the industry, no matter what the product is about…

Interaction is 50% of the job– Startups usually consist of a team of young people. Roughly, 50% of the time, people are brainstorming, working in a co-working space or café (with Internet!) till late at night. It can get intense. No doubt!

But most of them enjoy these days as they come with self-determination and control over their lives, no bosses who tell them what to do (or at least it’s not called a ‘boss’… haha). Relying on their own gut feeling and trying out new things – the learning curve is so steep! It’s crazy.

Apart from that, start-ups here are super multicultural where people talk all the time, share their experiences, where it’s so much easier to find like-minded because everyone enjoys having a common mission and the team spirit.

Apart from good friends, you get good networks– Spending a year as part of a start-up you you can get to know lots of new people from all walks of like. They may, or may not, play a role in your future career. Or private life. You never know. Haha. In any case, it provides you with a unique and international network. Everyone knows everyone here, it’s a very small world. So, seems like it’s your choice to use it or keep a low profile.

Be ready to be at school again– Even if you think you know a lot, you will still learn and learn something new every day. It’s easier for those that are adventurous. Who are curious. Flexible. Dynamic…. Does that sound like you?!

Doubts and downsides of working in start-ups in Berlin:

Don’t wait for flat hierarchy even if it’s a given– Even if people say there is no hierarchy, there is one. A good thing is that people are open and it’s okay to ask for help and an extra explanation when you are stuck.

Still, you will probably be at your position for 2 years minimum. And if it’s an entry position, be ready to cover all the side tasks that can pump-up daily.

High turnover– Some employees say that a downside is that some aspiring founders lack work experiences and skills that may lead to creating companies with unrealistic goals, poor planning, clueless management etc. This result of this is a general feeling of instability and insecurity, “There have been lots of cuts in companies a past month, firing is a normal thing here, such as AppLift, Glispa, Houzz, Booking.com. That results also in over 200 people roaming around Berlin looking for jobs” – says one of the start-up workers.

The success of a start-up comes at a price– Until the start-up is a small group fascinated about the project is one story. When a start-up suddenly grows, it keeps an old organizational structure. That’s why it becomes more complex for the employees since it’s no longer applicable in the new environment, where often business angels, venture capitalists or new CEOs come to shape the way in which the company is managed. But I guess that’s the natural progression between a ‘start-up’ and proper ‘company’… So if you want to keep up the fresh spirit, in which a lot can happen in a short amount of time, perhaps just found another startup?

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#2 Employees choice: popular co-working spaces and working-friendly cafes in Berlin

Here are some places where employees of start-ups enjoy working. These cafes allow laptops and have good Wi-Fi.

You can also gather a small meeting here if you want to work outside of the office to change the atmosphere and get inspiration and new ideas.

Cafes: 

  • OSLO Kaffeebar, Eichendorffstrasse 13
  • Oberholz, Zehdenicker Strasse 1
  • Betahaus Café, Rudi-Dutschke-Straße 23
  • Café Liebling, Raumerstraße 36A
  • HERMANN’S, Torstraße 116-118
  • Digital Eatery, Unter den Linden 17

Co-working spaces:

#3 Summing up – why would someone want to work in a startup in Berlin?

After talking to people about their work and experiences in Berlin start-ups, I came to a conclusion that when you like the city and you choose you path being devoted to the process, the city will eventually reply in the same way.

So, why are start-ups in Berlin so popular?

1) It’s a great opportunity to get new contacts

2) It’s perfect to learn fast and to increase your experience

3) It challenges your creative boundaries as well as your comfort zone confines

4) … and, sometimes, it can be fun! :)

Startups – means not having to separate your working life from having fun – until that first bakery, café or software company comes into existence. As well as you agree to chill in the sun during a long weekend and having to work until late at night on Monday. Because that is just the way it goes. It’s a lifestyle in “poor, but sexy” Berlin.

Coming with a high turnover and unstable positions – why do people still tend to look for jobs in start-ups?

Because it’s more fun! Party or not, it’s easier to get a job, easier to get promoted, even easier to find other job opportunities if you want to move further. Moreover, it’s always an inspiring international crowd you’ll be working with – the close relationships among the employees may just turn into a long-lasting friendship.

Seems like for people who come to Berlin and feel it’s the place to be, working among like-minded people and being creative is more important than having stable social benefits and a contract that covers your expenses and promotes a solid ground for the future…

So, if you are in, I guess be ready to drink a lot of club-mate and have a lot of fun! : )

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