I was one of the many who queued up about three weeks ago to hear Peter Thiel speak at the Springer Group’s Noah Conference. I was also one of the many who was electrified after a speech about a wake-up call the legendary Paypal co-founder and venture capitalist called out to the entrepreneurs and start-up founders – work hard for a better future, give globalization a second chance and, last but not least, abolish the basic data protection regulation again.
She, the DSGVO, is something like the incompetent version of Internet censorship in China. That’s some strong stuff. However, this comparison was even stronger: the DSGVO was an admission of failure that Europe was not in a position to create Internet groups as successful as the USA, and in this respect what the wall was for the GDR, and finally, the Berlin Valley is not a copy of the Silicon Valley, but a location that merely oscillates between freedom and leisure. What applies to Berlin applies to the whole of Germany and to the whole of Europe.
Shortly afterward I read his lecture in the daily newspaper “Die Welt” on June 7. And all the urgency of the spoken word was gone. What remained was the impression of an unsubstantial all-around attack without concrete proposals for action. Rather, I got the impression more and more that Peter Thiel has a very limited view of Europe, the European start-ups and the DSGVO. The latter is neither an Internet censorship à la China nor a wall to conceal the failure of Europe. No, for the first time, the DSGVO provides in Europe a uniform legal framework for all EU states with regard to data protection and naturally discourages the American data ogres, who per se regard personality protection / data protection as “damaging to business”, since they are effectively deprived of their business basis (which is why there is a patchwork of data protection from state to state in the so-called “progressive” USA and thus no legal certainty).
The words of the former mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, are true. The next unicorn – i.e. a startup with a market capitalization of more than one billion dollars – should come from Berlin, but that has not happened yet. However, start-ups now make up a substantial proportion of the labour market in Berlin. According to the 5th German Startup Monitor of the Federal Association of German Startups, startups create an average of 13 jobs. With just under 2000 start-ups in Berlin alone, this is certainly an economic factor. But of course: there is no unicorn.
Are unicorns really the measure of all things? Does Peter Thiel’s criticism really hit the heart of the matter? I mean: No.
In Europe – and above all in Germany, Austria and Switzerland – 90 percent of companies are medium-sized. In Germany, family-run companies are the backbone of the economy. They are successful on the world market, invest with a sense of proportion and are masters in process optimization. For them, digitization is not an end in itself, but a building block for more efficiency, fewer process errors and greater transparency. Unlike the US companies, they do not seek growth at all costs first, but sustainable profitability. As hidden champions, they invest not in visibility but in safety. However, in addition to these successful SMEs, there is also a steadily growing start-up scene in Europe. London, Paris and Berlin, Stockholm and Zurich are the epicenters of the founding scene.
The question arises as to whether the American or European model is ultimately the preferred approach, i.e. growth at all costs or sustainable management and the creation of true competitive advantages. Industry leaders such as UBER, Twitter, etc. have yet to prove proof of sustainable business development, even if the figures are without doubt impressive. The only question is whether the American model is actually the best for society as such or whether only a few benefit from it. Europe is different. Here the start-ups and also medium-sized companies prove that growth, success and sustainability are in harmony with society, which in my opinion is the preferred option.
I run two startups – Joinesty and actesy – from Berlin, although one was founded in Chicago and the other in St. Gallen. Why? Because Berlin is not just a place to queue in front of night bars (as Peter Thiel observed), it is a place where there are accelerators like the Axel Springer Group, there are events like Noah and I am in daily contact with interesting people who tackle, invest, develop and do business. Berlin can do both: Leasure and performance. Because one thing is clear, setting up a startup and leading to success is more comparable with an Ironman in the Alps than with a 100-meter sprint, with lots of ups and downs, which is why the beautiful views on the peaks and the quiet moments at the mountain lakes should be used for relaxation. This makes the Ironman much more bearable.
At actesy we have deliberately chosen this name, which has both an appeal to “Act Easy” and to “Accessibility”. (The proximity of sound to “Ecstasy” was rather involuntary.) We have just opened offices in North America and are working on our first leads for our actesy framework, with which we link the old and the new IT world. Connecting Digital Worlds is our slogan because we do just that: we open up traditional IT landscapes for digitization, cloud computing, mobile computing and artificial intelligence.
We create a piece of globalization through modernization. We are doing exactly what Peter Thiel misses so much in Europe and we feel even more inspired by a speech like this.
We may not become a unicorn but we will accompany countless medium-sized companies on their way to digitization and make them more successful. We are not building walls, but tearing them down – between digital worlds and between the two sides of the Atlantic.
Our promise: We are a step forward in Europe. From project to project. Test us.
Or tell me your opinion about this and other blogs. I look forward to hearing from you.
Andreas Imthurn CEO
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