Berlin Start-up Life

Berlin Start-up Life

By: Chesa Tan | Business Co-op Student
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"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

That was one of the questions I had to face upon being a new hire. Easy yet tough to answer – anything can change in as little as two weeks. I work at a start-up company in Berlin, where we do mobile games marketing. Even tougher - it's an industry that experiences high rate of change. A year ago, in one of my marketing courses, I wrote a paper about Smart phone sales and a possible app-based niche business in Europe. Through research, my team found that Smartphone sales were relatively struggling in France. Today, it is undeniably the opposite.

In Fall 2010, I decided to go on a semester exchange program in the southern part of Germany, in Universität Mannheim. Sure I learned about global marketing, international accounting standards, and whatnot. I was in my exchange student bubble-- great parties, a handful of friends from all over the world, and a lot of new life lessons. From 2011, up until I came back to Germany, I have been searching for my own answers. Why do I keep dwelling with my life back then? Was it just glorified because of the fun student life? I wanted to find out. So I took my first steps, I Googled it. I started searching for some internships abroad. London, Greece, Netherlands, you name it; I was open to anything, everything. Luckily, I eventually landed an internship placement in a super cool start-up, right in the heart of Berlin. I never would have known that in as little as two years, I would be back in Germany; in a city that I thought I would have only been a tourist of in December 2010.

"That's Berlin." It doesn't come easy, it's a huge city. Finding rent was, and still is a pain (but you can get lucky!). Language barriers, visa papers, completely different pay standards, work environments, management styles, cultural differences, opening bank accounts, paying for insurance (using it is another story), the lack of good sushi, enduring a -15 C so-called spring day at the end of March, quite a change, no? But the set-up is just the beginning. It isn't too bad. The construction work, the abandoned buildings, the concoction of new and old, the annoying rail disruptions, and the abundant selection of bio foods and yogurt flavours, these little things are growing in on me. Even the German language is starting to sound attractive. Unfortunately, a lot of the old is being replaced. Just like threats of taking the Berlin wall down for new apartments. I'm lucky to live here while the history still breathes.

The Start-Up Life.

I signed up for a four month internship starting October, and I'm now halfway through my four month extension. When I was hired in May 2012, the subcompany that I am now working for was just in its planning phase. Now, six months later, in March 2013, the company has undergone several restructures, having more defined positions and divisions for team members, now with a team of around 20 people from 13 different nationalities, nested in 3 continents of the globe. I have experienced a lot of change during my 6 months in this company. Even in this city, where I have experienced my first harsh winter, my learning curve is ever-steep with no foreseeable end.

Every day I am learning something new about the industry, how to set and manage a business, some new German (or French) word, about life in another country, and of course, a bit about me. Some weaknesses I thought were mine, turned out to be strengths, and vice versa.

So What is it Like?

Working in a start-up, one cannot expect the 9 to 5 life. It requires a lot more dedication and of course an intrinsic drive to perform. To put it into perspective, a simple analogy: The sub-company is sized like a regular SFU tutorial class group, except this time we're not competing for the A's, but for market share, and every minute of late reaction is most likely a dollar wasted. Work hours are from 10:00 - 19:00, usually 20:00, (10:00 am – 8:00pm) sometimes later when I have some more tasks I'd like to finish. Unlike in Canada, there is no such thing as time-and-a-half. Start-ups can define their own rules. In my opinion, work and life are more-so intertwined than separated. I would have to check my email on some weekends; sometimes I like it and sometimes I absolutely don't.

My colleagues are also now my greatest friends. I consider myself lucky to have joined the team and witness this transformation. As we had been motivated with a promise of a team trip after reaching a certain goal, I was ecstatic to have my first sight of Barcelona with people whom I mostly prefer to call "friends that I work with". But even if the work hours and level of dedication are more demanding compared to the regular corporate full-timer, it's more rewarding to have the amount of responsibility you are given, with a larger chance to create a significant, positive impact. Besides, everybody enjoys the social lunch munches, and afternoon Fußball breaks. It's quite amusing when the coffee machine runs out. Since Berlin is known to be THE start-up hub, it's great to be working in such an international scene.

By now I would be a Platinum Skype member, if there was one. My extended work-term has validated my personal theory of working in or with anything international, while also showing that I'm out of the idealistic student-life view I have of Germany. I can work here, and I can live here. The best answer I've found so far is that I want to, despite the challenges. I would like to come back to the company and work, after graduating SFU. That would be in around two to three semesters. That's quite a lot of time. In my six months here, huge change can and has happened in a matter of hours. It could be completely different, with all new faces. For all I know, I could even hope for a shot at the newly established San Francisco office. I'm open to all possibilities.

So where do I see myself in five years?

Good question. The minute you open up on a global scale, possibilities are just endless. I suppose somewhere sunny.

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware". -Martin Buber

Posted on May 14, 2013