In February 2020 I wrote a blog entitled “Innovation in Germany” in which I expressed my concerns and also criticism about how Germany is falling further behind in terms of innovation and new technologies. The real technological innovations continue to come mostly from Silicon Valley or for example from countries like Israel. But are we really that bad, that far behind, or perhaps even already knocked off? Haven’t companies like Biontech and CureVac just recently demonstrated the opposite? Does the brand “Made in Germany” still have some value?
Startup companies in Germany
Over the past few months, I’ve been looking more closely at startup companies in Germany. Clearly, I only got an impression of a very small fraction, and certainly, many other people know this scene for much longer and therefore will be able to judge it much better than me. But for someone like me who, as I mentioned earlier, has always been critical of Germany’s role as a technology location, this was an experience which let me be more optimistic again. We certainly don’t need to hide behind anyone when it comes to talent, creativity and risk-taking. In my generation the majority of college graduates typically wanted to be employed by one of the top dogs in the industry in order to work their way up on the career ladder as quickly as possible. At that time, I also made the conscious decision to take this path.
From university to founder
During my time as a university student, I worked in a startup company as a software developer. However, the term “startup company” didn’t even exist back then. After graduation I received an offer from the founder for a permanent position, but I didn’t accept this offer at the time. Today this startup, which started with working students on the ground floor of an old apartment building, is a very successful medium-sized software company. How would things have turned out for me if I had stayed there? Unfortunately, this remains pure speculation, but I still ask myself this question from time to time. Today I have a lot of respect for young college graduates who start their own company to realize their own ideas. You usually only read or hear about the success stories where the big million-dollar investments rain down on young founders. We rarely talk about the many others who make their way with just a small financing round or without any support at all, about those who work around the clock, seven days a week, to make their dream of their own company come true. I’ve met a few of them and I’m sure we’ll hear from the one or other in the years to come.
Selling a credible vision
While we hear almost daily about huge investments in US startup companies, sometimes even in the triple-digit millions, we wonder why we do not see this to the same extent in Germany. Certainly, some of these companies have ingenious ideas and business models. However, in the case of others you could ask yourself whether investors are not relying too much on wild fantasies and a lot of hot air. I am absolutely convinced that the “founders made in Germany” do not have to hide behind the competition from Silicon Valley, Israel or anywhere else in the world when it comes to creativity, intelligence and innovative spirit. But perhaps we are simply limited by our cultural background. We Germans generally have a hard time selling our visions in a convincing way. We often doubt ourselves if we can’t prove everything one hundred percent. We often focus on the twenty percent risk and push the eighty percent chance to the side.
Finding the right comrades-in-arms
It is also often not easy for founders to find the employees with the right attitude. A lot of people are interested in open positions at startup companies, but during interviews it becomes obvious pretty quickly that big titles and high fixed salaries are more important than the willingness to take risks and work hard. People expect clear job descriptions and responsibilities, while there is no real motivation to think outside of the box, to roll up the sleeves and to go the famous extra mile. But fortunately, you can find also those, who get their motivation from building something new and not only working on the founder’s vision, but also developing it further and, above all, implementing it.
Germany is left behind in key industries
The automotive industry has painfully demonstrated that we should not leave the responsibility to keep our reputation as the land of inventors and engineers to the big corporations. For me, it is still a slap in the face of our so-called flagship industry that e-mobility is being led by an American visionary who has never built a car before. Of course, there are always the arguments that the mechanical quality of these cars does not come close to what we are used to. But Tesla will certainly fix that quickly. Technologically, they are definitely still miles ahead of any other competitor. But this is not just about the automotive industry. In the IT industry, “Made in Germany” is not playing any role already for a long time, perhaps with the exception of SAP.
SaaS solutions as an opportunity for Germany
When it comes to hardware such as mobile devices or also semiconductor technology, for Germany the train has left the station already. But when it comes to software, and SaaS solutions in particular, things are still very different. Here, we have absolutely no need to hide from anyone or anything. Why should German founders be less creative and innovative than those from Silicon Valley? Today, we can also get the best talents from all over the world to work for us, and we no longer need to ask them to move to our German headquarters. We may have to learn to become a little bit louder. By that, I don’t mean spreading unrealistic fantasies or talking in platitudes. Rather, it’s about how we can better sell our visions, our ideas and our potential so that we also can get a fair slice of the big financing pie and then use it to realize these visions more quickly and move onto the fast lane. A few weeks ago, I made the conscious decision to actively work on this and to do my part. I’m sure there are many people who feel the same way. We will be able to polish the brand “Made in Germany” and let it shine again!