It has now been 6 months since the ink has dried on the contract for my first location, Fabrik34, that I will develop for the Gartenfelder project into a mixed use concept. And as many people told me, the hard part has just begun. I’m extremely thankful for these new problems I am faced with at the moment. After 6 years I am ready to be frustrated and perplexed by the German bureaucratic system on a completely different set of mundane issues. In hindsight, there are many things I wish I knew from day one of this journey that would have made the transition much easier from searching to developing a location. I have chosen the 5 most important from a very long list.
1. Press the Flesh
I read a quote once that read, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” I totally agree with that statement and I’ll even go one step further. “If you’re the only person in the room find one full of people as quickly as possible.” My company FUNomenal Ventures is only me. I wrote my business plan alone, I decided the direction the company should take to reach certain milestones alone, every decision and action was made by me and me alone. A major waste of energy and time misspent.
In 2012 I stepped away from FUNomenal to recharge my batteries after mounting frustrations with German building owners. An acquaintance asked me to meet with a software developer he knew for an informal meeting about an idea he had. Long story short, I ended up being asked to become the CEO of the startup by this Software Engineer. As I knew nothing about the IT industry I immersed myself in the culture to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I learned about something very useful called Meetup. If you don’t know it is, it’s the world’s largest network of local groups. Anyone can organize a local group or find one already created for every topic and theme imaginable. Starting with Meetup would have allowed me to present my concept to a wider group of people much faster. I could have used their feedback to improve not only my idea, but how I presented that idea to people unfamiliar with a Location-Based Entertainment concept. Additionally, they would have suggested prospective strategic partners and most importantly, likely buildings I hadn’t heard about in my searches. Me finding out about the Gartenfelder Development was a direct result of attending one such meeting. This amazing resource that had the power to increase my possibilities while decreasing my stress went unused for almost 2 years. Networking is the answers to questions you don’t even realize need to be answered.
2. On second thought…
In a previous blog post I touched 5 Things to Consider Before Starting a Business in Germany. One of the points I listed was the positives to creating a GmbH. Germans, for a number of cultural reasons, believe a person with a GmbH to be a more serious business person. After finally having my consultant Randy White (no relation) over to Berlin to do a site analysis and market research I now feel differently. For real estate I would forgo a GmbH and invest the money into hiring a respected consultant in the industry. Or better yet, create the GmbH and immediately wire the funds to a respected consultant. I’ve known Randy for the better part of 5 years. On his website you can see the number of projects across the globe he has consulted on. Needless to say he has years of experience and is extremely respected in the industry. While here, Randy and I saw two possible locations and met with the owners of each. In one walkthrough and meeting Randy was able to cut to the heart of the situation and give me a list of positives and negatives for each location and owner. In one trip he’d saved me months of back and forth with owners because I knew which questions to ask and which answers I needed to hear to make the locations viable. A preliminary concept for both was discussed and ideas I’d never considered were contemplated and a concept I’d thought was set in stone became much more fluid with Randy’s input. Even if your project is not developing a concept for a historically protected almost 19,000 square meter building I still would highly recommend bringing in someone of Randy’s caliber as soon as possible. A consultant with the right experience and knowledge will add more than double the value to your project than you pay them.
3. Political Capital
This can also be connected to the Press the Flesh point, but I believe in Berlin it takes special importance. Berlin is a city AND a state. That means districts have their own Mayors and Senators. These local politicians have the ability to put your project on the fast track or sideline it for years. In hindsight, I should have found out which local politicians were over Urban Planning and contacted them immediately. A local politician can assist in finding a suitable location and personally help in obtaining the required permits. They can also give you an idea of the relationship owners of a location have with the community and the overall feeling of a district to see if your concept would be welcomed or not. Additionally, making contact sooner rather than later will provide you with more time to convince important people from a culture famous for not being open to new ideas and concepts.
4. Always make sure you have salt.
Any entrepreneur who has achieved anything had numerous setbacks. What is unfortunate, is the one skill every entrepreneur has to acquire very quickly is how to separate the sincere offers of help from those who at best want to take advantage of your hard work or at worse see you fail. Take every hand offered in partnership or results of a consultant with a grain of salt. Do your due diligence and ask former business partners if the interested parties are trustworthy. Double check information provided to make sure the evidence does point in the same direction as the person is pointing. Even people with the best intention have their own agenda which can be at odds with your own and derail your journey.
5. Believe in the Power of FUN!
I’ve lost count of the number of times a person not from the USA has said American concepts don’t work in Germany. Often they say it while they are sipping on a Starbucks Grande non-fat mocha latte with a double shot of vanilla. Even if the irony is lost on them, it can wear a person down always hearing their concept won’t work only because it’s never been done before. While many would see that as a risk too high to overcome, others, such as myself, see it as a FUNomenal opportunity. I lost too many potentially productive hours doubting myself and FUNomenal because a prospective investor or building owner failed to see the amazing potential of not only FUNomenal but me as well. Also, how few people understand the importance of human interaction. It’s sad and shocking that as a “progressive” society people discount the importance of creating shared memories and experiences with those we love. What your business venture is has little importance in the grand scheme. What is essential is, never stop believing in yourself, your capacity to adapt to any situation and your dream of being FUNomenal. Continue reading