Laskus is the CEO and founder of Startup Safary, a Berlin-based initiative to take people on tours of major start-ups that has now spread to 11 cities internationally. For this month’s Berlin edition (Apr 29-30), approximately 60 start-ups, including big names like Number26 and Dubsmash, will open their doors to 1000 participants for talks, presentations and workshops. One-to-one sessions will also be available with investors and accelerators, along with the requisite networking events and parties.
How has the start-up scene changed since you came to Berlin and started this project four years ago?
It has grown much bigger, and it has professionalised. When I moved here, it was already very dynamic but it felt like it was in its early days – there were only a handful of investors, there were meet- ups but very few professional conferences that would attract names from around the world. Today there’s very little that Berlin doesn’t have in comparison with Silicon Valley or London.
Okay, but not all the change has been positive, surely? What’s your least favourite thing about the start-up scene now?
It’s become kind of trendy to be a start-up founder. When the whole ecosystem was very niche, pre-Facebook movie and billion dollar exits, there were fewer people attracted to the scene because they thought it was a good way to become rich or famous. But now every office has a foosball table and half of the founders are indistinguishable from hipsters.
Speaking of hipsters: what do you think about the argument that startups are raising housing prices and pushing locals out?
The same thing happened in San Francisco and while there are tragic stories for individuals, it’s also benefited the city. People have been complaining that Berlin is poor for years. This is finally a chance for Berlin to build a strong industry. The same thing happens regardless of whether it’s a start-up taking over your economy or oil being discovered. Whatever the source of wealth, there’s always going to be gentrification.
Which sectors in Berlin should we be watching out for?
The city itself creates interesting niches – lots of people here are not keen on using credit cards, so there’s a lot of potential for payment methods. The Bitcoin community’s quite active in Berlin and lots of start-ups working with Bitcoin or blockchain are based here. So these alternative methods of payment may become stronger in Berlin, because tax regulations surrounding Bitcoins are friendly in Germany.