I’ve just signed up for my last exam at university. For the ones who had the honour of surviving a “Studentenleben” they know what this means.
After realizing what is about to happen soon I remembered that I had planned to be done a lot quicker but some 3 years ago a good friend of mine destroyed my plan by offering me the chance of a lifetime.
How it all started
It all started when Vlad Gozman asked me in early 2013 if I wanted to co-found an association called AustrianStartups to help startups in Austria.
At that point the startup scene was mainly a group of people that all happened to have similar challenges. Pioneers Festival had taken place for the first time a couple months before, 2 Minuten 2 Millionen was non-existent and for most regular people the term “startup” had no meaning at all.
It was also the year of “Nationalratswahlen” and the national government showed some distant interest in startups by inviting 2-3 stakeholders in so called “Arbeitskreise”. In fact the startup scene was a small, underestimated and a highly motivated bunch of people who were yet to be discovered by the media and the general public. If you wanted to join “die Szene” you didn’t really know where to go, but had a good start by ending up at the Pioneers Festival. Most of the stakeholders knew each other but there was no one bringing them all together to join forces for a better ecosystem.
It was in February 2013 when a considerate number of stakeholders came up with the idea of creating a first-stop-shop for the community which should serve as a neutral platform for the whole startup scene.
At that time I had just quit my old job to finish my Bachelor degree and was very much interested by the idea to work on a platform to promote and support startups. Quickly we found other determined people to join the founders team and were convinced a little meetup here & there and some information on a website or social media will do. A typical 5-10 hours a week thing for me they said.
Well, it escalated quickly. I think the idea got momentum when we found our first financial supporter, the netidee. That was when I decided to fully commit to AustrianStartups to make it bigger with an already big volunteering team.
Making a difference
Today I look back completely astonished. Not only was it an illusion that we’d just have a little “Verein” going on but we didn’t see the potential of the support and opportunities for the whole community, startups and stakeholders.
Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what would become of AustrianStartups and what impact our work would have on real people.
What do I mean? At one Stammtisch a startup founder approached me: “You know, it was the Stammtisch that helped me to find out what my startup is all about. You guys provided me with the first support I needed”. I was happy and surprised at the same time. A couple of months later Hansi Hansmann gave some insights on the Runtastic Exit Deal on the Stammtisch and was approached by an Italian developer. 2 days later she was invited for an interview at one of his startups and was hired eventually. We really did something useful that had an impact on people. But beside these real life experiences we soon realized not only on a 1 on 1 basis we could help but also on a higher level.
2 days after we made a proposal to minister Sebastian Kurz about taking the Austrian startup scene to Silicon Valley we were invited to seriously plan that thing. One month later we were already sitting at Google HQ with a selection of startuppers from Austria. Not that we were the first to suggest such a thing but it was AustrianStartups who could realize it, and I was in the middle of it, negotiating between stakeholders, political cabinet members and ministries.
It was earlier that year when there was some serious chatter about a new Crowdfunding bill. As usual we talked to the folks in charge and offered the community perspective on things. The minister in charge was Rudolf Hundstorfer, so we asked for a working meeting. We first started with the chief of cabinet and had a profound discussion about why such a bill makes sense, why and how startups have an impact on innovation and the economy etc. I was there with my colleague Daniel and totally amazed: the chief of cabinet was really interested and we could help him understand a lot of relevant stuff. But wait a minute… we were just a community platform and there was an important decision maker willing to listen to arguments and trying to understand more about startups. We were sitting in the bloody ministry and explaining stuff. Wait, something went terrible well here J. The conversation continued and later that year the “„Alternativfinanzierungsgesetz“ (AltFG)” passed.
As many of you are aware we have a quite strong social media presence. In our newsletters, Facebook, Twitter etc we put all the relevant stuff for the community. A couple of weeks ago a founder happily reported she really had made some sales because she was featured in the newsletter.
There are many more stories like this but it is moments like these that make me realize that we have created something useful. It is very much at the beginning and yet has to improve but we are on the right track. Would anyone of the founders have thought we would discuss with ministers, really have an impact on startups and improve the ecosystem? Me, definitely not. In the end it was the startup community who made that whole thing possible by helping AustrianStartups to promote and support startups in Austria.
Startup Scene 2016
October 2016, the Austrian startup community has changed over the years: nowadays it is not about building a local ecosystem but helping to create global competitiveness. It’s more on the international uplink and changing policy & culture and not only providing a common voice within Austria.
AustrianStartups has grown over the years from a grass roots movement to a respected player in the ecosystem to act as neutral platform and first-stop-shop. There are big things ahead and great plans already made.
My master plan
AustrianStartups is my latest project so far for which I worked with an extraordinary team hard over the years to bring this grassroots movement to life. From the beginning of my time in Vienna I was a person to start things, mostly from scratch. I did so to try things, make the first move, beat my own fears & doubts or to show that it is possible. With AustrianStartups it is the same: we had the idea and we tried it, I tried it, and it worked. Even in ways we couldn’t even imagine.
But in all my projects there was a certain moment when I realized “it is rolling” and the ground work is done. The perfect moment to hand over. Hand over to someone to take it from a solid fundament and build something great on top of it.
I think I have reached that moment: AustrianStartups has become the neutral platform to support the ecosystem with a lot of potential. With my leadership we showed how you could sustain such an idea and what huge potential there still is. I have finished the groundwork and I am up for something new. I am about to finish university and finally able to reach this big big milestone I have been chasing over the years – my university degree.. And with this it is time to move on.
Questions & Answers
Yes it was. It has been a long process to find out when it is best to leave and hand over to someone else. Until December 2016 I will stay the managing director of AustrianStartups and will then hand over to my successor.
AustrianStartups wants to adapt to the fast-paced changes in the Austrian startup community, to keep serving it the best possible way, while increasing the ties and activities with other European communities. It’s time for the next phase to make the change from a grassroots initiative to a dynamic organisation.
I am finishing university and always wanted to bring AustrianStartups to a certain level that someone could take over and make it bigger.
It is rather the beginning of a more professional AustrianStartup, that is making the next logical steps. The board and the advisory board – we all have made enough experience to continue the work so that the idea and the vision of AustrianStartups will be worked on. AustrianStartups is a community initiative so it’s again the community to come up with a new AustrianStartups MD.
(My very personal learnings which may or may not apply for some of you folks)
- CEOs/Politicians are humans too: I talked to top CEOs & top political people and found out that they are humans like everybody else ;-). There is no need to be afraid, just be yourself, be well prepared and get your facts strait.
- Set yourself a goal: when working in a big volunteering team you all need something concrete to work for. Set goals or KPIs so that you can work focused and get motivated when you reach those goals
- Think about the legal stuff: when starting new things sooner or later you should consider the legal framework.
- It’s about the team: get the right people around you and do not to be afraid to say bye to people that do not perform or fit in the team. It is better for the person, the whole team, the project and ultimately for you.
- Honesty pays off: to be true to yourself, honesty to the team and to your customers and partners pays off. At first it may seem weird or even rough but in the end it makes your peers appreciate your decisions even more.
#Not. I will see where I will go but one thing is for sure: I definitively fell in love with the startup community. In case you have an exciting project, get in touch with me.
Photocredit: Manuel Gruber