back in berlin
In 2014 I left a rewarding but comfortable job in New York City to work for a start up in Berlin. Six months later the company folded. I was charged with selling the furniture.
Luckily I stuck around. The folks at SoundCloud took a chance on me and I was able to find personally fulfilling work that taught me a tremendous amount, understanding how SoundCloud was transforming musical careers, providing a platform to access unique content, and understanding the source of the product's tremendous popularity in cities like Cairo and Jakarta. (In Cairo I got hugs walking around the city with my SoundCloud t shirt on).
After some turbulence within the company, I left Berlin in 2016 to join the team at Balderton in London. And now, almost six years and several lifetimes later after I first arrived in Berlin, I’m moving back to the Hauptstadt. I’ll be continuing to invest for Balderton from Berlin, finding ways to do what we’ve already done well even better in Berlin and across DACH.
I’m reminding myself not to have expectations that it will be similar to my last chapter here. I’m in a different phase of my life. My partner and I are expecting to expand our family soon, and inevitably this next chapter will be slightly less rambunctious and experimental (outside our home at least).
It’s the first time in my life that I’ve moved back somewhere, and it’s no coincidence that Berlin is the place that pulled this constant wanderer back. The city and the shape one’s life takes here is at once both exotic and calm. It’s the capital of one of the industrial engines of the world, but you’re more likely to befriend a wandering artist than a titan of industry. The city was a battleground for all the great ideologies of the 20th century, and only recently has had time to come up for air.
Today, Berlin is an incredibly high velocity city that is attracting high powered talent from across the globe. I don’t know another city that 22 year olds from San Francisco, Hong Kong, London or New Delhi would be as excited to move to, or another city that would be as open to welcoming them.
The same is true of venture capital, which has formed an extraordinarily different relationship to Berlin in the past decade. In 2009 Berlin-headquartered companies attracted $26M in total funding across 50 rounds into 48 companies. In 2019 Berlin attracted $4.7B in funding across 316 rounds into 272 companies. Sure, in 2009 the global economy was in recession, but in 2007 capital raised was still only $50M.
In a very short span of time Berlin has proven it can create world-class companies. From public companies like Zalando, Rocket, HelloFresh and Delivery Hero, to private juggernauts like N26, GetYourGuide, AUTO1, Frontier Car Group, Contentful and SoundCloud.
At Balderton we believed in Berlin early. We were early backers of Wooga back in 2009, and led the seed round of Contentful in 2012. We have a small, high quality and growing portfolio in Berlin and around DACH, including category leaders like Contentful and Sophia Genetics, emerging companies like Dalia Research and Kaia Health, and our most recent investments McMakler and Infarm.
We’ve also been fortunate to serve on the board of two Berlin-headquartered companies, Wooga and Frontier Car Group, where we’re no longer shareholders. The two companies quietly sold for a combined amount of roughly $900M. We were a part of both companies from a very early stage, and have seen the unique challenges and opportunities that scaling a company from Berlin presents.
During the past 3.5 years in London I've worked hard to be present in the ecosystem and have returned to the city often. Balderton has been busy too. With the exception of Contentful, all of our active DACH investments have come since 2016. But it will certainly be different being on the ground here full time.
We’re always looking for the next great company to come out of Berlin. If you’re working on something transformative please don’t hesitate to reach out --- I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Egal in Deutsch oder Englisch)