This week in the Third Degree, our regular Friday feature where we talk to the best and brightest CEOs in Berlin, we chatted to Johannes Reck of GetYourGuide about the tranquility of Irish rain and keeping the best sushi places to yourself.
SILICON ALLEE: If you weren’t the CEO of a startup, what would you be doing?
JOHANNES RECK: I was doing research in biochemistry and neuroscience and if I weren’t in online travel I’d probably be behind a bench doing experiments on learning and memory with mice and rats. I’m a scientist originally. A lot of people think that business and science are so disconnected and that’s probably true for larger corporates, but startups and science have a lot of things in common. In both worlds you are typically working in a small group of 10-20 people and you’re trying to solve a really big problem. I learned a lot working in science and academia about how to run these groups.
SA: How would you describe Berlin and what do you like about it?
JR: In three words: young, urban and vibrant. Those are the key attributes that I love about it. Everyone who walks into our office is always blown away about how young our staff is, particularly people not coming from Berlin. If you talk about a company with 40-60 employees, people typically think of some small to medium enterprise with people in suits and stuff, and that’s just not Berlin. Berlin is not about driving Mercedes and BMWs and it’s not about getting a comfy lifestyle really quickly as it is in many other European places. It’s really about building something, doing something unique that is recognized. I think it will go to big places; the ecosystem here is just in the very early stages. I can see it evolving and I see so many cool new projects every day that I really get excited about the future of Berlin.
SA: East or West Berlin?
JR: Our office is in the East and I live in the East, so I can only really say things about East Berlin, because I don’t know the West that well. I think I’ve been like a total of 20 times or so, it’s very rare that I end up there! I think what we’ve seen in the past ten years is that East Berlin has been growing very quickly because there was literally nothing there. It was like settling new lands. I can still remember the days when Prenzlauer Berg used to be just a bunch of ruins. That definitely has changed and I think as the rent prices in the East have risen there will be a merger with the West at some point, and that people will actively go back to the West and it will spread more evenly.
SA: When you leave Berlin, where do you like to go?
JR: Our company originates out of Switzerland and my second home is in Switzerland, so I go back and forward between Switzerland and Berlin. But apart from that a large part of my family is Austrian so I spend quite a bit of time in Innsbruck and I love to go hiking and climbing in the Alps. One of the things I do during the summer is that I have a group of 15-20 friends with whom I studied and we always rent a summer mansion in a different country. Typically we go to Italy or the South of France and stuff like that, but last year we went to Ireland and I really enjoyed that, I was very surprised. If you lead a very busy lifestyle, you start to appreciate having a moderate climate during your vacation and peace, not seeing many people – just familiar faces, having a quiet atmosphere and sleeping well. Ireland is amazing, particularly the west coast – I was blown away. It was one of the summer holidays I’ve enjoyed most in my life, which is weird because it rained half of the time. It was so peaceful.
SA: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
JR: I play a lot of music; I studied double bass when I was younger. I play in jazz bands and orchestras and I listen to a lot of music. I go to the Berlin Philharmonic quite a bit – I’m actually really centered around music. That is something that really keeps me balanced. Apart from that I do sports. I play football, we actually have a team within the office and we go regularly. I just found out about this really cool new thing in Prenzlauer Berg called Fitbox which is electro-muscle stimulation – it sounds really awkward but it’s actually really cool. What you get is sort of like a vest, and your muscles get stimulated by electricity and you can actually work out against it. You just have to do that 20 minutes a week, so it’s the perfect exercise for people with little time and it keeps you super fit.
SA: What is your favourite cafe, bar and restaurant here in Berlin?
JR: Too many points of choice! I go to Sankt Oberholz and Mein Haus am See quite regularly because that’s where everyone goes and I really enjoy that. The Barn in Mitte is a fantastic espresso place, I think it’s actually the best one I’ve had in Berlin so far. But apart from that there are also lots of other high quality places. In terms of restaurants, despite the fact that it’s gotten so big and touristy, I’m still a big fan of Monsieur Vuong, the Vietnamese place. And my absolute favourite in terms of price and what you get out of it is a sushi bar called Gingi Sushi in Prenzlauer Berg. It’s a very small place just run by one guy who does the sushi – it’s amazing. It’s a hidden gem. I don’t even want to tell too many people: it’s so good! I’m not a big bar goer myself, I skip the bars and go directly to the clubs. I really dig Kater Holzig which is pretty crazy but very Berlin. I’ve had a couple of good nights in Berghain as well but I think Kater Holzig is my favourite in Berlin. It’s really cool; they have fantastic DJs and I really dig the electronic music scene here in Berlin. I think it’s amazing, really leading edge.
SA: If you could employ anyone, who would you employ?
JR: That’s hard because the most famous people would probably have such a big ego that they wouldn’t even fit in here. If you look at the early stage teams of the really successful companies like Facebook or Google you will see that the first 20-30 employees were always out of this world – really good and smart people. So any of these would be someone I would love to employ and if I could choose a specific person out of it, I would probably go with Marissa Meyer. I would hire Marissa as our head of product and platform, I think she could execute a really good consumer experience.
SA: What do you think the Internet will look like in ten years?
JR: Radically different from today. I strongly believe that the Internet will be integrated into our everyday hardware to a much greater extent than it is today. I think that most of the major Internet companies like Google or Facebook will go much deeper into hardware and will provide much smarter devices. I think the Internet will touch many more pieces of our lives that it hasn’t touched yet. So my typical answer to the question ‘what is the next disruption that the Internet is going to do?’ is: anything that hasn’t been disrupted yet. Everyday use cases that haven’t been touched by the Internet yet but are really ripe for disruption such as banking, energy, transport, payment. There are a lot of question marks behind these elements which have been static and monopolized for a long period of time, and they need to change. And the Internet, slowly but certainly, will gather the momentum to change them.