This week in the Third Degree, our regular Friday feature where we chat to Berlin’s leading startup figures, we spoke to Alex Schwaderer of Fraisr about scary places, hiring Al Gore and New Year resolutions.
SILICON ALLEE: If you weren’t the founder of a startup, what would you be doing?
ALEX SCHWADERER: The one thing that I always wanted to do, before my career and before I started studying business administration, was become an architect. I grew up in a family very much in touch with industrial design and that was always one area of curiosity for me, and I always very keen to learn more about architecture and design. Then obviously that idea kind of went away, and I grew more interested in business and marketing – so I am always looking for fields where I could combine creative and conceptual work, just like architecture, and let’s say more analytical or business work.
SA: What do you like about Berlin?
AS: What’s not to like about Berlin? The people who come here are very open minded and looking for new experiences, which – given the history of the city – is an amazing thing to achieve. A couple of decades ago this was one of the scariest places on Earth. You can walk around the city and see all of the bullet holes and whatnot, and you don’t have to dig too deep in the archives to see what this place once stood for. Just seeing how that has changed – for global youth to come here and be having a great time [is what I like].
SA: East or West Berlin?
AS: I prefer East Berlin; I live in Mitte. Chances are I’ll be moving to Kreuzberg, around Mehringdamm, so that will be in the West. Personally I believe the eastern parts are very dynamic, but who knows – in ten years or something I might prefer the quiet life in the western parts.
SA: When you leave Berlin, where do you like to go?
AS: I always tell myself I want to spend more time exploring the lakes around Berlin, because sailing is one of my hobbies. But so far when I want to take some time off, I prefer to travel, usualy to other big European cities – I have spent a lot of time in Milan. The other thing is once a year at least I get this urge to go to New York. I spent the first years of my career there, so it’s basically the second most important city in my life. I haven’t seen much of Asia; I spent some time traveling in Vietnam and Hong Kong, but I can imagine I would enjoy a couple of the other big Asian cities.
SA: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
AS: It’s hard to draw the line with work, to know when I’m not working. When I’m at home, I’m not working all the time, but I am online all the time – scanning the market or articles for what people have put up about what you’ve created. But apart from that, spending time with my girlfriend, and friends or family. Sports as well, but it’s hard to find time for that, I hope that changes – it will be one of my New Year resolutions.
SA: What is your favourite cafe, bar and restaurant in Berlin?
AS: I like Ansgar’s place – Sankt Oberholz. That was the place the [Fraisr] idea was initially developed. In the early days we spent time in the co-working space. Ansgar is a good friend of ours, and it’s a very nice place, with an inspiring atmosphere. Other than that I live close to Torstrasse, that’s my home turf, and all the cafes, bar, restaurants are good, like Bandol Sur Mer, or more affordable places like Spaghetti Western. In the summer time there’s also this place in Volkspark Friedrichshain, with a terrace outside, called Schoenbrunn. They serve some very good food. As for a bar, Melody Nelson on Novalisstrasse is a usual hangout, though it’s not like I have a one time favorite bar in Berlin – there are lots of good bars in Berlin.
SA: If you could employ anybody, who would it be?
AS: In our case the likes of Al Gore could be of help; people who have a strong desire to popularize particular topics, in this case sustainability, and translating ideas and ideals to a wider public. That’s something we are aiming to do with Fraisr and so perhaps someone like Al Gore has the capacity to do that.
SA: How do you think Berlin as a city will develop in the next ten years?
AS: The cultural and economic barriers are low. I think and I hope we can leverage this aspect to a greater dimension. With all these people who come here and who are driven to do something creatively and culturally, there is a lot of potential for Berlin and the startup scene. What I would hope for is that out of this big pool of open minded individuals we can create a lot more cultural innovation. I can see that happening in Berlin, I think there would be a place for it. I think London is a much more relevant place business wise and I don’t think that’s going to change, but I think we should try to leverage what we have here; an intersection between creative cultural work and business, and translating creative ideas into business models.
SA: What do you think the Internet will look like in ten years?
AS: Similar to what I hope for Berlin. Everything at the moment is very much focussed on increasing relevance for the consumer so they can find things. What we could see at some point is the need for a certain amount of irrelevance – not confusion – but stuff that you weren’t particularly looking for. Finding the perfect search result and finding the perfect answer to your question – I mean how boring will that be? There’s this book The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser, it’s basically about all the information brought to you, that it lacks this element of surprise, and I think that is something what people will be looking for. I hope to see more of that on the Web. I feel everything at the moment is just about being optimised for search results and making everything more relevant.