What is it like making the leap from Germany to California? Does the difference in startup culture – especially outside of Berlin – come as a shock? Mirta Gilson worked for several companies in Cologne before making the move to Los Angeles to head up business development for make.tv. She spoke to Silicon Allee contributors Don Oparah and Roy Malkin about her experiences living in sunny California, and what advice she would have for German startups thinking about making the same move.
SILICON ALLEE: Tell us about make.tv and why you think it’s special.
MIRTA GILSON: Our tagline is “make.tv is TV production in the browser”. It is a cloud-based, collaborative production studio for live streams. It is also interactive so you can integrate streams from viewers on the fly and you can upload any kind of media like pictures, videos and include those in your stream as well.
SA: So it’s a flexible production platform?
MG: Yes it’s very lightweight, you don’t have to download any software or install anything; it’s all in the browser. So you can collaborate with crew members or contributors in any location and it is very affordable because you don’t have to buy any hardware. It’s all live and you can also go in later and do post production.
SA: We are seeing more and more companies from Europe, especially Germany, interested in having a presence in California. For make.tv, what drove your decision and why Los Angeles specifically?
MG: Los Angeles is right at the intersection of technology and entertainment. All of the big broadcasters are here, we also have partnerships in the film industry and at the same time there is a growing technology scene that is getting bigger and bigger. So being in LA right now is very exciting and in addition the majority of our competitors, partners and potential partners are here in California.
SA: And having Hollywood here helps?
MG: Exactly, yes.
SA: When you decided to have a presence here, what were the top three goals that you set out for yourselves as a company in coming to LA?
MG: Partnerships, marketing, PR – basically business development. We already had a lot of success in Germany and Europe and then realised that we are in a niche and we knew that we had to be in the US market sooner rather than later.
SA: Many companies may be thinking about a move but of course there are also costs involved and so on – how did you decide that the time was right?
MG: It was several factors. We were mature enough to take the plunge – our product was ready, we had customers and we had good traction in Europe. We also started going to a lot of conferences in the US and it became clearer and clearer that it was the right time for a move.
SA: You have been here about a year now, so what would you say is the biggest difference between the German and LA startup scenes?
MG: The culture is Los Angeles is a lot more influenced by Silicon Valley than in Germany so there are already a lot of events and groups for startups. Also in general there is a lot more optimism in the US, people are more supportive and encourage you to keep going. The American entrepreneurial spirit makes a huge difference and the process of starting a company is much easier.
SA: How are German companies perceived in the US?
MG: There has been a perception that German companies are often copycats, replicating successful models from the US, and while that has been somewhat true in the past I also see innovative German companies like SoundCloud coming out of Germany now.
SA: What have your best and worst experiences been so far?
MG: Best experience is how easy it is to mingle with everyone and become part of the scene – people here are very willing to help and make introductions. Worst experience is dealing with immigration issues, which can be quite challenging.
SA: What is your experience with the fund raising process in the US? Do investors look for different things compared to Germany?
MG: There are tons of accelerators here and fund raising overall is more innovative and developed. Both US and German investors focus on financials first but then US investors are more focused on the team and who’s behind the company. Maybe German investors give more weight to the product.
SA: What about technology – do you see a lot of innovative technology in the US that you don’t see elsewhere and are the companies open to working with you?
MG: Yes definitely, a lot of companies in the US are really at the cutting edge of their fields and when you explore partnering with them you are dealing with the head honcho whereas in Germany you would be dealing with a regional manager. It is also interesting that when you meet fellow European companies in the US you get taken more seriously because you are here.
SA: What can German companies learn from US companies and is there anything US companies can learn from German startup culture?
MG: In US the companies have flat hierarchies, limited bureaucracy and employees more often get ownership, which is good. Positives to be learned from Germany – being consistent in following up and executing on commitments is very important and this builds confidence between companies.
SA: What advice do you have for German companies considering coming to LA or California in general, both from a company perspective and a personal perspective?
MG: From a company perspective my advice would be to get out here really fast and sign up for a co-working space so you have other companies and people to network with and ask for advice. And go to all the events – you really have to put yourself out here. And then from a personal perspective I think you just have to figure out how to do it the American way – when in Los Angeles do as the Angelenos do.
SA: Over the next six months what should we expect from make.tv? Are you going to make a big splash and be the stars of Hollywood?
MG: Yes, we are going to make a big publicity splash and also develop more business-to-business customers. We just released re-broadcasting to other streaming servers and live destinations so your live stream – produced with the make.tv studio – can be streamed live to YouTube Live, Ustream etc. This has been giving us lots of attention lately and we’ll bring out more features to make it even better for our customers to reach a wide audience, easily create interactive content and monetize streams. So I’m really excited about that.