The Third Degree: Alex Ross of Presentista

By Conor Rushby |

This week in the Third Degree, our regular Friday feature where we chat to the best and brightest CEOs, there’s a slight twist as we speak to Texas-based CEO Alex Ross of Presentista – who, after being in town with the Geeks on a Plane, is staying on for a week to soak up the Berin vibe – about car racing’s heart and soul, the downsides to Silicon Valley and why American beer is better than you think. 

SILICON ALLEE: If you weren’t the CEO of a startup, what would you be doing?

Alex Ross: It’s hard for me to imagine doing much else. I think there are lots of interesting things that could be done that aren’t profit-based. Technology and entrepreneurship are things that are helpful in bringing the world together, so I’ve had non-profit ideas which would help people collaborate. For example if I’m looking for good designers and there’s a kid in Romania who is perfect for me, or even down in Africa, it’s not that easy to find them. By the same token I was just in Zagreb on this Geeks on a Plane trip, and there were a lot of development teams there. Their local market is only four million people; they’d love to understand how to approach the US and love for someone to help them out. I don’t know exactly what it would look like, but there are lots of ways you could create an organisation that would bring these things together. Investments, too – there are investors say in China or the Middle East, who want to put money into tech companies all over the world, and you could facilitate this, bringing people together globally. Racing cars professionally wouldn’t be too bad either.

SA: What do you like about Berlin?

AR: I’ve only been here five days now, but what jumps out at me, having spent time in Germany and in Europe, is that Berlin really is a mix of the old and the new. I’m mean you’ve got the capital going way back into deep history, while you’ve also got the very fresh startup scene. It’s got a rich cultural sense, both in a classical sense and also with the street art and graffiti. I like the mix of all of those things.

SA: East or West Berlin?

AR: Most of my time I like to go East. I find it interesting because almost every major city in the world you have one or two neighbourhoods that are being gentrified but I feel like in Berlin you have half a city that suddenly became gentrified. Sometimes there’s a negative connotation, but I find it very interesting.

SA: How does Berlin compare to Austin for a CEO on a day to day level?

AR: There’s a part of it that isn’t all that different – it’s more similar than a lot of people think. I do see to a certain extent global cultures emerging – the music’s not that different, the style of clothes isn’t that different, and here in the tech world the attitudes aren’t that different. Austin is a very liberal city in the middle of Texas, so when you leave Austin into Texas it looks very different to Berlin in that regard. I guess the biggest difference is it’s way more German in Berlin.

I think Berlin could be a great tech city, and in Austin also, they say let’s make Austin the next Silicon Valley but that’s not really what’s important. I think Silicon Valley has a lot of downsides right now. It’s not so much comparing or copying Silicon Valley, but figuring out what works or doesn’t work, and then making it happen in Berlin. The Valley has the advantage of having had generations of entrepreneurs with the angel investors, but you don’t want to copy them – make Berlin its own tech, art and design hub as it should be.

SA: When you leave Austin where do you like to go?

AR: I like to come to Berlin – we have remote employees, I have one or two that are in Austin, so I’m trying to see what I can do and make a move happen.

SA: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

AR: What I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve finally gotten into in Austin, is racing both cars and motorcycles – not professionally. One big advantage of Texas is that land is pretty cheap and you can do things like this on a startup budget. There are a couple of race tracks in the area – one of them is called Harris Hill Road, and it’s got a membership. Racing is never cheap, but there are a bunch of guys who love to drive, you pay a monthly membership fee which isn’t much more than an expensive gym in the US to be honest, and it’s unlimited time on the track. They have a racing series where it’s all old Miatas and they’re all equally prepped and you can just go at it. It’s a bunch of guys who really love racing – for the heart and soul of racing – rather than showing up in your Ferrari or Porsche and showing off. It’s a blast, I love it.

SA: What is your favourite cafe, bar, and restaurant in Berlin?

AR: I haven’t been here long enough to be a regular yet, but I certainly find Sankt Oberholz interesting, and I live right up the street. Just before this I stumbled into a little French pattisserie around the corner which is as good as anything I’ve had in Paris. To me, it speaks of Berlin that it has got this mix of things from Turkish street food to pastries.

German beer is always good. I lived down in the south near Frankfurt for a while so I do love the Hefeweizen and Kristallweizen. I do have to say – and people hate me for saying this – some of the best beer in the world is coming out of the US right now. I think the average beer in Germany and most of Europe is way better than certainly the Budweisers and the Millers of America. Americans are funny like that, especially with food. They’ll churn out crap for a couple of centuries and suddenly we get an artisan culture, so there’s a whole bunch of really good new beers that have come up. Having said that German and Belgian beers are by far my favourite, but check out Dogfish Head, that’s a really good American one. We’re not a country or culture of tradition, but we are a country and culture of innovation so when we decide to do something well we have half a chance of doing it well.

SA:If you could employ anybody, who would it be?

AR: I can’t think of any one person, but overall I know there are some phenomenal designers that we could use. Our product is technology first, that then enables creativity, but I’ve seen lots of interesting stuff from art and graphic design here in Berlin –  I just haven’t found those guys yet.

SA: What do you think the Internet will look like in ten years?

AR: I’m old enough to have gone through the first Internet boom, and the PC boom before that. I find that both computer technology and the Internet tends to go back and forth between open and propriety, so things oscillate. I feel like over the last couple of years with mobile technology, things have definitely moved into more propriety, closed ecosystems. I think and I hope things will move into a more open ecosystem where Android and iOS play better together. In general I find over time, things do move towards open systems and then every now and again it gets closed again in order to move into a new space. Apple does that very well. They go out there and make innovative products that are closed, and then over time things end up opening. So hopefully in ten years, a more open Internet, in terms of standards and more things cooperating. Facebook could potentially be an open standard, or an open standard could replace Facebook, just like email is an open standard. That will, generally speaking, be better for everything.