‘They Are Doing Real Business’: Q&A with Alex Farcet of SBC

By David Knight |

This interview first appeared on the Venista Ventures website.

The participants in Berlin’s second Startupbootcamp program are less than a month away from their demo day. Alex Farcet is running the accelerator here in Germany and he spoke about what he has learned from the first batch, injecting fresh talent into the Berlin ecosystem and successful failure.

Q: What’s the big difference of this year compared to 2012?

ALEX FARCET: First of all, I’m really happy to see that we have three German teams this time round, compared to only one last year. We also see that this is a very ambitious group; they’re extremely focused. They don’t have much bandwidth for playing around.

Q: If you look at the upgrades in your program – what has changed in 2013?

AF: We secured great support from our partners Daimler, HDI, Bosch, which transforms into more resources. Instead of interns we now have founders-in-residence, five young but experienced people from Mexico, Sweden, India and the US who have one day per week to work on their own stuff and four days to make themselves helpful to the teams. They have been doing an amazing job. We also have our permanent home, where we can cook and work and organize events independently. It means we’re more grounded and also more flexible.

Q: You mentioned the big sponsors – how do they bring benefit to the teams?

AF: All of the teams have really got great input because our partners have sent over very high-level mentors, like Bosch’s head of R&D and Daimler’s head of telematics. For a team like High-Mobility, for instance, working with these top execs is a great opportunity. High-Mobility, who are in the automotive space, have been invited to Daimler’s R&B labs in Sunnyvale for a week. That’s a game-changer. Another three teams also visited Daimler recently.

Q: Tell us a bit about what it feels like to work with the SBC Berlin class of 2013.

AF: When you survey the teams in general, the number one value is always the mentors, and typically the number two value is the other teams. There is always some sharing of skills. There are participants that serve as nodes of the group, who connect people. The class we see in Berlin this time is socializing, but they are doing so in a very focused manner – it seems they feel the pressure of performing. This doesn’t feel like summer camp.

Q: Some of the teams, for instance BabyWatch, have already received media attention. How hard is it to keep them grounded and humble?

AF: That is not a problem at all. They are very young and they know they have got a great learning curve ahead of them. If they are featured on TechCrunch, this doesn’t make them get big heads. They have the focus on the right things, like scaling fast. They are going to China, talking to their supplier, renegotiating their deal. They are talking with the Mexican government, who want to order 20,000 devices – so they are doing real business.

Q: How big is mobile in your program?

AF: It’s very much there. Out of 11 teams, six have business models that are directly related to mobile phone technology. We have one SDK in mobile gaming, Avuba, which is very much about mobile banking, BabyWatch, a medical device connected to a smartphone, flux, for communication on the mobile, High-Mobility, to connect your phone with the car, and shoutr, a new solution for mobile file exchange. Obviously, everything is going to be mobile by default, so this trend will continue.

Q: The demo day is in early November. Are all of the teams prepared to launch their product in the market at that point?

AF: Yes, but at various stages. A team like flux may be at very early beta, shoutr is already on the market. Some people had already been working on their products even before the program, others have just started building it here. But everyone will have something that’s live.

Q: Tell us a bit about the everyday lifestyle at SBC Berlin. People come from all over the world. What’s life like there?

AF: You would think that they’re entrepreneurs and focused only on their products, so it seems hard to manage. But it’s an amazing group to be around. When we select people one of the main criteria is that we like the people and that we have a good feeling when it comes to their adding value to the overall group. The atmosphere is excellent. The only competition we have is a ping-pong tournament on the first day. When that is over, I say: Stop competing, start co-operating. This really works. We have breakfast together each Friday, and weekly CEO and CTO meetings. The challenge for the teams is to manage the workload, because Startupbootcamp by nature is disruptive, with mentoring sessions, talks, networking. Sometimes we need to rip people away from their desks, because they are so very eager to get ahead with their products.

Q: How important is the international aspect in your program?

AF: Very important. We inject fresh talent into the Berlin ecosystem. Angels and investors know all the good Berlin native teams. We add people from Australia, Croatia, the UK, France, Holland and so on. And for the teams, it’s always worthwhile doing a program away from their hometown, leaving their social network pressure behind and focusing, that has a real value. Living in this multinational setup is not hard, because these new web and tech entrepreneurs share a lot of the same culture. They even have the same heroes like Elon Musk and the same mythology.

Q: Berlin has been celebrated, but also drawn heavy criticism for creating a bubble. How do you see it?

AF: I don’t look at it that way. I don’t care if it’s a bubble or not. If people talk about lack of success, we have to accept failure. It shouldn’t be stigmatized. What I do see is capital flowing in. And, importantly, every other person I meet seems to have moved to Berlin within the last six to 12 months, so Berlin continues to be a real talent magnet. If you concentrate talent, good things will happen over time. There may be failures, there may be hipster, beer-drinking startups who are dreaming, but there are a lot of startups that are driving innovation. And of course we have amazing mentors like Holger Weiss, who recently sold his second startup and now gives back to the ecosystem. As long as that keeps happening, we’ll be fine.

Q: You mentioned failures. Looking at Startupbootcamp’s own history, what was a great failure?

AF: There’s a good story from last year: Weavly, a good team who developed a video mashup solution. But they weren’t able to get traction, didn’t raise capital – so they folded. The great thing is that one of their co-founders has joined one of this year’s teams, Avuba. This shows the effect of our own ecosystem. One team fails, but they’re in touch with the next batch and now get recruited. And Avuba itself is a startup founded by one of last year’s mentors. That’s awesome. This is a successful failure. It’s a great message: You don’t have to apply for a corporate job if it doesn’t work out the first time. Keep going.

Q: What’s your personal role at Startupbootcamp? Headmaster, philosopher, alter ego?

AF: I’m the whip and the shoulder to cry on. I’m the money daddy and the producer. I guess producer describes it best: The producer seldom takes the stage. He raises money, makes sure the conditions are right, arranges the stuff behind the scenes and hopefully some blockbusters come out.