Apple, Bike Locks and a Panel: Openness in the Age of the Tech Giant

By David Knight |

Here’s a confession for you – before Friday, I had never set foot in an Apple Store. In truth, I only acquired my first piece of Apple technology less than three years ago, and despite that technology seeming to multiply whenever I had my back turned (insert Gremlins joke here), I also still have a computer that runs something called ‘Windows’, whatever that is.

But if you’re going to enter an Apple Store for the first time, this was probably the way to do it. Berlin’s version of this most 21st Century peculiarity must be among the grandest – dominating its part of the famous Kurfürstendamm boulevard, it used to be a cinema and that becomes apparent as you ascend the grand staircase (adorned with a red carpet, of course) to the main auditorium. There is plenty of technology around the place, naturally, along with a maze of white, featureless corridors reminiscent of a 1970s sci fi film where the public aren’t usually allowed to tread.

The reason I was in such an off-limits area was down to another trend that has become de rigueur in the past few years – the panel discussion. It’s a good way for everyone involved to promote themselves, of course, but if done properly, it should also be an opportunity to demonstrate the openness on which a startup ecosystem is built.

And I very much enjoyed grilling the boys from Lock8, the digital bike lock which so impressed the judges at the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield here in Berlin last year, as well as one of their backers, serial angel investor Christophe Maire.

You’re never going to get into the meat of the detail in 30 mins of panel plus 15 minutes of Q&A but it’s good nonetheless to open yourselves up to public examination. And that, class, is the real lesson here.

The willingness of companies like Apple – and really, you could name just about any large tech company and plenty of non-tech corporates as well – to throw open their doors for such events is fantastic, but one driven by a growing realisation that they need to interact better not only with the already converted, but also the (possibly cynical, definitely inquisitive) community as a whole.

Long may it continue. In the meantime, Daniel Zajarias and Franz Salzmann, the duo behind Lock8, are confident that they have what it takes to succeed in a market which is crying out for innovation – the downside being that increasing numbers of people are reacting to those cries.

So here’s to ever-more openness in 2014 – apart from in bike locks, of course.