“Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you have to work smart. Continuity is the most important aspect because everyone’s smart. Don’t think you are the only smart person in the town. The winner is the one who works the hardest.” – Founder of Unicorn, WestTech Ventures, and S&S Media Group, Masoud Kamali
Unicorn Berlin, WestTech Ventures, and S&S Media Group founder Masoud Kamali gave his time to Silicon Allee to share his experiences and thoughts on Berlin’s startup community and predictions for the future. From venture capital to coffee & coworking, Masoud Kamali is a true all-rounder in Berlin’s entrepreneur community.
Usually, you listen to pitches Masoud, but today let’s have your elevator pitch.
WestTech Ventures invests in the young companies of Berlin. Our focus is on media technology, media content, content commerce, tech, software, education, etc.
I am also the founder of S&S Media Group, which is a tech publishing company. It is also a tech event and education company where I am no longer active, I’m just a shareholder. I founded that company, and the other company that we have started is called Unicorn which is based on three different elements or pillars. They are work, eat, and meet. We want to define the future of work, and give the people the ability to utilize these keystones. I think that is the future of professional office renting. Actually, it’s like what you guys are doing, but yours is a bit more community-based.
Your newest venture, Unicorn. What year was it founded?
Who are the founders?
There’s myself and Alexander Kölpin. But, WestTech Ventures is the overall founder. We have some new people coming as well. We have a new managing director, Sabine Jankowski, who is also a shareholder of the company.
What inspired you to start your company?
I had the privilege to start my own company – S&S Media – and I got a lot of help from the community. It was a good business model. Happily, the company was successful and I thought that I can help more people. I thought I can shape a little bit the future of work, the future of education, and the social systems that we have. One of my visions was to help young companies and that’s exactly what I’m doing. We help other people to get as successful as us. That was the idea, it brings good fortune to all of us. It’s maybe just a little selfish, but I want to have an environment in which a lot of wealth, health, and security is available for everybody.
Tell us a bit about your competition and why you are better?
Fortunately, we never had a competitor in Berlin because the investment space is still very young here, nor have we seen that people are fighting to go and invest here. The situation in Berlin stands at the same point. Whenever companies come, they are even happy to get more funding, so we want to be the funding source for them. For this purpose, we have our incubator which is a part of WestTech Ventures called Project Flying Elephant. The supply of startups is higher than the supply of money. So, that makes it easy and we work with almost all other VCs in town.
What advice would you have for entrepreneurs starting out in Berlin?
My advice is to start with a good accelerator, which can give you some value. The second piece of advice is to try to work very hard. Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you have to work smart. Continuity is the most important aspect because everyone’s smart. Don’t think you are the only smart person in the town. The winner is the one who works the hardest.
Also, try to network with the community around you and don’t forget to start early with sales. It would be a good idea if you don’t send the CEO every night to another networking event. You don’t need your startup going everywhere all the time. You should be a bit picky. Perhaps share some other events with your team – if you have a team – so you can organize who goes where. Don’t give the people the impression that you are only at the event in the evening checking the community, however, networking is definitely important. More essential than networking are conferences pertaining to your interests. An example would be going to re:publica. You will actually learn something. Try to go to the places where information and networking have a flavor of education. That way, you will always learn something. There are a lot of events in this town, you just have to find which ones are the best for you.
What one group/individual/project has been the most influential to you during your time as an entrepreneur in Berlin?
I am a very hands-on person. When I think that I have to do something, I do it. I thought we had to create Unicorn. I didn’t do any research, I just started with it. That’s the reason why I don’t have that many role models because whenever I thought of something I never asked “Okay? So where can I draw inspiration?”. Many people asked, “Why did you start Unicorn?”. In reply, I asked them “how many offices do we have in Berlin? 50,000 offices?”. Then we also need 50,000 coworking spaces in Berlin. So, for five million people in 2035, we need 50,000 office spaces which are no longer modeled after the classical one formatted by big companies. We need the new Silicon Allee, Unicorn, Betahouse, etc. They are all different.
Therefore, I cannot tell you that I had a role model, but regarding investment, I like the courage of Lukasz Gadowski, the founder, and chairman of Delivery Hero, because he is very courageous and he wasn’t scared to invest in a lot of different stuff and try. He helped a lot of entrepreneurs here. That is something I always like about him. He was able to be courageous, which at the time was often missing. He’s from Poland, but he’s German. He attended university here and so on. He’s also the founder of Team Europe. Now he is a partner at Target Global, the new VC. They are located in Mindspace over on Friedrichstraße. Also, he’s definitely a friend of mine.
After him, the only other person I have seen and I really also appreciate in Berlin is Andrea Peters. She is the managing director of media:net. She helped pave the way by how she arranged and enabled networking in Berlin. It is something I like and I try also to learn from her.
Can you name one particular moment that has been pivotal during your time in business?
It’s a personal story. We started a conference in 2001 at S&S Media; it’s called Jax. We started with the idea that we wanted to do a conference about enterprise computing. I was at a wedding of a friend in Cuba. That was where I got a message from my colleague saying that we had just sold the 600th ticket number. In that moment I thought, “Okay, you can start something new and you can be successful.” That was a moment that I always imagine whenever I’m a bit tired. It is a huge motivator. For the first ever conference getting 600 paid attendees, especially when it was not a really cheap one considering conferences like these run at least around 400 to 500 Euro per conference, it was huge. This is the moment that I always think about that I know, “Okay, we can be successful.” This was hosted in a hotel next to Frankfurt am Main where they actually built a new section later for us because we stayed at least five more years in this hotel. They even made a new restaurant because of our conference.
What is your favorite spot in the neighborhood?
Torstraße. Often when people ask me, “Hey, look, why are you not in Frankfurt?” and I tell them why I’m not, they get angry – especially my friends from there. I always joke that “Frankfurt is as big as Torstraße.” Torstraße is my street because it is the heart of my neighborhood. I have everything nearby like my son’s school to my favorite restaurants. Dudu, Pantry, and Yumcha Heroes to name a few. They are all around. Weinberg Park is also a highlight. The park itself is great to go in winter since the kids go there with their sleds. It’s also great in the summer to go and relax and have a beer.
Has Berlin’s informal nature and unique history – urban fabric, city divide, demographic, etc. – been a positive aspect of your time in Berlin?
When you look at how I am as a person, Berlin was always my city. The problem was that, before 2008, Berlin wasn’t that much. Everything started up at that time. As many people say, “Berlin is a city that is like the friend that I never had.” It was a city I’d never been to before and I’m very happy I came here. Before Berlin, don’t forget, I was between Frankfurt and Singapore, which is a city that is very similar to Berlin. There are many people who live there, there’s good food, and everything is in the same place. I have that here as well. I seldom go to other parts of the town, like Charlottenburg or Kreuzberg, and I also don’t do so much around here [Mitte], but just as Singapore showed me; it’s available if I want to. I can go out and I can get to the airport in 12 minutes. It’s about convenience, but at the same time, the feel of the big city.
I can have the feel of London and Paris while at the same time having this cozy spot with everything around. I don’t need to take a taxi for forty minutes from one spot to the other to pick up Asian food like you do in London; I have it right here. You have everything around here, and I can go to the theater and then I can go with my son.
Where do you see Berlin in 5 years from now? 10 years?
I think in five years from now Berlin will be exactly the same as it is today, but bigger. It’s also about numbers as well. Higher population. Higher rent. Higher office rent. Be careful about these things if you are looking for that. Go now, and do it now, because it will all go up. In Berlin, we now have less empty spaces than Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, we have more than 10% while in Berlin it’s only a sparse 2% when it comes to commercial rental spaces.
But there is an important thing to remember. Berlin is a capital of Europe; and to me, Berlin is not a German city. Berlin is the gateway in which it doesn’t exist for the business, but the location to meet the people. Culturally, Berlin is the capital.
Finally, Coffee, Tea, or Club Mate?
Coffee, and I love it. The best ones you can find in Unicorn. We have two great cafes. One is called Frenchie and the other one is called Five Elephants. Family. Enterprise. Coffee. All three are my passions. Both are expensive coffees; they are either five or ten Euro, per kilo, it’s over twenty Euro. But, they are good coffees.
Interviewed by: Andrew Haw
Photo: Cecile Mella