With Berlin’s Hackescher Markt, WeWork Celebrates its 100th Location

Germany’s capital city is no Paris or London, says serial entrepreneur Chris Plantener. As far as he’s concerned, it’s better.

“Berlin has become the place in Europe to start a business,” says Plantener, the founder of Kontist. “London is a nice city, but it’s damn expensive. Same with Paris. They’re old school. If companies have the choice to go where it’s cheap, cool, and can attract the best talent, it’s Berlin.”

Where’s Plantener basing his latest venture, a mobile banking platform for small businesses? At WeWork Hackescher Markt, the collaborative workspace company’s newest location in Berlin. It’s along a gently curved street in one of the city’s most bustling neighborhoods, home to hundreds of newly minted businesses. More established entities like Uber, Twitter, and SoundCloud have also set up shop in the Hackescher Markt area.

Opening its doors on November 1, WeWork Hackescher Markt also happens to be the company’s 100th location. It’s a fitting place for WeWork to celebrate this milestone, since the elegant building calls to mind the company’s roots by carefully blending traditional architecture with contemporary interiors.

Plantener says many of his company’s potential clients—freelancers, consultants, and small businesses—are flocking to Hackescher Markt. That’s why he and his nine-member team are taking space at WeWork.

Kontist founder Chris Plantener
Kontist founder Chris Plantener: If companies have the choice to go where it’s cheap, cool, and can attract the best talent, it’s Berlin.”

“Freelancers from abroad find it difficult to get a bank account because of the high bureaucracy,” Plantener explains. “We not only help people open an account, but help them do taxes automatically. A lot of our customers are people who are taking an office or desk at WeWork. We want to be close to our customer base and live the same life they do. That’s why we chose this WeWork.”

Plantener, who is launching his eighth company, has a ton of experience with collaborative workspaces, trying out four of them in the last year alone. But in terms of location, he believes WeWork Hackescher Markt will give him the best opportunities.

“Hackescher Markt is a posh area,” Plantener says. “It’s an area where the VCs are sitting. It’s the coziest part of town, with little boutiques and houses. It’s super vibrant and easy to meet with other people.”

The neighborhood has a completely different vibe than WeWork Sony Center, the city’s first WeWork location. Located in a gleaming glass-and-steel structure, Sony Center is in an area that’s all about business. Hackescher Markt has a more laid-back feel. It’s set amid small businesses—don’t miss the shops and eateries of nearby Hackesche Höfe, a series of courtyards dating from 1906—as well as residential enclaves.

Food delivery companies like Lemoncat and La Belle Assiette are using WeWork Hackescher Markt, located at the heart of the sprawling downtown area called Mitte, as a testing ground.

Lemoncat founder Doreen Huber
“The neighborhood is amazing,” says Lemoncat founder Doreen Huber. “You have a million options for food, and the train stations are close by.”

Doreen Huber, founder of the online catering company Lemoncat, says international expansion is in her company’s future. But she wants to start local.

“We cater for WeWork spaces and organize community lunches,” Huber says. “WeWork Hackescher Markt makes the most sense for us if we want to go to a place like London because we can have teams test out catering in those WeWork spaces, too.”

Lemoncat uses WeWork Hackescher Markt’s glass-enclosed space to brainstorm. In these interactive sessions, no computers are allowed.

“We don’t bring our laptops,” Huber says. “We only take pieces of papers, so we don’t get distracted by emails. It’s an escape from our normal office and a place where we can be creative.”

Huber says the neighborhood is also a big plus, especially being close to buses and train stations on the city’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines.

“The neighborhood is amazing,” Huber says. “For me, it’s just a little walk to the office. You have a million options for food, and the train stations are close by.”

WeWork Hackescher Markt
The glass-enclosed upper floor of WeWork Hackescher Markt has views across the city.

Other businesses are using WeWork Hackescher Markt to expand their teams. Henri Huselstein, business developer at the French food delivery company La Belle Assiette, is the sole member of his team working in Berlin. Originally from Cologne, Germany, Huselstein is a recent graduate working autonomously at the newest Berlin WeWork.

“It’s important for a French international company to be able to open in Germany because they’re able to speak to many people and get to know different companies,” Huselstein says. “And everyone shares the same mindset, which I find enriching.”

If you’re a startup looking to open or expand in Berlin, be ready to collaborate and work alongside entrepreneurs both seasoned and young who are ready to take risks, he says.

“It’s a young and vibrant city where you find people who are willing to try new things,” Huselstein says. “You’re going to be out of the market as soon as you close yourself off to people if you can’t adapt.”

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Los Angeles Isn’t Silicon Valley — and That’s Why Entrepreneurs Love It

Entrepreneur Dan Smarg doesn’t mince words: People might like drawing comparisons between San Francisco and Los Angeles—Silicon Valley versus Silicon Beach—but if you’re starting a business today, Los Angeles wins hands down.

Sure, it doesn’t have an Amazon yet. There’s no Google or Facebook, no homegrown company that has made headlines with a record-breaking IPO. (Although everybody’s betting that Snap will be the first within a couple of months.) But Smarg says that doesn’t bother him.

“Silicon Beach is bustling precisely because we are not established, because we have no track record,” says the WeWork Promenade member and founder of a photography app called FotoGenie. “We’re comprised entirely of iconoclasts and lean innovators. We kick convention to the curb.”

The entrepreneurs we interviewed for this piece agreed that Los Angeles was the perfect place for them to start a business. That includes Rob Emrich, whose Santa Monica-based mobile advertising platform, The Mobile Majority, was named the region’s fastest growing tech startup for the second year in a row. The Los Angeles Business Journal calculated its two-year revenue growth at an incredible 4,588 percent.

“When I moved here five years ago, I had been considering San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New Orleans,” says Emrich. “I feel very lucky to have landed here.”

Los Angeles gives your new business "access to pretty much everything,” says Jill Bigelow, who creates products for new mothers like Mama Strut.
Los Angeles gives your new business “access to pretty much everything,” says Jill Bigelow, who creates products for new mothers like Mama Strut.

Emrich says L.A.’s tech sector has exploded over the past few years. It now holds its own in a city known for film and television, music, and media.

“I think San Francisco is an industry town for technology, just like D.C. is an industry town for politics,” says Emrich. “This place is far too big for any one industry to dominate it, even entertainment.”

Here’s a little of what L.A. has going for it:

A huge startup scene that’s still growing. L.A. is already the third largest startup hub in the world, behind Silicon Valley and New York. And it’s growing by leaps and bounds. The $6 billion in funding startups received in 2016 has tripled over the past four years. “And it’s on its way to getting bigger,” says WeWork Gas Tower member Gina Pak, co-founder of the legal platform Lawgood, “which is good because it’ll bring in more connections, more funding, and more chances of success for startups here.”

More engineers than any other city. That’s right, colleges here produce more graduates with engineering degrees than New York or Boston. “There are many top-tier colleges in Southern California,” says WeWork Santa Monica-based entrepreneur David Baird, founder of a platform for the music industry called Gigmor, “and graduates often want to stay in the area.” And because the startup scene isn’t so intense, your new engineer isn’t as likely to be poached after being on the job for a couple of months.

All the right ingredients for success. “I am a little biased, since I am an L.A. native, but I think L.A. is a great place to start a business because of the access to pretty much everything,” says Jill Bigelow, who creates products for new mothers like Mama Strut. “Within a relatively small area, you have some of the best of what you need to start a business, from developers, artists, and designers to lawyers, financial experts, and operations specialists.”

Venture capitalist Arteen Arabshahi, vice president of Fika Ventures, says San Francisco and Los Angeles are now on “pretty much an equal playing field.”

There are some things that L.A. still lacks: for starters, there aren’t as many deep-pocketed investors who can single-handedly fund the next big startup. But venture capitalists here are more likely to join together to fund promising companies.

If you want to get a sense of what L.A. is like for investors, talk to Arteen Arabshahi. He and two of his colleagues are forming a venture capital firm that’s betting on L.A. businesses.

“San Francisco and the Bay Area will always be the hub of the country’s startup scene, at least for the foreseeable future,” says Arabshahi, vice president of the newly founded Fika Ventures. “But L.A. has reached a point where it’s totally viable. As far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty much an equal playing field.”

And it’s more than that. He believes that L.A. has advantages that San Francisco just can’t match.

“Some industries—the obvious ones are media, fashion, and branding—have a strategic advantage when they’re based here,” says Arabshahi. “But there are some less obvious examples as well, such as consumer-facing marketplaces.”

L.A. is already the third largest startup hub in the world. And funding for startups has tripled in the past four years.
L.A. is already the third largest startup hub in the world. And funding for startups has tripled in the past four years.

Native State Foods is one of those companies. Co-founder Claudio Ochoa says he can’t imagine starting his business anywhere else.

“As a healthy food startup, L.A. was the ideal place for us to start our business,” says the WeWork Playa Vista member. “Because of the connection to the outdoors, it’s a place where people are really in touch with the environment, sustainability, and wellness.”

Ochoa says he thinks founders here are more collaborative than in other startup hubs.

“It’s still competitive in L.A., but I think there is a greater sense of community,” he says. “We’d all like the billion-dollar exit, but there is a better sense of balance and purpose in L.A. As a result, founders are more open and supportive with each other. You’re more likely to become friends than competitors here.”

Lawgood’s Pak says that L.A.’s friendliness makes it easy to be a first-time entrepreneur.

“I’m fairly a newbie to the startup scene,” says Pak, “but my sense of what makes L.A. a great place for startups right now is that it’s a fairly small, close-knit startup community, which makes everyone more approachable and accessible.”

And one other thing: L.A. may be an expensive city, but San Francisco prices have skyrocketed in the past few years.

“One of the main reasons we’re in L.A. versus San Francisco or New York is that it’s still affordable to live here,” says Pak. “So for a company that’s bootstrapping, that’s a great thing.”

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Competing on ‘Shark Tank,’ the Deal Is Just the Beginning

For Lisa Binderow, the “most intense process I’ve ever gone through in my life” was appearing on Shark Tank.

There were months of preparing to be on the popular program, getting to know her business inside and out. She had to figure out its exact valuation and calculate how much funding she would request. And she had to perfect her pitch, anticipating any questions that might come from a wary group of investors.

After all that, Binderow still walked away without a deal. (She got an offer of $100,000 from Barbara Corcoran, but it came with strings attached.) But the WeWork Soho West member’s glad she didn’t miss out on the experience.

Lisa Binderow of nicepipes
“The biggest thing I got out of it wasn’t getting a deal or not getting a deal,” says Lisa Binderow. “It was feeling super proud of myself. It felt like climbing a mountain.”

“The biggest thing I got out of it wasn’t getting a deal or not getting a deal,” says Binderow, founder of the sportswear company nicepipes. “It was feeling super proud of myself. It felt like climbing a mountain.”

Binderow and several other WeWork members who’ve competed on Shark Tank all had the same advice for future contestants: the appearance on the show is just the beginning of the process.

“It’s been such a positive experience for us,” says Michael Dweck, a WeWork 5th Ave member who pitched his company Basic Outfitters on a recent episode. “The reaction to our business and product post Shark Tank has been tremendous. The results have been so much greater than we ever anticipated.”

The takeaway is that anyone who appears on the show—deal or no deal—has to be prepared for the publicity that it will bring.

Brittany Hodak knows this first hand. She and business partner Kim Kaupe pitched their business ZinePak in 2015.

“You’ll get so much attention from being on the show,” says the WeWork Empire State member. “About 1 million clicked on our website between the initial broadcast and the rebroadcast. And every time in reairs somewhere, we see another bump in traffic.”

Brittany Hodak and Kim Kaupe of Zinepak
Brittany Hodak and Kim Kaupe saw their web traffic soar after they pitched their company Zinepak.

Predicting this, the entrepreneurs made sure to prepare for all the attention: their website didn’t crash, and they didn’t run out of stock of their major products. They avoided having to put out any last-minute fires.

“We spent the night celebrating with everyone who had helped us get to this point in our business,” says Hodak.

Your company has to be ready for the extra exposure, according to Dweck and Hodak. But so do you.

“Know that you need thick skin for this type of thing,” says Dweck. “There will always be haters, but as long as you know you put it all out there, you can feel great about your experience.”

Binderow, whose company makes stylish arm and leg warmers out of the same material as yoga pants, says the road to Shark Tank began about a year ago. It was a Thursday afternoon, she remembers, and she was purging her inbox. She needed to take a break, so she filled out the show’s online application.

“Never in a million years did I think they would actually call me,” she says. “And once they called me, I still couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking at every step along the way, ‘Is this really happening, or am I going to wake up?’”

The actual taping was nerve-racking for Binderow, who says she’s more of an introvert. The lights, cameras, and crew made it an extremely stressful situation.

“The biggest thing I got out of it was conquering this fear,” she says. “I didn’t even know if I could get through my pitch. I felt like a different person the next morning when I woke up.”

The show’s viewership of more than 5 million people heard the yoga teacher talk about making her own leg warmers after heading to class one frigid morning in just sweatpants. Her handmade items, which she called nicepipes, were a hit with students and instructors, so she decided to make it a business.

Being on a show like Shark Tank isn’t for everyone, Binderow admits.

“If you’re ready to be the most vulnerable in your entire life, you should go for it,” Binderow says. “This was the most exposed and scrutinized I’ve ever felt. My husband and friends and family have been amazingly supportive over the last couple of months.”

Her episode, which aired on January 13, has already transformed her business.

“The insanity that follows up is intense,” she says. “There are definitely moments when you wake up and wish you could have a normal day.”

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In Search of a Story, a Wannabe Hemingway Ends Up Saving Lives

After college, aspiring writer Jason Friesen put his English degree to use in the same way as many of his peers: teaching English abroad. He found himself in Costa Rica, where he picked up Spanish and landed a job at Habitat for Humanity’s corporate office copyediting and translating. But he longed to get his hands dirty.

“I was so intrigued by all of the stories you were hearing from these people whose lives they were touching,” says Friesen. “And I was like, ‘I want to be on the ground.’”

It was at this moment that Friesen entered into emergency medical services—a move that’s a lot more rooted in literature than most people would imagine.

In Search of a Story, A Wannabe Hemingway Ends Up Saving Lives2

“Ernest Hemingway got his start on an ambulance,” he says. “Walt Whitman was a stretcher-bearer. I started in EMS in about 2005 and I’ve gotten thousands of stories out of it, but most of the writing I’m doing these days is grant writing. It’s creative, but it’s not fiction.”

As founder of the nonprofit Trek Medics International, he helps ensure that communities all over the world have access to emergency medical care. In other words, the Trek Medics team helps provide “911 where there is none.” Below, the New York-based WeWork Soho West member talks about his journey through the nonprofit world, the technology his organization uses, and what he’s most proud of so far.

When did the idea for Trek Medics come about?

In EMS, they have different ranks or levels. And I started like everybody at the bottom. As soon as I got my textbook, I was like, “I want to get the whole textbook in Spanish” because I just knew right away there would be an opportunity for this in Latin America. When I finished my EMT-Basic course, I went out to San Diego for that very reason: so I could be next to Mexico. And when I got involved in Mexico, I started riding along with the Red Cross in Tijuana as a volunteer paramedic down there. I was like, “Wow, this isn’t a job. They need help. They don’t have money to pay me. They need money to find for themselves.”

I started getting involved. I got some donations from my employer in the United States—a bunch of cardiac monitors. And when my employer started donating equipment, they were like, “We’re happy to donate it to you, but we want tax exemption.” They want a write-off for it because it was very expensive equipment. Through a family friend, I found someone who helped me secure LLC, and register as a nonprofit, and get our tax-exempt status. So I was like, “Hey, I’ve got a nonprofit organization now.”

In Search of a Story, A Wannabe Hemingway Ends Up Saving Lives3

Through another job as a flight medic, just as a side job to make cash, I had been flying for these remote Mexican villages picking up Americans and Canadians to bring them back to the U.S. And I was meeting all these rural EMS agencies in Mexico, and I was like, “Wow, I thought Tijuana had it bad. These guys got nothing.”

Then the Haiti earthquake happened, and I was deployed to Haiti. It kind of confirmed my suspicions. So after Haiti, it was like, “Okay, one, I see that there’s a significant need for EMS systems development. Two, no one’s really doing anything about this specifically. And three, it’s clear that if I want to actually work as a paramedic in these countries, you’re basically gonna have to build the system first.” That’s how after Haiti, it all kind of came together.

What year was this?

That was January 2010. A few months after that, I moved back to New York. Got into Columbia’s Master of Public Health program, but I was in the executive program, which meant you had classes Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday once a month. And the rest of the time you were working. I knew what I wanted to do with Trek Medics—I just didn’t have any money for it. I had no experience doing it, in terms of building and running an organization on my own.

I ended up getting a job for a very large, international, non-governmental organization called Project HOPE, and I moved back to Haiti and was their country director for the next year and a half or so. The Columbia program was kind of an incubator for Trek Medics, and working for Project HOPE turned out to be the lab, so to speak, where we were actually implementing programs, many of which had to do with stuff I wanted to do with Trek Medics. Between those two things, I got the experience and got the plans together so that in 2013, after I went out on my own, it was like, “Alright, now or never. Let’s do Trek Medics.”

In Search of a Story, A Wannabe Hemingway Ends Up Saving Lives4

Anything you want to add about the Beacon technology?

What we found is that if you want to do 911 the way we do it in the United States, you’re gonna need, at a minimum, two things: lots of money and really good roads everywhere. This is actually where it all falls apart because these low and middle-income countries don’t have these 911 systems like we do, and the reason why is because our technologies were developed for our infrastructure. You think about—you watched maybe the Olympics this summer or if you’ve ever been to Brazil, in Rio, they have these hillside shantytowns. These mountainsides where you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people and not a single one of them has a road. How do you dispatch an ambulance to a place like that? You can’t. So we had to say, “Let’s just forget ambulances. Let’s just say that ambulances are not the centerpiece of an EMS system. They are one tool in a toolbox.”

These countries have very fragmented systems. Some places have some little thing—maybe a couple ambulances—or maybe they’ve got nothing. We needed a software solution for communication that was going to be able to be the standalone dispatch system if there was nothing, but would also plug into or augment existing dispatch systems where they were. We’re not trying to go toe-to-toe with the Red Cross. In Mexico, the Red Cross is phenomenal and they do great stuff. In other countries, they don’t have that capacity, and they do, let’s just say, spotty services. We don’t want these countries to outsource their EMS to us, so we developed a tool that would enable them to do it themselves whether or not they had existing capabilities.

Your organization has grown so much in the last few years, and there’s a lot you have achieved. What are you most proud of so far?

The thing I am undoubtedly most proud of is the fact that these programs are being run by local communities. That it’s not us. They are doing it themselves. Our approach is to say, “Look, just because there’s no formal 911 system doesn’t mean there isn’t something being done.” And our goal is not to replace that, but to finally coordinate it and to teach people to do it well.

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What WeWork Execs Are Reading: 11 Engrossing Books to Kick Off the Year

Got a trip coming up and need a good read for the plane? Or simply looking for the perfect book to make your daily subway ride to work more bearable? We asked WeWork executives to recommend 11 books—written by entrepreneurs, rock stars, and poets alike—to get your wheels turning in page-flipping speed.

Angel Catbird, Volume 1
Recommended by Dave Fano, WeWork’s chief product officer, Angel Catbird is the first-ever graphic novel from Margaret Atwood. Illustrated by Johnnie Christmas, this book is perfect for anybody who’s tired of having a spirit animal and would rather be an animal. The gist of it: a genetic engineer accidentally takes on the DNA of a cat and an owl, proving that even super smart people can make mistakes. Rather than freak out about what hasn’t gone as planned, embrace your faulty superhero-ness.

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman details what drives people and how we think. For Jen Berrent, WeWork’s chief culture officer, this understanding of the way our minds process information—including our faults and biases—was really important to be able to understand people. Because only through understanding can we be successful managers.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
It all started when New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg wondered why he got up to get a chocolate chip cookie every afternoon. Realizing it was less about craving sugar and more about getting the chance to chat with friends in the cafeteria, Duhigg was finally able to kick this daily habit. This book—a favorite of WeWork’s co-founder and chief creative officer, Miguel McKelvey—examines the link between success and understanding, well, why we do what we do.

Another pick by Jen Berrent, a fan of how Sebastian Junger takes a deep dive into the realities of combat and team-building in extreme situations. Although the environment that he describes is much different from the workplace, many of the same principles apply in how you build a successful and lasting team.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
“You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé”—a phrase, perhaps, you’ve used as motivation to become your most productive self. In Mason Currey’s book, also highly suggested by Miguel McKelvey, 161 prolific legends—from writers to painters to scientists—reveal their signature processes and recipes for success.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
That’s right: A new book written by Timothy Ferriss, the brains behind “the 4-hour workweek.”  If you dig his insanely popular/heavily downloaded podcast The Tim Ferriss Show—in which “The Oprah of Audio” interviews MVPs from a variety of worlds: business, sports, and art, to name a few—you’re in for a wild ride because now he’s sharing his biggest airtime takeaways.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
What’s cooler than getting your kids into abstract art in a way that’s most accessible to them: children’s books? Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child focuses on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life as a boy in Brooklyn, where his eye and hunger for art began. The pages are vibrant and out-there, showing kids that art doesn’t always have to be so still and serene. It can be explosive.

Born to Run
You don’t have to be a wannabe rock star to be inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. This is a great read for feeling better connected to an artist who has such a profound and positive influence on his fans. It’s a beautiful thing to get lost in another creative’s story; It’s a natural way of getting inspired, looking inward, and then working on ways to build your own success. It’s like a more subtle way of seeking help without it feeling all self-helpy.

The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream
Who doesn’t want to read a book by Amy Webb, the well-known futurist who’s always one step ahead of the rest of us? The Signals Are Talking examines the role technology plays in our personal and professional lives, allowing us to reflect on how we want to live our lives in the moment and in the future.

Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food
When this Melissa Hartwig book came out, a couple WeWork employees embarked on the Whole30 plan. “Ugh, a diet?” one of them asked. “No, it’s a program,” stressed the other. One thing’s certain: the 30-day regime is life changing. Grab a buddy so you can hold each other accountable when cravings for junk kick in, and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that follow. You’re gonna have a lot more energy and enthusiasm for living out your best life. And you might develop a cooking obsession.

Blind Spot
We’re itching for this one to come out. (It’s a summer-book-baby—a Cancer, to be exact.) Teju Cole is a creative triple threat, skilled at writing fascinating essays, novels, and taking captivating photos. Through this book of original photos and prose, Cole generously takes readers back in time with him to travels stateside and abroad. Though the memories captured aren’t always positive, they’re definitely powerful and something to learn from—an important concept for everyone to relate to and remember.

Photo: Adam Saraceno

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