Your Career as a Platform for Learning

There is a wonderful quote from Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures:

"As a platform for learning, this is the single greatest job in the world." 

He was referring to venture capital. In order to do his job - picking startups that will multiply the investments - Brad needs to constantly study new trends in technology. 

You don't need to become an investor to apply a similar way of thinking. Your career itself can serve as a platform for learning.

Personal and professional growth should be a key factor in your decision-making. It should be considered along with the usual metrics (i.ex. mission, income, track record). The benefits are endless: Your thinking, your skills and your network will improve over time. 

I'm not saying everyone should switch jobs constantly. Quite the opposite in fact. The learning curve will become steeper after you have 'paid your dues' in a company, meaning after you've proven your commitment and curiosity. If you are bored and feel like you are not growing, address the problem and do what you can to change the situation. If that doesn't work, quit.

You need to be surrounded by people that inspire you so that you will slowly pick up their habits. Learning isn't supposed to be about remembering. It's about action - how you apply your knowledge and turn it into skills. 

I've been following this approach throughout my career. Some of the biggest and hardest decisions have been based on whether I still felt like I kept learning during a project. I'm in the middle of evaluating my current situation again and some changes will likely result from that.

Note: As a founder of a startup, you are naturally learning constantly. The only difference is: You have to do it at a rapid speed in order to survive.

South of Berlin

I'm flying to Berlin right now from my new home in Stuttgart. 

Once again, I'm excited to meet with young entrepreneurs, investors and executives. Every time I'm there it still feels like the stream of international talent, capital and ideas runs a bit faster.

However, over the past few months I've gained a new perspective. While trying to learn more about the startup ecosystems in the South of Germany, I've been blown away by the level of engineering talent.

I've met with experts in autonomous driving, AI developers, aerospace engineers, robotics scientists and AgTech founders. They are building companies in Munich, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, the Black Forest and further South towards Switzerland. Many of them got their education at schools like MIT and Stanford before joining corporate giants like Daimler or mid-sized firms focused on niche technology and manufacturing. It hasn't been easy to gain access because the culture isn't as open as in Berlin or other larger startup hubs. You have to rely on introductions or go to one of the few networking events.

I've also been trying to find out more about the investment situation for startups there. Obviously startups can raise money anywhere they want these days but I believe that having an investor close to you as a company can have tremendous benefits. If you've performed proper due diligence on the investor's culture and background this can be a win for all involved. 

While Munich has a strong presence of investors, it has been more difficult to get an idea of the situation for other areas in the South, particularly for firms that are based outside of larger cities. Even though the South got wealthy during the industrial age there aren't too many formal VCs focused on tech companies. Mostly there are either corporate ones like Bosch Venture Capital or institutional ones like LBBW Venture Capital. However, there is a significant number of angel investors who have been investing in startups for decades - often without putting out press releases. 

I can't wait to learn more about the startup ecosystems and the investors in the South of Germany, but first: Berlin.