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During my attendance to NEXT Berlin 2012 , I took the opportunity to meet a successful web entrepreneur originally from Neuchâtel, who is kind of unknown on the swiss web startup scene: Christophe F. Maire.
Graduated in Business & Administration at University of St.Gallen, completing his education by attending executive education in NYU and Stanford Graduate School of Business, Christophe started is career in Japan as an Innovation Manager. Christophe moved to Berlin “by accident”: that was where he found the skills he was looking for. His first startup project was called CyberCinema, which was the first European network of electronic cinema venues, back in 1995, which he sold 3 years later. Back in the late 90’s, he was also using his talent as a Managing Director of one of Europe’s largest digital media production and visual effect venture, for which he raised a huge amount of money (EUR 70 millions in total) from big european names likes Bertelsmann, Vivendi and Deutsche Telekom.
Together with fellow Swiss entrepreneur Michael Halbherr, he started his second venture in 1999, gate5, which was pioneer in offering mapping and location based services for mobile devices, that he finally sold 7 years later to Nokia. Christophe acted as a board member for some German media&film production companies and leverages his passion for new ventures by being involved in state of the art and successful web 2.0 companies like Plazes (a location-based microblogging service bought by Nokia in 2008) which he built with the founder of current Berlin hot startup Amen Felix Petersen or StudiVZ (the German « equivalent » of Facebook). Christophe is involved in one Zürich-based startup, the social network for mobile Android apps and games AppAware. Christophe owns an investing company called Atlantic Ventures, but investing is not his mantra: he really prefers building companies!
Currently, Christophe is spending most of his time on his own latest venture called txtr, a global network to distribute eBooks as a service, giving an easier access to quality eBooks.
Christophe owns a great reputation on the Berlin web scene and was elected this year as part of the NEXT 100 crew (basically, people who matter on web scene). As Berlin is gaining traction as THE European tech hotspot, you can understand the level reached by this nice guy! Moreover, in 2008 at LeWeb, the famous NY-based Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson told about him that he’s “the kind that Silicon Valley has hundreds of and Europe needs more of”.
His opinion is that Berlin is the best place in Europe to launch a startup. Rather than trying to build some specific hotspots in Germany (quality software in München, gaming in Hamburg), one should be grateful to have one strong ecosystem in Berlin. On copycat reputation of German founders, Christophe thinks that it’s beneficial for everyone to have such a startup machine, because it’s educating a lot of smart people to build things.
As Berlin doesn’t have an extended big corporations network, most of talented people in Berlin just launch startup.
Lot of foreigners come to Berlin, because it’s simply the place to be in European startup scene. Furthermore, the atmosphere is welcoming, as Berliner are really open to people from around the world. Berlin is not only heating up regarding startup creation, but also as a hot spot for companies desiring to go international. Valley companies wanting to internationalize their business do not go anymore to London. They go to Berlin.
What makes the uniqueness of the city is also the culture of openess/transparency and desire to help each other among startups. Founders just help each other! Place where people are understanding technology. To the most asked question this year at NETX12 (“Is Berlin the next Silicon Valley?”), Christophe sees the current state as just the beginning of something BIG!
Lastly, Christophe feels that people in the city are just hungry to make something big. What you don’t find on a large extend to most places in Europe.
Regarding Switzerland, Christophe thinks that there are just too few startups regarding the tech landscape we have. Swiss engineers are absolutely not worse than their German or Eastern Europe peers, in contrary. Quality of our programmers is known. But his opinion is that most people are probably not “hungry” enough. Maybe it’s a lack of ambition (just do your business on a local level, because it’s easier… but you never scale), maybe a wrong attitude. That’s a general observation, as there is luckily a growing number of exceptions, but we unfortunately can’t tell he’s totally wrong.
Final word of Christophe on what a startup really is: 80% of persistence and 20% of courage. As simple as that!
Christophe told me he’s not coming back to Switzerland as often as he would. But trust me, I’ll give him good reasons to visit us here!
You can read a post on his view about publishing industry, from fellow US blogger Halley Tucker.