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Geeks on a Farm is back from May 28-30, 2015, this time in a castle! 

Geeks on a Farm is the startupers bootcamp where entrepreneurs from Germany, France and all over Europe come to network and have a great time together. The event is designed to help startupers progress on their projects through inspiring talks and workshops to help them to develop their skills and network. As the event will take place in the green countryside in a castle, it’s also the time to network with like-minded people and take a step back to find new solutions to everyday problems. Exchange experiences with like-minded entrepreneurs from all over Europe while enjoying a relaxed atmosphere at Schloss Ortenberg!

Early Bird Tickets are available now until May 17, 2015 – including food and accommodation!

This week, we spoke with John B. Stewart about his entrepreneurial journey – from being a student from the US spending his foreign semester in Stuttgart to starting his company F(ph)resh in Germany.
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John, as an American, you came to spend a foreign semester in Stuttgart, finished your studies here and then decided to stay and start your own company in 2012. What was your motivation to start your business in Germany and not in the US, the poster child for building a startup?
Germany is all about quality. If something is built here it must be a standard German quality. Seemed like a good place to start. Having grown up in America, as any person does in a foreign country they notice differences. In terms of entrepreneurship I considered that a good thing. So I decided to stay and see if I could find some interesting gaps.

What were the challenges and obstacles while founding your startup F(ph)resh in Stuttgart?
I quickly realized that not only was the language a barrier but learning the cultural tendencies as well. Though I may consider Germany a small country compared to the USA, it is very large regarding culture and differences. Stuttgart is different from Berlin and Berlin is different from Munich. The sooner this is learned the better. Additionally, though it becomes better now, finding startup information was very difficult to find in this city.

Looking back on two years of doing business in Germany, what would you do differently? And what would you like to see being simplified for founders in this country?
The first thing that I do differently is listening. To my customers, partners, and anyone willing to listen to the F(ph)resh story. When we start a business, we are very close to the idea. It is very difficult to take critiques from others with an open mind. In order to create something of value I realized I needed to listen more. The helping other and the customers who like our products are the reason I and Severin do F(ph)resh. So shouldn’t we listen to their needs?
The process of starting and more importanty testing of ideas needs to simplified. Currently, it is very difficult to even test and idea without much monetary and time investment. I think this stalls true innovation.

John_Severin_Fphresh

Since a few months, you have Severin Bandera as your business partner on board at F(pH)resh. How did your entrepreneurial routine and focus change since then?
Severin is a very smart guy. The fact that someone of his quality believed in F(ph)resh enough to join was an amazing asset. Basically together we create the vision. It’s my job to be a dreamer and it’s his job to make sure we stay grounded. Somewhere in that middle is the perfect combination. We work on finding the middle every day when coming to the office.

You released the second edition of your F(ph)resh) watches recently. Could you tell us a bit more about it and the process which led to it?
With every product F(ph)resh releases the goal is to get better. We have listened to our customers since the inception of the brand. Through this process we came to the discussion to begin producing in Germany. The design and quality is at their highest level yet and it is a more sustainable process. The watch bands are done from different types of fabrics. We source from over produced materials that are normally wasted from other brands. Many of them local. The manufacture of the watch face is in Pforzheim. My F(ph)resh journey began there so we thought it would be a good place to start new. Since we give time, the campaign site is www.GiveTime.To. Stays true to our overall mission.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you see F(ph)resh in five years?
F(ph)resh has always been here to produce great feeling through design and great projects. On the wall in our office stand the words “Create a more educated world.” This is the corner stone of our philosophy. So in five years imagine have a Nike or Addidas that every sale is directly connected to a social change. Big goal but even if we are one tenth of that size, we will be creating a lot of world change.

Thanks a lot for these great insights, John! All the best for the future to you and Severin!

Stuttgart is getting international with a meetup group for foreign startups and entrepreneurs. This is really good news!

Here are the details:

A group for foreign people starting or thinking about starting a company in Germany and having troubles understanding all the steps needed. As a foreigner here, it’s hard to know all the rules, tips, tricks and potential problems. With this meetup, we want to share doubts and our knowledge to help us get better results and increase our chances of success. German Entrepreneurs are also welcome to help us.

Let’s meet to know each other and know what we don’t know on March 27th 2014. Location: to be announced soon.

Sign up for the meetup here.

As this is the first meetup, it will be mainly to know each other, see how many we are, what we are up to and what are the things we know and what are the ones we don’t know to see how we continue from there.

Als ob ein Startup gründen nicht schon genug Arbeit wäre: Im Zuge des internationalen Austauschs gründen immer mehr Unternehmer ihr Startup in einer Wahlheimat und nicht in ihrem Mutterland. Die Besonderheiten und Probleme, auf die ausländische Gründer in Deutschland treffen, sind dabei eine zusätzliche Herausforderung. Wir haben uns mit Mariano Guerra von Event Fabric und Gnandoo darüber unterhalten, wie er als argentinischer Unternehmer dazu gekommen ist, in Stuttgart zu gründen und welche Wünsche er hat, um den Prozess für ausländische Gründer in Zukunft zu vereinfachen. Das Interview ist diesmal auf Englisch.

Who are you and what product are you offering?

I’m Mariano Guerra, 28 years old Software Engineer from Argentina, living in Stuttgart for the last 2 years. We (Javier Dall‘ Amore and me) provide two products, the first is Event Fabric, an application that provides fully customizable and flexible real time dashboards to visualize what’s happening right now with the things that matter to you. We also have a company called Gnandoo where we provide software consulting mainly for web applications.

Event Fabric

Why did you move from Argentina to Germany? What did you do before founding Event Fabric together with your partner Javier Dall’Amore?

I first came to Germany on 2007 with a scholarship to study 6 months at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), after going back to Argentina and getting my degree I started working in Argentina and saving to go back to Europe to travel to the places I couldn’t visit on my first trip, I got an opportunity to work on a prototype for a new app that later became Event Fabric in England and I decided to take the chance, since I could work and travel.

While in England, my girlfriend who also went to the scholarship came to visit me and while travelling through Europe she did some interviews and got a job in Stuttgart. When she started working here, I moved here too :)

Before founding the company I worked at Intel as an intern in the High Performance Computing group, after that I worked at the IBM’s Argentinian research group, I also did some freelance projects.

Javier was involved mainly in projects for the public sector in Argentina. For example, he managed the team that did the software for driving license, traffic ticket and traffic court for the Argentinian National Driving Agency. He also managed teams that worked with the Cordoba Provincial Government doing, for example, the Administrative and Financial Management Software for Cordoba School Districts and an Application for Science and Technology Agency to manage resources and researchers.

Both of us went to the university, did our master’s thesis and also did one freelance project together.

Why Stuttgart and not Berlin for getting started with Event Fabric?

One reason is because I like Baden Wuerttemberg and because of the scholarship I know a lot of people here, this means it’s easy to start if you can get some help and advice from people you trust and that lived something similar to what you are going through. I also really like Stuttgart, it has a good balance of small and big city, the surroundings and the nature are really nice.

Another reason is of course because my girlfriend really likes Stuttgart too. During her scholarship, she studied in Esslingen and it was the main place she wanted to work in Europe.

Also given the kind of product we sell, we target the whole world with it. Where we are based shouldn’t affect who or where we sell it.

What was the most difficult part for you when you moved to Germany (except the language)?

I think it was easy for me to live here because I already knew people here. The part that is hard is knowing the „do’s and don’ts“ of the country, since almost all the people I know are foreigners who came with a scholarship and stayed or came back to work, they are almost in the same situation as me, also all of them work for big companies so they don’t have experience with being a founder and all the things involved with it. I also have some German friends but they also work for big companies and I don’t want to be asking all these questions every time I see them :)

Once in a while someone tells me that I should be doing something that I’m not aware of and I start to look for information about it and to think how many other things that I don’t know I’m missing. This also may include things that could be a benefit for me and I’m not doing simply because I don’t know.

Did you encounter people who really helped you with bureaucracy and adapting in Germany? If yes, who was it?

Yes, other than my friends in the last months I have contacted some people that are in a similar situation as myself and they have helped us a lot, the main ones are the guys from superflomo who happen to have their offices in the same block as where I live and work, one day I saw the sign and decided to send a mail to them telling who we were and if we could go by to say „hi“ and ask them some questions. They said ok and we met some times with them for coffee or lunch and they have helped us a lot.

I also went once to an hour of consulting paid by the city of Stuttgart. Since I already had the product, the idea and the business model and I only had questions regarding the kind of company I had to create and mainly tax related things. It wasn’t too useful since a lot of questions regarding taxes had the same answer: you should consult a „Steuerberater“ which I already knew but wasn’t doing because that would cost money.

I think that this is more focused to people that want to start a company but don’t have a clear idea of the product and the business model. Even when it wasn’t too useful some of the answers helped us to move a little forward.

I also met Johannes from StartUp Stuttgart twice and he had to go through a small interrogatory :P

If you wanted to found another company in Germany, what would you wish for to simplify this process for you?

A one stop office to do the process, a check list of things to do, things to be careful about, recommendations for accountants that know about startup things and are used to deal with people who don’t speak German as the main language. I always try to speak German but I need people who have patience and clarify things because I don’t have the vocabulary or „obvious“ knowledge that Germans have simply because they lived here all their life.

Going far with my wishes, the perfect setup would be a kind of simplified process for startups (companies that sell less than X euros a year) where you pay a single thing that covers taxes, healthcare, insurances and all the things I may not know. After you are on your feet with a stable income, you can switch to a different model more similar to the actual (or maybe pay more according to the income).

At the beginning (where I am right now), any expense is high and every minute lost doing paperwork or trying to figure out how things work is a minute lost improving your product and an Euro less in the bank which makes your survival time shorter, getting the things that don’t add value to your company out of the way improves your chance of survival.

And only if you survive, the government and the society will benefit from your success, if you fail and go back to a „9 to 5“ job, then no value is added to society.

Thanks a lot for this great and insightful interview, Mariano. All the best to you and Javier!