Wilkommen! This is part three of Betabeat’s new mini-series, Die Startup-Szene, a peek at the up-and-coming tech hub of Berlin, Germany. We sat down with entrepreneurs from three leading young companies here in the city that is only very, very occasionally referred to as Silicon Allee.
Earlier this week on another gloomy Berlin day, Betabeat found ourselves in a gated office park. To the left: a Turkish convenience store. To the right: a restaurant that only serves whole roasted chickens. In front of us: a waterpipe decorated with stickers, including a Tumblr logo. Yep, this was Kreuzberg, the Williamsburg of Berlin, and if we were playing “you might be a hipster if,” we’d admit that yes, later that night we went to see Tune Yards at a beer hall around the corner. But it was only because Edial Dekker, the adorable hipster CEO of Gidsy, recommended the show to us.
When we shlepped up to Gidsy’s office on the fifth floor, we discovered the source of the Tumblr sticker. Two girls in sundresses working out of a corner of Gidsytown, an open, white office with irregularly-angled walls like an attic, comprise the New York startup’s Berlin bureau. A three-person consultancy also shared the office, dubbed The Maker’s Loft, as Friends Of Gidsy.
Mr. Dekker appeared, a 27-year-old with tight golden curls and a flushed face, dressed in a red checkered shirt. A closeup of his half smile and crystal blue eyes recently appeared on the cover of CNBC magazine over the headline “Meet the Brats: Bored, restless, agile, tech savvy… and your deadliest rivals.” Mr. Dekker and his cofounder Floris are brothers from the Netherlands; the third Gidsy cofounder is Philipp Wassibauer from Austria.
Gidsy, an activities marketplace where regular people can offer tours, classes and activities for visitors or bored residents, has $1.2 million in funding from Sunstone Capital and is joined by Index Ventures, Werner Vogels, Peter Read and Ashton Kutcher. “We just send him an email. We just said, like, ‘hey Ashton, you don’t know us but we made you an account.’” A few hours later, the three cofounders saw that Mr. Kutcher had logged in and clicked around. “He got back to us right away and we had a one-hour conversation,” Mr. Dekker said. “He was super excited.” Mr. Kutcher is “super smart,” he said. “He spends half his time with startups. He really gets the internet. And his portfolio is really amazing.” Mr. Kutcher’s investments include GroupMe, Foursquare and Twitter; he’s also invested in Berlin startups Amen and SoundCloud.
The actor-angel liked the Gidsy team and the brand because it “brings people together, it brings happiness,” Mr. Dekker said, paraphrasing Mr. Kutcher.
We asked what advice he’d offer for emailing Mr. Kutcher and other superstar investors. “You need a really funny joke and like a really short ‘please check it out,’” he said. He could not remember the joke he made to Mr. Kutcher.
The Dekker brothers were working on their own design firm when they came up with the idea for Gidsy; they gave themselves two months to finish their client work and then launched the prototype in seven months. The startup is up to 10 employees and hunting for interns and an office manager.
The origin myth of Gidsy goes like this. Mr. Dekker was a cook for five years in Amsterdam. He and his brother have an urban garden in Berlin. They decided one day to go mushroom hunting and they found loads; they figured they’d look the fungi up when they got back to Berlin. But identifying which mushrooms are poisonous using the Internet is a dangerous game—colors look different, the descriptions are inconsistent—and so the brothers decided they needed to find a mushroom expert. Berlin is a city of mushroom appreciators; surely someone could help them tell chanterelles from amanitas. But they could find no one and had to throw the haul away.
The experience inspired them to build Gidsy, which now lists culinary events, startup tours, bike rentals, a sock monkey workshop, walking tours. It competes with the Lonely Planet, the ubiquitous blue guide for backpackers.
Competition for talent is fierce in Berlin, Mr. Dekker said; if someone comes to Berlin for three days, you want to do the interview on the first day. There was one person Gidsy recently interviewed and really liked, but SoundCloud scooped him up from under their noses.
Recently, the Dekker brothers were in New York for Social Media Week. “Worst crowd ever,” Mr. Dekker said, widening his eyes. But the brothers got to hang out with people from Kickstarter and Etsy, who they’ve worked with in the past and who is advising them on how to run a marketplace. Of their New York competitors, TechStars startup SideTour, Mr. Dekker said “they have a different approach.” Sidetour has a lot of tours already, for one. But Gidsy isn’t paying attention to competitors anyway, he said, but looking internally for feedback from its own community.
Gidsy currently has no mushroom experts, although Mr. Dekker expects it won’t take long until they do. Gidsy hasn’t done much marketing and the offerings are still fairly sparse, though it’s available in New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, and soon Los Angeles. Gidsy is about to announce a partnership with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which will use the platform for events. That should bring in a mushroom head or two.