Radish Berlin: The Birth of Radish Lab UG
Berlin doesn’t have a reputation as a windy city. But there were days in May when we faced stiff gusts as we cycled along Alexanderstraße from our co-working space in Kreuzberg to our studio apartment in Prenzlauer Berg. It sometimes felt like we were pedaling in place.
We arrived in Berlin on April 15 with just a rough idea of how to execute our proposed mission of setting up shop and recruiting local clients. Radish is an established presence in the competitive Brooklyn and U.S. digital design scene, but we had almost no access to the Berlin market when we arrived, and essentially zero brand-recognition. With support from Startup Germany, who along with the Made in NY Media Center sponsored our 3-month fellowship in Berlin, we soon started making modest but encouraging inroads.
Getting a meeting in Berlin is easy, and almost always involves coffee. The startup and media entrepreneurship scene is open, collegial, and highly caffeinated. There are lots of interesting and accomplished people who are happy to hear about your projects and ideas. But, as a number of Berliners acknowledged, it’s a lot trickier to transition from informational idea-sharing to concrete business proposals. It takes a lot of meetings before you come across an actionable opportunity, and in most cases serendipity plays an important role. A friend connected us with the great folks at The Changer, where a chat over cappuccinos led to the idea of offering our Radish Discovery Lab Beta workshops in Berlin, which led to an appreciative profile, which we hope will lead to still more productive encounters.
On The Changer’s job board, we came across a request for a proposal for a content strategy project. We worked with our Brooklyn team to put together a detailed pitch, which led to a series of discussions with a prospective client that we hope will bear fruit. Conversations at a Rockstart Answers pitch event led to a meeting with a major foundation in need of a new direction for its digital campaigns. Another seed planted. The dynamic mix of entrepreneurs at betahaus is also fertile ground for potential collaboration, and we’ve connected with a couple of small social-impact startups about potential branding, illustration, and information architecture projects. Within a few weeks of our arrival, a critical mass of promising leads convinced us that we were ready to dig in and start putting down roots in Berlin.
One of the goals we had proposed when we applied for the Berlin fellowship was to set up Radish Lab as a legal entity in Germany. We were initially discouraged from undertaking such an involved bureaucratic process given the relatively short duration our stay, but our networking efforts and feedback from prospective clients guided us back to our original premise. Based on a number of conversations, we concluded that Berlin-based organizations were more inclined to work with local vendors, and that we would be better prepared to capitalize on our momentum if our business was truly local. With the help of Startup Germany, we met with a business lawyer who educated us about the advantages and relative ease of setting up Radish Lab as an UG, or Unternehmergesellschaft, which translates as “entrepreneurial company” and is the rough equivalent of an American LLC. We have a few more bureaucratic hurdles to clear, but as of May 18, 2016, Radish Lab UG officially launched as a Berlin-based German company. This status will help us build relationships, set up our banking infrastructure, and facilitate transactions with the types of organizations–foundations, nonprofits, and cultural institutions–that we want to work with here.
In late May, we signed our first contract as Radish Lab UG. We’re working on a content-strategy project with the Guerrilla Foundation, a Berlin- and Athens-based philanthropic initiative that funds and supports social-impact and civil-society activists and organizations. We still have a lot to learn about doing business in Berlin, but we’re thrilled to be taking our first steps with a partner that fits so snugly our mission.
Some of what we’re learning (including the language) is unique to Berlin and Germany. We’re also revisiting the universal challenges of getting a new business on its feet. But the entire process has been invigorating. It brings fresh ideas and perspectives back to our Brooklyn office, and helps us practice an essential part of building a company and a culture: dreaming big.
If you’re a Berlin-based organization with a digital storytelling or communications project that you want to infuse with world-class design and Brooklyn flair, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.