Four lessons for startups that I learned at Oktoberfest

Oct 25, 2013
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Oktoberfest

This guest post is part 3 of “The Amusement Park” blog series written by Mark Fabian Henkel (@mrkhnkl) Co-founder and CEO of Paymill, a young startup that offers the fastest and easiest way to integrate credit and debit card payments in websites and mobile applications.

Oh man where am I? Where is my wallet? – Okay, I’m at home and my wallet is on the nightstand. But why do I suffer from headaches so badly ? Oh the memory comes back slowly: Yesterday was D-Day at the office. D-Day, for non-Bavarians is the day where you are forced to wear a Dirndl (that’s where the D comes from) as women and Lederhosen as men. This day usually comes with the company’s visit to the Wiesn. So, that’s what happened yesterday : I have been to the Oktoberfest and came home late after a couple of beers and schnapps.

But what does the Oktoberfest visit have in common with the “amusement park”-blog and more importantly with start-ups ? Let me tell you where the link is. Overall, the Oktoberfest is the largest amusement park you can imagine. Just to give you some numbers:

  • 6,9 million visitors
  • 7,5 million litres  of beer
  • 520.000 chicken
  • 118 oxen
  • and exactly 172 rides, exhibitors, carneys

So, I guess this is enough proof that the Oktoberfest is like an amusement park and everybody who ever visited the Theresienwiese in Munich at that time will testify that.

And how does it relate to start-ups? Well, I could state the low hanging fruit, if you do something do it right – if you go to the Oktoberfest, get drunk and don’t stop after the first Maß (1 liter of Munich beer). However, there are more similarities around Oktoberfest and start-ups.

Know your Target Market

If you go to celebrate with friends, you need to decide in which tent to go. There are 14 big tents just to drop some names: Hofbräu Festzelt (wanna see Australians), Schützen Festzelt (wanna see the Munich youth) or Käfer’s (see VIPs like in a zoo). You see, no tent is like the other. They are different in the music they play, they’re different in the type of beer they serve and they differ by the people inside. That reminds me pretty much of target groups.

Just like a visitor, an entrepreneur has to decide which target group he wants to approach and in the beginning, it’s one target group. Only later, once you have more resources, can you start to deal with more. So choosing you target group well is the same decision you face on a Saturday in Munich around October before you enter one of the famous beer tents.

Know your Barriers to Entry

But choose well where to go, cause entry barriers at the Oktoberfest are high, especially during peak times. Nobody wants to go to the tents on Wednesday at noon, just like nobody opens a start-up without a target group.

It’s hard to get in when the tents are crowded on the weekends and everybody wants to be one of the crazy guys standing on the wooden bench and singing with the marching band. You need to be the first on that day (same as with start-ups) or you need to know somebody to get in or your party starts in a place where there’s nobody and you need to get it started (see all these Oktoberfests around the world).

In the start-up world, that means either you know a huge supporter, investor or company, or you need to be the first who comes up with an idea or you look for a spot, area where your party doesn’t exist.

It’s all about Building Relationships

Once you’re in, you need to find a place to sit down. Usually you have a reservation but if you don’t, you need to talk to people and ask them to share some space on their bench.

In any case, after two or three beers you start chatting with people, whether you know them or not. Certainly after 3-4 Maß you start approaching people you don’t know. And that’s where it’s similar to start-ups: you tried hard to get in, you got your position and know after a certain time (2-3 beers) it’s time to step out of you comfort zone to start mingling with others.

Oktoberfest is just like any other networking event, although not as serious as some tech conferences, it’s the perfect place to build relationships. Networking plays an important part when trying to grow your startup, because it just makes doing business easier with people you already know. And you never know who you’re going to bump into!

Know your limits

Drink too much and you’re going to have a bad time! Just like in a startup, you need to know your limits, because if you push yourself too much you’re going to go crashing. At Oktoberfest, you’ll be thrown out of the beer tent, in the startup world you’ll run out of steam in the market you invested so much time and capital to penetrate.

Case in point, you need to pace yourself! You can’t drink all the beer in the world, just like you can’t ship dozens of new features every week. Do too much and you’ll literally lose focus!

Oktoberfest is always a crazy time, but it’s also loads of fun – just like life in a start-up. And in case you’re wondering, yes I visited the haunted house and a tiny rollercoaster as promised, although the rollercoaster of start-ups just might be even better than the real one.

Check out Mark’s other posts: