We Moved Our Startup to Berlin for 30 Days

An Experiment in Accelerated Learning

Chris Castiglione
Jun 24, 2014 · 5 min read

Planning a Company Retreat to Berlin

Certain places are just more conducive for getting shit done. Don’t get me wrong, New York City has been generous in terms of its inspiration. And San Francisco? It was a great place for investment, and pretty mountains.

But when it comes to creativity they’ve both got me on lock down.

Creativity needs space. It needs solitude. And in comparison, New York keeps me too busy, and San Francisco too sterile. Every now and then I need to leave, and take some space. Enter Berlin.

Why Berlin?

Last month, my co-founder and I moved our company, One Month, to Berlin for 30 days. We had been talking about visiting Berlin since before we started One Month. Why? In my limited exposure to Berlin from when I last visited I could recall: a) it’s very affordable, b) it has a booming culture and tech scene and c) the people are friendly.

Also… Berlin just feels cool! Hell, it’s where David Bowie and Brian Eno ran off to back in the 70s to record some of the best work of their careers.

From a business perspective Berlin also made sense. To quote my co-founder Mattan,

“Our team grew to five people very quickly and not everyone really knew each other. We wanted to build a culture where people feel comfortable sharing and asking each other for anything.”

I guess there’s nothing like spending a month in a foreign city with a group of people to help you get to know them!

Did we work on the work retreat?

Without a doubt. We concentrated on certain creative projects that we just never seem to have time for back in New York City.

Distractions were at an all time low because:

  • New York City wasn’t calling (…with its happy-hours, and FOMO habits).
  • We actively avoided scheduling meetings and phone calls during our time in Berlin. That freed us up to run 2-3 hour workshops and engage in a way that are sometimes difficult back in NYC.
  • None of us had a morning commute. We were all living together, and so we saved about an hour’s worth of energy committing.

What were our company outcomes?

We had some great analytics breakthroughs, we developed the curriculum for our JavaScript and Learn Python course. We also filmed our tech podcast Hacker News Nation.

I published some much needed writing, and gave a few talks in Europe including at the Betahaus Breakfast.

Did we grow stronger as a team?

100%. My co-workers became my roommates for 30 days. It’s hard not to learn how to function on a variety of levels all at once.

How did we spend our time outside of work?

Co-working at cafes, riding bikes around town, playing Settlers of Catan, dancing until 6am, cooking dinners together, getting lost, partying at Ritter Buzka, Suicide Circus, drinking Club Mate, Yoga.

How much did the Berlin trip cost?

Breakdown of company costs: $8,300

$3200 — An Airbnb suitable for 3-5 people
$4,800 — Air Berlin flights from NYC to Berlin for 5 people
$200 — Taxis to the airport
$100 — Fruit, coffee, and paper towels around the house
$0 — Using the Betahaus Cafe & St. Oberholz as a co-working space

Just to put this in perspective, as a company we pay about double that price for: a) a year’s worth of accounting, OR b) branding guidelines, OR c) an ad campaign. So it seems like it’s a small price to pay for awesome culture building.

Why is Berlin Great For Startups?

  • Berlin is affordable. You can eat dinner for 5-7 Euro. If you live in Berlin full-time you can find a flat for around 350 Euro. Beers are around 2-3 Euro. And we once ordered a Bulleit Bourbon for only 2 Euro! Which is so cheap it felt like I was robbing the place.
  • Berlin is clean — it’s filled with clean air, wonderful people, and tons of parks (Maurer, Viktoriapark, Prinzessinnengarten). For example, Tempelhof Airport… it’s is an old airbase that has been converted into a public park. It’s immense. And it’s right in the center of the city, kind of like adding a second Central Park to Manhattan.
  • The startup scene is growing — Berlin boasts 2,500 tech startup, and it has some serious investment coming in from the likes of Bill Gates, Google, and Sequoia Capital.
  • Most Germans in Berlin can speak English

Unforeseen Difficulties

  • I didn’t anticipate the jet lag. Not me personally, but the team as a whole. That messed us up for our first two days and is something to watch out for.
  • Originally we had someone covering rent for our NYC office, but that fell through at the last minute. So we had to eat the cost.
  • Having our team all work from the house gave us a late start. 10am slowly became 10:30am and creeped closer to 11am. We learned that by starting the day at a nearby co-working space or cafe we could keep focused.

Would We Do it Again?

Yes. Although it becomes more difficult as we grow our team.

When we were hiring employees back in March I was nervous because we literally had to ask our everyone, “Hey, so how do you feel if we moved the company to Berlin for a month?”

Looking back it was probably a blessing in disguise that we did our core hiring in March before leaving for Berlin because it really helped accelerate our learning for how well we’d work together as a team.

Highlights from our company retreat to Berlin:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILoCplXCWMQ

Thanks to Sydney Flint and Lee Matos.

Chris Castiglione

Written by

Teacher at OneMonth.com. Faculty at Columbia University. Host of the Learn to Code Podcast. I write about coding, the internet, and social impact.