Marguerite Imbert (Founder and Contributing editor at Venture Village)


- Why did you, someone from New York, create a project aimed at a European audience?

- As a New Yorker and American who wanted to get involved in startup industry, I considered moving to San Francisco. That was my first instinct. But, after some observation, I decided that the best way to use my resources as a writer and a communicator was to use them in emerging hubs, instead of an established one. In the Silicon Valley-San Francisco ecosystem, the presence of media was already successful. Given the high volume and quality of journalists and bloggers covering startups, companies which launch there get due attention immediately. In Eastern Europe and Germany, this simply wasn’t the case. Before we started Venture Village, there were no professional, English-language online-magazines covering startups in Berlin. And therefore, news on company launches, mergers, acquisitions, failures, pivots, and investment rounds went uncovered, as they were simply not reaching mass-media. In this career path, I decided to put my energy towards drawing international attention toward a city of remarkable interest. When I began, it was an exciting year for Berlin. Companies were seeing major funding from international investors like Index Ventures, the Samwer empire was raveling and unraveling, everyone and their haircutter were flooding to Berlin, and we were there to cover it all. It was fascinating and continues to fascinate.

You said that no one had covered this, but what about The Next Web?

Patrick de Laive has done a fantastic job as establishing TNW’s focus and I definitely look up to his work. We started VentureVillage with the primary focus of covering Berlin and Germany and slowly extended our coverage to Eastern Europe. TechCrunch and other more established tech blogs were covering Western Europe, but not so much to Eastern Europe. There is EastWestDigital, which covers the Russian market, and, in each city, more and more high-quality local features like it. We decided that we would devote ourselves to emerging hubs that specifically affect our ecosystem in Berlin. The result is dynamic.

- With which entrepreneurs are you more comfortable communicating: Eastern or Western?

In Berlin, we have founders from everywhere. They are Swedish, American, British, South African… I work with companies as a communications consultant and constantly enjoy the dynamic of culture. Personally I don’t find that one part of the world is better in communications, per se, though I do favor the British and American formulation of blogging (the casual voice, the insistent occupation with scoops and humor). The Sweden and Dutch are excellent in design and extremely focused. Germans known for their diligence, endurance, and precision. But what is really measurable is that Berlin is geographically and politically between Eastern and Western Europe. Here, all of these personalities combine their skills.

What was your marketing strategy in the beginning?

From the get go, we were funded by an incubator in Berlin Team Europe. We also did a conference called Heureka during our first year with our sister magazine, Gruenderszene, which contributed significantly to our well-being during the launch year. We also, bit-by-bit, added advertisements to the site, though I was diehard in making sure nothing overwhelmed content. Our sales team is extremely diligent and careful in this aspect, as advertising content supports initiatives that we attend and support ourselves. IDCEE was advertising our site, for instance, leading up to the event, as well as Pioneers Festival in Vienna and others.

- You were funded from the beginning?

Yes. So we had salaries, an office, a CEO, and the guidance of Lukasz Gadowski, one of the founders of the Berlin ecosystem and a critical partner of Team Europe. As I said, we, bit-by-bit, monetized through advertising, the conference and seminars, but, due to early support from Team Europe, Venture Village started professionally from Day 1. That was great. It was not a struggle to hire people and we could really pick top talent. Our team is one of the best in the world.

But it’s really not easy to get investments on content-projects. How did you get it? Did you know the founder personally?

No. Actually, I wanted to work in Berlin. I thought about several different career paths. But all I had to do with startups were marketing positions or founding other magazines, which were more focused on fashion and lifestyle. And this just seemed more necessary to me: a first magazine that would give Berlin startups the attention and investigation they need. I took the position as the founding editor-in-chief. Nearly a year later, I began consulting for selective companies in Berlin, as well as San Francisco.  

You see a wide range of startups. What trends do you see at the moment?

A lot of cool hardware is coming out, actually. There are few exciting new camera options that I can’t mention now, as they are preparing to close investment rounds.  We’ll see a lot of options for sharing images and  sounds more quickly and spontaneously. I launched one app called Gabi, which is an analytic tool for Facebook, with a team of six international entrepreneurs. We are on our second version, which is about to come out. I loved to not only write about products, but also to launch them. I think launch time is my personal passion. It is exciting for me, because I get to talk with journalists (ordinarily I am one) and say, “Look, we’ve got something to show you. And this is how you might say it, and the story is crazy interesting, isn’t it?”

When you’re launching a blog, the only interaction you have is reading emails and comments on site. And a lot of them are like “You have a typo here” or something. But when you’re building a real product like an app, you’re getting a real feedback that you’re using or not using. So I’m starting to expand what I do in this sphere. We’ll see where I go.

A magazine as big as yours must have some influence on investors. Do they write to ask some advice before taking decisions on investments?

We are focused on early-stage, and often pre-seed, startups, which have very young teams who are bootstrapping themselves. We would like the investors to read us as a way of identifying potential and talent, which happens. And so it’s great to get feedback from investors saying “We read you to locate deals” or “We found so-and-so through you and can you connect us?” I don’t think we have much negative influence on investors. We cover them for their insights and we ask them to be our readers as a way of locating deals.

Do you get some confidential information from them?

Sometimes, yes. To be a journalist is to be a keeper of incredibly interesting secrets. I love this aspect of it, as otherwise I’m not so private. My relationships are the most important to me. I think any person who wants to stay in this industry for the long-term will value the relationships far beyond traffic.

Can you compare IDCEE with other big European conferences? What is done well and what is done poorly?

I like the idea of focusing on a certain region more and more. Conversations tend to be more productive and the learning-rate is higher. I think it’s great that 45 countries are represented here. It’s such a wide scene and this place of the world [CIS region] deserves a flashlight. There is so much going on and such high potential for further growth.

Are there enough journalists in Berlin who are competent in this sphere?

I wouldn’t say that Berlin is lacking journalists. I can tell you my personal experience. I’ve been using an iPhone, Skype, Facebook, and Whatsapp ever since they came out. I like apps that become habits. Otherwise, I’m not so interested. That’s part of our culture now to be trained in startups. It’s interesting as a writer to explore these habits through narrative.

And what is your advice to young journalists or somebody who wants to start an online magazine?

Open a blog. Buy URLs. I think buying URLs is a great nighttime inspiration while your friends are drinking. Get excited about one of them and just start writing on it. The best training for journalist is not to stay in journalism school but to get out in the world and listen. Write about food, puppets, history, boats, politics, startups.. Don’t wait for opportunity to write – create the opportunity.

Alex Bondarenko