Interviewed by Sophie Hechinger.
Let’s start with a short elevator pitch about yourself.
I’m a developer, designer, ethnographer and long-suffering vegetarian. I grew up in an old school, do-it-yourself, Connecticut family. My childhood was basically a combination between a Mark Twain novel and the movie Hackers. Thanks to my Dad, I started programming and playing with electronics when I was 5, and I’ve been building, breaking, and even blowing up stuff ever since. My fascination with tech took me all the way to getting a PhD in Information & Computer Sciences at the University of California.
Where did you live before you moved to Germany? What brought you to Berlin?
Over the past 7 years I’ve lived in: Rome, NYC, London, Portland (Oregon), Los Angeles, Lugano (Switzerland) and Boston. I came to Berlin this September with my company, frestyl, to join Startupbootcamp
What’s frestyl about in 140 characters?
With frestyl, music event organizers create & manage special offers on their upcoming shows that fans can discover & redeem through our mobile app.
Tell us a little bit about the team?
We’re three co-founders - and just like me, the other two are ladies with PhDs. Arianna is our CPO. She’s an amazing interaction designer and she’s in charge of conceptualizing, designing & testing our product. Emanuela is our resident socialite and official CMO. She heads up sales, marketing & communications. I’m the CEO, and besides the business side of frestyl, I also take care of coding and visual design. We launched an early alpha in Rome at the end of 2010, but it was quite a different product back then. We started with a user-generated community for sharing information about upcoming concerts. It grew to be the largest source of data for live music events in several Italian cities.
So it’s been quite a while. What drives you guys?
We’re here to lead the live music revolution, we just turned up a bit early. Seriously though, our long-term vision is to make it as easy to discover an amazing music event as it is to find new recorded music. iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and so many others recommend cool emerging bands, but where’s the Yelp of live music? We’re working to make that a reality.
Which place do you call home and how long are you planning to stay in Berlin?
I’m a New England girl at heart (my co-founders tease me because my mom gives me a Connecticut calendar every year to remind us how beautiful my home state is). But I’ve lived in 5 countries now and traveled to at least 20 - and I’m starting to realize there’s no “one perfect place” for me. As much as it’s a pain to move internationally, I keep doing it every few years because I’m an exploration junky. As a team we committed to staying in Berlin for at least 6 months, but we all left Rome not intending to go back. We’ve transplanted frestyl here, and I’m planning to make it stick for at least a few years!
What do you think about Berlin as a Startup City? What are your expectations from the city?
I feel there’s a true movement going on in Berlin. The level of creativity and collaboration here makes me think that this our generation’s 1920s Paris. After being here for a month and a half I can say that I expect to continue meeting really smart people who are interested in building not only their own companies but also a larger ecosystem.
You are a female coder in a male dominated space and frestyl is the only female team at Startupbootcamp Berlin. Do you think this makes things harder or can you somehow benefit from that?
I know that our team attracts attention because 3 female co-founders are rare - but so are 3 co-founders with PhDs. It’s hard to be an entrepreneur no matter who you are, and I don’t think it’s any harder (or easier) for me because I’m a woman. As a team, we probably receive a little more attention and a little more discrimination than other teams, but I think the net outcome is the same. I’m so focused on building an amazing, successful company, that I’ll let people with more time on their hands analyze how my gender affects my performance ;]
What kind of bigger impact do you think initiatives like the Berlin Geekettes can have?
I had some amazing role models growing up. My great-grandmother was one of the first American women to attend university and my grandmother moved to New York City alone at 16 to eventually become a fashion designer on 5th Ave. And my mother is the executive director of the domestic assault crisis center which serves half our state. For me, the best thing the Geekettes do is provide real examples for everyone (not just kids or women) to look up to. I don’t believe in forcing women into technology, but I also don’t want there to be any barriers stopping them. When I told my father I was starting my company he gave me the best advice I’ve heard so far: “You are an unstoppable train, and you need to let everyone know that it’s their loss if they don’t get on board.” I think the Geekettes are inspiring young trains to leave the station.
You can follow Johanna on twitter @deadroxy.