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"Get a damn good lawyer" – top quotes on VCs, clones and risk-taking from IdeaLab! 2012 Written by Nina Fowler on 15. October 2012

IdeaLab! twitter wall

IdeaLab! 2012

This year’s IdeaLab! in Vallendar felt at times like a battle for the hearts and minds of Germany’s future founders.

Students from the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management – who independently put on the two-day IdeaLab! conference each year – are prime recruitment targets for Rocket Internet. The incubator’s HR team was actively recruiting on the day; other event sponsors with an interest included Axel Springer, fellow incubator Project A and SumUp.

Some of the angel investors and VCs speaking at the event – Passion Capital‘s Eileen Burbidge, Christophe Maire, Accel Partners‘ Max Niederhofer – also closed by suggesting the audience come to them once they’d founded startups.

So what are the choices, then, for bright students at WHU or one of Germany’s other top business schools? Go run a Rocket Internet clone or e-commerce spin-off in an exotic location? Build a team and battle it out in Berlin with a disruptive new idea? Or, perhaps, sign up to McKinsey for a few years first…

Here’s our wrap-up of advice given by speakers. If we’ve missed a top quote or point, please share the joy and post it for everyone in the comments below.

Christophe Maire

On taking a job at McKinsey

“I don’t think the two-year McKinsey is better than the intern McKinsey. What you gain in systematic thinking, you lose in motivation to jump.” – Oliver Samwer, Rocket Internet

“Skip that and go straight to the beef.” – Christophe Maire, Atlantic Ventures (above)

On taking risks

“Make the choices that make you nervous. If you make the choice that’s the easy way out, that wasn’t the big vision or big choice to make.” – Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital

On raising funds

“A triple AAA idea and a triple AAA boat. Lots of cannons. That’s what you need.” – Oliver Samwer, Rocket Internet

“We’re in what I like to call the ‘Valley of Doom’ [lots of money for early- and late-stage startup funding, but not enough in the middle].” – Lars Hinrichs, HackFwd (below)

Lars Hinrichs

“We currently have more angels than startups in Berlin. I actually think right now we have more accelerators than startups in Berlin.” – Lars Hinrichs, HackFwd

“We have a $500million plus fund. That means, if you sell your company for $5m, Accel owns 20 per cent of that, we return $1m – on a $500m fund. My partners, they don’t get out of bed for that any more.” – Max Niederhofer, Accel Partners

“Get a damn good lawyer. Preferably the lawyer we usually use so that we can’t get them.” – Max Niederhofer, Accel Partners

“You have investors, you might have employees… It gets really serious. I realised, I probably can’t go back to school, at least for a little while.” – Sahil Lavingia, Gumroad

On the value of ideas – and which to pick

“The idea doesn’t come like ‘that’. You need to start looking for the idea, or you’re one of the very few Einsteins who has the idea.” – Oliver Samwer, Rocket Internet

“Ideas and money are two things you can get, what’s the difference? ‘I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the idea but I wanted to have my own company’ – so let’s find the money, let’s find an idea, because 99 per cent is the first part. Realising, implementing, building it. There are so many ideas, there is so much money but it’s really getting things done.” – Oliver Samwer, Rocket Internet


“At Instagram, we cared about solving a real problem. Taking problems with your phone was hard, hard to share, and photos looked like crap… It didn’t solve world hunger, but it was a real problem.” – Gregor Hochmuth, Instagram (above)

“We need more of those ventures [pointing to Codecademy] rather than yet another consumer-facing eCommerce company. I get more excited today about stuff that is so cleverly positioned it will not require brute force.” – Christophe Maire, Atlantic Ventures

On clones and copycats

“Independent of EyeEm, I personally just have this really big beef with copycats. I just think it’s not creative and it’s not innovative unless you’re adding something substantially new.” – Gregor Hochmuth, Instagram (hat tip to Silicon Allee)

“You can clone things like Pinterest, like Pinspire did, very quickly. That’s not what excites me. I don’t like building things that are defensible… I believe the biggest problems in the world you can solve very, very quickly.” – Sahil Lavingia, Gumroad (and ex-Pinterest)

On teams

““If you believe in what you’re doing and the team that you’re working with, that’s the most important thing. You definitely don’t need to be the lead… I could have been CEO or founder of a million startups and not got anywhere near what I got from being at Skype.” – Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital, ex-Skype


“Fake it until you make it” – Eileen Burbidge’s astonishing tale of Skype’s early days
“Be a little bit Tom Cruise” – 7 tips for founders from Rocket Internet’s Oliver Samwer
VIDEO: Heureka! – must-see debate among Berlin’s top incubators