Germany’s Pirate Party is polling high enough to become the country’s third largest next year and is already a force to be reckoned with in Berlin. We spoke to Berlin delegate Pavel Mayer, also the managing director of tech company Hoccer, about what’s up next.
Hoccer’s headquarters could be those of any other Berlin tech startup, with display screens, crates of Club Mate, and young guys listening to headphones while they work.
Unlike most managing directors, though, Hoccer’s Pavel Mayer spends the other half of his working life as a Pirate Party delegate in Berlin’s state parliament. Last September, the Pirates won 15 seats in Berlin’s Abgeordnetenhaus, a surprise win and the first time the party had won seats at state level.
It was already a landmark year for Mayer. Six months earlier, he’d taken over the majority of shares in infomation transfer company Hoccer. “When I took over Hoccer, I didn’t really expect to be in parliament from September on,” he says. “I knew it could be possible but I couldn’t let go of the opportunity in March because of a slim chance of getting into parliament”.
He has no regrets but says September to February were the most difficult months of his life. While he was used to spending 40 to 50 hours per week working in IT and the same amount again for the Pirate Party, entering parliament meant “everything was new”.
To top it off, three of Hoccer’s employees were also successful Pirate Party candidates and had to be replaced. “For the first time in my life, at some point, I was thinking that I don’t know how I’m going to get through all of this.”
Prague to Berlin, Datango to Hoccer
Mayer, born in Prague, moved to west Germany with his parents in 1968 and to Berlin in 1990. He has a background in IT and a long relationship with design studio Art+Com. He also co-founded software support company Datango (now a three-time winner in the Deloitte Fast 50 awards for Germany’s fastest growing technology companies), though he moved on two years later.
His new company Hoccer started in 2010 with the concept of throwing and catching data between mobile phones (similar to Bump), then evolved into a general app to exchange data between devices using gestures, and without needing to exchange contact details.
So far, about a million users have downloaded the app – though the business model is geared more at providing backend services to other businesses and app developers.
Hoccer is also working on a virtual goods transaction platform. “That’s where we’re heading to,” Mayer says. “If you have a ticket or a coupon or whatever, instead of sending an email or whatever, you just move it to some other phone”.
He isn’t naming names but says Hoccer already has some partnerships with major companies “in the payment area, in the telecommunications area”. The team is considering a venture capital round in the second half of this year.
Wiretapping to free Wifi – Berlin’s political agenda
Back in Berlin’s Abgeordnetenhaus, Mayer sits on three committees: commerce, science and technology; constitutional rights; and the so-called G10 commission, which includes oversight of wiretapping by Berlin’s secret service.
He’s still getting his bearings, especially when it comes to working with, and reforming, Berlin’s formidable bureaucracy. Everyone says there is too much bureaucracy in Berlin but few can imagine just how complicated the city-state really is, he says.
“Different areas, topics, institutions, people… just to get an overview about what’s going on takes a lot of time and effort, and I don’t think many people really know what’s going on even within the administration. Everybody has his own area.”
A simpler challenge, perhaps, will be introducing free Wifi for the whole city, something also on the governing coalition’s agenda. “It’s something that in Berlin has been tried for about ten years and didn’t happen yet so we’ll see,” he says.
Prepping for the infomation age
One important long-term issue on the Pirates’ agenda is finding ways to support those unable to earn a decent living in what Mayer dubs the information age. As more basic tasks are automated and migrate online, “adequately-paid” jobs will require expert skills not everyone is able to acquire. He sees a world with a “few experts, a lot of machines and everyone will be working less” as a good thing but it will pose challenges.
“We’ll have to look at how we’re going to distribute wealth if work can no longer be the main criterion for how to distribute money to people.”
Meanwhile, the Pirate Party has its own issues to deal with, both in Berlin and at national level. It’s winning new voters with its unique approach to political transparency and participation but is also attracting some criticism for its no-holds barred debating culture.
Mayer says while there’s always room for improvement, the Pirates are working together as well as any other party in Berlin. Like any good startup, they’re bringing new people together and coming up with new ideas. Some may not work but some, he says, “may change the world forever”.