Bits & Pretzels; at first sight just your average “start-up-meets-founder” event. I was a bit sceptic about visiting because I really did not know what to expect, except for the fact that I would be wearing a dirndl during one of the three days. The event is hosted during the famous German Oktoberfest so it wasn’t that weird to be looking like I just stepped out of a Grimm Brothers fairytale in my pink dirndl.
My scepsis flew out of the window after 5 minutes into the opening session. It turned out to be an inspiring opening. After the founders of the event, who are all successful entrepreneurs, introduced themselves with an honest and courageous story of their success and their failures, the Bavarian Minister of Economic affairs and Media officially opened the event with an inspiring story on what technology means for Bavaria and how proud she is on the region she represents. We went off into the world of Bits & Pretzels where courage was the starting point for all speakers.
Stefan Raab, who is pretty famous in Germany (and in Holland for that matter), held a funny but also inspiring life story. He believed in his vision and it took a long way to eventually get where he is today but never gave up. The vibe at the main stage was overwhelming. I think everyone in the room could relate to his story, entrepreneurs, tech enthusiasts, investors, just everybody!
The funny part is I went to quite a lot of keynotes, with speakers who are famous or not, but they all had something to say that made sense. They all had to put in their best efforts on getting where they are today although you would never expect some of them to make these moves.
For example Oliver Kahn, who all football enthusiasts know of his epic goalie career for Bayern Munich and the German National Team. One of my heroes when I was a kid playing football as a goalie. He now owns Goalplay, a company focussing on education, coaching and training young goalies with help of analysis, a tutorial platform and of course his own experience. Awesome to see what he made of his life after his career. It takes a lot a courage to put yourself out there after a successful career as a goalie.
Another session that really got stuck in my brain was the Kevin Spacey meet up with the founder of Trivago, Rolf Schrömgens and serial entrepreneur Lukasz Gadowski. Both entrepreneurs were interviewed by Kevin Spacey. It was incredibly interesting! Honest answers on epic failures, great successes and the road to world domination. I was surprised to find out that Rolf actually did not put so much value to his school diploma. We all push ourselves, our children and colleagues to learn, learn and learn. But maybe the philosophy of Rolf is even better, just be brave and follow your dreams! Although good education never harmed anyone ;-)
Lukasz, who is hilarious by the way especially in combination with Kevin Spacey, shared some good insights on his mind set as well. He has a great talent to spot an opportunity sharing his story on how he started his first internet company back in 2001 to order, print (unique) t-shirts and ship them within 24 hours. Nowadays that is nothing special, but do consider Lukasz started this in 2001! Talking about courage, spotting an opportunity and never giving up!
But the most surprising and fun session I visited was the one hosted by Microsoft and Peak Teams. Where I was expecting a long session on all kinds of innovation in technology and data, it turned out to be completely different.
Peak Teams accelerates in building extremely high performing leadership teams. Reason for Microsoft to hook up with them. Amy and Matt of Peak Teams gave an interactive session on team building and decision making. Amy kicked off with an exciting story on how our brain works, combining the geek stuff with a lot of humor.
After forming teams in the room, Matt presented the teams with some tough decision making calls for our team peddling the - hold your horses - Okavango Delta River! Showing the outcome of each decision on screen. Fun fact, every time we came to an agreement within our team, we shouted ‘Asambe’ like crazy, which means ‘Let’s Go’ in Zulu.
It forced us to think differently about our team, on the challenges and the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals. Matt made a huge impression on me, not only on his accomplishments as an adventurer (the guy walked the North Pole 3 (!) times) but also as a person. He expressed we shouldn’t live life in the fast lane but also be aware of this beautiful gift of life we were given and live it to the fullest.
After a great after party (with good German beer) day two started early in the morning. We decided to dive in at the Corporate stage where the agenda was full with over 20 inspiring speakers. A rollercoaster of great stories on transformation, digital success, start-ups and amazing showcases of VW, Allianz, Raiffeisen and many others.
We took a break to visit the interview with our fellow Dutchie Carice van Houten, famous of her role of ‘Melisandre the Red lady’ in Game of Thrones, on her own epic journey of courage and a little luck. Fascinating to see that she is the complete opposite of the evil character she plays in this huge production. Although it did not have anything to do with start-ups or technology or what so ever, it was fun to hear.
There were so many good sessions planned, it was impossible to visit them all. During the evening program we could sign up for 50+ special events. We chose not to, we had two very intensive days and needed a little time to recover so we could be fully prepared for the last day that actually took place at the holy Oktoberfest grounds!
Entering the Oktoberfest area, which I never visited before, I was a little overwhelmed. If you haven’t been there, you should go. It is huge! Including an enormous fun fair as well (and a rollercoaster with 5 loopings, where of course I had to take a ride on). The Bits & Pretzels organisation arranged the Schottenhamel tent. Registering for the event, we could pick a table in the tent with a topic of interest. I choose the Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) table.
Arriving around 9.30 in the morning, I found out it is pretty normal to order a pint of beer at this early time. At the table I got to know some interesting people working on cool ideas that involves A.I. Since I was representing our start-up Datatrics (which basically is a DMP with a really smart algorithm predicting the customer journey) and being a sucker for tech and A.I., I had a blast.
At 2 in the afternoon the official event came to an end (although we stayed at the Oktoberfest and had more fun including waterslides and beers).
Concluding these 3 days of inspiration, buzz and constant networking, I definitely recommend Bits & Pretzels as a go-to event! An amazing atmosphere, fun and interesting people. Very good topics and sessions and a kick-ass closing day at the Oktoberfest made it unforgettable. It took me a few days to digest the buzz and hype before I could write this blog. But hey, at least you know where to go next year if you want to visit an event that really adds something!