Constantin Schmutzler, known as Tino, is the heart of Berlin Startup School. For the past four years, he has been full-heartedly building the School from a one-man-show to a team that today consists of 6 core people and a network of 60+ Coaches and Mentors. As with any journey, this one is full of twists and turns, highs and lows. Read more about Tino’s thoughts and learnings from along the way. 💭
How would you start answering the question: Who is Tino?
I'm just regular 31-year-old guy who wants to spread the spirit of entrepreneurship and to make it accessible for everyone.
And this is the very reason you started Berlin Startup School?
I struggled finding a place where I could get support because I had so many ideas. It must have been more than four years ago. I had the privilege to study Entrepreneurship — in the very end, the studies didn't help me to build up the business, but the environment did. I realized if I cannot find such a place then I need to build it myself.
So Berlin Startup School grew out of a real personal need?
For me, the most important thing was always: What can I do myself, without being an expert, to test ideas and to take the next steps? By that I mean for example setting up a website or doing Social Media Marketing myself. And, of course, getting support from the right people. I genuinely believe that especially with the tools that are available nowadays, nearly everybody can found a business with just a laptop.
You mentioned that you were studying Entrepreneurship. Could you share with us the founding story?
My life before being an entrepreneur was mostly about Communication Management and Marketing. But when I started having a lot of ideas, I was not willing to take a risk to quit the job. So, there I was: looking for a place. As mentioned, I was not able to find such place that would have given me the security to test the idea in a part-time program while, for example, being employed to ensure the safety when you fail.
So I started studying Entrepreneurship with the hope to find the place at university. I didn’t. I needed to go out, to attend workshops, webinars, contests, and more. And then it was about confirming that not only I have the struggle but there were also others who could relate. So I started talking to these people. This was the first step: trying to understand what they were looking for, which kind of support was generally needed? From there on it was trial and error, in the sense of offering workshops with several speakers in different formats to understand what are the biggest pain points, and what kind of format would be the most suitable one.
After that we started spreading the word through Marketing. That meant being present on Social Media and other platforms – already in an early stage. And this, I would say, is mandatory for every startup. That's also something I want to emphasize: Please talk about your idea! Be present out there - even if the product is not ready yet.
So that people start to understand that there is something happening – that's the first step. The second step: What is it that you are offering? And then to understand - but this takes quite some time - does this really help people? And of course, the fourth step: Credibility. This is a never-ending process.
So, my overall advice: Go out there as soon as possible. It’s about trial and error. This is, step-by-step, how the school was born and grew.
Please talk about your idea! Be present out there - even if the product is not ready yet.
Perhaps you can shed more light on these contrasting mindsets and the fear of ‘getting out there'? There are people out there who have seen a hundred times more ideas and successful startups than I have. But with a few ones that I had the pleasure to accompany, or the ones that I just know, I don't know of a single example where the startup was successful by not talking about their idea.
Here’s why talking about your idea is important: You might find supporters who love the idea, or investors wanting to give you money. And that’s because they have always craved for that solution, or tried it themselves years or decades ago. You also might find out that there is a competitor that you have not yet heard about. Or somebody tells you that this exact idea is already existing.
And the risk that somebody steals the idea, in comparison to what you can gain by talking about your idea, is way lower. And yes, somebody might steal your idea. This has also been the case for me - that somebody took the materials out of the School.
Would you like to talk more about that last part? So if you asked me this question, what happened? What was stolen? It was my Co-founder back then who took parts of the training material that we had developed together, and used it by himself somewhere else. He only informed me afterwards. This is when I realized things are not quite right. We had a huge fight over that and things got worse until we decided to depart.
But it also showed me that no matter who has which idea – it’s about the execution in the very end.
If today’s Tino would be to start up a business, would he do anything differently? Maybe I should start answering this question first by saying that I don't regret anything, and I'm not sad or discouraged about all those things. I learned so much; I would not like to miss the things even when they were not that great.
The only thing that I would do differently is this: I would be more bold. I was too afraid - and maybe I still am sometimes - of taking risks. I would take more risks when it comes to financials, for example. That's the first thing. Secondly, I would choose my employees or co-founders more wisely. Now I am happy to have a great team, but I guess a lot of times in the past when I formed a team with somebody else, whether it was for this idea or another one, I was trying to be fast, rather than choosing thoughtfully.
The only thing that I would do differently is this: be more bold. I was too afraid - and maybe still am sometimes - of taking risks.
Is there a crucial learning for early stage founders that you’d like to spotlight? I believe it’s three things.
First: Talk about your idea.
Second, closely connected to that: Do it! Just go for it even if people tell you that it's not going to work out. If you still believe that it's worth it, then just try because you will learn so much on the way.
And third, which, in my opinion, is not only suitable for entrepreneurs, but for everybody: Who are you doing it for?
This question is related to a really short real life story. It's the story about the family dinner. Imagine you have what seems like a great job that makes you decent salary. But on the other hand it’s making you feel unhappy. At the dinner, you receive comments such as “Ah, you have such a great job!” and “You are doing so well!”, and so forth. So – you impress your family on this one evening, but the rest of the year you're not happy with what you're doing. Would you not prefer it to be the other way round?
Which fail do you think is valuable to share with other founders out there? I think I have a strength, which is a weakness at the same time: Improvising. A lot of great things have happened because I improvised a lot. But I would say at least the same amount of bad things are on that account as well.
I guess, I, myself, want to ensure in the future to improvise less. I have been in so many situations in which it also made me feel uncomfortable. And with a developing business I can’t afford improvising as much as in the past. This is something that I would advise every founder: Have the skill to improvise as much as you can, but be aware of the downside of this.
What are your hopes for the upcoming year regarding to your work at Berlin Startup School?
I'd like to see that more people in the world can found their business - independent of their social status, income, family background, and so on. There are so many ideas out there that are worth being developed and, unfortunately, only a small percentage is actually being executed or even tried. If we can offer a place to come to no matter which idea it is or who you are, that'd make me super happy.
The goal for this year overall means to have a wider set of services, programs, and offers to serve to more and more people out there while also sustaining the business. I want to see Berlin Startup School maturing in a way that we outperform last year while still operating independent from external sponsorships or institutions.
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