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The Art of Failure

Lindner's angry speech about anti founder culture (source: Die Welt)

Christian Lindners (FDP) viral web speech should be an alarm call to improve our startup culture in Germany

Düsseldorf/Dresden, 3. Februar 2015. The chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) of Germany, Christian Lindner, recently gave a speech about entrepreneurship everybody is talking about now. In the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, he was attacked by a social democrat for the failure of his startup business around the year 2000.

Who fails is stigmatized in Germany

However, the politician did not exculpate himself, he rather held a short lecture about the attitude towards failure in our society and it’s consequences for the startup culture of the country. He essentially stated that most people in our society like to work for the government or strive for a regular job, because they are afraid to start their own business. One reason is, according to Lindner, that someone who fails in Germany is stigmatized. That is especially a big difference in comparison with the US where it is more unpopular when someone never tries or gives up too early.

For Germany as a whole, this pessimistic view is a dangerous development. Even though big companies will be important in the future as well, the innovation is driven by small startups. They are able and brave enough to try new things. But there is never a guarantee for success. Most of them can and will fail.

Only one out of dozens of Startups earns tons of money

Actually that is the same in startup friendly countries like the US. Of course, we only know the great stories of Microsoft, Apple or Google. They made it. But at the same time others fall by the wayside. Venture capitalists are aware of that. They give for example money to 35 companies, and they know that only one or two will make tons of money. That kind of model is good for both parties. The companies don’t have the risk of a bank credit and the venture capitalists compensate the loss of money by finding fantastic startups.

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In Germany there isn’t such a great tradition of venture capital. And US money is not easily available for startups, because it usually stays in the US. However, there are programs from the state, in Saxony for example via the „Sächsische Aufbaubank“. That means: It is possible. And there are thankfully still enough people who really try. They live in uncertain circumstances, but they work hard to reach their goals. These are the people who create jobs in the long run. And these are the people who are later maybe envied by others for their wealth. However, the years before, they always run the risk to end as a welfare case.

The average German is risk averse

They are brave people, but unfortunately they are not the majority in our country. The average German is risk averse. He or she only likes business stories if they have a happy end. They fear the unknown. But that’s part of the game. No risk, no fun. If people like Werner von Siemens, Karl August Lingner or Reinhold Würth wouldn’t have had the courage in the past to build a business, there wouldn’t be any great companies today that pay billions of euros of tax money. If this founder culture disappears one day and all people strive solely for security, Germany wont be an affluent society anymore.

Look at Hesse’s Steps

The best advice concerning this topic comes surprisingly from the world of literature. Hermann Hesse stated it very well in his poem „Steps“:

A magic dwells in each beginning,

protecting us, telling us how to live….

the world of spirit wishes not to fetter us

but raise us higher, step by step….

Scarce in some safe accustomed sphere of life
have we establish a house, then we grow lax;

only he who is ready to journey forth
can throw old habits off.

Sounds sensible. We should listen more to Hesse – for a better startup culture in Germany.

Author: Stephan Hoenigschmid

Stephan Hönigschmid. Foto: privat

Stephan Hönigschmid. Foto: privat


Our author Stephan Hoenigschmid is journalist in Dresden, Saxony, and is the Founder of the Dresden based English-speaking platform www.founderella.com)

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