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Breakfast Taco Day 6:

Building a house on Mars, verticals in the media and design that changes the world 🎉

Howdy from Austin! 🙋

I finally know what the “X” in “SXSW” stands for: Exhausting. Five days of input, people, noisy streets, noisy corridors… The South By is the prototype of information overload. It gets gradually harder to collect my thoughts. Luckily, I have colleagues with me this time, and Pia, who supervises our startup programs in the Media Lab, had a brilliant observation yesterday, which I absolutely have to share here.

She sat in a panel that dealt with loneliness on social media. And she says:

“It’s not social media that makes people lonely, it’s people that make people lonely. People are always good and bad — if we want people to have better relationships on social media, we should first help them to have them in the “real world”. Because there, too, people are lonely, stressed and hateful. That doesn’t magically go away just because there is a digital platform.”

Amen, Pia.

À propos fantastic colleagues in the Media Lab: At this point a huge thank you to Kerstin and Christian, who got up very very early for the last six days in Munich to produce this taco every day and translate into English. You rock! ❤

🔮 #MediaTrends

Yesterday a panel was actually called “Future of Media” again. (Jacqueline from MedienNetzwerk Bayern came up with the idea of choosing the weirdest session titles and speakers. We’ll do that next year!).

The interesting thing was that it wasn’t made up of Washington Post and Co., but of small new content outlets that are currently winning over the hearts of users with newsletters and niche podcasts. Among them was Morning Brew, a fantastically fresh business newsletter that I would love to have for the German market. In addition, there was Group Nine Media, owning NowThis among other things, the podcast producers Wonder Media Network, and the travel content site The Points Guy.

The learnings from the panel were quite obvious (the most interesting was the question whether content startups should be venture backed or not; Group Nine Media says : “Yes!”, Wonder Media Network says: “No!”)— but the pure composition of it was interesting. Because it shows again: Content startups have the incredible advantage that they can weave their brand around only one niche topic.

This is exactly what we see on the German market and also in Media Lab Bayern — and it fits perfectly into the trend of content that is increasingly tailored to smaller target groups, who are all the more loyal to it. If large media companies want to imitate this, they would have to rethink their entire distribution (and brand) strategy. Group Nine Media and Vox Media have shown the way with the verticals. Television and perhaps radio are almost at an advantage, since they could theoretically brand and distribute individual format series quite easily. But newspapers and magazines that are currently a hodgepodge with a big brand on top, that have sub-branded maybe a single column?

The topic of distribution and platform strategy will continue to accompany us in the coming years. Interestingly, this was not that much of an issue at SXSW this year.

👩 #DesignThatChangesTheWorld

The surprise of the day was a talk about “Design as Powerhouse”, which became a general advisor for good product development, team- and innovation culture.

To be very basic at first: “Design is not about making it pretty. It’s a fundamental way to actually shifting business.” And for that it’s interesting how grown-up the design team is. There are five levels of design teams in companies:

  1. Producers: The design team makes something look good. The goal: production.
  2. Connectors: The workplace becomes a workshop and teams work collaboratively.
  3. Architects: Design is scaling — the team also takes care of infrastructure and operations.
  4. Scientists: The design team works on hypotheses, experiments and tests and learns with new products.
  5. Visionaries: Design means business. The design team works directly on the business strategy.

Most teams stay between level 3 and 4. In order to get ahead, it is particularly important how the team is organized in the company. Externally via an agency? Part of the company? Core of the company? Or an integral part of the company?


Stephen Gates sees design as a central component of product development. And product development has two stumbling blocks: processes and culture. If processes predominate in a company, this slows everyone down. But only culture is not good either, then nobody gets things done. Of course, the sweet spot is in the middle, Stephen Gates calls it “Behaviour”. It’s good if everyone has the same values, like learning and collaborating — and if everyone accepts one’s own Imposter syndromes. And yes, we all have (at least) one.

Here are the five Imposter syndromes to check yourself (I 🙋am already three of them)

The Perfectionst (🙋)

The perfectionist has incredibly high goals for himself and is afraid of not achieving them.
Check, if you have difficulty delegating and if you are frustrated and disappointed with the results of others.

The Superwoman or Man
The Super(wo)man feel like “frauds” who work next to real talent and are afraid of being exposed at any time. That’s why they work harder than others to cover it up.
Check: You stay longer than everyone else in the office, even when all the work is done.

The Genius
Geniuses think their success is based more on their ability than on their commitment and are afraid of having to work hard for something, because that would mean they are bad at it.
Check: You hate the idea of having a mentor because you can do everything on your own.

The Individualist (🙋)
Indvidualists think that asking for help reveals that they have no idea and a helper would only reveal their false value.
Check: You hide personal requests in requirement lists for the project.

The Expert (🙋)
Experts think that they tricked their employer into hiring them — and are afraid of being found incapable.
Check: You keep training because you think you need to improve your skills.

The whole slidedeck with additional information is available here:


How do you actually build a house on Mars? Our startups Kontextlab and Varia listened to the architect Bjarke Ingels yesterday, who, among other things, built a garbage dump with an added ski slope in Copenhagen. His credo: “Every project has to start with a change that is effecting your environment.”

That’s how he got to grips with Mars. There you have all the ingredients to create a civilized life. You can build there, grow plants and sustain human life.

You also have to accept that what’s there is already crazy enough. That’s why you simply have to arrange what is already there in a different way.

That makes innovation much less scary. Let’s reassemble everything we already have!


Melissa from Plantura has been doing a lot of marketing here in Austin. How do you build a brand that is authentic and that people love and connec to? Here are some recipes:

Word-of-Mouth is the best. 90% of people trust peer reviews, only a third of them trusts classic advertising.
Turn some of your customers into real and loyal fans to win over the masses.
The core of brand value is the feeling that the customer has for the brand.
And exciting about gender: 70–80% of goods are bought by women. They prefer to choose brands to which they feel connected to.

Georg from Varia has taken inspiration for DevOps. Ash Maurya, the inventor of Lean Canvas, underlined that the permanent exchange with and observation of customers is central even for established companies. But many lose their startup spirit over time. “Startups die because they don’t find enough customers — large companies die because they stop talking to their customers.”

So continuous innovation is what a dynamic company has to do today — and continuous deployment is THE important factor for a software company. Why? Because at the end of user-centered development there should be a quick rollout of new features. Cathy Polinsky, CTO of Stitch Fix, knows how this works. The process of testing and implementing their newly developed code is so fast and automated that they no longer even know how many of these deployments happen every day. Hundreds, probably.
Stitch Fix does this at a very high level, which requires two things: a clear product vision and a lot of autonomy for the development team. Cathy Polinsky is very much celebrated in the developer scene for that.

Ash Maurya’s slides are also available online:


That was six days of insights and inspiration from the SXSW 2019 — many thanks to everyone for reading! If you’re more interested in media innovation, check out Media Lab Bayern.

And many thanks to the fantastic™ Media Innovation Crew in Austin. It was a blast! 🎊