heyData Founder Milos Djurdjevic on Data Protection and Emerging Trends in the German Startup Scene
To start, let's delve into the historically revered concept of "Made in Germany," a term synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. In today's startup landscape, does this emblem of excellence still resonate, or has the push for rapid growth and scaling diminished its significance?
That’s a great question. Yes, I do think it holds the same value for now, as we see how quickly this changes if you look at products that are produced globally. While the startup landscape has certainly embraced the need for rapid growth and scaling, the reputation of 'Made in Germany' still carries weight in some industries.
I personally think German startups often maintain a great balance between growth and quality. This balance is a reflection of the country's deep-rooted emphasis on precision, excellence, and technical expertise. Despite the race for scaling, I feel that many German startups prioritize delivering high-quality solutions that adhere to ethical standards, thereby setting themselves apart in a global market driven by innovation.
While the "Made in Germany" badge remains significant today, the German startup ecosystem is undoubtedly transforming. How do you envision the evolution of Germany's startup scene in the upcoming decade?
One notable trend I’ve observed is the growing intersection between traditional industries, such as manufacturing and automotive, with emerging technologies like AI, sustainable technologies, and health tech. Germany's strong industrial base can synergize with tech innovations to create unique offerings that cater to both local and global markets.
Sectors like AI, health tech, and sustainable technologies are likely to experience substantial growth, driving advancements in areas such as personalized medicine, renewable energy, and smart manufacturing. As Germany continues to foster an ecosystem that values quality, innovation, and responsible entrepreneurship, I believe and hope we can expect to witness a fusion of legacy industries with cutting-edge technologies, positioning the country as a global leader in innovative solutions, but this needs to happen fast, as the “boomer” generation is quicker than ever moving into retirement and more and more SMBs are left without a successor. Therefore this transformation needs to happen instead of being planned.
Given the rising prominence of AI and the intricacies of interconnected technologies like IoT, is GDPR sufficiently prepared to manage data sharing challenges in this dynamic environment?
The truth is, GDPR serves as a foundational framework for data protection and privacy rights. While it provides a strong starting point, the landscape of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) introduces new complexities that must be carefully addressed.
I find the balance between data protection and innovation to be delicate. These technologies involve large-scale data collection, processing, and sharing, which can potentially challenge existing privacy norms. I highly recommend businesses to make collaborative efforts involving tech experts, policymakers, and privacy advocates in shaping effective regulations for this era, as this type of collaboration can help formulate regulations that strike a balance between facilitating innovation and safeguarding user rights.
Also, GDPR might need to evolve to encompass nuanced considerations, such as data anonymization, algorithmic transparency, and the ethics of AI. By adapting regulations to the evolving technological landscape, we can ensure that data sharing in the era of AI and IoT aligns with principles of transparency, accountability, and user consent.
As the GDPR framework contemplates evolution, do you believe data protection authorities have the necessary resources and capabilities to enforce it and keep major tech firms in check?
This is an ongoing topic of discussion for us at heyData. There’s recently been a case where the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) which is the supervisory authority responsible for overseeing the data protection practices for Google and Meta, has been criticized for failing to enforce the law and not taking sufficient action in response to complaints related to illegal data transfers. In light of this incident, I do partially think that data protection authorities should be adequately equipped and resourced to enforce GDPR and hold large tech companies accountable while striking a balance for accountability, as they are well regarded as one of the strictest authorities that fulfill their duties as regulators. To be able to do this, they themselves need to become more holistic organizations, instead of just having policymakers and lawyers in their teams, it is time to add a piece of tech to it and slowly but firmly move the mindset to a more tech-savvy organization. I know, I know – this is, in specific, not what Germany is known for, but we have to, as we currently are at the forefront of building the regulatory framework and should try to be in this position as long as possible.
With the rapid evolution of social media outpacing data protection policies, we're witnessing a shift from mainstream platforms to decentralized networks like Mastodon and the Fediverse. How might this movement impact privacy, user trust, and individuals' autonomy over their data and engagements?
I genuinely think that user trust in social media platforms has been rocky due to concerns about data misuse, lack of transparency, and the perception that users are treated as commodities for targeted advertising and other purposes.
Meanwhile in decentralized systems, I find the potential implications for privacy to be quite positive. Users have more control over their personal data, as it's often stored locally or on smaller, distributed servers. This means less risk of large-scale data breaches that expose sensitive information. In decentralized systems like the Fediverse, users can interact within smaller communities, fostering a sense of privacy and a reduced likelihood of their data being exploited for commercial gain.
I feel that the sense of authenticity that comes with being part of smaller, closely-knit communities is what enhances user trust, as they have a clearer understanding of who they are interacting with and what information is being shared. In essence, the trend aligns with the growing demand for data privacy and control, offering users a more private and secure online experience.
Since GDPR's introduction in 2018, do you feel individuals are leaning too heavily on data privacy regulations for protection, sidelining their own responsibility in managing their online presence?
As someone who cares about how my personal data is being used and managed online. I highly advise everyone to take active measures in managing their online presence, as regulations like GDPR only serve as a framework for businesses to handle personal data responsibly.
Personal responsibility is a crucial component of data protection, especially in the digital age we currently live in. People should certainly pay more attention to how they manage their online presence, understand the implications of sharing personal data, and make informed decisions about what information they disclose and to whom.
This involves being aware of privacy settings, using strong passwords, being cautious about sharing sensitive information, and staying informed about potential risks and best practices. While regulations provide a baseline of protection, personal responsibility empowers individuals to take control of their own data security.
Revisiting the realm of startups and entrepreneurship, and drawing from your own journey as an entrepreneur, what guidance would you offer to those contemplating starting a venture in Germany?
Well, my advice to aspiring startup founders would be to, first and foremost, focus on building a strong foundation and not only developing innovative technology but also ensuring compliance with regulations, particularly in the realm of data protection. Nurturing a global mindset from the outset can open doors to international markets and partnerships.
As a startup founder myself, the ability to navigate cultural nuances and expand beyond national borders can significantly contribute to a company’s growth trajectory. Also, foster a spirit of continuous learning and adaptability. The startup landscape is dynamic, and staying ahead requires an openness to evolve and pivot based on market trends and user feedback.
With that said, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t have its ups and downs. In the very beginning, every week, month, and quarter is quite unpredictable. Therefore having a good level of resilience helps a lot to maneuver during this period; otherwise, the struggle becomes too big, and if the building is suffering, then maybe you should let go of the whole idea. Founding is not for everyone, and just because you want to do it, does not mean you are suitable to do it!
Reflecting on resilience in the entrepreneurial journey, how do you view the "fail fast, fail often" philosophy? Does it promote a constructive mindset towards entrepreneurship, or might it inadvertently foster a cavalier approach to setbacks without genuine introspection?
I think the “fail fast, fail often” mantra can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, embracing failure as a learning opportunity is integral to fostering a culture of innovation because it encourages many entrepreneurs like myself to take calculated risks, experiment with new ideas, and iterate quickly based on feedback. However, there is a risk that this motto can be misinterpreted as making hasty decisions without proper reflection.
To me, it's important to emphasize that failing fast should not equate to failing without learning. The emphasis should be on rapid experimentation with a keen focus on extracting meaningful insights from failures and applying those lessons to refine strategies and approaches. A balanced interpretation of the mantra, one that highlights the importance of learning from failures, is crucial for maintaining a healthy and effective approach to entrepreneurship.
Being an integral part of the Berlin startup ecosystem, I'd value your perspective on diversity within the German startup arena. Do you believe the representation of female and minority founders is adequate, or is there room for improvement in fostering a more inclusive entrepreneurial landscape?
I don’t think there are ever “enough” female or minority founders in general. Diversity is still an area where progress can be made In the German startup scene. There definitely has been an increased awareness of the importance of diversity, but there is still work to be done to ensure that the startup ecosystem is inclusive and reflective of diverse perspectives.
Currently, there might not be enough representation of female and minority founders, which can limit the range of ideas, experiences, and innovations. So proactive efforts should be made to create an environment where underrepresented groups are encouraged to participate, lead, and succeed. This includes providing mentorship, access to funding, and inclusive networking opportunities that promote a more diverse and dynamic startup landscape.
In general, I would say that this is quite problematic in Germany, as you most probably do not know, the percentage of founders having a non-German background is quite high, but these people are pretty much underrepresented. If we talk about diversity, only a few picked ones will be regularly shown instead of a larger variety. In the end, it is because media is a business, too, and therefore needs to sell their spots to advertisers, and this only works if it is read – that means, the public in general is not open to diverse and inclusive founders. Ultimately politicians need to be pushed in the direction that this is the future for and of Germany to have a very colorful group of people leading the new economy forward, the only way that Germany won’t fall behind again.
Given that in the U.S., a significant percentage of LGBTQIA+ startup founders feel the need to conceal their identity from investors, how would you say this dynamic plays out in Berlin or other prominent startup hubs in Germany? Is there a similar trend, or does the German startup scene offer a different environment for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs?
While I can't provide an exhaustive analysis, Berlin generally has a reputation for being inclusive and open to diversity, including LGBTQIA+ founders. However, challenges may still exist, and the experience of LGBTQIA+ founders can vary widely.
I truly think it's important to recognize that even in welcoming environments, there might be areas for improvement. The experiences of LGBTQIA+ founders in Germany compared to the U.S. could depend on factors such as cultural attitudes, legal protections, and the specific dynamics of the startup ecosystem in each region. So fostering an environment where LGBTQIA+ founders can thrive and contribute their unique perspectives is a shared responsibility that benefits both startups and society at large.
Currently, I still have the feeling that some LGBTQIA+ individuals are promoted due to other people’s agenda, but not because they are really welcomed in the ecosystem. Quite some time needs to pass, and some leaders need to step down due to their age until this becomes the new normal – which I really hope will happen sooner rather than later as it fosters innovation! Until then, it will be a wait-and-see, as these “greybacks” are still leading the vast majority of the largest corporations in Germany, and ultimately they have a say in what is going or not going to happen in their area of action.
Honestly, one of the special things about us here at heyData is that we genuinely don't pay much attention to someone's sexual orientation. To me, what’s even more important than equal treatment is the idea that a person's sexuality shouldn't even be a factor to consider. It’s about creating an environment where this aspect is so normal and accepted in our day-to-day that it hardly crosses our minds. We support everyone to work the way they want to and do everything we can to make them feel comfortable and most productive. Assaults of any kind would be severely punished of course, but beyond that, our decisions revolve around qualifications and performance. We approach this through an informal and truly open working environment where everyone is welcomed to say, think, discuss, and do what they think is right and important.
Drawing from your journey as a startup founder, can you share a particular decision or moment that you might look back on with some regret?
I believe that every experience, including challenges and setbacks, contributes to growth. While I've faced my share of difficulties, I see them as opportunities to learn and improve. Regrets are best transformed into lessons for the future.
Over the years, my approach has been to view challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning rather than as sources of regret. Each experience has contributed to refining my strategies and building resilience.
So rather than focusing on regrets, I strive to transform every experience, positive or challenging, into lessons that shape my entrepreneurial journey and contribute to the success of my startup.
But honestly, every now and then, I try to think about what I really regret from my decisions – I think this is important to actually call it “regret”. It shows me that my decisions are not better than the others, and most importantly, I am not better than anyone else in the company, just need to try to be better every day, and it is human that this is not always possible. Regretting decisions is the ultimate way of reaching humility and reminding yourself to be humble in every step you take!