Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

One Month Challenge: Berlin

3 min read

Last month our team grew from two to five.

We like challenges here at One Month, so my co-founder Mattan and I had a crazy idea: What if we all left NYC and worked/lived in a house together for 30 days? Would that accelerate the process of getting to know each other?

We agreed it could! And at the very least it’d be a lot of fun.

Enter Berlin. Why?

a) Berlin is very affordable

b) It has a booming culture and tech scene

Also… Berlin just feels cool! It’s where David Bowie and Brian Eno ran off to back in the 70s to record some of the best work of their careers.

I guess there’s nothing like spending a month in a foreign city with a group of people to help you get to know them!

Did we get anything done?

Without a doubt.

We concentrated on certain creative projects that we just never had time for back in New York City.

Distractions were at an all time low because:

  • New York City wasn’t calling (…with its happy-hours, and FOMO habits).
  • We actively avoided scheduling meetings and phone calls during our time in Berlin. That freed us up to run 2–3 hour workshops and engage in a way that are sometimes difficult back in NYC.
  • None of us had a morning commute. We were all living together, and so we saved about an hour’s worth of energy committing.

What were our company outcomes?

We had some great analytics breakthroughs, we developed the curriculum for our Growth Hacking and One Month Stripe Payments classes. We also filmed Hacker News Nation.

I published some much needed writing, and gave a few talks in Europe including at the Betahaus Breakfast.

Did we grow stronger as a team?

100%. My co-workers became my roommates for 30 days. It’s hard not to learn how to function on a variety of levels all at once.

How did we spend our time outside of work?

Co-working at cafes, riding bikes around town, playing Settlers of Catan, dancing until 6am, cooking dinners together, getting lost, partying at Ritter Buzka, Suicide Circus, drinking Club Mate, Yoga.

How much did it cost?

Breakdown of company costs: $8,300

$3200 — An Airbnb suitable for 3–5 people

$4,800 — Air Berlin flights from NYC to Berlin for 5 people

$200 — Taxis to the airport

$100 — Fruit, coffee, and paper towels around the house

$0 — Using the Betahaus Cafe & St. Oberholz as a co-working space

Just to put this in perspective, as a company we pay about double that price for: a) a year’s worth of accounting, OR b) branding guidelines, OR c) an ad campaign. So it seems like it’s a small price to pay for awesome culture building.

Why Berlin is Great For Startups

  • Berlin is affordable.
  • You can eat dinner for 5–7 Euro. If you live in Berlin full-time you can find a flat for around 350 Euro. Beers are around 2–3 Euro. And we once ordered a Bulleit Bourbon for only 2 Euro! Which is so cheap it felt like I was robbing the place.
  • Berlin is clean — it’s filled with clean air, wonderful people, and tons of parks (Maurer, Viktoriapark, Prinzessinnengarten). For example, Tempelhof Airport… it’s is an old airbase that has been converted into a public park. It’s immense. And it’s right in the center of the city, kind of like adding a second Central Park to Manhattan.
  • The startup scene is growing — Berlin boasts 2,500 tech startup, and it has some serious investment coming in from the likes of Bill Gates, Google, and Sequoia Capital.
  • It’s English-speaking friendly

Unforeseen Difficulties

I didn’t anticipate the jet lag. Not me personally, but the team as a whole. That messed us up for our first two days and is something to watch out for.

Originally we had someone covering rent for our NYC office, but that fell through at the last minute. So we had to eat the cost.

Having our team all work from the house gave us a late start. 10am slowly became 10:30am and creeped closer to 11am. We learned that by starting the day at a nearby co-working space or cafe we could keep focused.

Would We Do it Again?

Yes. Although it becomes more difficult as we grow our team.

An Experiment in Accelerated Learning

Do you remember the first time you traveled abroad with your girlfriend or boyfriend? And being rudely awakened to learn, “Shit, this girl is insane. And this trip is going to be a DISASTER!”. OR instead, hopefully it was a pleasant surprise when you realized, “Yes, ok this is actually somebody I can get along with”.

I thought about this as I arrived in Berlin Day 1. Because if we’re going to learn to work together we might as well find out quickly in the first month, rather than 10 months from now.

Leave a comment: Have you ever had success (or failure) in a live/work situation? Tell me your story.

PS. Watch this video we made:

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Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.