Exploring the world of Startuptravels in Sofia, Cairo and Milan

Below is a blog post written by Christoph Sollich aka The Pitch Doctor at Founders Institute. Christoph is a Startuptravels ambassador and have already met several other Startuptravels entrepreneurs around the world. Read his story below.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve traveled for business to many parts of Europe. These trips were almost always triggered by a request (and willingness to pay) by one client, or my own interest in going to a specific event.

While this allowed me to meet some awesome startup people (my clients, or often multiple teams an accelerator had hired me to coach) in every city, it also “allowed” me a lot of time for other things.

Arriving in the evening (ideally) or afternoon (thanks to the “there’s only one flight a day and we’ll put it at noon” rule of airline stupidity), I’d have a couple of hours to kill. And while of course sitting in a hotel room doing e-mail or even real work is an amazing prospect, my curiosity got the best of me most times.

So I’d go outside, wandering around, because I felt I needed to interact with the city I was visiting in some way.

Did I enjoy almost freezing to death in Krakow (a nice city, but not at -15C)? Did I enjoy the rainy winter evenings in Zurich (well, at least you could have a 15 Euro slice of pizza there)? Did I enjoy going to restaurants/cafés/bars by myself? Did I enjoy searching for that one English TV channel that – if it existed at all – would obviously always be showing “Friends” reruns?

Well, obviously not so much.

The sad part: all of those cities I went to were full of awesome entrepreneurs, people you could have amazing conversations with, potentially do business with…if only there was a way to meet them.

And of course I tried finding these people, like everybody else does: “Hey dear Facebook friends, I’m going to XYZ, anybody know someone I should meet there?”

And of course that sometimes worked, but sometimes it didn’t.

Sometimes you’d get great intros, but the people would be traveling themselves on that day. Or they’d be a great person, but not really relevant for your business (still a decent outcome, of course).

Or one time I even realized a guy from my high school (who was a Facebook friend, but we hadn’t met in 10 years) was in Zurich the same day, so we met, searched for the most run-down bar in Zurich (so it would feel a little like the places we’d gone to as teenagers, just with 9 Euro beers) and had a great time.

But even the best-case scenario would be inefficient, dependent on luck (who can say who will see what on Facebook these days?), and would rarely lead to a relevant business connection. “If only somebody would build a platform for that…!”

While I never explicitly had that thought (I’m obviously not as visionary as Anders, Henrik and Rasmus), I knew exactly what I’d been missing when I saw Startuptravels.com pop up in one of my social media streams a few months ago.

“Awesome, now I can use the spare time in whatever city to meet cool people that actually might be relevant business contacts?”

I gladly paid the 50 Euro signup fee if there was one (It’s free – even better!), and set out to find some people in the cities I was going to visit next: Cairo and Sofia.

I immediately found some interesting people, messaged them, got replies, and set up meetings. So now I was intrigued, and wanted more. I had a six hour layover in Milan on the way to Cairo. So why not add a little meeting in there as well? Went online, found a guy, and set up a meeting.

And everything worked beautifully. I landed in Milan, took the train into the city, checked out the famous “Duomo” (nice from the outside, pretty gloomy inside), and then met Johannes.

The Pitch Doctor Meet-up in Milan

We had a great chat, I learned something about the Milan startup scene, gave him some life advice (I’m much older than him) in return, and we even did some strolling around the city together. Sightseeing PLUS business networking? That’s a win if you ask me. (Just don’t tell my headline!).

Next up was Cairo, were I went to speak at RiseUpSummit, the biggest startup conference in the region. Now, obviously I met a whole lot of amazing people there, even without Startuptravels.

But I still made a point of meeting Mohammad there.

While we had to flee into the ice-cold library because outside the event was closing down with ridiculously loud music, we had a great talk. Mohammad and his buddy Mostafa (who has since also signed up for Startuptravels) are doing cool things in the Cairo ecosystem, and I’ll make sure to meet them again when I go back to Cairo next week.

After a few days in Berlin, my next trip was to Sofia. I arrived in the afternoon, and had a few hours before the dinner with my client. And while Vesselina, who I met on the platform, wasn’t in Sofia that day, she set up a meeting with some other people at the accelerator she works at.

I had some trouble finding the place, because it was in a big corporate office building. But then I heard some table tennis noises, and I knew that was where the accelerator was.

(Another trick is to follow the first person you see that’s in jeans and t-shirt.)

I got the full tour of the place, learned so much about Sofia as a startup place (it’s basically the Berlin of that region), and was even allowed to sit in on the weekly acting class they have as part of their program.

One exercise they did was telling jokes, and I would love to tell you one of them: “Have you ever been camping with a group of swingers?” Unfortunately, the rest is really dirty, so I can’t tell you here. Message me if you want to hear it!

Anyway, my first three experiences with Startuptravels were really cool. So if you want to go to Milan, Cairo or Sofia, hit those guys up. They are great people.

I think that’s the big benefit of Startuptravels: while there are people in every city, and there are ways to randomly meet some of them, going through the platform is a great filter.

Because with how important a strong network is today, the best people you can meet are the ones that actively look to meet people from around the world. And that’s exactly the people you can meet here. That’s why they sign up.

And that’s why you should, too.

So don’t waste your time sightseeing, don’t sit in a hotel room alone hitting the mini bar – go out and meet some amazing people. You’ll miss out on some pretty sweet sitcoms from the 90s (maybe even in a language you understand), but it’s gonna be worth it.

PS: My next trips are Zagreb, Cairo, Krakow and Munich, so if you want to meet up…and oh yeah, sometimes I’m even in Berlin! :-)


Meet-up via StartuptravelsAbout Christoph: Christoph Sollich is 34 years old, and has been in the Berlin startup scene for the last 7 years. After being an early employee in two unsuccessful (although one got copied in the US!) recruiting startups, he became a freelance consultant for “innovation and startup-stuff”. In the last three years, he’s become notorious in Berlin (and other parts of Europe and Northern Africa) as “The Pitch Doctor”, helping 100s of startups with their pitches and being a mentor/coach at dozens of accelerators and incubators. In his spare time, Christoph is founder and CEO (Chief Equine Officer) of RydeMyPony.com (“Collaboratively Consuming Ponies Together”), the soon-to-be-IPOed startup mega-success from Berlin (in funding talks with Ashton Kutcher)

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