A PASSIONATE CREW, LONGING FOR ADVENTURE IN ROUGH SEAS
Born out of despair
In 2010, eight founders got together with the idea to create an event to connect founders. Back then, startup events were scarce. And the few out there didn’t speak to us.
That despair led us to imagine an event we wanted to attend ourselves.
We named it PIRATE Summit after the Techcrunch article “Are you a pirate” by Mike Arrington.
The problem was that nobody in the crew had created an event before.
How hard could it be?
Naive but passionate
Weeks before the first PIRATE Summit, this rag-tag crew didn’t have catering, an agenda, registration procedures or a plan in case of bad weather.
In the excitement of developing a truly unique startup event, we hadn’t realized that an outdoor event in late September can be pretty cold and rainy in Germany.
Luckily, a few people with event experience had pity on us and helped us out at the last minute. Only with their help, we managed to pull it off.
220 participants showed up on a cold September day in a place that looked like an artsy scrapyard.
Despite all the operational failings, we managed to get three important ingredients right: A great group of participants, an amazing location, our positioning against the German “copycat” stereotype that was prevalent at that time.
We even burned the Copycat Guy – a small puppet from straw – a ritual that would later turn into the Burn ceremony that became one of the highlights of the event.
Let’s do this again
Somehow we managed to pull the first event off. And the most surprising thing: Despite the amateurish organization, people liked it and wanted us to do it again.
All of a sudden, we became responsible for an event. What now?
We gathered a group of volunteers that felt drawn to the idea.
Still, nobody got paid. But we had a lot of fun doing it. Also, we got better at event management.
Doing something for a second time can be tough, but this one turned out great.
Once again we had amazing participants. And the number was growing too.
It was raw and rebellious. So much so, that many of the stories might never be told. What happens at PIRATE Summit stays at PIRATE.
This year, we burnt the “Corporate Guy”.
One more time
Working with a team of volunteers had obvious drawbacks. Volunteers could either only give it their all for a certain amount of time, or – if it wasn’t their focus – could only spend their free time on it. Also, many could only stay for a year.
Although we had learned a bit about running events, the setup made it tough to retain knowledge and actually become good at it.
It became clear that we had to take a decision. Either do it one last time or find a more durable structure for it. We decided for the latter.
The third PIRATE Summit was a big celebration. A farewell to the past and those naive early years.
For the first time, we had corporate sponsors. It felt like the event could become something financially self-sustaining.
That was also why we dared to take the leap to hire a core crew.
From the initial crew of eight, two founders remained with a mission to build a self-sustaining business around PIRATE Summit.
Now it was about professionalizing the crew and find ways to finance a small crew year-round.
It was tough. At times, we lived in the office trying to make ends meet. It was intense.
For the first time, PIRATE Summit grew to nearly 1,000 participants. We experimented with the event format and introduced PIRATE Camp. A barcamp style addition adjacent to the event.
Also, we started building our principles, which became our house rules and made what we valued explicit to everyone attending.
Around the world
We had already started in the early years to travel around Europe to meet the movers and shakers in the startup ecosystem.
Now we took it to a whole new level. We wanted to spread the PIRATE spirit to the world. We held up to 60 pitch competitions in cities like Cluj, Cairo, Baku, Baku, Minsk, Poznan, Tehran, Tokyo or San Francisco.
Although these events didn’t make any money, they brought us something more valuable: Connections, fulfillment and fun.
The effort paid off. Since the early years, we could grow our participant number consistently without loosing our international footprint. We haven’t had an international participant rate below 30%. Most of the time even closer to 40%.
PIRATE Summit stabilized. As did the crew. We were still chronically low on cash, but we had a job with purpose to offer. Also, over the years, we had created a unique PIRATE work environment that helped young people learn and grow extremely fast.
PIRATE Summit remained at the core, but we had successfully started several other event formats. We even acquired one.
Also, we continued our PIRATE Summit Global series around the world, and we made great connections in startup hubs.
We were growing up.
At the beginning of 2017, we thought about increasing our impact and reach into startup ecosystems. We decided to acquire Startup SAFARI, as a replacement of our PIRATE Summit Global series. It aligned very well with our vision of a decentralized global network of startup ecosystems.
Also, we extended PIRATE Summit for an additional day and invited Movers & Shakers from around the world. The response was overwhelming.
Our Walk-The-Plank pitch competition had 60 startups from all around the world competing. The quality was high and deals got made.
The Burn was epic. Also, we were sold out at +1,200 participants.
Things were good.
Over the years, PIRATE Summit was a good indicator of what was emerging in the tech world pretty well. We were catering to early stage startups and saw a lot of pitch decks. Many of which got funding and turned into million and some even into billion Euro startups.
We, however, didn’t want to only curate what was out there. We wanted to add our own flavor and put a focus on certain topics.
That’s why we introduced overarching themes.
In 2018, it was #PurposefulDisruption. As the technology sector had matured over the decades, it had gained tremendous impact. It influenced society, democracy etc. We wanted to discuss what our role as entrepreneurs could and should be. We were the ones creating these tools, after all.
In the black
The company was finally profitable. PIRATE Summit and Startup SAFARI weren’t. It was still a good feeling to be in a position to “call the shots”.
That’s why we wanted to talk more about something that was hardly discussed at startup conferences: Profit.
So far, building a startup seemed like a one-trick pony. Idea, MVP, investment, product-market, more investment, scaling, more investment etc.
It was like a lottery. Many startups failed. Not because they were bad businesses, but not the right fit for venture capital.
We wanted to shine a light on different ways of funding your business. This one being as old as business itself: Through customers.
We are Back
The Covid disruption was tough for us. Nearly all of the team pursued other challenges.
It felt like we needed to start from scratch.
We worked beyond exhaustion to bring PIRATE Summit back. And we did.
The hard work paid off. People came from all around the world. An astonishing 32.8% of participants were female. It was a triumph.
Manuel – as the last remaining founder – had to cut down his time commitment to PIRATE Summit.
He tried to find a new steward for the event. It didn’t work out.
Running PIRATE Summit like a hobby – donating substantial amounts of his time – turned out to be a bad setup to hand over to a successor.
In the end, it just wasn’t financially stable enough.
Now it is time to set it free.
But not before one last epic Burn.
A celebration of all the moments, the friendships, and the magic that we’ve shared.
A magnificent experience together.
Thank you & ARRR!