Jock Gordon: Binding the Aussies of the EU together

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance

Moving overseas in itself is not an easy feat. Add starting a new business – with a completely new set of governances (in a different language) and it’s borderline diabolical. Looking to make that transition easier across Europe is Berlin-based entrepreneur Jock Gordon, who is taking measures to create a unified collection of Aussies across the continent via Aussie.Eu

Gordon landed in Berlin after a stint in Florida and selling his startup MenuPad, an iPad-based menu system for restaurants, and immediately noticed absence of a support structure for Australian-run businesses. The online network aims to bring the Australian community in Europe together, by facilitating introductions and collaboration.

At the rate it’s growing and with the increase of Australian individuals and organisations flocking to Europe, it’s clear that a platform like Aussie.Eu is more necessary than ever.

Where do you call home?  

I’ve been living between Australia and Berlin for two years. I have spent a lot of time in America and also Australia with my previous businesses. It was time to explore and live in Europe. Berlin was the next obvious place!

How did you start Aussie.EU?  

After selling my company, MenuPad, I travelled a lot, building up a network all around the world. I had a lot of foreign connections and not many Australian ones. One of the things I noticed when I was going back and forth between Australia and Berlin was that there wasn’t much of a unified community of Australians in Germany or across Europe. I joke that Aussie.EU is connecting the Aussies that don’t just want to hang around with other Aussies at the pub. In essence, I wanted to connect the internationally minded Australians that are looking to connect with like-minded people. There’s a lot of groups in London, but nothing in Europe that was pulling all the Aussies that are scattered round together.

I started Aussie.EU last August. After I started to get its name out there, we got a little bit of press, and now we have over 400 members. The members range from big company executives right through to startups or freelancers. As the groundswell increases, I think there will be more of a need for an organisation like this – even in the last six months there’s been many startups moving here from Australia. When I first came here and was beginning to explore Berlin, I didn’t know any fellow Aussies. I didn’t have a network to ask some basic questions – how to get a visa, how to sort out my taxes, etc. That’s why I just wanted to connect the Aussies here in one group, and it’s growing naturally, like a community movement.  As hubs like Berlin, Paris and Lisbon get bigger and bigger, this will become more important.

Where do you hope to see it grow?

The future of the organisaiton is actually to help Australian startups to launch in to Europe. Not just to Germany, but to other innovation capitals as well. In the future, we’re looking to implement scholarships to bring people out of Australia into Europe and help connect Australians to investors and corporates in Europe – to open up the cross-cultural dialogue in all businesses, not just startups. Our mission is to make it easier on Australians looking to launch in to bigger markets like Germany, France, Italy or anywhere else.

What does Aussie.EU currently look like?

At the moment it’s all online, however we do throw specific events from time to time. It’s really just a connection organisation; we really want to connect Aussies who are coming in to Europe with the people they need to be connected with. We’ve already had some interesting results with companies and entrepreneurs who have dipped their toe in the water of Europe. The system is very different to Australia; you need to be prepared to adapt when you move here. Aussie.EU helps make those connections easier.

What are the key differences?

The paperwork! The tax system here is very different, the legal system is very different. It’s not simple, yet at the same time, it’s all black and white. This isn’t something you just want to “wing”, and have the attitude of she’ll be right mate! Aussie.EU is already helping Australians who are starting out break through these barriers – to connect startups with accountants or lawyers who understand Australian law and the right structures that need to be put in place to get something going. There are also a lot of opportunities for support from the local German Governments to open up shop in Germany, it’s very supportive.

Is it difficult to get a working visa in Germany?

No, it’s actually quite simple. If you’re under 30, there’s a working holiday visa available which is very easy to apply for. If you’re a freelancer, there’s a separate visa for that too, you just need to show you have some money in your bank account and you’re not going to be a burden on Germany!

Is it “easy” to start a business in Berlin?

Generally speaking, yes. The cost of living in Berlin is really reasonable and the time zone also makes it very easy to do business across Australia. 

Another pro of doing business in Berlin – if you live in an expat area of Berlin, you don’t need to speak German. I think a lot of Australians moving to Germany are a little fearful of the impact the language barrier will have on doing business here. There is a huge number of expats here in the startup community, and I think after Brexit, it’s only going to grow. Entrepreneurs love it because of the cost of living is quite low which means they can get a very good team at an affordable rate, there is a vast amount of talent available in the city, and it’s a city of like minds. There is a huge amount of entrepreneurialism in the city. They say Berlin is poor but sexy, and it’s only going to continue to get sexier.

Berlin isn’t the only city in Europe, if you have a high tech manufacturing business for example there is also a lot of support from cities like Munich, and a large investment community there. Portugal is investing heavily into the startup ecosystem, but that’s still many years behind Berlin. Though will likely become a major hub in the future.

Have you noticed an increase in Aussies moving to Berlin over the past few years?

Yes, I’ve noticed a lot more people are starting to dip their toes in the water to see what the fuss is about, and I think it’s only going to grow, especially for freelancers.

What makes Berlin so unique?

I think it’s the mix of people. You can run an international business in Berlin with people from all over the world, from all walks of life, who speak all the major languages.

Berlin is so laid back, Australians fit right in. The lifestyle is great here, especially in summer. Sure, the winters are long, but it’s counterbalanced with the summer. 

Another reason I moved here is because everything is so close. The locality of Berlin makes it quite easy to do business – we’re also on a good time zone to get to Australia as opposed to the US, which is a little bit harder. Berlin is like one big West Village of New York.