Lucy Jasper: You have the freedom to explore who you want to be in Berlin

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

"You have the freedom to explore who you want to be in Berlin, with very little to no judgement from anyone else – it’s liberating."

A Melbourne native and alumnus of living in San Francisco and New York, Lucy Jasper landed herself in Berlin after chasing her dream job five years ago. Now a Team Lead at Australian owned company 99designs – the world's largest online graphic design marketplace – Lucy has no plans of slowing down.

Lucy shared with Advance her best tips for visitors, (travellers take note!) favourite things about Berlin and how Australians have influenced culture there.

Can you tell us briefly about your journey from Australia to Berlin?

I’m originally from Melbourne, but have done a lot of travel in my lifetime. In my final semester of completing my degree at Victoria University I got accepted in to a paid college transfer to study in San Francisco for six months. I completed an internship while I was there and ultimately got offered a job in San Francisco at a tech startup. This was during the Global Financial Crisis and thought it would be a good idea to stay in a place with job security. I stayed on in the US, and ended up working there for four years. When I decided I didn’t want to be in San Francisco anymore, I did a stint in NYC, but found it to be a little too competitive – a little too hectic for me. I’d seen a job advertised in Berlin that I was attracted to, so I packed my bags and moved to Berlin.

Had Berlin previously been on your radar, or was it a matter of randomly applying for jobs and finding something you liked?

I really like music and I really like tech. When I was in San Francisco I always thought it would be cool to work for SoundCloud, and I had been watching their job profiles for a while. The job that I was initially chasing was with them in Berlin. Unfortunately, when I arrived there, the position had been filled internally – so it was a matter of sinking or swimming for me! A friend of mine suggested that I apply for a role at 99designs, a graphic design digital marketplace that had launched their European headquarters in Berlin. Funnily enough I had actually worked a lot with 99designs in my previous job in San Francisco, and loved the concept. Their journey had seen them travel from Melbourne, to San Francisco to Berlin – exactly as I had, so - I sent the CEO an email, and was hired a couple of weeks later.

How long have you been living in Berlin?

Since 2012 – five years. It’s a very interesting place to be. A lot has happened in that time. When I first moved here there was no real coffee scene (good coffee, anyway)!

How have Australians influenced the culture in Berlin?

I think it’s mainly on eating and the culinary sector – most of the Australian influence I see here has something to do with food. The younger set of Australians who are coming through to work in hospitality are becoming big tastemakers in various cuisines – it’s indicative of the cultural melting pot of nationalities we have in Australia, and how impactful it is, which matches and truly complements the vast cultural mix that already exists in Berlin.

Was the move to Berlin easy compared to the other international cities you’ve lived in?

It was relatively easy. If you’re under 31, you’re eligible for the working holiday visa here, which enables you a year to work (in any sort of capacity) and essentially secure yourself more long term employment. As an Australian, regular working visas are not particularly difficult to get either – definitely easier than in the US, or even for the UK. You do need to fulfil the right criteria however – you can’t just come over and be a party tourist, hoping for the best. 

What is your role at 99designs?

I’ve been at 99designs since the European office was created. 99designs connects people who need graphic design with a community of designers from all over the world. A client can advertise a design job that they require, and we have a little over one million registered designers who can see their briefs and submit ideas and concepts for their project. I work client side; I manage our English-facing client team and I work with our premium customers who are launching some of our more high-end projects within Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Do you have in-house designers or is everything outsourced?  

We do everything through the website – we go through designers on the platform and use them.

How big has it grown during your time there?  

When I started, we had about five people here in the Berlin office. We now we have 26 – spread evenly between European Support and Marketing. There are about 150 employees worldwide. Our US HQ is located in Oakland, California, right in The Valley, then our (original) Australian home is in Melbourne. These two locations house the bulk of our global team. Melbourne with all the engineers and the US is home to the bulk of our Marketing and English Support team members.

Why was Berlin chosen as the HQ in Europe?

Berlin is the center of startups in Europe at the moment. The lifestyle here and the cost of living is conducive to startups – it’s relatively easy to startup, attractive a smart and multilingual/cultural workforce. We actually produced an awesome infographic on a related topic year, comparing the city to London. Berlin’s really kicking it right now.

What’s the trajectory of the company?

There’s certainly no plans of stopping or slowing down. We’ve been hitting all the milestones we’ve been wanting to crack – in the last year we hit one million designers, and have paid out over 165 million dollars to our designer community to date, which we are pretty proud of. We’re excited of where it’s all going and the progress that we’ve made.

What is the startup scene like in Berlin in terms of Aussie companies?

I think a lot of my Australian friends that work here aren’t actually in startups – they work as many different things, in many different fields. Which is a bit of a contrast to a place like San Francisco; when I lived there everything it felt like everyone lived and breathed the startup scene! You were always going from network events to meet ups – that exists here but it’s not as prevalent. There’s a big emphasis placed on having a life outside of your job which I think is great.

What’s your favourite thing about living in Berlin?  

The freedom! I went back to Australia last year and noticed that everything felt a little more rigid. How people looked, where you hung out, how you carried yourself – really, anything goes in Berlin. You have the freedom to explore who you want to be with very little to no judgement from anyone else, it’s liberating.

What would you recommend for a visitor?

It depends on what time of year it is. If you came in summer, everyone is doing outdoor activities. I’d recommend getting a bike and do three things: 

  1. Teufelsberg - an abandoned spy station.
  2. Tour of the city casually by bike – going past the remnants of the Berlin Wall, the art galleries and into Tiergarten for beers and sausage!
  3. Riding around/ grilling at Tempelhofer Feld - an abandoned airport more or less in the middle of the city. 

Summer is great, you have these big long days that roll in to nights that roll in to mornings (if you have the stamina for it)! The winters aren’t my favourite thing – they’re very long. As long as you have proper shoes and a more than sensible jacket, you’ll survive. It’s also extremely easy to get around– the trains come so frequently and it’s a large network. Realistically, it’s cold but you won’t be outdoors for that long.

Do you have any plans on moving back to Australia?

I do think about going home often. I’ve been living overseas for nine years which is quite a while, and I do wonder if I make my life difficult by not speaking the language in the country I live in. At the same time, it’s truly amazing being in the center of Europe and having such a sense of freedom.

I don’t feel like I have any pressure to stay here, but I don’t feel like I have to leave either. I think for me, it’s just important to think of your life in terms of progression. Where you’re going and where you want to be. That for me will be the deciding factor of whether or not I want to go home.