Posted on October 14, 2019

Obama, snowboards, and beer: the impact of Bits and Pretzels

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This marked the first year AAX headed to Bits and Pretzels, the three-day Munich-based founders festival that famously culminates in a massive networking events on the Oktoberfest grounds.

But, as our team found out, the jolly atmosphere of this “liquid networking”—like-minded people mingling and beer drinking under the decorated dome of the Schottenhamel tent—wasn’t the only memorable thing about Bits and Pretzels.

In fact, for AAX Head of Operations Otilia Otlacan, time spent in the Schottenhamel tent wasn’t even the aspect of Bits and Pretzels most conducive to networking. For her, that was the speakers.

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The theme of this year’s Bits and Pretzels was impact. This created an unofficial dialogue between the speakers: everyone pondered what it meant to be impactful.

“The talks ranged from companies trying to tackle food waste at the local level to multinational corporations thinking about supporting entrepreneurship and how to support women. People were really considering their impact onto communities,” says Otlacan.

What does the word impact mean for AAX? For CEO Frederick Leuschner, impact refers to directly to value exchange. “The ad ecosystem is a community in need of balance,” he says. “The ideal is a three-way equilibrium between publishers, advertisers, and users.”

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Obama, Snowboards, and Beer: The Impact of Bits and Pretzels

One of the most inspiring speakers, says Otlacan, was Donna Carpenter, CEO of Burton Snowboards. Carpenter spoke about her journey, dwelling specifically on the lessons she learned when she brought the company came across the Atlantic. Carpenter, an American outdoors, was new to Europe and a much of the knowledge she brought from home just wasn’t applicable.

“If I had to distill her message,” says Otlacan, “it would be that, in order to be impactful, you ask for input, ask for help, and listen to feedback.” That message is especially vital, thinks Otlacan, in the fast-moving and ever-evolving start up environment.

The message of impact was also strengthened by Bits and Pretzels designation as a festival for founders. “What you saw was diversity in mission,” says Leuschner. “By building events around founders, the focus becomes centered around a particular stage in business instead of a particular industry. It becomes about helping people who are all at the same step.”

Barack Obama’s Secret To Success

Of course, no discussion of Bits and Pretzels 2019 is complete without mention of the star speaker: Barack Obama.

“His focus on leadership wasn’t just applicable at an entrepreneurship event,” says Otlacan. “It managed to link these large concepts of responsibility and global thinking back to start-ups.”

Obama stressed the importance of diversity, both in a larger context and within a team. “All of us have blind spots,” he said. “We have strengths, but we also have weaknesses. We have different perspectives. The greater mix of people I had around me […] with common values but different perspectives, experiences, and strengths, the more likely it was that we’d have fresh eyes and fresh approaches to problems.”

The environment of Obama’s talk, a hall packed with a mix of 5,000 attendees, helped bring these words into reality. It’s all too possible to lose sight of where we exist as part of a larger ecosystem and participating in acts of community—like coming together for a festival—can help you reconnect with a sense of being part of something.