In summer 2017, I was interviewed by Umspannwerk about my role as head of the Berlin office and Chief Product officer for a 110+ person company with offices also in Los Angeles, London, and Oslo. One of the most challenging roles of my career was launching our beta and leading our talented teams. While challenging, it’s still one of the best learning experiences of my career. Unfortunately, the CEO and I parted ways as his ambition moved the business to merchandise and decommissioned the social platform product in fall 2018.
PEOPLE MAKE A COMMUNITY, STORIES MAKE PEOPLE
In Umspannwerk Kreuzberg hundreds of people are working on a daily basis, achieving their goals and realizing their dream.
I’m Prarthana Johnson, I work for Hubrick. I come from the United States. I worked in a lot of companies like Microsoft on Skype, T-Mobile, and Nokia back in the day. And now I work for Hubrick and it creates a social interest space platform and it’s been pretty amazing to be part of.
HOW OLD IS HUBRICK?
Hubrick has existed for about three years. It’s been pretty amazing to watch to take a very technical organization and company into a very consumer-facing product. To test to see how a lot of our innovations and ideas are coming to reality.
CAN YOU TELL ME SOMETHING MORE ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS JOBS?
I’ve always connected people through technology. In the early days when I worked at Nokia, as you know, their tagline is “Connecting People”. So it’s helping people on mobile devices reach the people that they love or want to connect with businesses. Right? Peer to peer businesses.
I moved on to T-Mobile helping a mobile service provider, part of Deutsche Telecom at the time, help provide services for people. I’m always a designer. I’m always entrepreneurial in products. I believe passionately about helping people connect through those different types of experiences. And we’re living more and more every day, and consumer faces experiences.
And it’s not just technical. People are wanting really engaging experiences, designed, visual cool buttons. They shouldn’t even know it’s a button. And that’s the kind of experience I come from.
I come from design and making things beautiful, but my responsibility at Hubrick is not just to make it beautiful.
WHAT IS YOUR FUNCTION AT HUBRICK?
I’m a Chief Product Officer, which means that I’m responsible for delivering the product. Hitting the business measurements that we’ve set aside to ensure. That we consistently are having growth on the platform, having the product, having the experiences that people want. That we’re profitable or engaging or whatever unit of measure that we decide that we want.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS?
I think that it’s your own journey. So, if you want to come to big companies, great! You’ll learn different things if you go to small companies like I am. I’ve been at big companies. I’m currently at a small company and I enjoy the freedom without politics and structure which I love being part of because it’s about failing fast but I would give advice for people to not worry about title. Not worry about the company that they work for, but to really focus on the skills that they want to learn, because life is an adventure and it’s about the journey not the destination. And so picking up the different skill sets whether it’s understanding a domain space that they don’t know or learning about sales, or learning about a small company trying to get users in a certain way. So, not to focus so much on big companies or little companies but to focus on what they want to learn.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE OR ACHIEVE IN THIS WORLD?
I don’t know. I think it goes to the reality that I like learning and giving not only do I build products for people to have experiences, but I want to experience as much. I am one of those crazy adventurers. I have four kids. Two years ago I moved my family of six from Seattle to Berlin to work for Sound Cloud at the time. And now I work at Hubrick and I don’t regret it. I don’t look back in my life I just want to learn and enjoy life as much as I can, whether it’s through my career or whether it’s in life.
WHAT IS THE MAIN REASON FOR YOU TO BE LOCATED IN BERLIN?
Berlin’s beautiful, how do I say this is crazy, but I’d say if you imagine Portland Oregon in the U.S. where the young go to retire, old-school Brooklyn, and you marry those two cultures you’ll get Berlin. And to me it’s about having your own identity, having fun enjoying life. It’s not so stodgy. It’s not very corporate here.
There is still this essence of self and identity and exploration which gives it a great pool of talent and designers, and DJ’s, artists, and even amazing engineers. They look at the world a little bit differently. There are fresh perspectives. I like us being in Kreuzberg because it’s sort of the center of it. You have this really amazing space of really brilliant engineers with a sense of those artists feel and people who are exploring concepts of food. There’s always really neat events happening. So it’s a young culture but hip and not so commercial yet and I really enjoy that.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND KREUZBERG TO OTHER COMPANIES?
Oh, absolutely. I think that I believe in different perspectives. And the fact that this environment is a subset of different perspectives you’re going to look at the world more holistically. When you took an office like the Berlin area because you know somebody who’s in Telaviv might have a very different perspective of their culture and how the pros and cons of how things get done. Or how you move around the space is going to be very different than the U.S. Or a different culture, or a different community.
So, I do think Berlin is up and coming. I see Kreuzberg changing every day, new places. This building has grown so much in even the six months that I’ve been in this building. New talent, new people you run into in the elevator. New companies that are entering in buildings around us so it’s really energized space to be in.
DO YOU THINK BERLIN COULD BE THE NEXT SILICON VALLEY?
Yes, I mean I think a lot of people are moving to Europe. Berlin, and Kreuzberg, in particular, is one of the inexpensive places to live still in Europe and still a destination where you can get to any other city. Paris or Rome is an inexpensive flight. So I do see more talent moving here because they want a different perspective and even the bar of mindset and growth is changing here every day. Like when I was recruiting for my previous company in Berlin a year and a half ago, the talent pool was very different. Now the talent pool is much more progressive. So I do think it is the next tech field and center because it is still inexpensive and it still has that attitude that’s fresh.
WHAT WOULD BE THE NEXT DANGER TEN YEARS FROM NOW?
Security of data and data breach. Intelligence, we are now living in a day where everything is tracked. All of your information. We haven’t necessarily thought about how intelligence has consequences. The younger generation doesn’t see or understand that. And as somebody, I want to take more risk and I’m open so I sign up for everything but you know, being aware of your location, where you’re going, what you like is also something to be concerned with.
DO YOU THINK THE TECH INDUSTRY IS GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?
I think that there is a movement in this and you see it in the younger generation. Where they’re now you’re starting to seem more off product and off platform experiences. So you are not only experience everything through technology. Their mindsets are a little bit too connected and they’re starting to realize. So I think we’re starting to see movements in ethics, and ethic followings, around intelligence and intelligence tracking. So I think we will always have big corporate that will always have a play in this. So I do, I don’t have a cure for this but I think it’s something that we as people in the world need to be aware of.
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