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Startups, Sparks and Serendipity

Startups, Sparks and Serendipity

By Mike Mahlkow and Max Elster
Startups, Sparks and Serendipity is a product of two good friends talking about issues they are passionate about, namely the Startup world, Self-Improvement and life-altering epiphanies. Due to the interesting combination of Max being very deeply integrated in the European Startup scene and Mike having shifted his focus towards the US in recent years, the two combine the best practices and learnings from Silicon Valley with those of Berlin and Zurich. The conversations are unfiltered and interesting for people interested in entrepreneurship and personal growth.
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034 - We changed the channel - 2 Minute Update
Feel free to check our podcast here now:  Spotify: Apple Podcasts: or on any of your social channels. 
March 15, 2022
033 - Finding Your Personal Mission Statement
Hey listeners, Mike and I talk about the value of finding your personal mission statement and how it can help you with staying focused on the things that actually drive value and happiness for you personally - especially when building companies and products. We'd be glad to get your feedback and hear about strategies and methodologies of you finding your personal mission statement. Let us know via DMs or on Linkedin/Twitter how you found your vision/purpose! Looking forward to hearing from you. Max and Mike
July 07, 2021
032 - Should we specialize or be a generalist?
Mike and Max wanted to talk about a topic that has been on our minds for quite some time now: Shall we be Generalists, Specialists or generalized specialist or specialized generalists? ;)  We've conducted an episode where we combine our thoughts with science and a few books that have been written about that topic.  If you like it, please subscribe and give us a review on iTunes or any other channel. We'd love to get your feedback! If you also like to hear us interviewing people, please also follow our interview-focused podcast called 'Feed Your Brain'.
February 24, 2021
031 - A wine app raises 155m, Spotify's patent to analyze user's voice, Apple and Cars and Global Tax for Tech Companies
Hello to all listeners!  Mike and I have once again sat down together to talk about various topics:  Wine-app Vivino raises 155m round - what's special about the app and the industry? Spotify was granted a patent for a technology that analyzes listeners’ voice and background noise to suggest content based on their mood, gender, age, accent, or even social setting Global tax for tech companies upcoming? The role of social media is more present than ever at this point in time (not just in global politics..)  Apple and cars? Follow us on Twitter, Linkedin and all other platforms @maxelster and @mikemahlkow. 
February 14, 2021
030 - Nikolaus Volk, CEO of Kyte: Uber for Rental Cars, Mobility, Machine Learning at Kyte, Studying at Stanford
Nikolaus Volk is the Founder and CEO of Kyte, a San-Francisco based Startup that delivers rental cars to your home. They help everyone to access rental cars with the simplicity of Uber.  A few facts about Nik:  He studied at Stanford and TU Munich He worked at Uber for a few years  Kyte raised 9m for their expansion Offices in Munich and San Francisco We talked about:  The current mobility market and delivering an Uber for rental cars to the US market  Importance of Machine Learning at Kyte  Studying at Stanford vs. Studying in Germany Hiring the right people  In case you like it, feel free to subscribe. :) 
February 08, 2021
029 - What we can learn from AirBnB
Mike and Max talked about the early story of AirBnB and what startups and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from the story itself.  Please subscribe and reach out to us on different channels. We also host Clubhouse irregularly now. Feel free to follow us there ;)  Check out The Generalist. 
January 23, 2021
028 - Semir Jahic from Clari talks about sales processes, differences Europe vs. US and finding the right startup to work for
This week we sat down with Semir Jahic, the lead Sales Engineer at Clari, to talk about several topics including the rigour around sales processes in America and what impact it is having on European firms. We discuss in detail the difference in sales and implementation of processes in American and European businesses. Next, we got into how to pick a startup to work for, and what filters should be applied in identifying the right startup. These filters include the founder and executive team, investors, the stage the company is in, a sense of longevity, product/market fit and personal opportunity. You should also look at who you’ll be working with on a daily basis and main points of contact including internal and external stakeholders, what you’ll be doing on a daily basis, and what you can contribute to the company. This episode was great and we shared so much. Looking forward to more in 2021. Recommendations: To read: What it takes for the road to IPO by Semir Jahic Clari Factfullness by Hans Rosling Follow Semir on Linkedin Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
January 03, 2021
027 - Startup News Flash, Virtual Headquarter Startups, Learning New Skills
This week we sat down to talk about trends in the tech startup industry and introduce a new segment into our weekly podcast. We think the “News Flash” will give listeners new insights into the industry at a surface level as something to talk about with friends and colleagues. We also talk about “virtual headquarters” and how working from home might change in the coming years such as gamification of the workplace. We then talk about skills we would like to gain and why, as well as lists we keep, why, and when we use them. We’re sure this short episode will have some interesting talking points and we look forward to the coming weeks with more interesting topics and guests! Recommendations: To read: The Psychology of Design: Design of Everyday Things: Notion template for structuring book notes Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
December 13, 2020
026 - Homeoffice Setup and Socialising now, Startup Hubs, New Books to read
This week, we sat down to discuss things that help us get through the work day with comfort. Working from home every day can be quite taxing. We all deal with it in different ways. In this episode we share some of the things that make our home office a bit more cozy and effective such as a decent webcam, headphones, chairs and backdrops. We then dive into some discussion on socializing from home. However difficult it is, there are still online events with virtual stages. Even with this current environment, is it enough, or do we need more? Alternatively, are startup hubs like San Francisco and Berlin still relevant? Can someone start a successful business with the right support from other cities?  This week we share some interesting thoughts on productivity and give some interesting recommendations for your listening and reading pleasure. Recommendations: To listen: Lane 8 Sunrise Set in Grand Lake Colorado To read: Life Spend: Why we Age and Why we Don’t Have To  by David Sinclair To use for Notion: Ali Abdaal Book Notes Template Persons of the Week: Dave Gerhardt Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
December 06, 2020
025 - Interview with Sameday Testing Founder Felix Huettenbach: Building a company around COVID tests, spending time in a monastery and tips on building a successful business
Today we sat down with the founder of Sameday Testing, Felix Huettenbach. We had a great conversation exploring his past roles and experiences including living in a monastery, founding a company at college at 18, and through the time until now where he has built a Covid-19 business that offers quick PCR testing in LA and in Washington D.C. We discuss important topics related to creating a business, how failure can lead to success, and how to build an effective business structure from an idea that solves a unique problem. This episode is valuable for anyone who is considering building a business, who wants to test ideas, but also, for someone who is looking for answers. Sometimes you must reach out to someone. Other times, you have to just think for yourself. Recommendations: Sameday Testing To Read: Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup by Bill Aulet Follow Felix on Linkedin Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
November 28, 2020
024 - Interview with Bryan Wish: Launching books successfully, How to Network and Finding Your Own Personal Path
Bryan is the founder of BW Missions, a company that works with mission-driven entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, and CEOs including Nir Eyal (Author Hooked & Indistractable), Rick Smith (CEO Axon/ inventor of the TASER), Denise Gosnell (Chief Data Officer at DataStax), Dan Berger (Former CEO of Social Tables, acquired by CVENT), Allen Gannett, and many more to develop and execute digital strategies behind book, product, and business launches. His clients have been represented in Inc., Forbes, TechCrunch, Morning Brew, HBR, and Wired Magazine. Mike and I have known Bryan for a couple of years and he’s one of the best networked people we know and a person that truly cares about helping people carving their pathway. This week we sat down with Bryan Wish to discuss carving paths and finding a sense of belonging. Bryan talks about his journey through finding the right path for him and paints a picture for listeners to better understand where belonging comes from, and how to focus on the right search. We then discussed how your inner-circle and broader network can be used for long-term benefit. We dive deeper into how to network and select the right people with whom to surround yourself. Lastly, we spoke about book publishing, and the reasons for, and intentions behind writing and publishing a book. This podcast episode deals with the challenges of finding your sense of belonging, keeping the right people around you, and all the thoughts that go into the choice of writing a book. We certainly enjoyed this episode, and hope you do too. Recommendations: To Read: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. Van der Kolk Follow Bryan on Linkedin Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
November 17, 2020
023 - Interview with Ben Zoldan: Coping with difficult times, Storytelling and human-oriented connections
Ben Zoldan is the founder and maker behind Storyleaders. A company that transforms organizations by the power of storytelling. Ben has helped organizations such as Salesforce, Tableau, Lightpath, Oracle and others to be leading organizations through storytelling in sales and is widely renowned through his expertise. He also is the co-author of one of the leading sales-books “What Great Salespeople Do”. This week we sat down with Ben Zoldan to discuss a variety of topics including the serendipitous moments we have handed to us today and accepting them as opportunities and how to cope with the uncertainty of difficult times. Then we dive into sales through storytelling and nurturing emotional connections to have an overall better experience in business and in life. Ben takes us through his experience in developing loyalty to humanity, and realizing that through honoring systems that keep us human, we can avoid systems that take the human out of us, and still achieve the results and outcomes we desire. Ben’s book: What Great Salespeople Do Recommendations: To Read: Parenting from the Inside Out by Dr. Dan Siegel To Watch: My Octopus Teacher on Netflix Follow Ben on Linkedin Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
November 08, 2020
022 - The Startup Report 2020, Status in Enterprise Software and a great Marketing blogger
This week, we have a nice conversation all about startups and the startup environment. We explore topics related to what startups focus on, including accelerating growth, sales and winning customers. Likewise, we discuss different ways founders fund their startups, such as through VC, loans and government grants. Do you consider your business a startup or a young company? What is the difference? Are you a unicorn or a zebra? Then we take a turn and discuss some recent developments in enterprise software and how the field has changed over time to become a greater area of investment for businesses of all sizes. New tech and software is becoming available almost weekly, and being on top of what is out there can make a big difference. Beware, however, as enterprise tech faces many challenges with bureaucracy and timelines for integration, so it is a good idea to start conversations sooner, rather than later. Recommendations: To Read: Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Elephant vs. Mouse - Christophe Janz Persons of the Week: Christian Busch: The Serendipitous Mindset Dave Gerhardt: CMO of Privy Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
November 01, 2020
021 - Routines for traveling and working and managing work, health and life
This week, we dive into our tricks for productivity and planning ahead, setting routines, and retaining focus throughout the work week. We talk about how we use our time when traveling, and how, whether you’re on a train or a long distance flight, organizing your time could save a bunch of trouble. Then we dive a bit into managing our time organization and priorities between work, health and life. Are notifications a necessity or a distraction? Texting and Whatsapp conversations can be important, but how important is it to respond quickly when there is so much going on in the day? Finally, we discuss how creating a user manual for working with people can improve interpersonal functionality and organizational efficiency. To Read: You and Your Research by Richard W. Hamming To Watch: But What is a Neural Network? Deep Learning, chapter 1 Youtube Video By 3Blue1Brown Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
October 02, 2020
020 - Dopamine Games and a book for people in struggle
This week we discussed dopamine and its many implications on people's lives. From understanding how dopamine can lead to addiction in drugs, we discuss similar effects from gambling to social media. We decided to open up a bit about ourselves and share coping mechanisms we use and what can help us get through to the next day. We also shared some tips on what is called “dopamine fasting” as a way to cleanse the brain of potential bad habits, and to start focusing on getting dopamine from positive sources to avoid addiction. We hope this episode helps you rethink how you interact with dopamine and build better, healthier habits for a better and more rewarding life. Recommendations: Books: At Last A Life: Anxiety and Panic Free by Paul David Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
September 19, 2020
019 - Jeff Gothelf on Employability, Entrepreneurship and Building Your Personal Platform
This week we interviewed Jeff Gothelf about employability and entrepreneurship. Jeff talks about how he switched his job search model from a push model to a pull model where he attracts opportunities by building a platform of expertise and experience and broadly giving it away through content marketing. He talks a bit more about getting better with practice and implementing the Ikigai model (reason for being) in order to achieve a more fulfilling life and career. Recommendations: Books: Forever Employable by Jeff Gothelf Tools: Follow Jeff on Linkedin Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
September 06, 2020
018 - Micro Entrepreneurship: The new normal?
Micro-entrepreneurship is the new normal. Platforms such as Uber, Shopify, Food Delivery providers and others create completely new opportunities for entrepreneurial activity. What micro-entrepreneurship is and what is really behind it, you can hear in this podcast.  Book: Go Giver:
August 26, 2020
017 - A great founder handbook, better decision making and the power of not knowing something
017 - A great founder handbook, better decision making and the power of not knowing something
August 14, 2020
016 - First Thoughts on Starting A Podcast, Rome Research and
This week we end the first season by reflecting on the past fifteen episodes and by hinting at what is to come in the next seasons. Additionally we ask you, our listeners to offer some feedback for what you want to hear in coming episodes. This is a short one, but we will be back next week with a new season and cool new topics! Recommendations: Books: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson Tools: Rome Research
July 26, 2020
015 - The Serendipity Mindset with Christian Busch
This week we met with our first guest, Christian Busch and had a special conversation about serendipity. What is serendipity? How can we actively manage situations to make them more serendipitous? Does luck favor the prepared?  How can we increase the surface area of luck? This episode gives a look into how to connect dots to access the serendipities in our lives and how reframing situations and looking at things from unexpected perspectives can make a huge difference.  One of our favorite takeaways this week is that we cannot always control the stimuli that may affect us. However we can control our response to it. If we can redefine key moments and reframe our perspective in relation to these stimuli, we can create enormous opportunities for serendipity. About Christian: Dr. Christian Busch is the director of the Global Economy program at New York University's Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches on purpose-driven leadership, impact entrepreneurship, social innovation, and emerging markets. He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the co-founder of Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening high-impact leaders, as well as the Sandbox Network, a global community of young innovators active in over 20 countries (Source: Recommendations: Books: The Serendipity Mindset by Christian Busch Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl Tools: A Serendipity Journal
July 19, 2020
014 - Mike's Solo Episode - Inversion, Hanlon's Razor and the future of humanity
On this week’s episode of Startups, Sparks & Serendipity, we have a bit of a changeup. Mike is alone this time. You know how synching schedules can be when business is picking up, and that is just where we are. So Mike takes some time to talk about two very important mental models he uses. Inversion - solving problems by working backwards. Instead of asking yourself what can you do to be successful, ask yourself what might you do that can prevent your success? Handlem’s Rasor - Do not attribute to malice what can be explained to be a mistake or forgetfulness. Think of your own mistakes and think about how they could be perceived by strangers. Recommendations: Books: The Precipice by Toby Ord Tools: Posture Corrector
July 13, 2020
013 - Face-2-Face Session in Social Distancing And Thoughts on WireCard and Organizing Life
On this week’s episode of Startups, Sparks & Serendipity, we are at last together, recording an episode in person! We discuss long-term goal setting, necessary tech knowledge for creating a startup, issues with a European Fintech company, and more! How do we stay healthy and creative? Listen out this episode to find out. Recommendations: To Read: Universal Principles of Design 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
June 28, 2020
012 - The consolidation of the audio industry and advice for our past selves
012 - The consolidation of the audio industry and advice for our past selves
June 23, 2020
011 - The Audio Industry Deep Dive
On this week’s episode of Startups, Sparks & Serendipity, Max and Mike discuss audio and Voice as the user interface of the future. From his start with podcasts and confounding an audio tech startup, Max discusses the beginnings to his fascination with audio technology. Audio, as a frictionless medium, can be more convenient while traveling, commuting, or just while you’re cleaning the house. As podcasts and other audio content as well as smart speakers continue to grow in popularity, more and more opportunities can be expected in the audio and Voice spaces. This is one of two episodes on audio. Enjoy! Recommendations: To Read: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Ron Chernow Tools: Rain Agency Newsletter Follow Mike on Linkedin: Follow Max on Linkedin: linkedin/in/maxelster
June 14, 2020
010 - Mental Models: The Compound Effect and Conclusion Biases
Hi all! We were intrigued by the positive feedback we have gotten on our mental model episode and therefore wanted to deep-dive in two very specific mental models that are helping us day-by-day. Feel free to listen in, while you are enjoying the sun, sitting on the couch or going for a run.  And don't forget to subscribe. See you next time!  Book recommendation:  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Follow Max on Linkedin  Follow Mike on Linkedin
June 07, 2020
009 - Why to start a startup?
This week our hosts dive into the WHY of startups. From the desire of autonomy to the need of solving real world problems, and the freedom to solve problems on your own terms, this podcast is filled with useful information for entrepreneurs and future startup founders. Whether you want to pick who you work with or feed your curiosity, starting a business is one way towards autonomy in your work. Why are startups not always about the money? To Read: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
June 02, 2020
008 - The Best Brands in 2020 and Email Hacks
Branding is one of the most important and yet elusive concepts in business. This Week Mike and Max dive into a recent Brand Intimacy study exploring which brands different generations (Gen Z, Millennials, Boomers) feel the most connection to, and are surprised by some of the results. Then there is some discussion about the process that brings customers to bond and fuse with brands that they grow to love and use every day. Finally, they share their most important email tips and explain how they make sure to be productive when being bombarded by emails every day and finish with some great reading recommendations. Recommendations: To Read: Email Article 1: One-Touch to Inbox Zero ( Email Article 2 : How to write email with military precision ( Brand Intimacy Study ( To Watch: Email Video: Christoph Magnusssen ( Follow Mike on Linkedin: Follow Max on Linkedin:
May 25, 2020
007 - Startup Ideas and what to do with them
This week our hosts explore the fundamental concepts of startups and give helpful tips on how to get started with the process. Speaking from experience, the hosts describe some important must-do actions for bringing a product or service to market. From having a MVP and being able to engage with your target to getting feedback and evaluating risks and assumptions, this podcast has several useful tips. Further on in the episode, Max and Mike improvise a mock startup and develop the business model on the spot to give you an idea on the developmental process and mindset that when implemented can yield a hopeful business plan. Tip: Implement what we call “rebounding” to keep your productivity higher longer especially in unstructured environments. Recommendations: Books: Innovator's Dilemma ( Zero to one ( Tools: Sunsama - Productivity for elite professionals: Follow Mike on Linkedin - Follow Max on Linkedin
May 17, 2020
006 - Mental Models and Lack of Time
Finally, we dive deeper into one of our favorite topics: Mental Models. There are few concepts as powerful and few topics as intriguing as going on a journey towards finding the most reliable patterns this universe has to offer. Sadly, we were busy. So this is a short one. Expect more on this in the future Books:  Elliott Hulse - KING (4 Layer Approach) Poor Charlie's Almanack 
May 09, 2020
005 - The Y Combinator Interview
This week our hosts dive deeper into the Y Combinator process and discuss the interview. It is good to know that even if you are not accepted, the process helps you to think clearly about your startup. It forces you to ask yourself important questions that you may otherwise overlook. Some useful tips from this episode include the following: Know your numbers (e.g. revenue, market size, etc.), go-to-market strategy and user acquisition, scalability, monetization and profitability. The importance of your value proposition is not to be understated. What problem are you solving and how are you different? Team Dynamics are just as vital. How are the founders and cofounders splitting equity? Does the team have complementary skill sets? Mike shares how you should anticipate questions and prepare well for your interview. Finally, pay attention to non-verbal queues and curb your cockiness and arrogance. Tip: Leverage creation for your own success. Recommendations: To Read: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker Time to Build Blog Article by Marc Andreessen When Tailwinds Vanish by John Luttig Tool to use: Superhuman (write Max an email to info© in case you would like him to refer you) Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
May 02, 2020
004 - The Y Combinator Application
This week our hosts start a discussion about the process of applying for YC startup acceleration. Companies like AirBnB, Stripe and many others benefitted from these accelerators and have built great fortunes. What are some of the limitations of Y Combinators? Who should apply? What are Y Combinators looking for in terms of applicants? This episode is a place to start. Can you describe your company in 50 characters or less? Mike provides some tips for how to determine your company’s one liner. Greatest tip? Be specific. To Read: Earth 5.0 - Karl Heinz Land  Follow Mike on Linkedin Follow Max on Linkedin
April 27, 2020
003 - Systems and Standing Desks
The Tripple S podcast with a Double S episode. Join us while we talk about the difference between goals and systems, the unbelievable effects of standing desks on your back, and one of the best blogs on the internet
April 19, 2020
002 - Small Virus, Big Effect: The Great Indoors
Well, we had to talk about it at some point. Today we briefly touch Corona and what startups should do about it. Once you hear it this might be old news since we recorded this a couple of weeks ago Tandem Somigo Community
April 06, 2020
001 - A New Player Joined The Game.
Welcome to the first ever episode of Mike & Max talking about startups, self-improvement and ideas that inspire them. The idea for this podcast was based on the fact that Max & Mike felt as if they did not spend enough time talking to each other and decided to force themselves to do it by recording themselves. We had a lot of fun and have recorded 4 additional episodes since then. Please enjoy a then still nameless podcast featuring an episode about our favorite startups, remote work (before it got cool through Covid-19) and our favorite book suggestions.
April 04, 2020