Yankees legend Yogi Berra was asked how popular a certain restaurant was, and he said, “Nobody ever goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”
I shared that remark with some dinner companions in Cologne, Germany before the kickoff of DMEXCO 2019 this month. Berra may not have originated the line, even though he did say it. Still, it’s all the more poignant coming from a Yankee, given that this Mamaroneck Yankee in King Frederick the Great’s court observed that the quip encapsulated one of the themes of DMEXCO.
This was my first DMEXCO, but I was told by others who knew more about it that it had gone from being a very local German show to a very international show and then went back to feeling more distinctly German. I spent much more time talking to exhibitors than I normally do, often sticking around for the full pitch and demo, and most operate in several markets, but this was also a place to show off German entrepreneurialism, from the very best to the currywurst (so, so sorry; but for any pun that made it through here, rest assured that 20 others were crushed like freshly pressed Gewürztraminer) (also: currywurst is wunderbar).
DMEXCO’s exhibitors included many American companies, from Google and Facebook to Beeswax and TripleLift, and I only could talk to a very small sample of the 1,667 exhibitors listed in the app. For European companies, and especially the German ones, I would often ask executives about their plans for expanding into the United States. The gist I got from most exhibitors and other attendees was that they don’t need to go to the U.S. anymore — it’s too crowded.
More than once, I was almost begging them to come. I’d tell them, “You have so much energy. You’re innovating in what’s become a stale category. There’s an appetite for some new, scalable entrants to mix it up and put pressure on the established players.” This was often met with some version of, “Nein, danke.” They like America’s market size. They can speak our language. They really like our money. But they don’t need to be part of a herd when they can originate or dominate a category in markets where they are strongest.
Perhaps it’s a German attitude of “Zufriedenheit,” or contentedness. That doesn’t do justice to the vibe at DMEXCO though. Most of the 1,667 exhibitors I saw were bubbling with ambition and eager to get a good return on investment for the show (“most” but not “all” as, like at any show, there were a few booths I didn’t approach because the staff looked so gelangweilt that they were unzugänglich and I had to weggehen (English needs to borrow so many more words from German). Avoiding the U.S. right now comes from a position of strength, a position of pride, and perhaps a position of not wanting to wait for their visa applications to get processed.
For Americans, we can process all this a lot of different ways. For starters, humility would be nice; not everyone is dying to be here. There’s also the political lens; despite all the fearmongering around immigration, it’s still mind-boggling how difficult it is to welcome over people with a track record of and great potential for job creation. There’s also pride we can take in fostering so much innovation and competition that not everyone wants to deal with it. It’s not just New York that can boast, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Even American beer keeps getting better year after year in state after state. If that’s not enough to entice my new Cologne friends, they are störrisch wie ein Maultier. Or maybe they just know how to keep their glasses of Kölsch continually full.
If you do wind up in Cologne, be sure to check out the cathedral (25,000 reviews, 4.8 stars in Google Maps) and the Chocolate Museum (16,000 reviews, 4.3 stars). Somehow salvation is a little more inspiring than robots serving chocolate, but then again, if you take part in one of the deadly sins at the museum, you can really get your money’s worth at the church.
This column was originally published in the newsletter. While I share the introductory column here, other updates such as jobs, events, and commentary on news are exclusively available to subscribers. Sign up now to make sure you receive it.