Networking Remote Relationships
Starting a business in the Corona year is brave, I was told. Daring even, or simply unwise, they said. Retrospectively, I want to reflect on this and, in doing so, tell you about my startup venture, the foundation of which has not yet been fully completed, but the prerequisites for which were created in 2020.
At the end of 2019, I had contacted an interested and sympathetic professor of automotive engineering at the Technical University of Cologne. That was still before Corona, i.e. corresponding reports from a distant Chinese province were not yet taken seriously by politicians at that time. Basically, professors are busy and most in demand people, so I called myself lucky.
In February, it was still possible to meet in person in Cologne, to shake hands, to sit opposite each other in an unbiased manner in a meeting room and to examine, comprehend and visit the exhibits, showcases and the experimental field of the institute.
The joint appointment during one of the first lectures of the semester was first planned, then questioned and finally cancelled. At that time, people were still thinking of a rapidly passing wave of infection, as they were inexperienced with pandemics. As a substitute for a lecture presentation, I became familiar with the methods of creating an annotation or soundtrack of a presentation slide set, i.e. of making a kind of lecture movie. While familiarizing myself with the presentation program of the market leader, I learned that there are different software licenses and that the standard version has a different range of functionality than the premium version, without this being apparent or documented anywhere. Also the installations are different depending on the operating system, whereby confusion and arbitrariness of the menus and submenus are similarly annoying in each case. Welcome to the famous procedure of “trial and error” — as if you wouldn’t know how to spend your time.
In the first lecture, the professor related about our joint project to develop the motor scooter of the future and distributed the address to the YouTube video. Some students were genuinely interested in my patent and had the time to look into it, which is not always possible for everyone in working life.
Anyway, a group of students around Prof. Dr.-Ing. Betzler met or rather did not meet, but we arranged to have a video conference. Video conferences are of course not new technical innovations. They had been around for years, were available, but were used rather reluctantly. Too many technical difficulties were associated with them. In the spring of 2020, they were without alternative, to use a common expression from politics. Now they had to be embraced, as most workers, schoolchildren, students and others were unceremoniously sent home and to work from domestic premises. Now the broadband capabilities of the Internet provider and wireless network had to be tested and verified. A variety of programs for video conferencing, such as Skype, Webex, Zoom, GotoMeeting, Microsoft Teams and others, had to be installed and tested on various occasions.
Via video image we suddenly and abruptly get an intimate excerpt from the living world of the other person. We see narrow attic rooms with sloping ceilings and dormers and skylights, dimly lit rooms with low ceilings in the basement and living room cupboards from the era of pine furniture, as well as yellowed oil paintings from the Wilhelminian era. We also see amusing relics from the childhood and youth of the now barely matured students, for example the Lego version of the Millennium Falcon of Han Solo, alias Harrison Ford, or imposing license plates from America’s “Golden State.”
For my part, I had to get used to this situation, not only because of the distracting circumstances, but because it doesn’t conform to the occasion of the interaction, which is supposed to be of a business and sober nature after all. One feels a bit like a voyeur, regardless of the fact that the video partner has a certain amount of control over what narrow insight into his private life he is willing to give. Right from the start, Prof. Betzler took advantage of the opportunity to fade in a representative interior shot with a kind of “blue screen” video in his background. I would almost have believed that one of those legendary Ford GTs was actually standing on the test stand in the chassis technology laboratory of the Institute of Automotive Engineering, which is looked at from his office, if occasional artifacts such as floating headphones had not revealed the digital illusion.