Jeff Barr's Blog

Things I Like..

Kidnapped by Hackers

After a busy day at the Internet Summit Austria, I was planning to make a quick appearance at the post-event cocktail party before returning to my hotel room.

Minutes after arriving, a fellow by the name of Paul Böhm started chatting with me about Amazon EC2. Within minutes he was joined by a couple of his friends and we had a very worthwhile conversation. Paul told me that he was the founder of a hacker lab in Austria, modeled after the Chaos Computer Club in Germany. He explained that members pay 20 Euros per month to gain access to the club’s 200 square meter facility and that he had about 100 members. One of his colleagues asked a bunch of questions about Amazon S3, and another told me that he had been in attendance at a couple of my Second Life chats.

They invited me to pay a visit to their lab later in the evening.

After spending a few more minutes chatting we decided to blow off the party and to head over to the lab for a tour. Indeed, I wandered off into the wilderness with some random strangers just minutes after meeting them for the first time!

Phone calls were made as we walked, and another couple of his hacker friends somehow rendezvoused with us as we walked the 6 or 8 blocks to the Metalab. Located in a basement, the lab was abuzz with energy. Paul gave me a tour of the major areas, including a main room, a smoking room, a kitchen, a well-stocked library, and facilities for metal working, electronics, and photography. The lab was full of posters, blinking lights, wires, and more. The wire was encased in plastic pipe in true steampunk fashion.

More and more hackers arrived (some apparently just to meet me, which was flattering) and we had an in-depth conversation for almost three hours. The main topic of conversation was the sorry state of venture capital in Austria. There are no venture capitalists with interest in making tech investments, mainly due to a lack of expertise. They will make investments in thriving businesses but not in true startups. There are no angel investors to speak of. Paul said the lab would give birth to at least 3 startups before the end of the year and I believe him. The intensity and the energy that I felt was second to none.

Turns out that Bre Pettis of Make Magazine fame was a recent visitor. Apparently he’s going to spend a couple of months in Vienna later this year.

They demoed several cool applications to me and I was quite impressed, but sworn to secrecy. Stay tuned for more.

Here are some pictures: