Before Davos, the Global Digerati Head to Munich for DLD

As the global business and political elite pour into Davos this week, more and more are arriving with pockets already full of business cards from a similar, but newer, event in Munich.

DLD, a 10-year-old forum for entrepreneurs and technology companies, this year focused on data privacy and the future of Bitcoin, with headliners including Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, Huffington Post creator Arianna Huffington, and Tumblr Inc. founder David Karp.

“I’ve been here for three hours and have already met with interesting people where there are immediate opportunities,” said Peter Vesterbacka, chief marketing officer of Rovio Entertainment Oy, maker of the Angry Birds games.

DLD -- the name stands for Digital-Life-Design -- has attracted about 1,000 attendees for the past several years. Despite rising demand, the organizers say they don’t want to move to a larger venue because they want to retain an intimate atmosphere.

The conference “is about bringing together the brightest, most innovative and even the most disruptive in a friendly, open atmosphere,” said DLD co-founder Steffi Czerny.

The current location, the HVB Forum in the heart of Munich, has just two stages for sessions, plus a smallish dining room with catered food up for grabs throughout the day where delegates are almost forced to share tables and interact.

‘Hanging Out’

“I haven’t listened to many sessions because I’ve just been hanging out in here, bumping into people,” six-time DLD veteran Albert Wengner, a partner at private-equity firm Union Square Ventures in New York, said over a cup of morning coffee.

Timotheus Hoettges, chief executive officer of Deutsche Telekom AG, said DLD is about “anchoring a concrete image of what we do and what we’re capable of.” Ramin Assadollahi, founder of Munich-based ExB Communications Systems GmbH, a 40-worker shop that develops software for Android phones, said he comes to DLD to track down funding and seek advice from fellow startups.

While DLD has in the past pulled in marquee names such as Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt and Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer, it serves as a kind of anti-Davos, a place where the young and exuberant can get pumped up before heading to dinner with the in-laws. While Davos tends toward Champagne and caviar, at DLD it’s Coca-Cola, sandwiches and Red Bull to keep the energy high.

Playboy Bunnies

On Monday evening, the DLD crowd headed to a conference center near the Oktoberfest fairgrounds for a party where two Playboy bunnies posed for photos (the conference is organized by Hubert Burda Media Holding GmbH, a publishing house that owns the rights to the German edition of Playboy) and passed out magazines. Smoke machines and laser lights punctuated the rhythms of a live band and DJs while revelers ground away on the dance floor.

The party “is a great way to relax and just have some fun,” Nicolas Dittberner, a manager at Elance, an online marketplace for freelancers based in Silicon Valley, shouted over the pounding music.

That’s not to say that DLD is about to overtake Davos, or that it even wants to. Yesterday a caravan of about 40 Audis shuttled many of the more prominent attendees three hours through the Austrian and Swiss Alps to the World Economic Forum, which was founded in 1971. And the final event of DLD is scheduled for 10 p.m. today in Davos. At what the organizers call the “Nightcap,” the digerati from the Munich event rub elbows with the more buttoned-down denizens of Davos.

Casual Fun

“It makes a very convenient package to do to the whole digital-lifestyle-design bit first -- sort of the fun part as part of a casual conference -- but then go on because there are a lot of meaningful meetings in Davos,” said Wikipedia co-founder Wales. “It’s a nice combo.”

Huffington, who hosted a session on “mindfulness” with author Paulo Coehlo at this year’s DLD, said for her it would be unthinkable to attend just one of the two events.

“There’s just such an amazing spirit each time I’m here,” Huffington said. “I don’t think it’s either-or. I love doing both.”

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