Sabela balancing a Hamburger.

Visibility and Hamburgers in the Taverna. Sabela from Madrid.

Sabela Garcia burst onto the scene – or my scene at least – around the end of 2013. All of a sudden, I’m not quite sure how, her posts starting appearing in my Twitter stream. At the same time, the company she works for – Appmotion, a Hamburg agency that does mobile marketing and apps – found its way onto my radar too. And that’s exactly what Sabela is for: since coming to Hamburg and joining Appmotion she has found her niche as a Visibility Manager.

I met up with Sabela at her employer, Appmotion, to find out more about what she does but also: of all places in the world, why Hamburg?

Sabela hails from Madrid, Spain, but has lived outside her home country since she was eighteen years old. She went to London because she wanted to learn English and chose to study Applied Translation because it would enable her to study in Spanish whilst taking the time to learn the local lingo. She liked the course because, rather than teaching her just technical translation, it was very practically oriented and included a large dose of intercultural communication. This was to come in handy later on when living and working in different countries.

London – city gone viral

The question “Why London?” is almost superfluous. London is one of those cities that, to use the social media speak that Sabela is fluent in, has “gone viral”. Such cities are known across the globe, have a positive image, and are a magnet for young creative people. (Hamburg, for better or worse, hasn’t “gone viral” and in my opinion never will.)

Sabela got on well in London, but found its size overwhelming:

London is so big that it’s difficult to get around. I lived in Shoreditch and only visited Notting Hill once in my whole time there.

This is in contrast to Hamburg:

The good thing about Hamburg is that it’s big, but not too big. I can travel everywhere on my bike.

Having a coffee at the Taverna.
What’s in the mug? Hopefully just a strong coffee on a Monday morning!

Beijing or Berlin?

After three years, she was ready for her next stop. Everyone was hyping Berlin, the German capital that has definitely gone viral. But Sabela, not content to go with the flow, decided to go to China instead, where she did an internship at a Beijing company dealing in carbon credits.

The sooty smog of the pollution her employer was tasked with reducing thickened the air on the streets outside. The pollution and the need for constant air conditioning were ultimately the reason she left after two-and-a-half months.

Behind the bar. In the meeting room at Appmotion.
Behind the bar. In the meeting room at Appmotion.

Moving to Hamburg … for the time being

While she was in China, Sabela got a call from a friend she had known in London, who was by this time in Hamburg. She decided to join him, but with the aim of moving to Berlin as soon as possible. He persuaded her to start applying for jobs in Hamburg and she gave herself a month to find something – anything – before moving on to Berlin.

Her energy and persistence paid off, despite not speaking any German at that time:

I just applied for everything, sending off several emails and speculative applications every day.

First job in Hamburg

Sabela’s first job was with wynsh, a mobile app that offered deals to shoppers as a way of encouraging them to spend more time in stores.

The startup and digital media scene, says Sabela, is generally more open to people who don’t speak German. wynsh in particular had a very international team with people working remotely from abroad.

Sabela’s Spanish and English language skills made her a good fit for the job at wynsh, but working with local German colleagues motivated her to learn German, so she started going to evening classes, trying a range of course providers before settling on UNS language school in Hoheluftbr├╝cke.

Learning the local lingo is a full-time job

When wynsh shut up shop, Sabela decided to take some time out to concentrate on learning German full-time.

It’s nearly impossible to learn a language properly whilst working full time. I took about six months out and concentrated on learning German.

Towards the end of her six months’ intensive language learning, Sabela applied for jobs in bars to start practising German in real life conditions. She found employment at a bar near the Landungsbr├╝cken (a pleasant part of Hamburg overlooking the port and the River Elbe), which was open during the summer months.

Back to the office

When summer draws to an end in Hamburg, the city turns from luscious green to fiery yellowy-red. The local markets start selling the apples and pears from the nearby Altes Land, which has kept Germany’s second city supplied with fresh produce for centuries. About the same time, Sabela’s efforts to perfect her German were also bearing fruit and she felt confident enough to apply for jobs in German-speaking offices.

Why (still) Hamburg?

What was it that made her stick around in Hamburg instead of moving elsewhere?

It was too early to go elsewhere. I loved the city, it is not too expensive in comparison with places like London, not too big like London and Beijing, and I had built up a group of friends here.

Within a week of getting in touch with Appmotion, a Hamburg agency that creates mobile apps, Sabela was offered a job. Having invested in Hamburg by putting down roots here and learning the language, she found a company that was prepared to invest in her: without really knowing what specific role she was being employed to do, Appmotion gave her a job and allowed time for her to find out how she could contribute.

About seven months ago, she had a conversation with her boss because it was about time she had a title to introduce herself with at conferences and other events. They settled on “Visibility Manager”.

Sabela behind the bar in the Taverna.
Showcasing Appmotion. The more visibility the better.

Visibility manager

So what exactly does Sabela do as a Visibility Manager?

My role at Appmotion is to take care of our core values and work culture and transmit them to people outside the company. At the same time I take information and inspiration from outside the company to bring it in for our improvement and development. In a way I try to connect Appmotion as a human being, not as a PR or a Marketing girl. I also use particular strategies and campaigns to put Appmotion on the radar in Hamburg.

One of her campaigns was a Valentine’s Day auction in which the prize was a date with one of the directors. People were invited to suggest crazy things they would do in exchange. A guy offered to name a children’s book character after the boss, and he won.

Sabela has set up a Spanish Taverna in the meeting room, complete with a bar, salty snacks and decorations. She invites people she meets on her excursions throughout Hamburg to talk to the team and share some of the inspiration she gets with her colleagues.

Outside the office, she is currently helping organise Hamburg’s first Women’s Startups Weekend.

And recently she invented the “Culture Burger Process”. She helped the team design an Appmotion hamburger. The type of patty, the sauce, the bun: all the ingredients were discussed in detail and represent some aspect of the unique Appmotion culture and Sabela facilitated the process.

The Culture Burger process makes the company culture edible!

This, I think, is typical of where flexible, creative people with a broad skillset fit perfectly into startups and smaller, agile companies: in the old economy, jobs were precisely defined and people specialised in doing one specific task. These days, startups and similar companies need a small number of people to cover the whole spectrum of tasks that make a company successful.

Investing in Hamburg

These days, everyone’s a startup, and everyone’s an investor. By leaving their home countries, forgoing comfortable careers, learning the local language, adapting to customs and throwing everything they have at making their new cities and employers successful, international people make a big investment in their new home city.

But companies like Appmotion, who gave Sabela time to find out where she could contribute before she even had a job title, took a risk, placed trust in Sabela and ultimately invested in her too.

A win-win situation that should serve as a model for others.

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