Thomas von der Ohe
Thomas was born in Germany but left in 2012 to do his Master's degree at Stanford University with a stated goal of studying with, working with and learning from the world's best experts in computer science and entrepreneurship. He ended up spending six years in the Valley, working on the Echo project at Amazon, and on self-driving cars at Zoox after completing his Masters. He returned to Germany in August this year and founded the mobility startup, Ree Technology.
Why did you move back to Europe from the United States?
My goal has always been to return to Europe and apply what I learned in the States because I felt strongly that I wanted to positively contribute to Europe's tech competitiveness on the global stage.
Do you think your Valley experience has given you an ‘edge’ in your career in Europe?
Absolutely. My background not only opened a lot of doors to investors and potential employees, it has encouraged me to think 'big,' and think globally rather than just focusing on local markets. Also, I don't believe I would have found it so easy to raise money as quickly as I did if I hadn't got experience from the Valley.
What has worked out better for you in your move to Europe than you expected?
I have found that people have been very interested in talking about, and learning from, my Valley experiences. This has helped me a great deal in building out my professional network in Europe in the tech and investor scene.
What was the hardest thing about moving? Was it a 'big' decision?
Besides leaving the certainty of a stable job, leaving behind my friends in San Francisco was the hardest part of the move. It was definitely a big and challenging decision. I had originally decided to move back right after completing my Masters degree. But I ended up staying longer, so you could say it took me four years to move!
Are you optimistic, pessimistic or neutral on the future of Europe?
I would say neutral at the moment, mainly because I find myself distracted by the political upheaval and debates in Europe at the moment, whether it's questions around immigration in Germany or Brexit. They are not advancing Europe's cause. However, I do believe we will prevail and get past this difficult moment!
Is Europe still lacking something significant that the Valley has?
Unfettered access to one big market. That's hard to overcome, but we can definitely make it better in Europe through regulation.
What would you say to someone considering making the same move to Europe?
I would say that if you want to make the move, just do it! Reach out to folks you know who have a good network in Europe. You will be surprised at how much they value our experience. You'll very likely land a very nice job in good old Europe, because the brand image of having worked in the Valley is very, very good here.