Why did a startup studio not work for me? And how to fix this.

In September 2022, I joined a startup studio. They help find a co-founder, an idea, and funding. They provide a proven process and coaching. A startup studio should help hit the ground running and prevent running into the first brick wall on the way.

Reality started very promisingly. From 500 applicants, I was among 12 bright young folks selected. Although I am no longer young, I was sure that my experience and eagerness to learn would compensate for my incoming grey hairs. The program started with two workshops a day and a final presentation at the end of the week. I had fun, learned a ton, and the people were more than excellent.

The second week added a sense of urgency. Everything becomes fluid under pressure. I felt pressure to find my co-founder. Stat. That happened, and I was over the moon. Now that we had a team, we set out to find our idea in week three. What would our startup do? Week four revealed that our views of the world had little overlap; thus, we struggled to come up with the ‘What’ of our business. Facing reality, we split up, and I was back at square one. It is better to start again than to persevere into oblivion.

In week six, I looked at my cohort mates, saw who had teamed up and who was left, and concluded that I had to find my co-founder outside the program. In weeks 7 to 12, I met roughly 30 candidate co-founders. Some were awesome, but none were the match I was looking for.

Jim Collins wrote the book ‘Good to Great,’ in which he preaches: “First who, then what.” This mantra was ingrained in me, and I loved the idea that the co-founder is more important than the idea. I told myself: “It’s easy to pivot on the idea, but hard to pivot on the co-founder,” and “Great teams can be successful at anything.” This was also the premise of the startup studio: first team, then theme. Yet, I believe now that this mantra is false. At least for me, in my circumstance. I believe now that the idea matters, or in other words: “Start with why.”

I heard many ideas during my time at the startup studio and the subsequent journey through the US. Hundreds is not an exaggeration. Amongst them were excellent ideas, but none felt attractive to me. None of these ideas felt like they were my mission. I needed to feel more passion.

I wonder what would have happened if I had subdued to the pressure of week 2. Despite my lack of passion, I would have stuck to my co-founder and gone with a random idea. We would have created a stellar presentation, convinced the funding manager to fund us, and worked diligently for a year, perhaps two. But would I have been happy? Would my co-founder and investors be happy?

Everything becomes fluid under pressure. And also, things get rushed, panic replaces feeling with mere rationality, and people break down. If not now, then sometime in the future. In a post on LinkedIn, I wrote that I feel no need to rush and that time is my friend, not my enemy.

Perhaps, the ‘first who, then what’ model does not work for me. Perhaps, I need to figure out first what my true passion or purpose is. And in a true lean startup style, validate this by providing proof. For inspiration on how to do that, I turn to my wife.

When my wife wanted to pivot her business, I advised her to start interviewing people under the guise of writing a book. I reasoned that this would be an excellent way to build a network. Bright as she is, she turned the interviews into a series of podcasts (now coming up to episode 314). The podcasts not only grew her network but as corollary also her audience. She actually wrote the book, proving her passion for the theme. When the time came to create and sell her product, she had a network, an audience, and plenty of like-minded folks happy to collaborate.

So here I am with a new plan (for now):

  • Take my time.
  • Ponder my true purpose.
  • Research the topic.
  • Share my findings.
  • Connect to an audience
  • And then trust that finding a co-founder and funding is the easy part.

I acknowledge that this path may take many years, which is absolutely fine. I realize that this is the calm before the storm that I should enjoy while it lasts.

PS: Jim, I still love your book. Good to Great will always be a favorite!


US 2022 Inspiration trip

Yeeeah, I arrived in Washington, DC

The first hour into the trip is one big confirmation of why I’m here. I’m in search of the next business model for a new startup. And where better to look than outside my usual bubble?

Just a simple example: the unintelligible announcements in the airports, trains, and metro are baffling. To me, it’s a typically American phenomenon. And nobody sees anything wrong with it, as in, yeah, that’s how announcements work.

And I’m like: no, that’s how YOU think that’s the ONLY way announcements work. Nobody sees a problem because nobody can imagine a better alternative.

So, in short, I’m here to be shocked and baffled. To be inspired and challenged. To experience better solutions to my everyday Dutch bubble problems.

One of these ‘better’ solutions is the omnipresence of Amazon’s Alexa. Every American household seems to have one and my mind starts racing. Which applications can I transfer to Europe?

Anyway, this is just hour one. I’m sure the list of ideas will grow as the days pass and the number of people I speak increases. My first meetups are scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday. That gives me plenty time to overcome my jetlag. Which is indeed another note in my problem book: ‘solve jetlag’.

On a side note, I am immensely looking forward to meeting Doctor and Joe Biden! Chances of that happening are slim to nothing, but an entrepreneur can dream, right?!

What surprising boring businesses are out there?

On my quest for a great business idea, I stumbled upon this gem of a presentation: ‘Never Let Anyone Own You’ by Codie A. Sanchezhttps://lnkd.in/dt7Av6_n

I love her confidence, and her message resonates with me. An investment opportunity does not have to be exciting to be good. She claims that the opposite is true: the more boring, the better.

In another video, Codie presents a cupcake vending machine. Awesome! Boring business, easy to operate. It works or not. And if not, move it somewhere else. Here is a link to the YouTube short: https://lnkd.in/dwz5tgUZ.

Now that I am on my US trip, I keep an eye out for vending machines that we don’t have in Europe. Well then… here is one: Copy any Key.

It is located inside a 7-Eleven. Next to this was an ATM, a sausage machine, a photo booth, a shoe polisher, and a slew of other machines that require no operator to work. Each of them is “a scalable business in a box.”

On the future of work

This week, I was honored to be a guest of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Bruegel. My wife, Lisette Sutherland, is a member of their think tank on the future of work and her workgroup had an in-person meeting in Washington DC. I was a +1 for a part of the program. Special thanks to J. Scott MarcusAstrid Ziebarth and Katerina Geisler.

As a concerned citizen, it was interesting to see the differences and commonalities between the US and the EU. As an entrepreneur, I kept my ears open to spot opportunities for a startup idea. I am grateful to have had the chance to meet a group of such extraordinary and inspiring people.

Three ideas stood out: lifelong learning, platform workers, and the application of artificial intelligence.

** Lifelong learning
The highly educated are quick to move companies as soon as the grass is greener elsewhere. The more practically educated often get a short-term contract that is not always renewed. 

The short tenure of employees gives companies little incentive to invest in lifelong learning, with consequences for employees, employers, and society. There is a gap where nobody guides lifelong learning or pays for it. 

** Platform workers
Are Uber drivers entrepreneurs or employees? This is a question that the European Union struggles with more than the US. The EU tends to see these folks as employees, with possible consequences for the employers. The US has a more entrepreneurial mindset, for better or worse.

As a European, I saw platform workers as employees. Until it started raining. And when it rains in DC, it pours enough to triple the prices of an Uber. Just like that. Supply and demand.

This gave me the idea that as a platform worker, I want to know which gigs are in high demand: now and in the near future. Imagine a service where a worker can sign up for multiple platforms at once and be scheduled for various gigs based on personal preferences and money earned.

** Artificial Intelligence
The EU and US representatives were both concerned about the application of software and AI to monitor, reward, and punish workers. What happens when workers have to meet productivity standards that are set by an invisible artificial intelligence? Sounds scary, right?

I remember a time when I worked as a supervisor in a supermarket. My only ‘management instruments’ were walking around and ‘motivating’ people to work harder. Given my experience, we should be happy that productivity norms are independent of the manager’s mood.

The application of software, including artificial intelligence, can be fantastic. But how to prevent abuse, bias, and discrimination? Does the software make it too easy for management to distance themselves from workers? Can they easily pull a ‘Computer says no’ when it comes to someone’s income and well-being? How do we reap the benefits of automation without treating people like robots? There are massive opportunities to be explored.

I am driven by money

That realization hit home when I reflect on my energy consumption now that we are in the US.

In the Netherlands, my wife and I spent energy consciously. We do not want to fund the war in Ukraine or contribute to climate change. Nobel reason, but are they enough to change our behavior? 

In Europe, energy prices have skyrocketed. We immediately lowered the heating a few degrees, showered shorter, and invested in various energy-saving measures. An immediate problem drove change in behavior and a willingness to spend.

And we are not the only ones. In Europe, there is a trend to be energy conscious. Our behavior is not weird. It is logical. It is a safe bet. We proudly boast about our changes, and our friends and family applaud us.

Now that we are in the US, it is harder to uphold our good behavior. We rent an AirBnB, so costs don’t affect us. The apartment is poorly insulated, and the heating doesn’t work well. When we tell people about energy-saving efforts, they act like we are poor and feel sorry for us.

Apparently, for any change (or purchase) to happen, there needs to be 1) an immediate problem, 2) autonomy to take action, and 3) social pressure to change. I am taking these criteria into account while searching for a great startup idea.

I am going into space! 🚀

Literally to 10 kilometers altitude and virtually the stars are the limit.

We are catching an airplane to Seattle for an action packed three days. I will participate in a Techstars_ Startup Weekend. Special theme: Space! 🛰

It is my goal to connect with the very best mentors, investors, co-founders and sponsors. All while building a winning pitch for a space based startup.

Funnily enough, I’m writing this from the Colorado Springs Airport, which is home to the US Space Force. I’d say that the stars are aligned!

Some quick takeaways from the Techstars Startup Weekend

* It is really easy to come up with an idea and then the next day think ‘meh’. It’s like going to the gym. The initial enthusiasm is there, but sticking with it is hard.
* Ideating feels good. It creates energy and enthusiasm. But how much is needed?
* Startups are about building healthy businesses. It’s a marathon, and you need a healthy spirit from the get-go. Resting well is essential. Some people have kids; realistically, everyone has something
* For a teacher, it is easy to see how you bring value to the world. It can be hard for a startup founder to connect the dots and see how day-to-day work improves the world.
* There is comfort in being at rock bottom because it literally cannot get worse. It will always get better.
* Write down why you want to start a company and what your values are. Someone else will dictate it for you if you don’t.
* Space startups are for fun and profit.

We build a startup with 8 co-founders. It lasted 54 hours. Here is what happened.

Last weekend, I participated in Techstars Startup Weekend Space Seattle. On Friday night, ideas were generated, and I joined a group that was a whopping 8 people big. A saying came to mind: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” I was excited to see “how far” we could get, if we “go together”.

The whole experience reminded me of a group vacation. I have organized several group trips and recognized the challenges and opportunities.

Set the destination first, then invite everyone to contribute. The fewer people set the destination, the better. This prevents compromise and design by committee. After the destination is set, everyone is welcome to contribute. This means you will attract like-minded people and exclude people who want to go elsewhere. And that is OK. 

Large groups are about effectiveness, not efficiency. A group of 8 can hike more combined kilometers than an individual, but not 8 times as many. There will be inefficiencies, coordination problems, and contradictions. It’s just not funny anymore if you get stressed about it. Keep your eye on the goal: with a bigger team, you get more done, and sometimes that’s what counts.

Groups create more exposure. After money, employees, and software, audience is the 4th type of modern leverage. It is almost impossible for a large group to be a wall flower. People are naturally drawn to crowds, which makes it easier to get that flywheel of attention spinning. 

Special shout-out to the GeoHero team, who helped win the Galactic Impact award.

Thank you Sean and all volunteers for making this weekend happen. I can’t imagine how much dedication was needed to bring this event together at such a high level. 🙏

It was a great joy to attend this action-packed weekend. Special shout-out to Nigel Sharp for being such a phenomenal host for this event.

Seattle was a blast

The past weeks were more productive than spending months at home.

This visit reminded me of my 2008 study trip. I then joined a group of entrepreneurs and scholars from Delft to visit Silicon Valley. We saw the local ecosystems and recognized the power of leveraging each other’s network when meeting regularly. And that’s precisely what I experienced. 

By consistently going to events and meeting the same people over and over, I quickly became part of a network of like-minded spirits. They connected me to new ideas and inspiration for the year to come.

Thank you for energizing me, Seattle. And a special shout out to some wonderful folks who made me feel so welcome. 

The last stop on our trip was in Phoenix

Here I got to visit Carvana, an online used car retailer.

Carvana is fascinating to me because in only 9 years they

🏢 became a Fortune 500 company
🦄 reached unicorn status
🏛️ are a publicly traded company
💵 with a market cap of 70 billion dollars

📉 AND crashed in an unprecedented way

I visited Carvana in 2019, right before the COVID pandemic. At that time, the company was already growing like crazy. Their headquarters looked like a people factory with endless rows of desks in a big open space, spread over two floors.

Like many online companies, the pandemic accelerated Carvana’s growth. Instantly, they became the only way to buy a used car without contacting another person.

Now in 2022, as the pandemic is mostly behind us, the hype is gone too. The stock price is literally decimated, from once 370$ to now 4$.

My takeaways:

🤧 Don’t build a lasting company on temporary circumstances
📡 A highly automated business is NOT a
technology company/provider
🌵 It is possible to start a company anywhere, even in the middle of the desert
🌟 Build on what you got

“Did you find your inspiration?” my neighbor asks

Well, it depends. My trip to the US was inspirational, but I have not found that ONE thing that interests me deeply.

After having dozens of meetings (large and small) and meeting countless people (I added 80 LinkedIn connections), I learned a lot.
It is tempting to list how the US differs from Europe, but there are enough comparisons on the internet. Instead, I will share four personal insights.

1. It is no wonder that US startups can attract more capital. Of course, the willingness to make personal sacrifices for work is undoubtedly greater. But more importantly, investing is in their nature: the US is the land of Return On Investment and marginal thinking. For better or worse.

2. Getting a lay of the land of a completely unfamiliar industry (Aerospace) took me a mere week. I can and should dip my toe in other industries as well.

3. I saw plenty of services that only work in the US. Restaurants and the labor market, for example, work differently. It is good to keep cultural differences in mind when ideating and not assume that a problem scales globally.

4. Location matters, a bit. Seattle is a great startup hub, but Phoenix works well too. I am equally convinced that Amsterdam is a better location than Delft, but it is far from the defining factor for success.

Startups are often described as whirlwinds. All things considered, I feel no need to rush to dive head-first into a new venture. Time is my friend, not my enemy.

Fantastic sleep, and how to get it

My friends and colleagues know me as an energetic, self-starting, go-getter: a productivity powerhouse. Behind the scenes, I struggled with sleep. Perhaps these are two sides of the same coin. Throughout my struggles, I gathered many helpful tips that I want to share here.

This is the longest blog post I have ever written. It took me two years, a dozen rewrites, and quite some anxiety. The more people I spoke to, the more I realized that I was not alone. This convinced me to finish and publish this text.

While you read this, remember that everyone is different. Not everything may apply to you, and please consult a professional sooner rather than later.


Keep anxiety to a minimum by not over-complicating sleep rituals. Establish a maximum of 3 three habits. Consider the following three: no stimulants, restrict sleep, and establish a wind-down ritual.


Not getting enough sleep had a negative effect on my mood, concentration, and productivity. Some health effects were immediately apparent. Others emerged over time, and it may not be possible to revert some health issues caused by inadequate sleep.

Then again, sleep is overrated. It doesn’t matter how well you sleep: it matters how well you feel and function during the day. So when I said that my sleep sucks, I forced myself to think about what sucks. Is it just sleeping, or does it limit my daily life in work, study, and social interactions? Sleep poorly but still function well? Then maybe that is good enough.

My concern about sleep was big enough to consult a doctor and ask for a sleep study. I did two of them, and both were no fun. I slept with various devices around my body and wires taped to my scalp. I looked like the cyborg that I never wanted to be. The doctors promised that the sleep studies could reveal serious illnesses like sleep apnea. Or, like in my case, exclude a physical ailment. Hooray!

Basic hygiene factors

I adhere to the general rules for sleep hygiene. They state that the bedroom is only used for sleep and intimacy. Only lay in bed if you genuinely want to fall asleep. And the same goes for the couch (no loopholes). The bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet, and fitted with a good bed. Check, check, check and… check.

Many hygiene factors were within my control. IKEA sells great light-blocking curtains. As I am not big on fashion, this worked for me. And a good mattress is always less expensive than bad health. Not drinking anything two hours before bed is free; it will even save some money.

It gets more complicated when kids or loud neighbors are in the picture. I lived above a supermarket with delivery trucks under my bedroom window early in the morning. Drastic situations may call for drastic measures, so I moved house. I am not advocating selling off the kids but doing what’s reasonably possible to create an environment where you can sleep well.

Good sleep hygiene can only do so much. It creates circumstances in which great sleep has the potential to happen. People without sleep problems will sleep well anywhere. And that is the ultimate goal: getting to the point where sleep hygiene factors are no longer critical.

Sleep medication

After my first sleep study, the hospital referred me to a sleep coach. She told me: “We try to sleep without medication.” I thought: “Totally agree, but how?!” Getting off the sleeping pills was one of the better decisions in my journey.

Sleeping pills, or similar substances like antidepressants, have a sedating effect. This effect differs from actual sleep. They may help with being unconscious but cause drowsiness the following day, which results in poor sleep the next night. So the cycle continues.

Starting with pills was easy, but I should have thought more about how I got off them. Otherwise, I would be on them for the rest of my life. Before I ever take pills again, I would rather exhaust all other options. I would interrogate my doctor about side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Sleep medication is needed because you’re not thinking clearly in the first place. Therefore I would consult my wife so we can make a joint decision.

Nowadays, I sometimes resort to Ibuprofen. I find that it relaxes the muscles, and it doesn’t seem to affect my intestines too much.

Alcohol, drugs, and other stimulants

The whole point is to get (and keep) the body in a natural rhythm. Stimulants like caffeine do the exact opposite. I don’t drink coffee and don’t care too much for tea. I do drink alcohol, but very limited. The discipline it takes to force my body into a few healthy habits will be easier to muster when sober.

Sleep restriction

The most contradicting tip I got was to restrict sleep: determine how much sleep is needed, plan a block and stick to it. To illustrate, I need 7:30 hours of sleep per night. That means I go to bed at 23:00 and get up at 7:00. This is a fixed rhythm. When waking up, I immediately get out of bed and am active. And no napping during the day.

A strict sleep schedule takes a few months to become a habit, and then sleep improves drastically. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Sleeping longer on the weekend is called Social Jet Lag. It sounds glamorous, but it’s not a good thing. It means we sleep too little during the week and try to catch up on the weekend. The solution is evident: sleep more during the week and no snoozing on Saturday and Sunday. I keep the same sleep rhythm on the weekends as I have during the week.

Exceptions to the sleep restriction rules

When it’s early in the day and I feel really sleepy, it might be good to nap. A short power nap is better than being a zombie the rest of the day. I make sure that the nap is light and short, and I really wake up afterward. This might require a shower or a short run.

I might ignore the get-out-of-bed-on-time rule when I had a bad night’s sleep. I would rather sleep an extra hour to be fit for the day. This is OK, as long as it is an actual exception. 

Sleep at night, if possible 

Sunlight helps keep your daily rhythm. I have an office day job, and there should be no reason for me to work late in the evenings, let alone at night. So if I sleep, then not during the day but at night. The same goes for traveling. Instead of being at an airport at 5:00 in the morning, I take a more expensive flight at 11:00.

Staying active during the day and evening

Every Ying has it’s Yang. And activity is the counterpart of sleep. During the day, I keep myself busy without exhausting or overstraining myself. I go for a walk instead of a run, and I visit a quiet supermarket instead of a busy one. The goal here is to keep a sustainable pace.

Working out is good, but perhaps not the day’s first activity. Chances are that I am full of energy and go all out. Then later in the day, I have no power left. On the other hand, evening walks work great. A 30 minutes brisk walk at 9 pm helps me sleep through the night.

Watching a little television is OK, but binge-watching Netflix is not a good idea since I get so much rest that I don’t need to sleep anymore. My sleep will be poor, and I will feel tired the next day, which makes me sit on the couch and watch Netflix.

In the category it’s-not-stupid-if-it-works I present: eating an ice cube. It has zero calories and wakes me up instantly.

Wind-down ritual

The internet says that blue screens at night are bad. I have no experience with this since I have a strict no-computers-in-the-evening rule. This rule is part of my wind-down ritual. Every single night we do the same thing. That’s the point: repetition until your brain expects it. I know it sounds super dull. But it helps me sleep well, and I wake up refreshed. 

This is our ritual: 

  • 22:00 turn off some lights, and my wife makes us a drink. She likes cognac, and I drink a few sips of water.
  • 22:30 turn off half the lights and watch a sitcom. We prefer foolish but funny stuff like The Nanny, Married with Children, or Friends.
  • 22:55 go upstairs to brush our teeth and put on our PJs
  • 23:00 in bed

Needing to pee in the middle of the night is obviously not helpful. It can be worse: the feeling you need to pee and not go. So the wind-down ritual restricts fluids in the evening.

Waking up at night or too early in the morning

The general advice is to not lay in bed awake. When awake, get out of bed and try again in an hour. I found that this is good advice when the sleep problems are severe. When they get milder, it works better to train myself.

It’s 4 am, and I’m tossing and turning. I’m awake, and I am aware that I’m awake. Oh oh… Nowadays, my only response is: “I hear you, everything is OK, now lay still, take a few deep breaths and sleep a little longer.” I tell this to myself every time I would wake up. No matter the time of night. With this exercise, I train my body and brain to stay asleep for as long as possible.

Waking up too early is either caused by too much stress or too little activity during the previous day. The first part of the night is usually not a problem. The second part is when we mull over stuff that happened. The more peaceful my day is, the better I sleep. 

Reducing stress

I can’t sleep if there is unfinished business elsewhere. Lingering thoughts haunt me. So I make sure that everything I need to do is either done or written down, so I don’t have to worry about it. This ensures that I am ON when I’m supposed to be ON. And I can be entirely OFF when I am supposed to be OFF. 

Even when all business is taken care of, fleeting thoughts will pop up. Some people propose to write down these thoughts in a physical notepad and then go back to sleep. This does not work for me. I want to teach myself not to have randomly interrupting thoughts in the first place. For me, it works best to ignore them. Not rudely cast them aside, neither feed them a five-course meal. When I write down the thought, I give it attention which makes the thought bigger. I am feeding the dragon. And I am teaching other dragons that popping up is OK. I don’t want to reward unwanted behavior.

Some thoughts might seem important. Maybe I found a solution to the problem I am studying. Should I dismiss this too? My answer is: yes because sleep is always even more important. I am confident that I will have the thought again. And if I don’t, then that’s a loss I am willing to accept.

Reducing stress and having clear boundaries between ON and OFF also reduces my night terrors, anxiety dreams, and tossing and turning due to general excitement. As I grow older, I am more aware of the day-night cycle and the effect that one has on the other.

Relation with work

Interruptions in the form of random thoughts are not my only interruptions. This is where we need to discuss mobile phones. I turn off all push notifications. And better still, I have only the minimum work-related apps on my phone. When I am OFF, I just won’t be confronted with work. There were times that I buried all work-related apps in one separate stack. I even considered getting a secondary work phone.

Sleep anxiety and high-tech gadgets

The average adult wakes up two to four times per night. So… maybe waking up is totally fine? Oof… maybe I’m almost normal! This realization taught me that I probably sleep better than I assumed. And my key learning was that worrying about sleep makes sleep worse.

To reduce sleep anxiety, I found it helpful to track my sleep. Although it is challenging to quantify sleep, there are methods and tools to make quantification somewhat possible.

I explicitly do not use a journal. I found any manual activity related to sleep enhances sleep anxiety. For this reason, I rely on automation. I feel strongly that any method or device should be entirely non-invasive. I should not have to set anything before going to bed. It should just work. I’m not thinking about sleep; I do it. I use the Withings sleep tracker. But there are other products like the Oura ring.

I have no idea how accurate these products are. But if they are consistent, they should show reliable-ish trends over time. Over months, they show averages of when I go to bed and get out of bed. Any tracker will give some sleep score. I reflect on the previous day and adjust when this score is low. On some days, cause-and-effect is more apparent than others. It becomes even more difficult if effects are delayed over days.

A hassle-free tracker has the added benefit that I can leave my phone out of the bedroom. This stops me from fiddling with my phone while I should be sleeping. My time-to-sleep and time-to-get-up are shorter because of it.

Sleeping well is a team sport

As couples do, my wife and I sleep together in the same bed. We found it crucial to work on sleep together. It’s like eating healthy or quitting smoking. It is doable alone but easier when the whole family joins in.

I have to admit that my wife and I are quite anti-social at night. Cuddling is totally great, but not in the middle of the night. Please, let each other sleep! If we are both awake, it is tempting to interact and chit-chat a bit. Our advice is simple: don’t. Any interaction will wake you up more. If you ever wanted to ignore your partner, this is the moment.


It can be challenging for a pro-active (read: hyper-active) person like me to turn OFF. My racing, worrying mind does not stop at night. This was not an issue when I was younger, but as I age, I have to be more mindful of my body and habits. If you read so far and are worried about me, rest assured. Getting my sleep back on track was a struggle, but these tips made a huge difference for me. I hope they also work for you.

Good night and sweet dreams!

A successful freelance career

When I transferred from a steady day job to my freelance life, I thought I had enough cash in the bank and kept my costs of living low. So, I just foolishly gave in to my entrepreneurial urges. It was the classic Now or Never snap decision. I had the faith that I would succeed.

The challenge

A seasoned entrepreneur advised me, that the work I had done so far was always in the context of a bigger team or in combination with software that my employer sold. He said that I was on my own now, and my value had dropped significantly. He predicted that I would struggle.

I soon learned he was right. As a freelancer you rely on yourself. No-one comes to you. You have to go out there, and find work. On your own. Many freelancers experience that finding well-paying work is next to impossible. And the lack of stable income is so stressful that many freelancers want to get back into a day job.

In my case, a friend helped out. He needed help with a big software project, and asked if I was available. It was the perfect storm. I had an immediately employable skill that the right person knew about.

Although I was doing fine, I knew my project had an end date. In hindsight, I didn’t have enough cash, and I certainly did not keep my costs down. Soon I too, would be screwed. Why? Because, I simply didn’t have a plan. I didn’t jump into the deep end of the pool, but out of an airplane with a broken parachute and a sewing kit. I had to figure out this entrepreneurial game, before I hit rock bottom.

Going freelance is not the same as getting a new job. It is a lonely lifestyle, without a safety net. Yet, with the right mindset, it is possible to have a successful freelance career. You have to invest in productizing your skills and marketing yourself. That investment needs two things. I call them: the cork and the hedgehog.

The cork

Cork keeps you afloat. In real life you stay afloat if you can cover your operational expenses (costs of living, car, sports, children, vacation, etc.) Life is expensive so you need to have enough money. Digging into your savings is possible, but by definition limited. Work is paramount.

Step 1 is thus: find work. And I mean: any work that you can find easily, do without much effort, and don’t actively dislike. This work does not have to be freelance! A real job is also fine. If you can work part-time under an employment contract, and that work covers your costs: brilliant. As long as you don’t do it full-time.

The idea behind the cork is that you cover your expenses by working as little hours as necessary. By deduction, lowering your costs is a great help. The less costs, the less hours you spend on your cork and the more time you have for the hedgehog. That’s where the interesting stuff happens.

The hedgehog

The hedgehog is a concept coined by author Jim Collins. He explains that a hedgehog thrives by doing one thing really well. It searches for food, and when attacked, it simply curls itself up, like a ball. This philosophy of doing one thing really well also applies to business.

As a freelancer you should find one thing that you love to do, are truly great at, and get paid for. In my case it was developing software. I have the skills, I love development, and programmers are in high demand.

Finding your hedgehog is easier said than done. Merely being passionate about something is hard for the average human being. Let alone perfecting the necessary skills. And if you are passionate about something, and you are great at it, how are you going to make your economic engine run? Who is willing to pay your bills? The concept is simple, but finding your hedgehog may take years.

That’s why it’s important to start living you hedgehog, today. You have to experiment! Guess your hedgehog, if needed. Find work within that hedgehog, at any rate, free is fine. Remember that you don’t need the money! Costs are covered by your cork. As long as you keep refining your hedgehog.

And once you found your hedgehog, then build momentum. Establish yourself within your hedgehog. Make it more specific. Keep working within it and experience how clients will come to you, instead of you begging for work. Start earning decent money within your hedgehog. And then, finally, you can start cutting cork.

5 tips for winter running

My girlfriend and I have a deal when it comes to running. She gets us out of the house, and I make sure we go far and fast. This works great during the summer. In winter not so… It’s freezing! How can you run? She has a hard time convincing me that running is fun. But she is right: no-one ever regretted a good run. Even though it’s winter.

Here are five tips for winter running.

Run in the afternoon

Winter is cold, so plan your runs carefully. Run on the warmest moment of the day: the afternoon. Temperature typically peaks around 2pm. If the sun has done a good job, and there is little wind, then it can feel like spring! Running in the middle of a workday is not possible for everyone. My work typically stops at 5pm. So that’s when I run.

Wear enough, but not too much

Make sure you wear enough clothes, but don’t sweat. You know that you are wearing enough clothes, when the first ten minutes will feel cold, and it is fine after that. On mountaineering trips, the ten-minute-mark is the classic moment for taking a break and taking off your coat. I like to take a hot shower before I go running. Then my body is warm, and I don’t have the ten-minute-problem. Once you are warmed up, temperature will not be a problem at all.

Run on paved roads

I love running in the snow. Especially when the sun is shining. It’s great how the whiteness of the snow reflects the sun rays. Fresh snow is absolutely not as slippery as many people think. Ice on the other hand is a real problem. Better avoid that stuff. Also avoid muddy trails. Although you can rinse your shoes and wash your clothes, you don’t want to run with wet feet.

Be visible, and stay close to civilization

Running in winter is a bit more dangerous. It gets dark early. And the falling of the night can surprise you. So wear a high visibility shirt. You can wear lights and prolong the Christmas spirit as well. Be aware that if something happens to you, there will be less people to help you. So don’t go all the way out there, and don’t run during a storm. If something goes wrong: you will cool off quickly. Bring a mobile phone, and some money. Just in case.

Motivate yourself by setting a goal

If you don’t have enthusiastic friends who are runners, then you need to motivate yourself. New Year’s resolutions don’t work for me, but maybe they work for you. My most important motivator is entering a spring race. This year I am running a half marathon on the 8th of March. Apart from that, I love to be in shape for skiing tours and just in general when spring starts.

Artisan Startups walk the thin line between innovation and incompetence

Entrepreneurship is all about flawless execution. An entrepreneur has to be competent and aware of his own limitations. Doing the wrong things, or the right things wrong, does not propel the business. It hurts. It is nothing more than a waste of time, money and talent.

Flawless execution is an impossible task for Startup entrepreneurs. They are exploring, innovating and trying to make sense of the fast changing worlds they are creating. Uncertainty is the status quo. The whole point of the Startup is to learn through experiments. This can lead to great successes. But it is also accepted, that failures are part of the game.

This innovative character is a pitfall. It is all too easy to innovate in all areas of the business, also where execution should be done in the most straightforward manner. In a world where curiosity and innovation are at the core of an organization, it is surprisingly difficult to separate the research practice from the down to earth practice of running a company.

For Startups it is especially challenging to not reinvent the wheel. In an exciting young business, everything is new. And in a Startup it is hard to acknowledge that some of the business activities are actually ancient. The general practice of business is understood, documented and taught in schools around the world. Selling, bookkeeping and working well with others are universal skills for any entrepreneur. Although the company may be high tech, the underlying principle of business management are the same.

Failing to separate what is new to the world, from what is new to the entrepreneur is an indication of incompetence and arrogance. As harsh as this judgment seems, I genuinely empathize. Only after the wheel is reinvented, the realization dawns how easy things could have been with a little hindsight. So we struggle, and carry over our experiences to the next adventure. We learn and improve not just the company, but also ourselves.

Starting, establishing and growing a Startup is challenging, but it is by no means a black art or wizardry. Competent Startup entrepreneurs can walk the thin line between innovation and incompetence. They have the skills and experience, and brings in outside expertise when needed. They craft beautiful Startups effectively and efficiently. These Startups are works of art.

I call them the Artisan Startups.

My fourth year without pants

Working without pants is an expression, coined by Scott Berkun, who wrote a book about remote working at WordPress.com. A super successful company where everyone can work from home, or wherever he or she wants. In this blog post I will chronicle my remote working experiences.

Over a decade ago, I was hired by a company that did not have an office. We were with four people, spread out over the Netherlands and Belgium. An office was not practical, so we all worked from home. This was a bad idea. We were disorganized and we didn’t communicate well. Working from home was one of the reasons why the company only lasted a year.

Years later, I set up a company in Australia. We arrived at Sydney Airport with two suitcases and two backpacks. Since we didn’t have anything but ourselves, a separate office space was a ridiculous thought. We worked from home. And so did the first employees we hired. This worked reasonably well. We were all the time confronted with our work, making us work 24×7. And going on vacation was a bit weird, knowing that other people work from our house during our absence. After a year the timing was right to rent a proper office.

Coming back from Australia, I started my freelance career. Again without an office. I worked from home, in a room specifically setup to be my office area. That worked well, although I mostly worked from my clients’ offices. Being with my clients gave me the opportunity to scout new projects. And working from home was lonely. It did not take long, for me to join a company that had a proper office, so I moved my desk once again.

A year ago, I joined the ranks of the remote workers for the fourth time. Inspired by my girlfriend and brutally aware of office costs, I decided that my new company would be a remote company. That means that everyone can work wherever he or she wants.

Working remote has many practical advantages. There is less travel time, more flexible hours, less costs and it is possible to tailor work conditions to the individual needs. There are practical hurdles to overcome. For example, since the office is virtual, it has to be paperless. Luckily that’s not a big challenge with today’s technology.

The real challenge of a distributed team, lies in the remoteness itself: being distanced from your colleagues and not being able to see each other makes it easy to get out of touch. We have found that we regularly need to meet, and work together. These meetings create a bond, which allows us to be a real team.

Being together is not that hard to do. We literally live 15 kilometers away from each other. In the current market, we could easily rent a cheap office in a dull industrial zone. But the truth is, we don’t want that. We like to work when we want, how we want, and where we want.

Working remote is a great idea, as long as you are aware of the challenges and committed to each other as a team.

p.s. For those who are curious… I do wear pants when working remote. 😉

Airbnb is not a hotel, it’s an experience

My girlfriend and I travel a lot and love adventure and experiments. So, when we heard about Airbnb, we ditched hotels and now sleep at random people’s houses instead. Our Airbnb experiences are varied. Some sleep overs and hosts are perfect. Others could do better, with a little effort and guidance. For the latter category I wrote the following 10 tips. They are inspired by our stay in Paris this weekend, but are the result of our consolidated experiences of the last years.

It all boils down to two things: you have to manage expectations up front by being honest, and you have to realize that other people will view and use your house differently than you do. Let’s dive in.

  1. What works for the host does not necessary work for guests. As a host you know that that one cupboard drawer next to the fridge is a bit fragile. As a guest, you don’t know this, and it will break. We have stayed in a house once where a lot of fragile items were placed in precarious positions. You couldn’t look around without breaking something. This is no fun for the host (who has their delicate china broken), nor for the guest who feels they are walking on egg shells.
  2. Not all houses are the same. You need to explain how your house works. For example: the water in the shower is only lukewarm – unless you turn the magic dial on the heater, then you get hot water. Or this one: the bedroom features a skylight, so the sunshine wakes you up at 5 in the morning. The ceiling is too tall to reach, so the next morning your day starts again at 5am. Then you find a remote control which allows you to cover the skylight. Brilliant, if you know about it. Write these workings down, but also mundane things like how the heating works, how to turn the lights on, and where to put the trash.
  3. Using the same logic, explain where the nearest public transportation and supermarket are. Do you have a favorite restaurant or bar? Point them out on a map. Realize that guests are new to your neighborhood.
  4. We spent last weekend with another couple (friends of ours). We love them, but we also wanted to wander the streets of Paris on our own. Here is the dilemma: we only had one house key. We overcame this problem, by hiding the key under the doormat. As a host (and as guests) this bypass may not always be what you want. It is good to provide two sets of house keys.
  5. My girlfriend and I are internet junkies (as internet entrepreneurs we actually need it for our work). We would never book an Airbnb that doesn’t have Wi-Fi internet. Yet, we are often disappointed. Sometimes there’s no internet at all, sometimes the Wi-Fi password is nowhere to be found, and sometimes the only place with decent reception is the bathroom. If you don’t have Wi-Fi, then don’t advertise it. It may not be important to you, but it may be for your guests. Never use false advertisement, always set realistic expectations.
  6. To us it is a no brainer that the house must be clean. Reality is different. Dirty cupboards, yoghurt with mold in the fridge, personal items that I don’t want to know about in the bathroom. We have seen it all. Admittedly, we can be slobs a little less tidy at times, but not when we have guests over.
  7. Twenty years ago I bought a king size bed, and have never regretted its awesome size. I realize, that only your own bed sleeps as nice as, well, your own bed. But a 120cm mattress on the floor is not a double bed. Make sure that all advertised beds are real and decent beds. And if they are not, be clear about it in descriptions and pictures.
  8. When travelling, you live out of your suitcase. Still it is nice to have some shelf space in the bedroom and the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be much, but it prevents guests from making shelf space themselves.
  9. You don’t have to be at your house when guests arrive. Especially when guests don’t know at what time that will be. However, it is crucial that you are available for guests by phone. Be it for last minute directions to your house, or to promptly solve problems during the stay. It is fine to have a friend on pager duty, as long as he or she knows the house as well as you do.
  10. Be clear about additional costs. Typically towels and bed linen are included in the stay. If you want to charge extra for these additional items or services, that is fine. As long as you communicate in advance. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a bed, where the bed linen comes at a ransom.

This being said, one reason to choose for Airbnb, is to experience how other people live. Airbnb provides that genuine experience, including all the up and down sides. If you are looking for a professionally managed room or apartment, then Airbnb may not be for you. Airbnb is not great, but for us, it’s good enough. We like it, and hope these tips will make the experiences for both guests and hosts even better.

PS: One tip for guests: Understand that your host is (just like you) not a hospitality professional. You have to be easy going, communicate openly about problems and be cooperative in finding solutions.


From prototype to profitability

Last night I was bored, and my girlfriend didn’t like me bugging her. I needed something to do, so I decided to create a clone of the classic video game Minesweeper.

Minesweeper’s Wikipedia page reads the following: “Minesweeper is a single-player puzzle video game. The objective of the game is to clear a rectangular board containing hidden “mines” without detonating any of them, with help from clues about the number of neighboring mines in each field.”

Windows-MineSweeperOne hour and one hundred lines of code later, I finished a crude but functional version. Then it got hard, and I lost interest. Later, I thought about the work that needs to be done, to turn this project into a business. Creating software always seems easy, but it is good to realize how much difference there is between a prototype and profitability. Here we go…


Hard core engineering – I assumed that when a game starts, the mines are placed at random. This assumption was too simplistic. When mines are placed at random, they can be clustered together. This gives a lousy gaming experience. Mines should be spread out evenly. Here we strike an engineering problem.

Missing functionality – If you step on a mine, it blows up. Which is one way to lose the game. You should also lose the game when you mark more mines than there are actually hidden. My version of the game does not support this. It would also be fun to play against a clock, or have high scores. More development is needed.

Refactoring – In the source code, I refer to mines as bombs. To prevent confusion in future development, we need to refactor this. There is a bigger problem. I developed the game as a Windows application. Which is obviously wrong. We need to port the software to a mobile platform for iPhone and Android.

Quality assurance – The game works, I think. I played a few rounds, and have not found any bugs. To be sure we don’t ship buggy software, we need beta users to test extensively. We also need to write unit tests to prevent bugs creeping in during further development.

User experience – In the Windows version of Minesweeper, you navigate the mine field by using your mouse. In my version, you need to manually enter coordinates, and push a button to mark or expose a cell. This is too crude to be fun. The user experience needs to be sheer joy. Currently it’s not. Even I don’t like it


Branding – Our game should not be named Minesweeper. We need a new name that stands out from the competition. The game needs its own back story, like Angry Birds for example. This story needs to be perpetuated throughout the software, by the consistent use of logos, graphics and sound effects.

Distribution – Now that our game is finished, we need to make it available via the various App Stores, Play Stores, gaming websites and wherever else we can distribute. Without a doubt, we need to make a few round trips to the development phase, in order for the game to be accepted on these platforms.

Promotion – Once the game is ready for distribution, we can promote it on a website, Twitter, Facebook and via other social media. Ideally we want the software to go viral. That idea of keeping high scores, and comparing high scores with friends was not a bad thought. Back to development, once again.


Team work – I cannot do the above on my own. I don’t have the skill, nor the time. Graphic design is a profession, so is distributing the game through the various channels. We need to find freelancers who can help out. And set up a virtual task board (like Trello) so we can coordinate the various tasks.

Liabilities – With money going in and out, we created two new ‘problems’: responsibility and liability. With any luck, the Terms & Conditions and privacy statements are provided by the distribution channels. We do need a bookkeeper, a bank account and possibly a registration at the Chamber of Commerce.


This mental exercise made me think about all the different aspects that go into creating a successful business. And how difficult it is to get all the pieces right.

Kom Drytoolen bij Monte Cervino

Iedere winter wordt de klimberg Monte Cervino in Bergschenhoek omgetoverd tot een Drytool winter wonderland. Aan de binnenkant van de berg kun je sportklimmen, terwijl aan de buitenkant tientallen Drytool-routes gebouwd zijn.

Drytoolen is een kruising tussen sportklimmen en ijsklimmen. Een Drytool-route is eigenlijk gewoon een sportklim-route. Je klimt ook gewoon op je klimschoentjes (*), en je mag gewoon je handen gebruiken om omhoog te komen. Echter, al snel kom je grepen tegen die heel klein zijn, of heel ver uit elkaar zitten. Dan wordt het echt Drytoolen, tijd om de ijsbijlen te gebruiken.

Een Drytool route is gebouwd uit normale klimgrepen, die je kunt vasthouden, heel kleine aluminium grepen waar je ijsbijlen in klemt en blokken hout, waar je lekker in kunt meppen. Maar let op! Drytoolen is een subtiele aangelegenheid. De plaatsing van de bijlen komt heel precies. Voor je het weet gaat je bijl zwieberen, en val je naar beneden. En dat maakt Drytoolen juist zo bijzonder en waanzinnig leuk.

In de winter, buiten, met ijsbijlen zwaaien is niet alleen voor stoere jongens. De dames waren op de recente Drytool-wedstrijd goed vertegenwoordigd. Drytoolen is leuk voor iedere sportklimmer die wel eens iets anders wil proberen.


De Drytool-routes bij Monte Cervino blijven tot maart 2015 hangen. Je hoeft geen eigen bijlen te hebben, deze kun je lenen bij de bar (**). Ook hangen er al t0uwen om te top-ropen. Neem wel een warme jas, handschoenen en je helm mee. Kom je ’s avonds, vergeet dan je hoofdlampje niet.

Lijkt het je leuk om een keer te Drytoolen, maar ken je niemand die met je mee wil? Laat het mij dan zeker weten. Wij klimmen iedere vrijdagavond, en vinden het altijd leuk om nieuwe vrienden te maken. Mail mij gerust op florian.hoornaar@gmail.com.

(*) Marianne van der Steen, 1 van de routebouwers, schreef mij na het publiceren van dit artikel dat het klimmen op klimschoentjes een uitzondering is. Normaal gesproken klim je op stijgijzers. Ze stuurde mij ook twee filmpjes die het bekijken waard zijn.

(**) Er zijn momenteel tijdelijk even geen ijsbijlen aanwezig. Dus neem deze toch zelf mee, leen ze van iemand, of bel van te voren op en informeer of de ijsbijlen al weer terug zijn.