10 life lessons from Startupbus 2013

A big hole. There is no other way to describe the feeling I have after having been on the Startupbus than falling in a very big hole. During the course of five days the lives of my and all my fellow buspreneurs have changed for the better. We have learned more than an entire year in college and we have made new friends for life. Every single on of the participants has rediscovered himself (or herself) and most of the lessons we have learned are very personal. Over the course of the coming months, we will all find ourselves making decisions and changes in our lives we never thought we would. Why because? Because Startupbus changes you and the world around you. In this blog I will share with you ten basic lessons that I learned by participating on Startupbus.

To explain startupbus in one sentence for those who have no clue what I am talking about: one bus, forty of the smartest people (developers, designers, business) and less then seventy-two hours to develop a new company with a finished product with people you have never met while driving on a bus from Mexico City to Austin (in our case).

This blog is intended to take the valuable lessons from the bus and share them for you to use. So, what have I learned?

1.  Age doesn’t matter.
Half of the people on my team were below the age of 25. They have impressed me in every way possible. Not only are they capable of achieving extraordinary things. They have shown to be extremely creative, entrepreneurial and afraid of nothing. A mentality that I was still looking for at that age. Thank you Rodrigo, Alex, Javier and Christian I have learned from you and you are an example for all people your age and everybody else!

2. There is nothing you can’t do
It all starts with this simple sentence. Not just on the bus. In life in general. More often than not we are being told that our ideas are to far fetched or that you should nuance your thoughts. Just remind your yourself every time when people give you this crap: if Einstein would have made his ideas more realistic we probably would not know him and he would be stuck at E= instead of E=MC2 :)

3. Talent combined with passion beats education every time
No matter what they taught you at school. When you are on the Startupbus or chasing your idea in real life, your combined passion with talents will get the job done. In our team developers were designing and business guys were building a website. We never learned these things at school, we learned them right there and then because we needed it and we managed them because we believed we could.

4. Job titles and job descriptions are worth NOTHING
When it comes to creating your team on the bus or in your real company, job titles are not important. Only hire people who believe what you believe. If your gut feel says they believe what you believe the rest will work out because of the point mentioned above. Create tasks around people and not people around tasks.

5. Dare to step back
Sometimes the right thing to do is let things go. Especially when you are under pressure and you feel that you should be involved in everything, dare to let go and step back. I know nothing about development and instead of constantly checking on the progress (which slowed us down on day one) I stepped back and let the guys do what they do best. The result surprised everyone (me but even more they surprised themselves)

6. Enable, Empower and Endorse your team
People can do things they never thought they could. By simply believing in them and expressing that in your actions they will surprise you. Simply enable, empower and endorse them to see the results. Often this means that your job will be about creating the circumstances to let them flourish. (on the bus this means: get coffee, arrange wifi, let them sleep, put them first:))

7. Involve the entire team
No matter how good your idea is, if you don’t have everybody on the same page, you will be struggling. We lost twelve hours this year because we didn’t involve the entire team in the first phase of the process. From a business perspective we were building the platform from our vision. When we presented it back to the guys who actually had to build it, we all struggled to explain and start building. We could have tackled this by involving them and co-creating the final idea. We would have had more time and a better quality product that would have gotten us to the next round. A hard but valuable lesson.

8. Validate your idea (but don’t let your findings turn you down)
On day two we found out that our initial idea actually wasn’t that different from a couple of big companies we actually never heard of. Realizing this bummed us out for a moment but within a matter of hours we adopted to the newfound circumstances and created actually something that was way better and had a lot more value.

9. You can do more than you think
No explanation needed. YOU CAN DO MORE THAN YOU THINK!

10. Sleep is overrated
When you are really ready to pursue your ideas or business but you still have your job, cut on your sleep. Sleep is overrated and your mind and body can do a lot more when true passion and drive are involved. Up your game and make your dreams come true instead of keeping on dreaming.

So, what have we built?
We have built a platform called Emplify.us. Our goal was to bridge the gap between the people either stuck in their job and looking for a way out and the kids coming from university realising that the things they were taught actually have little or no value. They might be very passionate about other topics but they are lacking experience to actually get hired. We wanted to connect these people to the group of companies looking for passionate professionals but don’t have the budget ton hire them. In this way, the job seekers can amplify their talents and the employers can amplify their budgets.

A word of thanks
I hope my personal lessons have helped you and inspire you to pursue your own ideas. But most of all I hope you hop on a Startupbus near you to experience this life changing journey yourself! I would like to thank my personal sponsors: Thank you so much HansMikeRolfCrista & KlaasRoderik and Dave & Bonnie  and my anonymous contributors!! This adventure would not have been possible without you! If there is anything I can do in return, just let me know!

Useful Links
Startupbus Movies (top 4)
– Startupbus Pictures
– Startupbus website

If I were a teacher…

…I wouldn’t be teaching the same stuff year after year. The world is changing too fast to be teaching the same things

…I wouldn’t be wondering why all my students are staring at their cell phones during my class. I just told them to do so

…I wouldn’t be teaching in a dull class room. True learning doesn’t happen in class rooms

…I wouldn’t be teaching and preaching my knowledge. I would be facilitating their talents

…I wouldn’t be called teacher. Educator or facilitator comes first

…I wouldn’t be trying to fit the students into my frame of reference. Who am I to think my vision of the world is the only one

…I wouldn’t be treating my students as ‘one group’. They are not factory workers

…I wouldn’t teach them do everything the same. I would encourage them to embrace change

…I wouldn’t tell my students to sit still. I would encourage them to get up and make a dent in the universe

…I wouldn’t want to know how ‘intelligent they are’. I would want to know how ‘they are intelligent’

…I wouldn’t be having a job. I would be an artist and students would be my art

…I wouldn’t be alone. You would join me, wouldn’t you?


(Feel free to add your ideas about what you would do different if you were a teacher…)

Media literacy… and my drive for it!

According to Wikipedia Media literacy is ‘a repertoire of competences that enable people to analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres, and forms’. Media literate people should be skillful creators and producers of media messages, both to facilitate understanding of the specific qualities of each medium, as well as to create independent media and participate as active citizens.

In my opinion, in these times where our lives both private and business are more and more online it is important that we educate our children in a way that will turn them into media literate people. Instead of only putting energy in the old fashioned styles of educating, we should be incorporating the essence of media literacy in every class, course or subject. It’s time for (social) media & internet literacy to enter mainstream education. Learning to use online forums, be they social network services like Twitter and Facebook, blogs, or wikis is not a sexily contemporary add-on to the curriculum – it’s an essential part of the literacy today’s youth require for the world they inhabit.

I started presenting, writing and thinking about the effects of internet and new media around three years ago when I realized that the way we work is changing so fast and it is my (and your job) to keep everybody around you on board. I started helping schools to enable their employees (management and teachers) and students to embrace these new media tools and make them a part of their daily lives. The way we have to learn to work with information has already changed and we are not teaching that to our children right now. In my believe the following questions (and a lot more) should be part of basic education at every school and currently our teachers are not capable of asking let aside answering these questions:

– How do you find out anything you want to know by entering the right question into a search engine? Equally important – how do you determine whether the answer returned by a search engine is true?
– What kinds of privacy protection should a student keep in mind when setting up a Facebook profile?
– How can the creation of content be used to advocate positions on important issues? And how do you do it? Which software should you use?

These are not strictly technological questions, nor are they confined to a narrow discipline. The way today’s students will do science, mechanics, journalism or business next year and a decade from now will be shaped by the skills they acquire in using internet and information, and by the knowledge they gain of the important issues of privacy, identity, community, and the role of citizen media in democracy. Who is teaching them on these important topics? I have made it my mission to help schools take on the teaching of these subjects while our society is preparing for a different role for education as a whole. We don’t have time to wait for these institutions to change, which is why I’ve worked to provide tools for those educators who are using social media to prepare students for the 21st century

I hope you are also helping the people in your environment to learn to become more media literate, if you are not, go do so! And if you need help, just let me know! I am always only one tweet away.

Peeling the onion called ‘Education’

The last six months I have been thinking and talking about a lot of topics but the recurring one (both in my head and in discussions) is Education. As a result of all these vivid discussions I am meeting a lot of interesting people who share the same feeling: “our current educational system is limiting millions of kids and it needs to change”. Every time I talk with someone I gain a little more insight in this enormous problem and I am stripping the onion layer for layer. While getting closer to the core I realized something: we need to start at the heart of our educational system, there where we educate our future primary school teachers (in dutch we call them PABO’s).

Primary school is where children are taught the fundamentals of life and where expectations and dreams are either stimulated or killed. And right now we are killing too many dreams and ideas even before they are born. Off course sir Ken Robinson is right on the money with his talk about ‘Changing Education Paradigms‘ but as long as the people teaching our future educators don’t understand why we need to change, this will never happen. In my opinion we need to break down the entire system we now use to educate teachers. Strip it to the ground and rebuild it around the question “How are you intelligent?” instead of “How intelligent are you?”.

We all know the famous saying by Charles Darwin: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change‘. I might have learned this saying at school but I would much rather go to a school where teachers would live by this saying and make our society more responsive to change while teaching us all the other fine subjects. Do you agree?

If you like this topic, I can highly recommend the book Out of our minds (2011) written by Sir Ken Robinson.


Maakt jouw school jou ‘mediawijs’?

Naast het grote scala aan vakken dat wordt gegeven op het basis-, voortgezet en hoger onderwijs is er een vak dusdanig ondergesneeuwd: Mediawijsheid. Een definitie van dit vak zou kunnen zijn:

“leerlingen en studenten voorzien van alle kennis, vaardigheden en mentaliteit om bewust, kritisch en actief mee te doen in de wereld van vandaag en morgen waarin media een bepalende hoofdrol spelen.”

Nu ben ik benieuwd wie van degenen die dit lezen dit op school leert? Laat een berichtje achter onder dit bericht of klik simpelweg even op de stemknop hieronder. Ik ben benieuwd! Dank alvast!

Poll: Maakt jouw school jou media wijs?

* Ja
* Nee

Gratis poll aangemaakt op htmlpoll.nl


Bursting Bubble of Education

Last weekend two of my close friends told me that there was a big chance they would loose their jobs as teachers. Heavy governmental savings throughout the nation are causing this. Due to these savings, my two friends and thousands of other gifted teachers will loose their jobs all at once. And since all these fired teachers will be fishing in the same pool looking for a new job, chances of finding one are very small.

While thinking about the challenge that my friends are facing I came across this interview with Peter Thiel about how ‘We’re in a new Bubble that It’s Not the Internet. It’s Higher Education’. In this interview Peter explains: ‘Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried civilians: Do this and you will be safe. The excesses of both were always excused by a core national belief that no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated’.

This was fuel for a night of very little sleep and thoughts going through my mind. I realized that our current educational system is missing a lot of things I wrote about earlier, but the most important thing might be to actually  teach ‘the art of survival’.

Back in the days when we were hunters – yeah that’s a long time ago but the lessons we learned back then are still valid, you will see – we had to adapt to changing circumstances. When the seasons changed, we had to adapt our clothes and hunting methods. When we moved to a new area, we had to become acquainted quickly in order to survive. When the pool of fish dried out or turned empty, we had to find new ways to get food. The reason the human race survived all those challenges and made it safely to the 21st century, is because we were able to adapt to changing circumstances very quickly.

Now back to the challenge my two friends are facing. As teachers they have had four years of specific training on how to work with (special) kids and actually manage to learn these rascals something. I always admire the stories they tell me on how they manage a group of twenty of those rebels. Suddenly, their jobs are taken away from them. Their environment changes and their pool of fish turns out to be empty. If they were raised in the same environment as the hunters they would be able to adapt quickly to these changing circumstances and find a new way to survive. However, as a society we have become too confident and we are relying too much on our (failing) educational system. We are no longer being taught how to adapt and be creative when circumstances are changing. I am not blaming my two friends for being afraid of these changes. I am blaming our educational system because this does not only affect my two friends. This is the bubble that Peter Thiel is talking about, this affects our entire society.

The current educational system is focussing so much on stuffing children and students with factual knowledge that we are forgetting to actually teach them the basic skills to survive and adapt. You can have a college education after spending your entire childhood learning and studying and expect everything will work out just fine. Because after all, this is what society has taught you: ‘Do this and you will be safe’. And than one day you find out that the circumstances have changed. You have not learned how to deal with this and all those years of studying cannot help you. What are you gonna do?

We all know the famous saying by Charles Darwin: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change‘. I might have learned this saying at school but I would much rather go to a school where teachers would live by this saying and make our society more responsive to change while teaching us all the other fine subjects. Do you agree?

‘Waiting for Superman’ or ‘How and why we need to change our educational system’

I recently watched the movie ‘Waiting for “Superman” and I was impressed and shocked at the same time. It is a 2010 documentary film and it analyzes the failures of American public education by following several students through the educational system. Even though it is a typical ‘american’ movie a number of the learnings derived from this film are also applicable in our Europe… Please find the trailer below and let me know what you think! If you are looking for the entire movie, send me an email (szwerink at gmail dot com).