Life after Startup – Learning to dream again

The bondi boyz

Last weekend I visited the pre-opening party of a new co-working space in The Hague. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and a mix of startups, co-working employees, parents, kids occupied a small area next to a huge building that was still under construction. There must have been maybe 100 people, and it felt more like a neighborhood barbecue than a corporate party.

I was there alone, as I am most of the time nowadays when I go to events. I awkwardly strike up a conversation with some fresh faced guys that are standing around and having a laugh. “What do you guys do at Bondi?” I ask while pointing at the logo on his t-shirt.

The guy with the epic name of Chingiskahn Kazachstan gives me a big smile and says jokingly: “we are the cleanup crew of this electric bike sharing company called Bondi”. He picks up on my confused look and quickly explains he and his friend are the founders of the mobility company that they started just a year ago during their university years, and now they are fully focused on making it big.

He goes on enthusiastically sharing that their core crew of 5 people is working around the clock to grow the company doing anything from fishing bikes out of the Dutch canals (left there by asocial bike renters) or arguing with parents of kids that unlocked fast e-bikes with their parents credit cards without them knowing.

(The bondi founders proudly showing off all theirs bikes )

I recognize so much in these stories from the trenches, their never ending optimism in the face of an ever growing company and ever increasing problems to handle. But most of all, I can taste in all their ambition, a big, gigantic, fat dream.

A dream of success, easier days ahead, the name of their little homemade company becoming a household name amongst the Ubers, Airbnbs and Googles of the Startup world.

After a quick exchange of contact details they need to quickly take off, because only the first hour of parking at the event was free, and even if they have received funding and have already made great steps with their startup, the two founders are still on a budget.

The importance of a dream

On my way home I sit in my car and that conversation with those two fired up entrepreneurs really lingers in my mind. It brought back plenty of memories of our dreams as young entrepreneurs when we just started out.

At the time the 20 year old versions of us thought scaling the business mostly meant hiring more people fast, and doing more of the same, but just better and harder. Things that we learned the hard way were simply not enough to build a sustainable business.

But one thing was for sure, the presence of the big dream, of “making it”, no matter how vague that definition was, was a huge driver for us. We were not in it for the money, but we were definitely looking for recognition that our product too could be loved by thousands of clients worldwide.

(Me and my cofounder dreaming of taking over the world during one of our inspiration trips through the US)

What is a dream?

To me a dream is not a literal translation of a vision in the traditional sense of the word.

A dream to me is much more personal to the entrepreneur. It looks at the company, but also at what that makes the entrepreneurs feel.

If I would have to put that into a clear equation I would say:

Dream = vision + soul

In the beginning we mostly communicated our dreams to the team. Meaning the exact goals were more vague, the steps of how we got there were not clearly defined and the vision statement was often implied.

The biggest difference is that the team that was working at funk-e at the time, understood very well what that feeling represented. A feeling of rebellion, change, doing things differently clearly dominated our company culture. The first generation of employees often also doesn’t join a company because of a vision statement or because the company is already successful, they join because they want to dream along with you.

Like all dreams however there comes a time where those beliefs of easy sailing and infinite growth are met with reality. For me that was the harsh reality that I was confronted with in 2017.

Our product was simply not competitive enough anymore and we needed to transform, my business partner had to step out of operations for health reasons and our german country manager decided to start his own business. And everything was suddenly not smooth sailing anymore.

In those times there was mostly a need for clarity of where we were going exactly. We needed to formulate a clear vision and a mission, two things that I believe are definitely great from a management perspective.

Dream – soul = “just a vision statement”

This means however that I needed to strip a very emotional element away from the dream to reveal a clear vision: soul.

Stripping a dream down to clear bite sized components to me was necessary but confusing. If something can be so clearly confined to something like a “market-defining-internal communication agency” then it doesn’t feel like the sky is the limit anymore. The sky will suddenly feel very limited if you compare this to the size of my dream.

The dream was to become the Virgin (the company of the serial entrepreneur Richard Branson) of the Netherlands, with an empire of awesome and independent companies.

But after all the difficulties of those years the dream simply didn’t feel possible anymore, so it just felt like a remote idealistic idea and I felt like the critical father having to bring the bad news to my inner child that the dream was simply not going to happen.

Rediscovering a dream

Over the last years, when I was so busy living firmly grounded in reality I had kind of lost sight of my dreams. Just to be clear, I was not miserable, but I did feel like the work ethic took over from a very idealistic part of me.

I didn’t really allow myself the time to dream and I felt it would not be productive anyway. The attention had shifted from going back and forward between dream and reality, to only living grounded in reality with realistic achievable goals.

One of the most vague but important goals I gave myself this year is that I want to dream again. But how do you do that? Is there like a secret formula? Do I just squeeze my eyes hard, snap my fingers and suddenly dreams will flow and inspire me?

Now that my week is not filled with the weekly adrenaline of delivering the best possible projects to clients, I notice that flashes of a dream are slowly coming back.

I believe the starting point is to let go in the first place of a concrete goal. Do only what feels right, what makes me feel good and that excites me from a business perspective, then the vision part should slowly take care of itself.

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