For a living?
“You do superconnectors for a living?” Said an almost incredulous visitor of one of our events in Berlin, just before the summer break.
“Eh yeah” I responded, not understanding if I was supposed to be flattered or slightly offended.
“What’s so strange about it?” I asked the visitor.
“Well, it’s such a small event, how do you guys make money?”
“We work with corporate, tech and government sponsors, and we organize 20 of these per year around the world, with a big closing summit at the end of the year.” I reply
“Ah ok” the visitor responds, “makes sense”.
To be fair, his question is understandable, our events are often in beautiful locations during very busy and expensive tech conferences around Europe and the US and there is free food and drinks for all exclusive 30 participants.
So how do we pay for everything? Investing money is a big part of my life after startup.
Investing in Superconnectors
In the first months of operation as an actual company we obviously cannot pay for all the catering, event locations, moderators, international travel and hotels, photographers and staff purely from sponsorship income without having much of a reputation yet.
So it is understandable that people question how suddenly our event comes from nowhere to their city and pays for all of this.
The short answer is one that most businesses owners will recognize: by investing in the difference from our own pocket.
Meaning my partners at Varias (the organizer and inventor of the first event format) and me, have bridged whatever money was not covered by sponsorships for the first year of operations.
Mostly that is for instance travel costs and we have not taken a salary yet. However we do manage to pay our core team of 2 people full salaries and cover all their expenses and those of the event. (Something I am proud of).
Time as a primary investment in my 20s
Entrepreneurship in this phase of my life is very different from entrepreneurship in my 20’s.
I had the luck of starting my first business during my university years. Meaning I had all the time in the world to try things out without having much downside risk (thanks to my biggest investors mom, dad and Dutch government).
We slowly built up a project business, meaning we could pay our freelancers with our clients money and build up a portfolio without having to worry about our own salaries for the first 3 years.
All the surplus went straight back into the business which by the end of my studies 4 years later meant we could start paying ourselves a small salary.
While building and growing my first company I was obsessed with the idea that I wanted to have some form of safeguard from suddenly having to look for a job, which I called “the Fuckup fund”.
I had as a rule of thumb that for each year that I worked I needed to be able not to work for at least 1 year (at a very low salary rate). Only thing is that of course now my expenses are much higher with a kid and a mortgage 😉
I did this by not paying myself too much and in good years we did start paying ourselves dividends.
This perspective really helped me feel comfortable taking increasingly large risks and kept me focussed on building whatever I thought was most important for my personal mission of building an empire of awesome companies.
Money as a primary investment in my 30s
Now that I am building something in my 30s, building a business looks very different.
I have to put into numbers how much risk I am willing to take for each project I go for.
That means digging into my Fuckup fund and then not look back and make the most out of the runway that buys me.
I have to set clear deadlines, milestones and cutoff points where we either have to look for alternative funding, pivot the business or reconsider the business as a whole.
3 things that helped me the most in knowing what is the right time to change are:
1. Having monthly check-in meetings with my partners to discuss financials, team decisions and product milestones.
2. Having a quarterly advisory board (read more about it here: https://misterawesome.nl/life-after-startup-how-i-got-the-best-advisory-board/)
3. Having weekly, monthly and quarterly check-ins with my pirate team, where we share open and honest reviews of where we are standing.
All this helps me keep track if the money we are investing is really yielding the most.
Becoming a money investor instead of a time investor
In a certain way I guess as an entrepreneur I have always been trained to think like an investor. Since all the time you put in is your own, the pain of having wasted lots of time into something that just doesn’t work is similar to that of putting money into a company that doesn’t take off.
However at first I would mostly invest my own time and think which projects and activities could yield us the highest return on my time.
Slowly however being an entrepreneur in a later stage of my life is forcing me to think differently.
Where the focus is how to put money and networks to work in a way that actually saves time, which now to me is a resource way more valuable than money.