Life after Startup – Fresh startup obsession

The first of many Superconnectors DEMO Dinners to come


“This week I have had 56 WhatsApp conversations” I proudly tell my wife.

My wife rolls her eyes and says: “You’re obsessed..”

I am referring to the huge amount of connections I have approached (a part of them via WhatsApp) to share our big plans for Superconnectors with.

I have been sharing brochures with potential sponsors, collecting feedback from entrepreneurs, interviewing other event organizers from franchised events like TED and Fuckupnights.

And like a big sponge I am trying to assimilate as much context and information about this industry as possible, as if my life depended on it.

So technically speaking my wife is right, I am obsessed, but I believe it’s obsession in a good way.

The simplicity of starting over

I haven’t started something new from the ground up like this in many years, and boy have I missed it.

The simplicity of the goals is addictive at this stage. You get to think beyond all limitations of what is realistic or not and the only restriction are the amount of hours in a day.

To give you an idea, within the next 4 months I want to have organized 10 dinners in 10 Dutch cities with 10 Superconnectors and 3 startups. The goal is to DEMO the Superconnectors event to stakeholders, sponsors, press, startups and Superconnectors involved, to enable a successful national competition in 2023.

Connecting with 150 well selected people that can give awesome input on the concept, is no small task. I need to find people in 10 regions of the Netherlands, ask them to connect me to some people locally and then quickly work my way through all those local networks to really make for an interesting local event demonstration.

Figuring out the puzzle of how to do this effectively and with limited resources is exhilarating.

Three stages of innovation

This obsession phase is what I would call: Revolution. Basically it’s a state of healthy obsession where as an entrepreneur I set simple but highly motivating and achievable goals. It feels like a revolution, which is why the analogy between the early stages of a startup and a Pirate ship is not very far off: rules and perfection are the enemy, and speed is your biggest friend.

For a long time as a young entrepreneur, I was convinced that having a startup was mostly this kind of highly dynamic gut based entrepreneurship. However over time I realized just how much of the startup journey was actually about moving on from that phase and build onto that early foundation.

It was around 7 years into the journey of Funk-e that I felt a bit frustrated. I kept wanting to start new companies or completely new divisions, and I couldn’t understand why I was now constantly needed for other things.

This is when my previous business partner gave me the following explanation, which we have used as a common language ever since.

He said that basically there are three levels in which you can innovate:

+10 innovation, or a Revolution

+5 innovation, or Evolution

+1 innovation, or Optimization

The Revolution phase for me is the most exciting phase. This is technically what most startups go through before they actually achieved a stable customer base. They try to fundamentally change an industry or really shake things up in a market, and they need to do it all at lightning speed.

The Evolution phase is that moment where you actually have paying customers, but now you need to fundamentally change a big part of your business to stay ahead of the competition. For example in 2017 Funk-e moved into internal communication consulting instead of only making animated videos. These large strategic shifts take several years before you are proven right and require confidence in the series of choices that you made.

And then finally the Optimization phase which is when you are constantly improving how you make the process of delivering your established product better or more efficient every day, to stay ahead of the competition. I believe the Dutch e-commerce giant Coolblue is a good example of this. Always innovative in making their service just a bit better and put a smile on your face. Everyone in the company gets to think along and apply it to their own environment.

How one phase morphs into another

After leading my own startup for more than 10 years, I have experienced all these phases pretty much sequentially (Revolution, Evolution, Optimization) in intervals of 3-4 years at the time. Sometimes moving back from Optimization to Evolution, but rarely back to Revolution.

After the first crazy roller coaster years, we would find a stable basis to grow and transform in a more calculated way. And over time the changes would become smaller but more frequent and with more confidence.

Also as we grew more established, the changes also were less panicky and innovation started coming much more from all directions in the company rather than a few innovative individuals.

Entrepreneur stuck in a managers body

The more my company was nearing the third stage, the more I started feeling out of place. I would constantly try to re-invent a process that didn’t need to be questioned at all times anymore or focus on the sexy new thing instead of improving what was already there.

I didn’t feel like an entrepreneur anymore, and I felt like I was doing management work more than the new stuff. What my team needed was focus and direction, and my urge for revolution and change was becoming a distraction.

This was the moment that I realized that the best thing I could do for my company (and for myself) was to get out of the way. And after establishing the structures necessary for me to leave (see article: my 9 year journey in taking distance) I handed over all my management responsibilities and started over.

Going beyond an empty canvas

Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine about how appealing the idea can be for an entrepreneur to have an empty canvas again.

I can tell you that it is not easy to completely let go of something I have built for such a long time. It brings a lot of insecurity with it initially, and all without a clear goal for the next step.

The first 6 months of this year I didn’t have a clear obsession, and just like an artist I would stare frustrated at my now empty canvas that I had so badly craved for a long time, but now didn’t know what to fill it with.

But the magical moment is when those first strokes are applied and the idea of what the final result could actually look like start becoming clear. Then I become singleminded again in my pursuit of finishing and creating what I know it can be.

God I love it, that fresh startup obsession.

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