Life after startup – the value of “slow connections”

Making connections is kinda what I do for a living these days. In a short amount of time I have met an incredible amount of very interesting people these past months.

However, even though all these connections are great for getting results, I would like to build a case for the value of building a handful of “slow connections” over a lifetime.

Slow connections are the kind of connections that you don’t actively seek for, or even have to make an effort to maintain, they just become a part of your life and eventually end up shaping your values and character.

Peter Laanen, is definitely one of those people for me.

Peter also goes by the name “The brand”, a nickname his colleagues gave him because of his charisma, and which he decided to keep in business and for his blog, because that’s just who he is.

So what does a “slow connection” look like?

Finding superconnectors

It’s a dark winter afternoon somewhere in mid December 2022 and I am going through my LinkedIn to see who else I should still invite to our superconnectors event in Groningen.

We need people with music backgrounds, optimists, and of course with lots of great connections.

Suddenly I think back of a really nice memory I have from a business trip to San Francisco back in the summer of 2013.

Meeting Peter Laanen, aka “The Brand

That’s where he was sitting right in front of me at the top of a tall building in downtown San Francisco, at the Netherlands business support office.

Peter, at that time was nearing his retirement. He had a big smile on his face, a mustache that spanned right along his big grin, a bald shiny head and a round belly that naturally gave him the calming and grandfatherly look that vaguely reminded me of Santa Claus.

“How can I help you guys?”

Two clueless 25 year old rookie entrepreneurs stared back at Peter.

“Eh, I guess we want to learn what it is like to do business in America”

Peter then went on to tell us all about the differences in culture, what industries were growing fast, and his own entrepreneurial adventures in the music business (there it is, the music connection!) in the US.

As we clearly felt we didn’t prepare very well, Peter just decided to go a step further, and just said:

“You know what, next week we have a small business event for Dutch companies in the US, why don’t you come by and I will let you guys pitch there, who knows who you might meet!”

Peter introducing us to pitch

To this day, that encounter really stuck with me. There was not a moment in that meeting that we felt Peter was rushed or not interested.

He devoted all his attention to us, and we felt that even with us being clueless, he knew exactly how to help.

After 2013

10 years passed after that trip, but somehow I kept in touch with Peter through Facebook at the time.

I would see how his passion for his Dutch footbal team Sparta grew as he moved back to the Netherlands and how he enjoyed life with his family dressing up as Sinterklaas (the Dutch Santa Claus) every year.

Sometimes I would write him a message or say hi, but we didn’t really find an opportunity to meet anymore.

Until I thought: let’s get Peter to come to the superconnectors event in Groningen.

I finally managed to speak to him on the phone, and there he was, The brand himself speaking to Mister awesome.

Peter had not changed one bit. I felt like the student that was trying to impress his professor with all the accomplishments of the past years and he laughed at my nickname “mister awesome”.

Peter in Groningen

Someone from the superconnectors team picked Peter up from his hometown and drove Peter to the event.

When he got into the room, which by then was filling up with the other superconnectors, I suddenly paused and smiled at him.

Peter was older, lost some weight and moved a bit slower but he had not lost his sense of humor and sharp mind.

He showed me a stack of papers with all the startup profiles with lots of scribbling and with his usual grin he said: “I did my homework Alex”.

Later on that evening, Peter would introduce an AI dj startup to a very famous DJ from the Netherlands and he made many new friends after the event.

“The brand” and “mister awesome” in Groningen

We decided to take him out to dinner with a close group of people that all celebrated Peters positive outlook on life. He would tell stories and halfway throughout the story burst into spontaneous singing.

As we drove back with Peter at the end of the evening we talked about the many things he still does.

Like writing his weekly blogs religiously (I had the privilege of appearing in his blog his “Laanen’s luim” twice) and being on several boards of the Dutch gaming industry.

Slow connections build character

So yeah, building big networks is useful and practical for many things in business, absolutely.

But I believe that it is equally valuable to surround yourself with a handful of people that truly emanate the values you believe are important.

Peter goes through life gracefully and is always ready to help others. He can be the life of the party but can also slow down and just spend time listening and making you feel like the only other person in the room.

If one day I manage to become like Peter, I know that I will have done alright by my values.

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