A few weeks ago I was contacted and given the question whether I might be interested to write a blog about entrepreneurship. Yes, definitely, I am always among the first to share my opinion and experience about this topic. In 2014 I finished my Master in Entrepreneurship in Amsterdam, which was a joint-degree at both the VU and UvA. The choice to follow this new Master program was mainly because I got involved in several new projects in the year before, which fuelled my interest to learn more about the dynamics of entrepreneurship.
Three years later, some of these projects failed and some of them have been successful, and I honestly learned a lot from all of them. During my Master I learned more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how you can increase the chances of being successful. Of course, this is all theory. One of my friends always made a joke that it is hard to imagine that the professors of the Universities can teach you something about being a successful entrepreneur, since they would rather be a successful entrepreneur themselves if they would know the right answer. And I have to be honest, reading a book from Elon Musk might be more meaningful and inspiring than most of the lectures.
Until I finished my bachelor at the University of Tilburg, I was this lazy type of student who wasn’t really interested to develop and explore opportunities around me. I still remember one day that I travelled back in the weekend with a friend, and I concluded that I wanted to change and try to get things started. I’m still very happy that I had this revelation, whereafter I decided to have a typical gap year before starting my Master. I decided to go on an Erasmus in Norway and got an internship at a FinTech startup in Amsterdam.
Besides the fact that both experiences developed me as a person, I got involved in many different projects throughout this year, such as Business Incubation Program Africa, a student project started in Norway that aimed to assist young African entrepreneurs in setting up their own business. I also started my own tutor company and initiated a network community for students in my home region. All this together made my year extremely busy, but rewarding. I started these initiatives because I felt passionate about it and wanted to invest time in it. At some point, I was just working the entire day unless I had some social stuff to do. I was not bothered to work for more than 12 hours per day.
All those involvements during my gap year have shaped me more than completing my studies and gave me more insights in what I want to do after I graduate. In this period I talked with many young entrepreneurs and people who were seeking for new opportunities. Because of these talks and experiences, I believe that there is a hidden entrepreneur in every young person. In my opinion, there are three important aspects you need to consider to become one.
First of all, you need to have this entrepreneurial mindset. Starting something up yourself takes time and you need to be a very flexible person. It sounds very logic, but you really need to be persistent and believe in what you are doing. This brings me to a second aspect, which is that you only should dive into a project if you really enjoy it. The most successful entrepreneurs succeed because they strived for something they care about or followed their passion. Like Elon Musk quoted once: ‘’If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it’’. A final third lesson is that I believe you need to be a social animal to have higher chances to succeed. Here, I don’t suggest that you need to network a lot, but it’s more about the listening and learning part. Nothing is perfect in the beginning, and by being open minded for other opinions and feedback you meet the right people and will connect with them. Especially when you are starting up something yourself, this is very important to prevent your ideas from having only your perspective. So if you have a flexible mindset, are passion-driven and a social animal, I see no reason why you shouldn’t start doing projects you always thought about.
As you might notice, I’m not going to tell you how you become a successful entrepreneur, it’s just that everyone can become one. I started to admire people that pulled off great initiatives and strived for things that they perceived important during my final bachelor year. Because I felt the inner motivation to start something as well, I discussed with a good friend what we would like to do. Since we both liked the idea of starting a tutor company in our home region, we decided to start this in the way it would fit with us as a person: flexible and social. We also wanted to differentiate from larger tutor organizations, by offering lessons in the most flexible and social way. This resulted in a philosophy that students and parents can ask for as much hours of tutoring where and when they want. Additionally, we decided to build a team of young bright students who are social and smart. If a tutor is socially awkward, lessons get inefficient and uncomfortable.
Although I did not invent something innovative, I feel happy and energized every day to develop this tutor company. We are expanding to new cities and even launched a special project ‘Crossing Borders’. Because I started to think more about the current state of education of the Netherlands compared to other countries, I want my tutors to learn more from other realities. This project gives the best tutors of SmartStart the opportunity to do a Volunteering project abroad related to education. In May the first tutor is going to Indonesia to teach children about cultural differences.
Of course, there is a lot more to mention besides having the right mindset and being social and passion driven. I feel that everybody who is willing to meet these three requirements, will have the right motivation and level of energy to at least try to become successful as an entrepreneur. Other soft- and hard skills can be complemented by finding the right people around you and those people will only be interested if you have the right motivation and can convince them with your passion.
So, coming back to all this. SmartStart is something I started with a friend because we enjoyed being a tutor ourselves and believed that we could set up a successful tutor organization. Along the way I got more passionate about education and what opportunities exist in this area. Together with all the great tutors that are currently working, I have been able to start expanding to other student cities. Next semester we plan to expand to Den Bosch and Tilburg, so if you want to become part of the SmartStart team, don’t hesitate and ask me how you can get your entrepreneurial chance in my organisation.