In Awaken the Entrepreneur Within, Danny describes his journey from ex-communism working class family in East Germany and its limitations to being an entrepreneur.
“Go on and finally live your dream, Danny!”
Over the years, my inner voice became louder and louder. Mistakenly — I assumed that there would be a perfect time for starting a company. That I could prepare to be an entrepreneur. Preparing through several career steps, like being a consultant and by reading a lot.
—Now I know: The perfect timing is an illusion.
You can prepare, though, but not by reading or doing consultancy. You must create. You must start acting entrepreneurially. To become an entrepreneur you must start creating, building, doing, …
It always starts with the first step. Create something. It doesn’t matter. Just do something and don’t wait for a better time — as I did for too long!
Please accept …
That there is NO perfect timing — really for anything in life. Not for growing up. Not for becoming a parent. Not for dying. Not for awakening the Entrepreneur within. There is only one important point: The beginning of a journey.
—This blog post is the first of a three-part series about my Entrepreneurial Awakening. A story that can inspire you to awaken the Entrepreneur within as well. I describe my journey — from ex-communism working class family in East Germany and its limitations to being an entrepreneur. If I can do it, you surely can do it, too.
- Part: My Entrepreneurial Awakening (1997 – 2012)
- Part: My Entrepreneurial Awakening (2012 – 2014)
- Part: My Entrepreneurial Awakening (2014 – 2015)
WARNING #1: I am infected. High startup fever!
Hi, my name is Danny (Twitter @DannyHoltschke). I promised myself: To live a healthy, free and financially independent life. I am working hard to make my entrepreneurial dreams come true. Hence, I’m avoiding corporations and managers because I hate being bossed around like a fool.
With StartupGeist, I combine my experience of starting a startup, authoring several reports about what makes startups and startup hubs successful, and coaching startups in Berlin and San Francisco.
It’s a knowledge base in a snackable, actionable 80/20 format to help students and would-be startup founders to start … well … anything: either a startup, blog, podcast or any form of business.
It’s all about doing. StartupGeist helps you apply startup best practices and success principles to your project! In turn, you will build entrepreneurial skills — mostly soft skills and grow personally. You will outgrow lazy fellow students or colleagues that don’t do.
WARNING #2: This series is nothing more than personal diary entries.
I wrote this three post series for myself. Consider them diary entries that I have openly shared with you.
Firstly, because I know that I want to learn from my experiences and lessons learned as much as I can. Journaling and writing down is one way. Speaking about it is another.
Secondly, because I aim at visualizing success principles. Then, I practice a lot to master and transform them into the right habits for myself. I believe in building the right habits to increase my chances for success.
Thirdly, because I want to inspire my own future children (does it sound creepy to say ‘hello’ already, maybe a bit right? Anyway, ‘hello unforeseen kid’). They might better understand how their dad thought when he was 30 and how he spent his time (not having kids earlier lol).
Fourthly, because — equally important to inspiring my future kids — I want to encourage you to take ACTION. Act on your dreams. Act on your thoughts. Don’t let them be stuck in your head. Allow them to come out.
Fifthly, because whatever the heck is going on up there in your head: Take it, imagine it, and publish/do/create/build. Helping you to do so would mean the most to me. To see how someone — like you — starts and acts based on the stuff I provide, oh God, I can’t think of anything more fulfilling in life — in the digital sense, of course 😉
I hope you get some value out of my personal journey that I share with dignity, authenticity, and integrity. Because I grant you access to my insights and stuff that generally only friends and family — if at all — would have access to.
Please be invited to learn as much as I do from writing these lines. Become part of my journey and please share your story, too — either by leaving a comment below or by emailing me. I promise to post every story I receive.
I would love to publish and learn from your story, too.
So be it. Let’s start!
[1997 – 2004] School: A Career as a professional football player will always be a dream.
When I was 14, I watched my uncle build his company. That was when I started to feel that I wanted to become an entrepreneur myself. Neither my family nor my friends, however, encouraged that dream. Quite the contrary!
My post-communist East German working class family and environment expected me to find a safe and permanent employment — preferably at the government (where my mom works) or at one of the big German carmakers like Daimler, Volkswagen or BMW.
My desire remained nothing but a dream for a long time. Moreover, I was too busy playing football (American readers feel free to read *soccer*). I was and am so passionate about football.
It was my dream as a kid. A burning desire to become a professional football player. Even though I made it into the junior team of the German football association, I grew too quickly in body size (I am nearly 2m/6.6 feet) and suffered too many injuries. Admittedly, I wasn’t good enough either. But I like the first reason more 😉
Let’s shift gears from dreaming to stuff I actually needed to do. School! I was extremely proud when I got a top mark though I had only prepared for 70%. Only when I became an entrepreneur, I understood that you need a 100% commitment to be successful. Not 70%, not 80%, not 90% — you need 150%.
—Lessons Learned From my Schooldays: You always have to be ready to give 100% — no matter what you do. I didn’t see that back then. Now I embrace the 100% commitment principle.
[2004 – 2009] Bachelor’s degree in Berlin: Soft skills are more important than hard skills.
In the autumn of 2004, I started my Bachelor’s Degree. Because I didn’t know better, I started ‘Business Administration’ at the Berlin School of Economics and Law.
I enjoyed optional courses about soft skills much more than anything else. That’s why I didn’t focus much on my course work as I started to realize back then that soft skills are the only true skills — unlike marketing trends or commercial law (#YUCK!), they’ll always change.
So … I read books on ‘presenting’ (e.g. ‘The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs’), ‘persuading’ (e.g. ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’, ‘selling’ (e.g. ‘Getting to YES’), ‘managing time’ (e.g. ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’), ‘personal growth’ (e.g. ‘Think and Grow Rich’) or ‘building a company’ (e.g. Built to Last and Good to Great).
August 2007: Studying abroad
In August 2007, I studied abroad for 5-months in Fresno, California. Coming from a small University and even smaller campus, the Fresno campus felt HUGE — like everything in the U.S. During that time I met my soulmate Alex who later became my groomsman.
Until that point, I liked to think of myself as a ‘sleeping giant’ that had to be somehow awoken. As if I didn’t have the power to do so, but needed someone else. Now #funny, back hard reality. I hope you realize that’s so wrong.
You always have the power to start, change, improve, believe, grow, … NOW. No one else is needed — except YOU.
Back then, however, Alex helped me with his energy and many inspirations. We often need to be pushed from mentors. Find one. Find other awesome people that inspire — preferably in your age and older and not necessarily in your ‘domain’. Look everywhere.
Back to Alex. He gave me audio books from Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy, and many others. I can’t remember how many times I listened to them. There were extremely helpful. I wrote many summaries to internalize this endless stream of wisdom. *lol*
February 2008: KPMG
In February 2008, I began an obligatory 6-month internship as a public accountant at KPMG. I liked accounting because of my great teacher Prof Dr. Sorg, who made it incredibly appealing. Two things about my internship, however, annoyed me: (1) getting thrilled by finding other people’s mistakes and (2) not creating anything. I only checked and checked and checked. I realized that this isn’t the work I want to do.
Autumn 2008: Daimler
In fall 2008, I worked for Daimler in one of their controlling departments. I know that it’s dumb, and I feel like laughing about it now… I mean, I went into controlling although controlling was precisely what I disliked while I worked for KPMG!
In any case, my goal was to see the corporate world. Shortly after I started, the economy collapsed. Lehmann-Brothers-bankruptcy happened. Like most companies, Daimler was f*cked — in an extreme state of shock. In fact, the whole economy was.
People were fired or pushed into part-time contracts. And worst of all: People who had served Daimler faithfully for decades found themselves on the street overnight.
I realized that I could only be a small cog in a big corporate engine — always no matter my title.
I didn’t want that.
That’s why my motto became: Never work for corporates.
I don’t need that false security offered by the ‘big boys’.
Spring 2009: Volkswagen
In spring of 2009, my volleyball-buddy Peter Walde asked me if I’d like to help him develop a business model for a new technology he created at Volkswagen. Back then, neither did I know the term ‘business model’, nor did I get his ‘technology for the strategic early detection of trends’.
Anyway, I thought … Let’s give it a try. It was my first step into entrepreneurship — mainly focusing on business model design and innovation. I got really excited. My supervisor was Prof. Dr. Sven Ripsas — an Entrepreneurship Professor in Berlin. At this time, I didn’t know that we would later work on exciting projects and do Yoga together.
I’m also still working together with Peter as a consultant for his company MapEgy.com. Peter and Sven are my mentors who I trust a lot. And thankfully, they showed tremendous trust in me over the years. @Sven & Peter: Thank you so much for support and trust!
—Lessons learned from Bachelor’s Degree: Take nothing for granted. Nothing lasts forever — specifically, corporates can’t ensure secure jobs. What a weird mindset! Everyone’s just chasing the quarterly results that the stock market expects. Is this chase worth my life No! My decision: Never go corporate again. I don’t need their false security.
[2009 – 2010] ‘Work & Travel’ in Australia: Long-term thinking always pays off!
While I worked for Daimler, my girlfriend Kathi and I decided to take some time off after our graduation. We wanted to escape the impending career rat race by traveling. We went to Australia, New Zealand, and South-East Asia.
We each saved €2,500 beforehand. So, we knew we would need to work. To our surprise, we didn’t know how much money we could make with unskilled agricultural labor. Australia has the highest global minimum wage in the world! While we picked apples in Tasmania, for instance, we made $250 a day.
During that time, I talked a lot to farmers. I discovered the principle of long-term thinking. Farmers had to back up for at least 2 seasons because they could be affected anytime by a natural catastrophe. This farsightedness felt like a refreshing alternative to Daimler and KPMG for me — in a system that is driven by quarterly races to please the stock market.
Working in the countryside also brought me closer to nature. Getting up at sunrise or following a few sudden rains, I realized that an office job was not so bad after all …
I will never ever complain about the desk or chair anymore. I promise … lol Nevertheless in these harsh weather conditions, work went by much quicker than it had done doing office work. It was so refreshing not to look at my watch every 15 minutes.
The journey also helped me to build a great relationship with my girlfriend. In Cairns — northeast Australia — we lived with a weird artist who showed us how to paint and tried to get us into … well … this story I reserve for another time.
—Lessons Learned From ‘Work & Travel’: Long-term thinking and values like endurance, courage and patience will always pay off in the long run. Even if others seem to overtake you, these values help you to build a stable financial and emotional fundament. In today’s fast-moving world, patience is a virtue.
[2010 – 2011] Master’s degree in Maastricht: Entrepreneurial skills can be learned and therefore taught.
In Tasmania, I prepared my application for a master’s degree in the Netherlands. I wanted to limit the time to study to one year and didn’t want to live in Germany. In Maastricht, I fell back into the old rat-race mindset. I was not strong enough. The first few months were very intense. I had to learn a lot, adjust to the study workload and handle the cultural shock (laid back Australia vs. C.V.-driven business students).
Autumn 2010: Maaslife
In autumn of 2010, I started to work at Maaslife.nl — an info-portal for students. We were a team of 5 people who replaced the original founding team.
Actively doing something is great! Back then, I met Philipp Stelzer with whom I worked together at Maaslife. Until today, we regularly exercise together (when I am in Berlin).
Spring 2011: Startup Genome Project
He revealed his newest insights about startups — a topic that I didn’t know much about back then. I felt inspired by Bjoern analyzing how tomorrow’s innovations are created by startups.
The results he revealed turned into the Startup Genome project, that in turn, turned into a company today — called Compass. Bjoern — I send you some energy and wish you nothing more than success! I am sure we will hear from him — sooner or later.
July 2011: Master’s Thesis
In July of 2011, I finished my Master’s Thesis about ‘Business Model Design and Innovation through Effectuation’. I compared the mindsets of managers versus entrepreneurs.
He later invited me to work on the 2012 Startup Ecosystem Report with him (I guess he liked my thesis … 🙂
Coincidences happen for a reason. Embrace serendipity to awaken the giant within.
Since then, Bjoern has become a friend, great supporter, mentor and fellow burner. I can’t stress enough how much it means to have such influential mentors in my life. I really appreciate it! Thank you, Bjoern! You will later see, how I now work together with him. It all started at that conference. #sweet
—Lessons learned from my Master’s Degree: Embrace serendipity. By accident, I met Bjoern at a conference and won him over as one of my thesis experts. Now we work together, and he supports me a lot. Since then, I believe more than ever that it is my inner compass guiding my decisions!
— Coming next, I summarize my Silicon Valley experience in 2012, the cult around software developers and how I solved my little business men syndrome (—hint: someone who can’t code is considered less valuable in Silicon Valley and maybe everywhere soon). And find out why I left my first startup after 18 months.
- Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends & Influence People
- Roger Fisher & William Ury: Getting to YES
- Bjoern Lasse Herrmann: 2012 Startup Ecosystem Report
- Stephen R Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Napoleon Hill: Think and Grow Rich
- Jim Collins: Built to Last and Good to Great
- Tony Robbins: From Personal Development to Career Advancement | Awaken The Giant Within
Next on StartupGeist
- StartupGeist: My Entrepreneurial Awakening (Part 2)
- StartupGeist: What I wish I knew when I was 20
- StartupGeist: How To Be A Successful Entrepreneur