In Awaken the Giant Within, Danny describes his journey from ex-communism working class family in East Germany and its limitations to being an entrepreneur.
The last post we agreed on something worthwhile repeating:
Coincidences happen for a reason. Embrace serendipity to awaken the giant within.
Try not to be get dazzled by the things that others achieve. Be confident to follow YOUR way. Be open to new stuff. There may always be a new mentor, supporter, advocator or soulmate behind the next corner.
—This blog post is the second of a three-part series about my Entrepreneurial Awakening. A story that can inspire you to awaken the giant 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)
 Career start & Silicon Valley: Follow your heart!
After graduating in 2011, I applied to several strategy consultancies in Germany. I aim at building a network, savings, and knowledge. These expectations quickly turned into false illusions.
Early 2012: Career start
Being a consultant for corporates and medium-sized businesses didn’t bring me any closer to my goal — becoming an entrepreneur and starting a company. Quite the contrary! Because older corporations are based on Industrial Age mindsets and attitudes, I was forced to work with rotten technologies, and old German management habits and structures (just think of a mix of military, and Arnold Schwarzenegger).
I was exposed to 20th-century business mindsets each day — though living in a 21st century as a consumer. This contrast that was too extreme for me. Too daunting. I didn’t wanna handle it.
March 2012: Resignation
Besides these old regimes, I couldn’t stop thinking about Bjoern’s offer to come to California and work with him and his team. So … I quit after three months. I didn’t allow a great first job’s salary to bedazzle me. I took the leap and went to Silicon Valley instead. At this point, I didn’t stop anymore for any obstacle. Bjoern couldn’t pay me a salary. So I covered all my expenses.
What about my girlfriend (the one I shared this excellent Australia time with)? An obstacle yes … but … She told me that she’d rather prefer “a happy Danny far away in California than a miserable one next to her”. I’m still so grateful for this great move and genuinely fascinated by how much she put her ego aside. Thank you so much! You’re a real inspiration — Katharina!
April 2012: Moving to Silicon Valley
Looking back, my first job’s experience was a similar epiphany as my knee injuries that forced me to stop playing football and focus on University instead.
Thanks to … let’s say … hmm let’s be honest … my shitty career start at a consultancy, I was forced to realize what I really want. Only my bad experience as a consultant gave me the courage to drop everything and follow my entrepreneurial dream.
Back then, I was not sure how long I would stay in San Francisco. I planned for 3 to 6 months (tourist visa) to work with Bjoern and his co-founders – Max and Ertan – on Startup Genome (now: Compass.co). Our work resulted in three reports that you can download here:
- What are startups?
- Why do 9 out of 10 startups fail?
- Why do startup ecosystems lower the failure rate of startups?
Silicon Valley Experiences
I had an extremely exciting time in Silicon Valley — mostly thanks to Bjoern’s extensive network (Sandbox Network, Singularity University, NASA & SpaceX, and StartX). Besides my awesome experiences, I formed friendships with Ertan, Max, Tom, Ron and other people who are all ambassadors of our entrepreneurial society: be proactive and live your life in an independent manner.
Please let me give you an example of what type of journeys entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley take. Meet Tom Currier — a now 23-year-old guy with 2 patents, 3 startups and tons of experiences under his belt. After successfully starting Black Swan Solar, Tom became a Thiel Fellow — an initiative by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and the first outside investor in Facebook. Thiel Fellows get $100,000 if they drop out of university to focus on their startup. Tom worked on Campus — a co-working & co-living solution to the housing and community problems in Silicon Valley. It’s a mix of Stanford, Burning Man and Blackbox Mansion. In summer 2015 Tom closed Campus. I assume he is already looking for another opportunity to grab.
Silicon Valley Cults
In Silicon Valley, there is an extreme cult around software developers. No one thinks that business administration is necessary for building a company. To be honest, I often felt misplaced when geeks discussed technical stuff about 0’s and 1’s. I listened and asked myself if people really need that stuff.
For me, this atmosphere was and is quickly captivating — even though or maybe even more so it does not reflect reality for most other people around the world. It’s the reason why I have come back to Silicon Valley many times and regularly live here.
Silicon Valley is like tapping into the future — it’s that mindset and rare brave mentality that allows companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Salesforce to be built.
I strongly considered learning to code to dispel my sense of weakness. Only later I realized how important selling and marketing is. If you feel pressured to learn to code, please better understand your motives. If you like it, please — without a doubt — do it. If you don’t like and are only driven by career thoughts, please — without a doubt — don’t do it.
Always focus on strengthening your strengths — not making your weaknesses less weak. My strength is definitely not programming.
August 2012: Leaving Silicon Valley
Despite all my insecurities, I had a great summer in the Valley. It helped me to develop the courage and right mindset to start my own company. I realized, however, that I wanted to do that in Berlin. It seemed to me that it would be easier to leave a footstep there than in Silicon Valley.
Berlin has become a globally acknowledged hub for startups over the last year. Read more about it here. Based on my work on the 2012 Startup Ecosystem Report, Dr. Thomas Funke later offered me the chance to write a book contribution on this topic. Through this project and others, Thomas became a friend, mentor, and supporter.
—Lessons Learned from Silicon Valley: I learned a lot about technologies, entrepreneurship and the right startup founder mindset. Since then, I better understand the technological progress and how startups use the current Information Revolution to surpass industrially stamped corporations.
[Autumn of 2012 – 2013] Proposal & Wedding. My first startup: Live your dream — Danny!
After 3 months in California, I returned to Berlin in summer of 2012. I was euphoric and overwhelmed. Soon everyone was bugged with new apps and why Gmail is so much better than Yahoo or why I now save my data in the ‘cloud’.
I became a tech evangelist and tried to convert everyone around me. Of course, that’s wrong because everyone has their own speed of adopting new stuff. Sorry guys! I sometimes think that my well-being and childish curiosity must make me unbearable 😉 Thanks for sticking around!
Before starting my first startup, I proposed to my girlfriend. Before Silicon Valley, I had often asked myself ‘why marriage’? The Silicon Valley spirit taught me to turn that question around. I asked myself ‘why not?’ and couldn’t find good reasons.
Ever since, my default question to make decisions is: ‘Why not?’ — rather than ‘why?’
My First Startup
From my work at the Startup Genome reports I knew that an ideal founding team consists of two to three people and resembles tech as well as marketing know-how. I quickly found a job posting from two French engineers who were looking for a business co-founder. They successfully applied for Startupbootcamp Berlin — a global startup accelerator program. We agreed to use this program as a two-month trial phase for getting to know each other. Even though the accelerator time was extremely busy and stressful, I learned more than in 5 years studies (at least it’s how I felt).
—Lessons learned from my startup start: Your first entrepreneurial step should not be a tech startup if you haven’t done anything before. Start with a small side project. Offer freelance work. Since this experience, I mostly concentrate on gaining financial independence which, in turn, gives me emotional stability. That is the foundation of my entrepreneurial success.
Don’t wait as if there is a perfect moment. There isn’t. Know your options. Decide and start NOW.
[Spring 2014] Exiting Spotistic
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Spotistic after 18 months in summer 2014. I put together my 10 lessons learned in a separate post (Hint: Avoid mistake #4 at all costs!). Please feel free to check out my 18-month roller coaster ride.
More than a side note: Spotistic was acquired by uberall, a Berlin-based startup, in October 2015. I am euphoric for Victor and Maxence – my two former co-founders. An amazing next step in their startup journey.
@Both: Chapeau! Bien fait!
—Lessons learned from my first startup: Too many … really. You probably hate me already because this post is way too long. Hence, I put together my learning’s in a separate post. Feel free to check it out here.
Any startup is extremely hard — don’t make it more difficult by choosing the wrong people right from the start. Here are 6 questions that may guide and might help you in either choosing the right co-founders or evaluating your current founding team.
— Coming next, I summarize my transition to my next projects — how I discovered my values, talents, goals and a mission that guide my future entrepreneurial actions.
- Steve Blank: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
- Sam Altman: Y Combinator’s startup class
- 500 Startups: Interviews of their founders
- Startupbootcamp Berlin
- 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
- About Danny Holtschke: My Entrepreneurial Awakening (Part 3)
- What I wish I knew when I was 20
- How To Be A Successful Entrepreneur