Founding a startup is messy, proves this honest podcast series

It’s weird how the human brain works: there are hundreds of thousands honest startup stories to be told, but I only listen to the glimmering billion dollar successes. I only compare my own endeavours with the ones of Zuckerberg’s and the Systrom’s, desperately reading their lessons to apply them to my own companies.

I remember being the first week of having conversations with investors – somewhere in 2012 – of one of the most insecure periods in my life. The anxiety and the insecurity these talks arose in me; I hadn’t seen any of that when acquaintances easily raised rounds of  a million dollars or more.

But of course, they’ve felt the same. It’s just that as soon as they raised that money, their companies became part of the global and sunny startup myth.

That’s why I love this new Startup podcast series by Alex Blumberg, who was a producer for This American Life and as co-founder of the business-economics series Planet Money. He wants to build a company for quality podcasting and shares his journey – conversations with his wife, awkward negotiations with his co-founder and a disastrous pitch session with Chris Sacca – with his listeners.

It’s intimate, recognizable and brave. Hope it helps you too:


Dear Guardian, these are our experiences with membership events

During a reader’s event, Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian asked the audience two questions:

A fair number were happy to be subscribers, but the most hands shot up when asked if they would like to be “members”.

Therefore, The Guardian now offers memberships, which basically allows people to get in touch with journalists and visit events, for which the newspaper is renovating a huge event space near their newsroom:

The new event space of The Guardian
Photograph: John Sturrock

I love this move for two reasons

  1. Journalists shouldn’t regard their public as passive readers but as potential contributing experts. 3.000 doctors know more than one medical journalist (read more about that here)
  2. Journalism events rock. At De Correspondent for example, we organized an evening called ‘War for dummies‘ – where attendees could ask questions to war refugees -, a crypto party where twenty hackers gave security advice to two hundred people who showed up with their laptops, and our photography editor gave tours through the Amsterdam photography museum. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch with our readers.
De Correspondent crypto party. Photo: Bas Losekoot
De Correspondent crypto party. Photo: Bas Losekoot

One challenge though: how do you scale such a strategy? We have 36.000 members, but most events host a maximum of 200, sometimes 400.

Or should we rely on a relatively small group of really enthusiastic members?

An update from De Correspondent’s renewal campaign

We’re in the midst of our renewal campaign at De Correspondent. In spring 2013, 18.933 pioneers backed our crowdfunding campaign for a daily antidote against the hypes of the day (read more about this world record in journalism crowdfunding). We went live on September 30th, 2013, and now these founding members will have to decide whether they’d like to support us for a second year. Already 8.000 have done so. When 10.000 members keep backing us, we’ll be safe for year two.

If you’d like to get to know De Correspondent better, here’s one of the articles we’ve translated from Dutch to English: Why we should give free money to everyone.

And here’s our campaign video with subtitles:

Ezra Furman and The Boy-Friends, I haven’t forgotten about you

Last weekend, I wandered around in the woods of a small Dutch island. At the intimate festival called Into the Great Wide Open (only 6,000 attendees), concerts take place in the forests and at the beach. On Sunday, I stumbled upon a concert by Ezra Furman and The Boy-Friends and was captured by the incredible charismatic stage presence of Furman and the energy in his music. He combines garage rock with a hillbilly sound and a saxophone. When Furman started playing the field was mainly empty, apart from some scattered groups of people having a picnics. At the end of his gig, hundreds of people were dancing. During songs, Furman preached:

‘What’s great about a festival is that the only thing that matters now is the band your listening to. You have forgotten everything before this, and won’t think about the future. Until the gig is over. Then you should forget about us too. But for now, it’s all about us’.

Damn right, Ezra Furman, it’s just that I haven’t forgotten about you.

Couldn’t find a good live recording, so here’s one from the Dutch radio station he went after his festival show:

And find him on Spotify here.

PS. For those of you who live in Amsterdam as well: he  plays at Paradiso tonight.

Patti Smith gives advice to the young

A friend alerted me to this interview with Patti Smith – the epitome of punk cool – from 2012. She encourages young people to ignore everybody (‘don’t expect to be embraced’), to build a good name (‘protect your work, don’t compromise’), don’t be afraid for big audiences (‘the more people you can touch, the more wonderful it is’) and enjoy the great moments, since you’ll be ‘really fucked’ at some point in your life anyway.

PS. If you haven’t read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids yet, please do as soon as possible. It’s filled with anecdotes about New York in the seventies and tells the struggle of an artist in a touching and raw way.

How to become ‘completely free’

“Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”
Christopher Knight aka The Last Hermit

Fascinating and detailed story in GQ about a man who wandered the woods of Maine from 1986, until he got captured in 2013.

Michael Bloomberg once again reigns over Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg (72) leads Bloomberg again. He planned on focusing on philanthropy, but had too much fun walking around in the Bloomberg building. Here’s what the former CEO has to say about it:

“Mike is kind of like God at the company. He created the universe. He issued the Ten Commandments and then he disappeared. And then he came back. You have to understand that when God comes back, things are going to be different. When God reappeared, people defer.”

This is the most impressive documentary about journalism I’ve seen so far

On this blog, I’ve been collecting movies about journalism (part 1, part 2). Those lists consist of powerful and beautiful films, yet none of them show the importance of journalism as the documentary I heard about this week, called Nero’s Guests (2009).

It depicts the quest of Indian journalist Palagummi Sainath, who writes about the staggering amount of suicides amongst cotton farmers. In a country where most media just report on celebrities, he fights for getting poverty on the agenda. Not just by writing, but also by giving speeches.

During the documentary, he gives an impressive speech on inequality and it’s this talk that the film owes its title to.

Please, find an hour to watch this film. Not just for the sake of journalism, but also for the suffering of Indian farmers.

This psychedelic thing called the opera

During my studies, one professor always expressed his admiration for the opera. When he did, I always pictured the cliché: a grand lady in a red dress, endlessly singing something in Italian.

I was wrong.

Thanks to the welcoming people at the Dutch National Opera I have now seen three operas in the last couple of years. They where all, well.., pretty psychedelic.

Yesterday, when I visited Gurre Lieder, I saw a giant fish floating over the stage, while a futuristic jester walked around with a giant white balloon, a tormented king lied for dead on the ground and hundreds of soldiers paraded with their dead horses. Meanwhile, this all took place in a decor which reminded me both of an apocalyptic wasteland and of a palace.

I could easily describe the other two operas I’ve seen in the same way (Einstein on the Beach and Faust), but at the same time I realize my focus on the psychedelic is also a beginner’s trait. I hope, after enough training, I will also come to appreciate the music and singing more.


Taking notes while exploring the future of publishing