Many people want to become entrepreneurs, yet little do they know about what it takes to get there. This talk unfolds a part of the story of Sander Koppelaar, an inspiring entrepreneur who lives in Amsterdam and who has travelled the world to discover new cultures and learn about himself. He runs a co-working space in the heart of the city called Boven De Balie, as well as Launchdesk: a Dutch ‘Airbnb for office space’. He’s genuine, open-minded and straight-forward, and talked to me about his travel experiences, business advice and culture in Amsterdam. Keep reading if you want to discover how a successful and young entrepreneur thinks and lives.
I know you travelled for a whole year in 20 countries and then lived in Paris for another year. I would like to start our conversation from that point. What are the experiences that stayed with you after these 2 years?
The whole experience was great – I loved seeing so many different cultures. You know, the trigger and what bothered me before leaving was that there were many countries that I had no idea about. What I loved about travelling was seeing all these different cultures, going to places that were not always nice, but still interesting to see. I visited countries such as Japan, South and North Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. Because I did it by myself, I could be spontaneous and decide at any moment what I wanted to do and that was very liberating for me. It was me who was in control and I had to depend on myself to make the journey good, so I couldn’t point at anything or anyone, and then my true character really came out.
When it comes to travelling and living abroad, there were many times when I felt that I needed to overcome fears. Have you ever had any fears and how did you conquer them?
I’m not sure if I had any fears, but what I do know is that I had very set ideas about certain things. I’ve learned to open up more to suggestions from other people, or do things that I would usually dismiss for whatever reason. One example is eating street-food. Before I used to pick a nice restaurant, find it online; stuff like that, and now I try to find the shittiest-looking restaurant with a lot of locals in it and then you know you really found great local food. It’s not a fear, but it’s a strong belief that I completely changed.
Talking about beliefs, what are the beliefs you live by?
Live and let live. Everyone should do whatever they want, as long as it’s not hurting other people, and one should also let others be who they are and who they want to become. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s nice that everybody is different and I think that if everybody judged less, everyone would be happier. So in a word, freedom is my core belief.
How do you create a life around this value?
There are times when I have it less and there are times when I have it more. You always make a tradeoff between short-term goals and long-term ones. So my short-term goals are: being free, being able to travel, having fun with my friends, playing sports, eating well; the things that to me, make life good. But I also have long-term goals and mine are related to business and being location independent, not many people to depend on me, being financially independent. To reach those kinds of goals, I need to invest. And sometimes, we need to choose: I am now in Amsterdam – I could have travelled the world but I couldn’t have run the business as I do it know. So there’s this balance between short-term and long-term goals.
How did you start your business and how would you describe it?
About 7 years ago I started a co-working space – I was looking for an office for myself and I found a really great place on the canals in a beautiful building. Then I thought that I could rent it and see if other people would want to work there as well, in a place where normally you couldn’t afford. I started the business with a Dutch guy who just came back from Switzerland and then he left as his business grew and somebody else joined. Three years ago, we noticed that the market had changed from long contracts and deals through real-estate agents into a more flexible and sub-lending one. So we decided to make a change and start Launchdesk. The point is that at the beginning we started with the basics and then, as the problems arose, we learned to manage them and that’s how we grew.
You have been running your own business for 10 years. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
You need to do something that you really enjoy. Money should not be the main motivation because the first few years are going to be a big struggle. Everything will be going slower than you hoped and things are more complicated than you thought. It will take a long time before it becomes a successful business. There are exceptions, but even the success-stories you read about had struggles in the beginning. So you must truly enjoy it because if you don’t, you would probably not have the motivation to pursue your goal to fruition.
Now I would like to ask you about the Dutch life. How would you describe the culture and the lifestyle in Amsterdam?
First of all I think it’s a difference between the culture in a capital and in the country as a whole. Amsterdam is a liberal city where people are accepted for who they are, it is quite small with less than 1 million inhabitants. There’s a lot of culture, especially in the summer when there are many events and festivals going on. Amsterdam is a young and international with a significant percentage of foreigners and the culture is an individual one. In general people prefer to stick to their well-known relationships rather than inviting out new people, as for instance Spanish locals usually do.
Hope you discovered new ideas from these conversation and if so, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Want more interviews? Check out these too:
1. Conversation with Paul Olteanu on the role of personal development, a personal story on vulnerability, and what mindful living is about.
2. In dialog with Adela Iepure on how she transformed a major failure into a personal discovery process and later into a professional career.
Thank you for reading and sharing.