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Don Ritzen is among initial pioneers (together with James Digby and Pedro Santos) of bringing the concept of Startup Weekend to the Netherlands in 2010 after participating in Startup Weekend Copenhagen the same year. He had quite an experience since the

Don Ritzen, the pioneer of Startup Weekend in the Netherlands
Don Ritzen, the pioneer of Startup Weekend in the Netherlands

team he joined, Memolane, ended up winning the event, having VC’s in the jury falling over each other to hand their business cards and raising $2M from the founders of Skype and Atomico. 

After helping to kick Startup Weekend off the ground in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Eindhoven he decided to start Rockstart Accelerator which has supported 58 startups and helped to raise a total of 24M funding.

Being a sneaky person, I decided to disturb Don’s busy fundraising schedule, and chat with him about startups and weekends.

Don, do you see any differences between the first and the current Startup Weekend (SW) in the Netherlands?

At the most recent Dutch SWs, the ideas have become of much higher quality, there is way less ideas on typical apps that you can see everyday popping out. Also, people have progressed a lot: they no longer keep the ideas to themselves, are not afraid to share and discuss, and pitch with great pleasure and confidence. So today’s SW is much more focused on developing, improving people skills that are used definitely later on in the entrepreneurial field.

In your opinion, to whom is SW oriented?

For those who have already been in the startup scene for some time, it helps to mature as a person and go confidently to the next stage. For the first-timers in the tech entrepreneurship, it is a fascinating experience. Even if you don’t possess any IT skills, you still can create something IT-wise during an actual weekend! I say, just come here, we will fix you with the interesting and creative people, make a plan and just to do it.

Why do you think SW is still going on? NB. SW Utrecht will celebrate its 5th anniversary on 13-15  November!

SW has been a life-changer for many of its participants. I’ve seen people quit their full-time jobs to continue with an idea the very next day or bring the concept of SW to another cities and countries (hi to SW Cologne organizer Vidar Andersen!). Well, it’s true that most of the ideas die after SW, but the point is to get ignited to do something that you never believed you could or would actually do. There is this life spiral of SW newbies turning into mentors, speakers, judges who burn with a passion to give back the valuable experience they have accumulated to the wannabe entrepreneurs.  

Describe SW in 3 keywords.

Timeless, high impact, life-changing (potentially).

From your personal experience, name several tips about launching and successfully running a startup.

First of all, focus. As a founder, you will be overwhelmed with small things every day, but in order to make progress you have to learn to work towards the bigger things. Second, mind your cash flow. Don’t overestimate your financial income even after you land your first customer and/or investor. While calculating your burn down rate, know that it always takes twice as long as you expect. Third, you need to learn very fast. If you are too stubborn, startups are not your cup of tea. You need to be some sort of a generalist to “locate” yourself well in several things at the same time.

According to you, what is the next big (Uber-type) startup?

I see a couple of industries that are going to capture big innovation momentum: virtual reality, 3D printing and fintech.

Pick one: Silicon Valley or the Netherlands? Why?

It depends what you are looking for. If you are 22 and have a revolutionary idea like Facebook, you definitely need to go to the Valley. However, people are more loyal and involved with the idea in the Netherlands. Also more experienced people (of age 30) are very welcome to start their business here. And that’s where Rockstart steps in supporting such experienced, passionate and consistent people bringing their innovations to the international level, all the way to the Silicon Valley.

Back to the Future: would you repeat the journey of founding a startup again?

Of course! Although from the experience of Rockstart alumni and my own journey, I can tell that it’s not for everyone. You can have some emotional scars, especially if your startup is not going so well and it drains your money, time and energy. It depends on the level of personal resilience to what limits you can be pushed, for instance, will you start from the scratch if your first or even second idea fail.  

How does your free time look like, if you have any?

Girlfriend, friends and work-outs (love squash!). There is a bit of discrepancy between the American and the European perception on the work-life balance. In the former, it is all about the work. In the Netherlands, a family is very important, thus, many people work only 4 days full-time. But even when you work a couple of days full-time, you have to make sure that your business wouldn’t overtake your family and your health.

Don runs to his next meeting leaving me thinking that startup world is a hectic dimension, but passion and ability to focus on big things can and will drive you forward. Who knows, maybe you or I will wake up tomorrow and decide “I will just do it!”.

Kick off your own startup at Startup Weekend Utrecht on 13-15 November. Grab your life-changing ticket at bit.ly/SWU2015.

See you there & cheers!

 

Monika Dainyte