So just after my studies, I didn’t really know what direction I wanted to go in. I ended up working at an organisation that was very young and dynamic – sales with a good vibe. It was an inspiring environment where I learned a lot.
But I arrived at a point after four years where I thought, ‘Okay, all this effort I’m putting in, it pays the CEO of this organisation well, but what am I actually creating?’ That feeling became so strong that I decided to make a shift.
Before I became a filmmaker and a photographer, there was some time in between where I was trying to figure things out. This happened 1.5 years later when I realised that I could make a living from something that I’ve always loved doing – photography, and then later film making.
Looking back it was the obvious choice, but at the time it was like the elephant in the room; you don’t see it and it’s so big that you can’t see it.
I wanted to be more creative, as well as more autonomous and self-sufficient; because otherwise you’re always working on someone else’s dream. But then you have to get your idea off the ground and make it viable. That has been quite a journey on its own.
In between I tried several things, from organisational advice to selling social media campaigns. They were all trials to try to figure out what I really wanted. Then one day I received an email from The Hub, which is a coworking network where people who want to make a social impact can advertise or find work.
I got an email from someone that wanted to send a blogger to Cambodia to stay on these floating eco lodges and write about their experiences. I thought, ‘Wow this is just the job that I’m looking for,’ even though it wasn’t paying a lot. So, I said yes instantly.
I went to the job interview, and we had a great connection on the topic of travel storytelling and ecotourism. I thought ‘Wow, maybe we can join forces.’ In the end, that project didn’t even happen in Cambodia. But we founded Storytravelers together. We started developing this idea of a reel of stories around a destination.
Before it became something tangible, I was really just trying it out because I didn’t have any filmmaking skills – I had to learn on the job.
“I realised you just have to start doing things… once you get the train moving, people will hop on for the ride.”
One of our first projects was in the east of Poland where old farms were rebuilt into designer lodges. They wanted to communicate that experience, so we started making content for them. I invited my parents to go to one of these lodges for a whole weekend and I filmed them. If I look back at the first videos now, I find it hilarious, the low quality footage – it was all done on a small flip camera. But the idea of vlogging was born, way before vlogging was a thing.
We spent a lot of time and effort on that project for little money. But it was a training programme for us. We then saw that maybe you can come up with this reel of stories and sell it to tourism boards, because they need to communicate their destination in a more attractive way. This was way before travel influencers, there were just boring destination campaigns.
We made a beautiful presentation of our idea, then we went to the Real Travel Market, one of the biggest travel markets in the world. We got some leads from tourism boards, then once back in Holland we started calling them to find out if they were still interested in working with us.
We quickly learned that this was a strategy that wouldn’t work. People were very enthusiastic about it while we were there talking to them, but when it came to buying something, we didn’t have a portfolio yet, we didn’t have any benchmark projects, nothing. So, it took us weeks of emailing and trying to reach those people without any results, to realise that that was maybe the wrong approach.
Then I realised you just have to start doing things, instead of asking permission to please give me the opportunity to develop my dream. Once you get the train moving, people will hop on for the ride.
You want to give them the feeling that they are missing out on something if they don’t work with you. That was pretty hard in the beginning, because you don’t have the self-esteem yet, you don’t have the portfolio, you don’t have the reputation. Going from 0 to 1 is much harder than from 1 to 10.
Absolutely. So, my companion did some sort of intrapreneurial exchange, it’s called Erasmus Young Entrepreneurs. Basically, you get a stipend for 5 months and you can connect to another entrepreneur in a database. You come up with and work on a project together. My name was already drifting somewhere in the database, but at the same time as when I realised I just had to get out there and do it, an email arrived that said, ‘There’s an entrepreneur with more experience than you who’s interested in your profile.’
It was a lady in the south of Italy that was starting an off the beaten track travel blog. She didn’t talk about the mainstream stuff but rather small places and hidden gems. I was to travel around and talk about these places to provide content for this new blog. So I went there, and it was like a big playground. Partly because I got leads from her to check out but mostly because my companion had written to people in Italy and asked if I could talk to them or if they could provide a free hotel stay or provide me a hired car or whatever, in exchange for making content about them.
So I had five months to play with, without really thinking too much about the money. That’s another tip, the first issue is that you will have to fly. That means that you need to have sufficient income to free up enough time to concentrate on the thing that you’re working on. As a young person, it’s always hard because maybe you don’t have the financial capacity to just take a year off and do whatever you want to. So you have to find a way to keep yourself going as long as possible to pursue your idea.
Those five months were terrific, because I decided to go to Matera which is a very small town in the south of Italy. It did not exist on the map, no one knew about it and it was really for me to discover. It was not the Italy you know from the olive oil advertisements on television with green fields. It was very authentic, but different, like Petra or Cappadocia in Turkey, with all the carved out little churches and houses built in caves. It has a very ancient history, as if it was from the Palaeolithic times – there were still monks living in caves over there. So for me, it was a big discovery, it felt new and exciting. I knew I wouldn’t have a problem finding interesting stories there.
Next I teamed up with a tour operator and they gave us a free trip to Sicily. I asked a friend from Holland to come and take photos and videos with me whilst we drove around for two weeks. This was amazing and I noticed that this new story based concept could work, but by the end I was anxious because there was still no money coming in.
Our concept was unique as it showed travellers the authentic experiences of the area. The lady who sent us to Italy managed to sell this concept to the local government in that region. We did this project where seven filmmakers toured the region – young people producing creative and authentic videos. They were a big success, unlike the large advertising agencies who spent a lot of money to create boring films. We were just a few guys with a DSLR filming and editing videos in such a way that the big agencies couldn’t compete.
This was when the train started moving – we won a prize for this project. Unfortunately for me, the lady took most of the credit and turned the opportunity into an organisation which I was not part of. That was another lesson I learned: when you’re young and you’re willing to invest your time and energy, you need to be careful where and with who you invest it with. It’s important to stay focused on your own creativity and efforts, and to not easily get distracted and feed someone else’s dreams.
After some time her and I split up and I did a few projects on my own. This offered me time to focus on Storytravelers, I met a lot of other amazing film makers and started to give presentations at universities talking about my own experience. This started to get me some clients, then one day I got an email from a small tourism board in the north of Italy, and they asked if we would like to go over and do a project with them. The budget was 20,000 euros which they thought was very small, but I thought it was fantastic as it could keep us afloat.
The assignment was so big that I needed to invite other storytellers along, so the team began to grow. We did this project which included videos about outdoor sports, hiking and food. They were very happy, for the first time they had awesome videos and photos on their platforms. That was really the start of our huge growth, we then expanded out of Italy and people started to take notice of us. For example in 2014 I was working for the Tourism Board of Jordan and the video went viral – even the Queen shared it!
Another tip would be for you to keep the ball rolling by trusting in your abilities – reinvesting your earnings back into the company, and not holding back with the content you create. I always invested 80% of what I earned back into the company, only keeping 20% for myself.
The more content you create, the more people will notice you and the more you grow. After 5 years we started being asked to produce content for television shows.
Then for 2 years I developed content for Al Jazeera’s television show, working with around 40 people. What was great about that setup was that we were all situated in different parts of the world. We would only come together to shoot the content, the editing was done all over the globe. I found that beautiful and inspiring – not being connected to just one location.
It was a huge success to work for a big television broadcast and have millions of people watching. However, I did feel like it moved me away from my original ideas and plans for Storytravelers and slowed our growth down.
That might be another lesson – keep your portfolio diversified. When you have success and people begin to notice you, it’s tempting to accept something huge. But then you give your freedom away. We weren’t allowed to share videos from the project before it was released, which meant there was a long stretch of radio silence for our followers.
This project also made me realise that I wanted to move away from travelling, more towards storytelling. I wanted to work with companies that had deeper stories to tell, companies with more purpose to them, or who were making the world a better place. I wanted my work to have a stronger message.
Currently we’re working on documentary style content. Making this change is almost like starting all over again. People don’t realise that you’ve changed, so you sometimes need to be courageous and say no to things in order to stay on track and move towards your new destination.
After working with people all over the world, I’m now at a stage in my life where I’d like to have a more localised space. So that’s my focus for the foreseeable future.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we need to have an in-house team, I still believe in working with self-sufficient people. Rather than being the boss and paying people a regular salary, I’d rather have a more collaborative approach. Creating a shared space where people have similar interests and can work on projects together.
I think this fits into a new way of working – very much project based and empowering people to follow their own entrepreneurship. Not just, ‘Okay, I’m an editor, and I just need to do my work until it’s five o’clock and then I can go home,’ but rather, ‘Okay, this piece needs to be fantastic, because my name will be under it.’
I always use this analogy: if you go to a beach where there’s a strong current and the waves keep coming in, it seems very hard to swim out through them. But once you get behind where the waves break there’s an ocean of possibilities. In the beginning it seems very hard, because you have costs and you need to pay your rent etc. but if you can manage to get things rolling, then you will see that you can make big things happen.
“If I hadn’t jumped in feet first, I would not have gained enough velocity to make it happen.”
It is important to build up experience and one could apply the hybrid strategy in the beginning. This is when you work part-time for a fixed salary and with the rest of your time you work on your new projects and ideas. As time goes by you start to shift your focus, time, and resources more towards your projects until you’re doing that full time.
You also need courage to throw yourself into the unknown. I threw away my well-paid job as a sales director, then I threw myself into a new experience without having the right skills. If I hadn’t jumped in feet first, I would not have gained enough velocity to make it happen. My fear of the unknown may have held me back. You need to encourage yourself and just take that jump. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone but if it is for you, then you need to take that risk because you only live once.
What helped me personally was that my travels had exposed me to different situations and environments where things were not guaranteed. If you are always in your comfort zone where you can control everything you will not learn how to develop coping skills in these uncertain situations.
When you are travelling by yourself you must see every day as a new opportunity. It can be lonely and uncomfortable at times, so you need to learn to cope with these moments on your travels. However, one must be bold and go out there and meet new people. This will help you understand their stories and build friendships. Often taking this step can be daunting as it goes against who we are, but it is crucial to the learning experience and one’s self-development.
An analogy that I like to use which helps in these moments, is to see life as cyclical rather than linear. We are often raised to see life through a linear lens, where each milestone, each step must be completed in order to move forward onto the next.
However, if one sees life as being cyclical, we can begin to create new opportunities. This can be done by simply slowing things down and doing things in a new way, a way that might not follow the norm or the pattern set out for us.
If you allow yourself the freedom to think about many different possibilities for your future, then your new ideas can start to grow. It can be hard to realise that you do not have a plan, or that you are still in the ‘working things out’ phase. This is because we are so used to the expectation that we must have a plan of action and always be ‘doing’ something. But actually there is a phase where contemplating is also crucial to the bigger picture. It has taken me many years to understand this concept.
I think in the end these moments of being stuck are a chance to reflect and ask yourself ‘If I lost everything right now and nothing was working, would I trust myself to create something out of this situation?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’, you have begun to grow a deeper trust within yourself and you will no longer see it as being stuck but rather an opportunity to figure it out.That trust is important and must be cherished, as there is enormous potential within us. Sometimes the answers you are looking for cannot be found quickly and easily. They need time and will appear at different speeds or at unexpected moments.
Another expression that I really like is, ‘If one pen stops writing, don’t force it to write, go find another pen and try to write another story’. There is also the tough balance between knowing when you should give up and when you should continue to push forward. In those times, it’s crucial to quiet one’s mind, block out all the noise and listen to the answer your heart is trying to give.
The internet can be amazing, it can be a place where you invent and create whatever you like whilst gaining traction and attention and reaching a global audience. But there are also threats. There needs to be a balance between using these opportunities it has to offer in a positive way and letting it take over your life and work. Many people are so focused on getting followers and attention that they become tense and stressed.
In this world attention has become a sort of currency. You do something and people pay you because you can get lots of views. But you shouldn’t be drawn away from what makes you passionate about what you’re doing, thus losing your authenticity, for that. The same goes for money, if you make that your focus you lose touch with who you really are.
So that is what my recommendation would be – find the balance, use the internet as a tool. Practically that could mean you limit the time you spend on it.
I think for the younger generations it is harder to do this as everyone has become so addicted to the internet and its limitless possibilities. People are used to being constantly connected through this portal, this device in their hand. But all that distracts them from their real life, and they feel lost.
Meditation and silence is the total opposite of all this and is also needed in your life, in order to keep things running. If young people could just stop for a few moments, they may gain an opportunity which they would have otherwise missed, such as having a meal together – no phones, no nothing.
They will often get opportunities, however they will have to pick their battles. They will need to choose a few different channels that work well for them, stick to them and be consistent in doing so. This approach will increase their following. It will be important to make a theme that works for you and continue to post along this line, and become known for this specific thing. You can only spend your time once, so stick to a couple of things and do them well.
The content you create needs to be kept relevant and interesting. Ask yourself, ‘Is this something that people will want to see or am I just doing it for the sake of posting?’ Another few questions to ask yourself is, ‘What am I trying to say? Is it telling a story? Is it transporting you to somewhere that you can imagine?’
I think once you feel that deep desire to your core about something you want to learn, it is no longer that difficult to commit to it. Learning should be fun, and it should be something that moves forward by itself, not by force. When you’re young it’s a great time to make these big leaps as you have a ton of energy and motivation.
There are also so many tools on the internet to teach yourself. You do need to practice though, to focus on your chosen skill, but you will get the hang of it. One also needs to be self-critical, so you can establish if this thing is really for you and if you can grasp it well enough. Be open to learning what your real talents may look like.
I am good at a range of things; however, my pitfall was trying to focus on many different areas. This resulted in me being mediocre in all of them. Instead, one should focus on a few key areas, and you will begin to hone in and excel in your particular skills. It is not always that easy. It takes a lot of time and practice to become good at something. You must ask yourself, ‘Do I want to invest that time, given that time is not infinite?’
Nowadays I am less flexible as there are other things taking up time in my life. Thus, you must become wiser with where you invest your time. I think that maybe my talent is more about bringing people together and making things happen. I only began to realise this after many years of doing different things in various areas, such as photography, editing, and motion graphics.
Yes, I’ve tried to build my own website and through that I realised that I do not want to be a website developer. It was much better to just hire someone and say, ‘You do it as you do it better than I do,’ while I focus on what my talent is. With younger people it’s a bit more difficult because it’s not always very clear what that is. Although at the same time, I would say it’s clearer than you think.
“Always ask yourself what are the important things to you, which things need to be done well or instead can left behind so that you can keep moving forward.”
Around my thirties I began learning how to prioritise my time. In the end you learn the difference between smart working and hard working. I had this concept that I just needed to work very hard to achieve things, but eventually realised it was more about doing the right things. Then you don’t put all the effort in, but rather focus on doing things the right way.
This does not mean that you do not put any effort into it, just you use a more calculated approach. There’s a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which uses the analogy of an effective leader using a saw. It explains how one needs to keep their saw sharp, because if you try to cut with a blunt or ineffective saw, you will not cut very well, wasting time and energy.
If it is sharp, then it will be effective, and you will cut down the tree in a matter of minutes. So always ask yourself what are the important things to you, which things need to be done well or instead can left behind so that you can keep moving forward.
If I spent a week creating a nice website with my subpar skills, it would be like trying to cut down a tree with an unsharpened saw. However, if you asked me to create a concept for your company’s start-up, I would be able to provide you with feedback within two hours that would help you for the rest of your career
There is one book I really enjoyed called The Power of Now. It is about a man who lived his first 28 years of life depressed before discovering a new life through living in the present, instead of dwelling on the past.
This may sound cliché, but we are in a world where most things are projected from the past or into the future. So, we are never really living in the now as we keep getting distracted with these intrusive notions of the past and future. This change in focus helps one ground themselves.
The vision board is a creative tool in which you ask yourself the question, ‘What kind of life do I imagine myself living in the future?’. This question can be applied to many different aspects of your life, from friendships to your career or anything else. It’s often done with the use of cut out photos and magazines that resonate with your imagined future.
Having a vision is essential to living with more purpose, and it really helps you to think big, to channel your thoughts and attention down certain lines. One of my vision boards I did before I went to Italy was exactly something that happened a couple of years later. It’s a beautiful tool as it can be fun, creative, and it helps you build that desired reality.
Visualisation is used by various people nowadays – it can even be seen in the sports world. I think it was Muhammad Ali who imagined himself being beaten, training himself to be resilient in a losing situation so that when it happened he could come back and still win. If you have to do a speech it helps to imagine yourself already standing there giving it.
No, not at all. Most people have been raised to ask themselves that question of ‘Where do you want to be in x years?’. I always resisted answering those sorts of questions. I think it is better to not focus on timeframes, as time goes by whether you want it to or not. Rather, shift your attention towards your goals.
I believe life is like a river, it flows and goes to the right and then to the left but through this flow, you learn what works for you. Things in life will always change, so I didn’t really envision where I would be in the next 10 years when I started Storytravelers. Instead, I started to envision the people I would work with, the images I would create and the experience of living abroad.
After these 10 years, I feel that I need to recalibrate my vision and right now is a good time to do so, as I transition into a new chapter in my life. It has been way too long since I did this, one should try to do this every year, or whenever the time is right.
I don’t think that there has been one person in particular. I have always had the ability to extract bits and pieces from the people around me that I really like. I’ve learned a lot from my parents because they are very close to me, and I am thankful for them.
But I’ve never really had a mentor, which is something I regret as I would have liked to have one or two. It can be very helpful to have someone to talk to that has more experience – I’ve seen it with people around me that do have mentors.
You must also listen to your intuition, it’s not always the logical explanation or reasoning that is the right answer. But above all you must listen to what is resonating within you because you are a unique person.
You must not worry too much about the future or what something will or won’t be. Instead enjoy the journey of discovering it as well as living life in the now. Cherish those moments where you really enjoy the now, and share them with others.
I would also say to travel and don’t seek too much comfort when you do so. When I was in Mozambique, the most beautiful moments that I had there were when I chose to leave the group that I was comfortable travelling with and just walk into the local village to stay with the people there.
You must throw yourself into new situations and be your own coach by encouraging yourself to do all those new scary things. Even just moving to a new place is a huge step – it can give you the courage to do things that you’ve never done before and to trust yourself that you will find a solution in situations that are uncomfortable.
Lastly I would say to embrace those phases in life when things aren’t going your way – don’t worry too much about them. These moments are needed to make a healthy transition into something new.