Six Ways to Survive a Corporate Job After a Startup Crash

When my tech business failed I did something I never thought I would: I went to work for one of the largest corporations in Europe.

During the five years I worked on Somehow, a product design agency based in Amsterdam, I thought that start-up life was my calling, the most exiting gig I ever imagined. I enjoyed the ability to pick the people I worked with, the thrill of pitching to clients, the rush of making money and the prospect of becoming financially independent. Of course, I knew that building an agency would never set me up for an IPO, the cover of Wired– or sweating in front of a US Senate hearing. But there was a good chance of accruing moderate wealth while actually loving my job.

In 2015, my co-founder Wilbert Baan and I decided that the agency was not growing enough to have a solid future ahead. We had happy customers and a decent income, but we just couldn’t lock down that steady recurring stream of income. We tried pivoting to a product model, but we didn’t have the power anymore to fully pursuit it. We decided, while we still had money in the bank and no debt to anyone, to kill the company.

I was devastated. I thought I lost the best job I ever had — the one job I could actually excel at, where my weird combination of talents and skills finally made sense.

As you can imagine, I was not really thrilled when I landed a freelance gig to develop the Location Based Product strategy in the mobile app department of AirFrance KLM. I had never worked for a company bigger than a couple hundred people; I planned to get out as fast as possible.

At this moment, I have been working at the KLM mobile team for 3.5 years! And to my own surprise, I’m actually enjoying the challenges of building products in a highly complex environment. I’m amazed and inspired at the way 80.000 employees figure out to how to organize themselves and safely transport 98 million travelers per year.

Hereunder are the lessons that helped me enjoy working at a corporate after starting out, thinking it was going to be the worst thing that ever happened to my career — and how if you are in the same position, you might change your frame of mind to see it the same way.

1. No one cares about your business failure!

This is probably a European thing. But Europeans are not very risk tolerant and failing is seen as something very negative. I expected people to judge me for failing to build a successful company. It turned out that nobody cared at all! New colleagues didn’t even ask for my reasons or motivations for shutting down the business. They asked for my portfolio, the products I had built, about the lessons I had learned and adventures I’d had.

But not a single one questioned my abilities, talent or passion due to quitting. On the contrary, they admired the guts and responsibility it took to build a company.

As long as you seem able to take care of an organizational need or problem, new colleagues don’t care what you have done before or how immaculate your career has been.

2. Speed beats politics

When I arrived at KLM, there were other teams working on roughly the same product line as I was in different parts of the organization. This caused time-consuming political power battles over which team owned a certain subject. Owning a subject translates to the number of employees managed, which in most cases determines how much bacon you bring home.

One thing I learned having my own business was to focus relentlessly and deliver as fast as possible. I don’t like politics, so I tried to delivered my POC’s and products faster than other teams.

In your corporate job, some people might be scheming — as is the case in every organization. Make sure you are building faster — prove your assumptions and product value — and often you don’t have to worry about politics.

3. Engagement paradox

When I was freelancing I didn’t care much about anything else other than helping my direct client, doing a good job on the project and maximizing my invoices. I wasn’t concerned with other people getting promotions, who the new VP or what the organizational structure would be.

Once my freelance contract was turned into an employee contract, I also became more engaged with the company and my place within it. I started comparing myself to other people and having opinions about certain managers and product decisions that didn’t even involve me. My increased engagement caused me to be less happy and sometimes frustrated.

Although it may be contrary to your intuition, if you are not too emotionally involved with your company you are actually able to have more fun, relax and achieve more. Don’t get locked in with regard to your skill set and keep an independent frame of mind.

4. Organizational structure equals individual freedom

As a surfer, I need to sneak out of the office from time to time to surf our fickle North Sea. I always thought that being my own boss gave me the most freedom to surf when the waves were up. But there were many times when deadlines and meetings won over surfing.

At KLM, people are obsessed with structure and super smooth processes. I was annoyed at first having to “succumb” them. It took me quite some time to realize that when your process and structures are set up well, there is a lot less dependency on individuals to keep everything running. Good processes in place mean less stress, more cognitive space and — in all honesty — it’s easier to sneak off early and go surfing, because everything keeps running also when I’m not there.

I came to love designing internal process just as much as product design. A well designed process equals individual freedom. Whether it comes to working on your long term strategy, freedom to think or write or to run off to sea every now and then.

5. Every corporation was a crazy successful start-up once

In an abstract sense, the challenges at Adyen, Shopify and Lyft are quite similar to the ones of older or more established companies. We’re all fixing a problem, we’re all battling for talent and revenue.

This perspective makes a lot of problems and discussions interesting. Shift your perspective and look at your corporate as though it is a crazy successful start-up which battled it out for decades and made it. Imagine everything you can learn and implement from a big business in case you might want to try your hand at another start-up again in the future.

6. Love your craft

This has been my biggest and also most liberating lesson of all. I love solving hard problems and developing digital products. I love working with a team of smart people with different skills sets. I love building a little army and fighting as hard as we can.

During my time at a big corporation, I realized that it almost doesn’t matter in which type of company I work. Every different type of organization enables me to learn and improve my skills.

It can be your own agency, start-up or within a giant corporation. The rules are a bit different, but the core is the same. Love what you do, be grateful for the opportunity to improve your skills and you’ll be happy where ever the up-and-downs of your career will take you.

Best of November 2018

🌍💰The end of the beginning! 
Benedict Evans is one of my favorite thinkers about online markets and products. In this presentation at the a16z annual tech conference two weeks ago, he explains that almost all adults have access to the internet now. So this is almost finished. But that contrary to most of our thinking, e-commerce still is only a small fraction of total retail spending. He states, most of the people are online, but most of the money is not. The past 20 years has been about e-commerce and advertising, the next 20 years will about everything else! Watch his presentation and get a good sense of the mind boggling size of the markets that are still not online and are ready to be transformed in the next 20 years.

🙊💸Did Facebook shows it’s true face?
NY times discovered that Facebook knew of massive Russian interference through Facebook already in the spring of 2016. And despite internal evidence of intentions to disrupt the American elections, viral propaganda and fake news. Choose selling ads and company growth over the truth.Later things got even crazier. On the outside FB launched an apologizing campaign emphasizing, privacy, friendship and trust. On the inside, the gloves were off. And they launched an aggressive lobbying campaign going after Facebook critics and directing public anger towards rival companies. They even hired a PR firm who went as far to create actual ‘fake news’ about Facebook critics and adversaries. Holy shit! This made me think. How can you minimize this risk or rapidly shift to other channels, when the ethics of a social platforms collides with how you want to treat your customers. 
The podcast:
The article

🤩🌈 The king of Kashmeres remarkable vision on business. 
Easily the one of the most inspiring articles I have read in the last month! It’s an interview with the Italian King of Kashmere – and billionaire – Brunello Cucinelli by technology journalist @Om. He has such a original and profound vision on business, craftsmanship and appreciation of skills. I found it truly inspiring. Here’s one of his quotes, but read it! 
“Brunello: You must believe in the human being, because the creativity of a company — Let’s say you have a company with 1,000 people. Maybe we were told that there are only two or three genius people in the 1,000. But I think that if you have 1,000 people, you have 1,000 geniuses. They’re just different kinds of genius and a different degree of intensity”

Best of September 2018

🤬The rise of anxiety consumerism 
Gravity blankets – a blanket of roughly 8 kilo’s – is supposed to reduce stress and to improve sleep quality. The company intended to raise 20k on Kickstarter. They raised 4.7 million Dollar! Apparently people everywhere are feeling increasingly anxious and stressed and are trying to combat this with mediation apps, fidget spinners and even coloring books for adults. This Vox article describes the emerging market for anxiety products. People also find flying an increasingly stress-full experience. @CX? How could KLM turn this new human need to be calmed and soothed in to a bussiness opportunity?! Would it be possible to purchase anxiety pills or some relaxing legal drugs when you are flying in international territory? 50 Euro not to feel my legs cramping up in my seat. Sign me up, I’ll pay!

⌚️🏥The darks side of the new Apple Watch? 
Last week, Apple launched a new Watch with an EKG designed to offer new health-monitoring options. Great, I’ll buy it. At the same time John Hancock, an American life insurance company announced last week that it will require all policyholders to record fitness and health data using wearable devices. Policyholders score premium discounts for hitting exercise targets tracked on wearable devices such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch and get gift cards for retail stores and other perks by logging their workouts and healthy food purchases in an app.I’m very health conscious and all about tracking everything – see one of my early QS projects here – But i’m very skeptical about where this might take us.

💰Online shopping in AR
Shopify is a company to watch (or buy SHOP). They are a typical ‘Pick Axe’ company. They make money on other people trying to make money by providing a very simple system for e-commerce. And their speed of innovation is impressive. They just launched a tool for shop owners to sell or show their products in AR. So now you can have a way better look at the product – then just pictures –  before ordering it. The attack on regular retail does not seems to slow down.

Best of August 2018

⚠️How shipping company Mearsk lost $300.000.000 by a rogue virus 
On June 27th of 2017, a shipping company the size of AFKL, was in a matter or hours completely shut off of all IT systems due to a virus called NotPeya. It took them 10 days – 4000 servers and 45.000 pc’s to rebuild the entire network. Fun fact – a power blackout in Ghana accidentally took their local server offline. Due to this stroke of luck, the server in Ghana was offline and couldn’t be infected. This is were they salvaged the single remaining crucial back-up. This story in Wired describes how a probably Russian virus targeted at the Ukraine, got loose and caused an estimated 10 billion of damage in companies around the world. A nightmare for every organisation.

👂Amazon Echo, only 2% of all users, have tried a purchase
What I love about product development and the technology world, is that no one can truly predict succes. This holds even for the big players like Amazon. 3 weeks ago it was leaked that Amazon sold 50 million Echo’s (Smart Speakers). But only 2% of the households, used it to make a purchase – which is of-course the strategic goal of Amazon – . and 90% didn’t even make a repeat purchase. Voice will become a powerful new interface, but what the killer use case will be, remains to be seen.

🦄 Are these the Unicorns (value of 1 billion) of the future? 
Y-Combinator is the most competitive startup accelerator. Thousands of teams apply, and less than 1% gets in. Product Hunt made a list of the most interesting start-ups in which Y-combinator invested this summer. Weirdly enough I’m always a bit disappointed by the ideas: test your tattoos with AR, Location based advertisements in your Ubers’ window? At the same time, did anyone predict a weird website like Facemash would turn into an behemoth that could influence the outcome of elections? Nevertheless, it’s always good to keep an eye on what the start-ups are working on and what is being invested in.

Best of July 2018

⚽️ How Location Tracking is Changing Tootball 
Many sports teams are outfitting their players with a device that tracks their GPS position. This enables them to analyse the workload of players. This gives them insight in the actual fitness and risk of injury of their players. Realtime but also for future games. This World Cup it was allowed – for the first time – to transmit realtime player data and have the analyst advice the coaches on the field. Translate players to passengers and coaches to gate agents, and you’ll see the link between LBS and the Football field. We’re almost there!

👨‍🌾 Overcoming Class Cluelessness 
Innovation starts with understanding change. So most of my reading and postcasts habits revolve around Trump these days. This podcast is the first source that gives me an understandable explanation for the rise of Trump. Or better said the clashes betweens different “classes” which results in “Black Pete discussions, Brexit and the rise of populism everywhere. In summery, take care of your struggling middleclass and don’t treat their values and believes (discipline, hard work) as backward.

📻 What Cracking Open a Sonos Ones Tells us About the Sonos IPO
In this article the writer opens up a Sonos speaker – which is a traditional speaker producer, gone digital. And an Amazon Echo – is this a speaker or a direct line to a shop? Based on looking at the hardware and costs he distills the strategic direction of both companies. The pockets of Amazon are so deep. It’s becoming scary.

Best of June 2018

💡How purpose can make everything – even a doorbell company – super exiting. 
A smart doorbell, which shows you on your phone who’s on your doorstep. Can you come up with a more boring product? The story of Ring – recently acquired by Amazon for 1 billion dollar –  shows, how a good mission can elevate a product and create excitement. Ring is not a doorbell company. Ring is in the business of reducing crime in communities!

📈 Mary Meeker’s 2018 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis
The yearly trend report of Mary Meeker is an absolute goldmine of information and data. In this article you can find the summary, but please take the time to browse through her slidedeck. No bullshit bingo or let’s jump on the next blockchain, crypto of whatever fad, just clean crisp data driven insights.

🍏 Apple wants it’s phone’s back (and I want my brain back!)
For quite some years I haven’t had e-mail or Facebook on my phone. Recently I also had to remove Instagram. I was just wasting too much time looking at other peoples lives. It keeps you from good thinking and losing yourself in your task at hand.

Super happy that Apple is finally – after 10 years – is going to help their customers to be less addicted to their phones. in iOS 12 – to be released in September – , there will be a comprehensive set of tools to limit distraction! A cynic might say; advertising wil more and more become a tax on the poor. But i’m very happy with this first step. Maybe I can even get back on Insta 😉!

Best of May 2018

✈️ A Life Time Unlimited Travel Ticket? AA tried and bled hard for it. Interesting story in The Hustle on how American Airlines in the eighties introduced an unlimited first class ticket for life. The problem was, it was such a good deal, it ended up costing AA millions of dollars per year.

💰The Wealthy Are Hoarding $10 Billion of Bitcoin in Bunkers
There an old saying in start-up land; ‘don’t hunt for gold. Sell pick-axes’ (it’s actually a quote of Mark Twain)In other words. Don’t try to come up with the best end-consumer product, because the chances of hitting the jack-pot are very slim. But build the tools, instruments and other enablers for others to hunt for gold. They pay for the dream, you make the cash. This story in Bloomberg about the worlds physical biggest Bitcoin vault, is a great example on selling a “pick-axe” product in the Bitcoin goldrush.

❤️Location based dating now available in Tinder! 
Mapping and location technologies are a core enabler for many technologies and products.  It’s motivating to see that also Tinder introduces a new feature that helps people find their matches based on favorite places that they like to visit. Don’t know if they stole this feature from the European location based dating app Happen. But It’s amazing how Tinder keeps innovating and staying relevant – especially knowing that they are not a start-up but part of a bigger regular corporation. Also follow their director of product on Twitter, a wealth of Product insights.

Best of April 2018

Great tweet of @BenedictEvans , I love his high level views on the tech industry. “Apple will make smart glasses, cars, contact lenses and neural implants. Google will make search, discovery and recommendation 10x better. Amazon will do 5 minute drone delivery and take half your retail spending. What about FB, though? They ‘connected’ half the world. What next?”

Amazon will now deliver packages to the trunk of your car! 
Today I ordered a years’ worth of dental floss on Bol – yes, I like my dental health – but the main problem is that I keep forgetting to buy floss. And that I don’l like shopping. Did you ever imagine 10 years ago to order mundane products like floss on a website and have it delivered to your home?! Amazon is relentless in pursuing frictionless delivery in every way possible. How imaginative is this new setup, where Amazon will deliver a package to the trunk of your car.
Would KLM be able to deliver my suitcase to my car, so that I  – or crew – don’t have to lug it around the Airport?

Four fundamentals of workplace automation (McKinsey) 
Good overview on how automation will impact the workplace. It’s not so much that complete occupations will diminish, but that – depending on your job – there is a percentage of automation that will take place. This holds not only for low-skilled or payed work. 20% of a CEO’s working time could already be automated using current technologies.

Best of March 2018

🇨🇳 🧠The Emerging Tech Trends For 2018 (aka Amy Webb blew my Brain!) 
One of the best keynotes of SXSW this year, was given by Futurist Amy Webb from the Future Today Institute. Her full report premiered a few weeks ago. This are the key findings: 

1: 2018 marks the beginning of the end of smartphones
2: Pay close attention to China 
3: The AI ecosystem flooded with capital, hungry for commercial applications and yet polluted with misplaced optimism and fear – will continue to swell
4: Policy makers won’t be prepared to deal with new challenges that arise from emerging science and technology 
5: In 2018 a critical mass of emerging technologies will converge
6: Decentralization is the key theme for 2018

Summery here:
Full Report here:

🚕 After a fatal accident, Uber puts the breaks on testing driverless cars. 
One of the biggest emerging markets is driverless car hailing. Image the market for taxi’s, a large part of public transport and a large part of privately owned cars, being taking over by abundant driverless cars. The value will be in the trillions. It is expected that by the end of 2019 driverless cars are 200% safer than human driven cars.

But the road to breakthrough innovation is a bumpy one. Last week the first person ever was killed by one of Ubers’ autonomous vehicles, and Uber had to get their cars of the road. This race by the tech giants is so exiting. Side note; Location and mapping products are one of the crucial enabling components of this race.

Best of February 2018

🚴🏻‍♂️ Oops, running app Strava  – LBS data – is a goldmine for ISIS. 
Fitness App Strava – mostly used by runners and bikers, to track and compare progress with other athletes – was confronted with the unintended value of their location data. In a new map, released in November last year every route ever uploaded into Strava was visualized. However, also soldiers on secret army bases worldwide had been using the Strava app to work out. The aggregated exercise patterns of the soldiers tracked by GPS, are clearly visible on the map! And gave away extremely sensitive information on secret army bases worldwide. Oops!
Check out this nuclear marine base in the UK;

🤖 UPS can’t use drones and driverless vehicles, if it’s up to the American (Teamster) Labour union. 
I find it interesting that a Labour union sees the commercial potential and impact of drones when it comes to the delivery of packages. And the impact it will have on their members jobs. That might make it even more remarkable, that they want to protect their members, by trying to ban UPS from using this technology.
While all along their more savvy – less scared – competitors might thrive and expand on it. A difficult dilemma a lot of employees and companies will face the coming years.

✈️ Google Flights already knows your flight is delayed 
It amazed me to read that Google Flight is generating more revenue then Priceline and Tripadvisor combined ( $12 billion). (KLM did 9.8 billion Euro in 2016) How do they make this money? They don’t lift luggage in the cold, they don’t try to calm down angry passengers and they are not certainly not maintaining airplanes.
They make their billions, by giving excellent flight information and showing travel ads next to it. 🙄🙄To more things even worse, they announced that they will start using AI, historical travel delay data and 3rd party aggregators to label delayed flights, faster then the Airlines can do themselves. Are they making easy money on the back of Airlines? Or should Airlines do a better job providing aggregated flight data to their customers?