• Zomerondernemer 2019 – how it changed everything

    It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Much longer than intended, at least. September has been really busy, a lot busier than expected, and I don’t think things will get any less busy any time soon.

    But it seems that in this current moment, I have some time left over to continue the story I started in my previous post. I promised I’d talk more about Zomerondernemer 2019.

    What the hell actually IS Zomerondernemer 2019? It literally translates to Summer Enterpreneur 2019, and it’s a six-week program hosted by The New Enterpreneur foundation. In the Netherlands, thirteen different regions participate. The region I participated in, was Region Rotterdam.

    But… you still don’t know what the six-week program is about, although you might’ve already guessed at this point.

    To get to the point, Zomerondernemer is a six-week project that takes place during the summer, intended for teens and young adults. The goal is to give young enterpreneurs the tools they need to get started with their business ideas and turn them into actual companies – with a sneaky but fun competitive element snuck in at the end.

    I’ve wanted to do this for YEARS. When I was eight I tried to start a dogwalking business. I wrote a book at age thirteen, which sold a dozen copies. I sold two pieces of art in sixth grade when I just started out drawing. I sold a handful of pieces online to friends for pennies. I had a Redbubble, which seemed to finally start selling well… but companies, understandably, aren’t fans of mass-produced fanart and I decided to quit selling there for the time being.

    Finding out about Zomerondernemer was a case of pure chance. The college I started attending in September had shared an ad for it on Facebook, as last year several other students had participated.

    I was curious, so I checked it out. Ten minutes of reading later, I’d signed up. In the meantime I was also looking for a ‘day job’ (as I talked about in the previous story), but with a lot less luck than I’d hoped for.

    And then I had both. A chance to build my own company and a position at a pre-existing one, albeit a part-time entry-level job.

    I suppose it’s not hard to guess which one I prefer now.

    Actually, I had my doubts. Right before the beginning of July, after I’d had my first shift at the restaurant, finding it quite enjoyable, I started wondering if I actually needed to participate in Zomerondernemer. If those three training days which had mandatory attendance wouldn’t be better spent making guaranteed money at a job that wasn’t even half bad.

    Whether or not all of this was worth the risk.

    Not to spoil the end of the story, but it totally was.

    Of course I never would’ve guessed that the day after my 18th birthday, the day after I received my first paycheck, I’d already get sacked. I still don’t know the real reason why – I have the vague idea one of the supervisors didn’t like me. Not that it matters now, anyway. It was a good learning experience and I’m grateful for the $150 it made me, because it’s still $150 more than I had before.

    Not only that, getting my contract terminated in my probationary period meant I could quit immediately, and I had seas of time to put into Zomerondernemer. And ultimately, I think that that’s what might’ve put me at the top.

    Now, enough talking about my first rather miserable working experience.

    The first day of Zomerondernemer started… rather chaotically. When I went to sign up initially in May, I was unable to find the building I was supposed to be at – I was with a friend and his boyfriend, who were going out shopping for clothes. I asked them if they knew where I needed to be and… well, by chance of a miscommunication they sent me in the entirely wrong direction. Thanks, guys.

    We ended up finding it, though. They had a nice afternoon and the trainers that were supposed to handle my sign-up didn’t mind I was five minutes late.

    In Dutch, we have a saying about a donkey; it never bumps its leg on the same rock twice. ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ would probably be the closest thing to it in English. In essence, it means that even the stupidest creature wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

    I did. And this time, I was fifteen minutes late. Why? I’d gone in the wrong direction getting off the subway. I couldn’t go to the right floor without anyone opening the door to the elevators for me (the meeting was inside a bank with office space), so I had to wait another fifteen minutes until someone came to get me. Plus another girl who came in late a few minutes after I did.

    But then again, the entire training had started thirty minutes late, so if someone had come to get me right away, I would’ve been on time, so… is it really my fault?

    During those three days, I was shy and reserved. I tend to be, especially when it’s an event like this when I use my birth name and birth gender because it’s easier than having to stop and explain to everyone I meet – making it seem as though my gender is more important than what I am there to do and present.

    I knew the end event would be open to the public, in which case a boy name attached to a girl’s face would cause a lot of confusion, and when starting a business, you’d have to use your legal name, anyway, so as much as I hated hearing it all summer, I just used the name on my passport. Not to mention – my parents would be there.

    I learned to open up more during these days. I didn’t tell anyone my ‘real’ name, but anyone there who’s visited this website or my Instagram is probably aware of it by now, so was never really a secret. Just convenience.

    What I do is more important than who I am. I didn’t want the ‘gender’ thing to become the focus of my story, because it isn’t. That’s why I chose to keep quiet about it.

    I believe I made some really good connections with Zomerondernemer, and have rebuilt at least part of the confidence I lost thanks to elementary and high school. I’ve come to realize that it’s not ‘arrogant’ to put myself in the spotlight every now and then – although I still dread seeing pictures of myself online and in other media – but that’s just because I don’t see what I feel I should be seeing.

    The best thing about Zomerondernemer was probably the fact that I finally got to meet kindred spirits. As I mentioned in my previous story, I never really felt like I was taken seriously. When I brought the book I published to class, a student ended up tearing part of it up. As if it didn’t matter at all.

    My YouTube channel was made fun of. Online, I was harassed by classmates about my art. My art teacher told me I should focus on doing something else than this ‘digital stuff’. Whenever I’d made a personal gift for anyone in my family, they’d snort. ‘Another drawing’, they’d say, like it was the same scribble I made when I was three. As if the two were remotely comparable.

    My heart got stomped on often enough these past eight years. And yet, I still didn’t give up – and I’m glad I didn’t, because I never would’ve encountered this group of amazing young people who had nothing but support to offer each other.

    Even former participants reached out to me because they wanted to help me grow my business.

    I’d finally surrounded myself with people who take me and my business seriously, and I’ve never felt so good in my life.

    Then came the big surprise.

    The evening, again, started rather disastrously. I didn’t take the time to properly practise setting up my table at home – because I’d simply forgot to do so – and I took WAY too long setting it up. I felt like an idiot, scrambling to get my table set up.

    The picture of me standing beside it was taken before it was even fully set up. But still, it was a learning curve, and despite this, the table garnered some traffic – and business.

    Then one of the trainers showed up beside me, and he quietly ushered me upstairs – they’d mentioned previously that there would be a top five made out of all of us, and they’d each get a chance to pitch our ideas in detail to them. I was the first to go up!

    When I asked him why we were going up, he told me we were going to meet the jury. What I intended to say in response was, “Am I one of the possible winners?”, but instead I blurted out, “Am I going to win?”

    And I did.

    Knowing there were five of us, I still didn’t think I was going to make it – but no; right before I left the pitch, they told me I was in the top three.

    I remember standing on the stage that ‘top three’ was where I was going to get stuck. I was up against two marvellous enterpreneurs with – honestly – a LOT more experience than I had. Number three’s description started with a male pronoun – it took me a second to realize that wasn’t me. Number two, then – the jury mentioned a ‘she’ – and then she talked about ‘a fun event for kids’. Ah. No.

    I was number one.

    I remember mouthing ‘No way!’ at the front row. I don’t think anyone saw it.

    The last time I won anything was a colouring contest when I was two. And a winning streak of Bingo (three bingos in a row) when I was seven. After that, I don’t remember anything as significant as this.

    You might be wondering if any of this bears any significance at all. To me, it certainly does.

    And now it’s a month and a half later. I’ve had customers approach me, I’ve had meetings with new contacts and connections I made during Zomerondernemer. I registered my business. I feel like I’ve come a long way in such a brief period.

    And now it’s time for the national finals. Each region sends their ‘champion’ to compete in a national final – some regions even send two. (Each region hands out a wild card, which allows for an opportunity for the participant to be selected for the finals).

    I’ve done some ‘research’ on my ‘competition’ (and by that, I mean Googled their names and visited their websites), and I can’t say that I’m any less than intimidated to be standing amongst them all. Some of them are doing such great things for the environment and others have businesses that are already running smoothly. And then there’s me. I… draw. Pictures.

    I suppose that’s just my environment not taking me seriously for all these years that I can barely do it myself.

    Although I doubt there’ll be a win in it for me, I do believe it’ll be a great opportunity to show my work to more, new people and get my name just a bit further out there into the world.

    Thanks to Zomerondernemer, I’m not afraid anymore. I’ll reach my goals no matter what.

    As Buzz Lightyear likes to say, to infinity and beyond.

    I’ll be sure to report back with a new blog regarding the national finals. Who knows, Lady Fortune might smile on me and I’ll get a winning title after all… never say never, right?

  • Starting a business – it takes courage

    Today, September 12th 2019, I registered my business in the Netherlands. I am officially a freelance animator and illustrator. At eighteen years old.

    Why would I? Why not just get a job in retail, or as a cashier? Much easier – someone takes care of all the difficult business-stuff. You just do your job and get paid.

    Honestly, it took a lot of courage to make the decision. In high school, my parents didn’t want me to work, worried that a job would get in the way of my school results. In my junior year of high school, frankly, I had no idea where I would’ve got the time to work from, either.

    So, by the time I finally got the opportunity to work, I was seventeen, and no one wanted to hire me. It took a year of applying to jobs and getting rejected until I got hired – by a company that prefers to hire everyone who applies, see how they work during their probationary period and then toss them out. So, basically a paid rejection.

    The manager encouraged me to pursue a career in art; she’d followed the link to my YouTube channel I included on my resume and told me she was very impressed.

    How seriously should I follow her advice? My parents would definitely prefer if I got a stable job. They encourage me to follow my dreams, but also not to end up underneath a bridge somewhere, so they’re still somewhat hesitant on the whole freelance-idea.

    In high school, NO ONE took me seriously whenever I talked about my plans. Most of my art teacher hated everything I made because of how different my views were from theirs – they probably just tolerated it because they noticed a certain quality in the work. But the many arguments I’ve had with them, I’ll never forget.

    I’ll also never forget the three teachers that I had that were actually excited about my work and appreciated it.

    Classmates always made me the butt of their jokes. “I bet his ‘YouTube channel’ has twenty subscribers,” I once heard a girl say. By then, I had three hundred. Now, I have five thousand. I’m now learning to shut out those voices, but they were hard to ignore back then.

    Out of sheer luck, I managed to make a popular animation on my YouTube, because it was inspired by another famous creator and a popular book/movie series. It was a bad animation, but it got me a million views nonetheless, and made me somewhat visible in a sea of YouTube channels.

    Lightning barely ever strikes twice, and I have yet to achieve the same number of views on another video. But this video, as much as I hate it, still got the ball rolling – it got me noticed by a YouTube MCN (Multi-Channel Network) connected to an animation studio in the United States. I like to think that thanks to my connection to that MCN I’ve got my foot in the door when it comes to joining a studio, but I’ve probably only received a door number and still have to knock and hope someone answers it when the time comes.

    Then came another huge opportunity; Zomerondernemer 2019. I’ll discuss this rollercoaster ride of a summer in my next blog post.