Tech Rebel: Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

If you are in the tech scene in Amsterdam, you know Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten. He is always in white, he takes extremely funny instagram pictures with his daughter and he’s the boss of TNW, one of world’s most popular content platforms and the event of the year for innovators in tech.

Something that’s not mentioned enough is Boris’ (and his team’s) effort to push innovation in tech. Not just in The Netherlands, but across the globe. Not just with their content, but also through relationship building. Showing off that Dutch entrepreneurial mindset, and helping many tech innovators connect to important partners.

I got to interview Boris about his life, work and views on success. In this blog I share my top 3 of those lessons in English. If you want, and you understand Dutch, you can listen to the whole interview on Rebel Radio (Link here or check your podcast app).

1. Learn how you want to learn

As a young kid Boris did not perform well at school. He was dyslexic. Couldn’t focus. And everybody thought he was lazy and recalcitrant. He was always staring out the window. Boris his parents acted like HE was the norm, and explained it as if the school just didn’t understand his special abilities. His parents never made him think that it was his fault. Something Boris is very grateful for.

Because it let to him deciding to quit high school at the age of 14 years old. Most parents wouldn’t let their kids make that choice at that age. But Boris had a plan. He wasn’t lazy. He was ambitious. He showed his parents what he wanted to achieve. His plan was to go to Circus School, and continue his education at one of the art academies. His parents didn’t oppose, but were actually relieved.

One teacher didn’t understand this choice at all. He even told Boris his parents: “If he will do this, he can never become an accountant.” At which his parents doubted the teacher ever really talked to Boris, because after one minute you would know he will never become an accountant. It showed a great lack of interest, and misunderstanding.

So the lesson is not just build your own learning plan, but also support others who build their own unique learning plan. That support is essential!

2. Understand how you influence the room

From 14 years old he attended Circus School, which you enter on the basis of your talent instead of a diploma. Here he learned how to be a juggler. But mostly about the art behind hosting a circus. After he entered the art academy, and he really felt at home. At both schools he learned how you as a person can set the tone, and influence the mood of a space.

“I am very much aware of the impression you leave and the atmosphere that you create. And how you dress is very important. It’s a tool I use.”

One of the things he played with was wearing formal suites to the art academy. Because everybody tried to look artsy, he wore business suits. Last year he did the opposite. At home getting ready to speaking at a huge conference for traditional publishers, his girlfriend asks him: “Why are you dressed in a black jeans and normal shirt? You’re getting paid right? Why not wear a suit?”. Boris explained that these publishers might feel threatened, and a suit will amplify that. This shirt and jeans choice makes him more casual, more approachable.

To be able to understand the way we influence our room, might not be a skill you ever thought about developing. However next time you’re in a space, play with appearance, with attitude, with pose, and see what happens.


3. Be audacious in finding solutions

Boris and his long-time partner Patrick de Laive founded a startup and wanted to go to the US to present their startup at an important tech conference. But this was way too expensive. So what did they do? They organized their own tech conference. They thought “How hard can it be?. We know this world. We can do this.” A classic scratching-your-own-itch-leads-to-successful-business story.

In addition they needed a blogger for their new website, The Next Web. However nobody replied on their call for a tech blogger. So they decided to put out a call for 26 bloggers, not one, the amount they needed, but 26. This got the attention of other tech content platforms, like Emerce, which wrote about it. This made all kinds of investors curious. They wanted to know what was going on. This “fake news” helped them to get the reach they needed.

We tend to think in traditional solutions. Most of us are programmed that way. However I believe you can train yourself to think differently. To really push yourself and find solutions that are not obvious, but actually very audacious. Still attainable, and maybe even the start of something great you could not have thought of before.

Be sure to listen (in Dutch) to the interview. And if you want to know more about Professional Rebel, and how we help large companies to accelerate their digital transformations by bridging the gap between tech’s and non-tech’s. Let us know here!



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This episode is powered by Dag en Nacht, platform for Dutch podcasts.

The intro & outro Rebel Radio Jingle is made by Coyoco & Nate Dizco.



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