I like the Dutch. They’re blunt, practical, and have remarkably low ego. Sure, they may be a little fatalistic (they recently played in the Euro Football Championship and despite being tapped to win the whole thing, everyone was convinced they would lose, which, predictably, they then did), but their low-stress, high-progress approach to life is great. And perfectly suited to entrepreneurship.
I’ve been in Holland for a few days this week as part of the first ever Groen Doen (Green Doing) Hackathon, sponsored by Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, the Sustainable Behavior Lab, UtrechtInc, and Jaludo (a Dutch gaming company who are hunting for new ideas and new talent). It is an interesting mix of partners: an academic setting that focuses on actually getting things done, an incubator, and a private business, coming together to help kids learn through doing (which I was recently ranting about).
And as an educational experience, the Hackathon is fascinating. There are almost as many mentors here as student participants, which means that they all have access to a lot of personal attention and time. Dirk Franssens gave what seemed like a great opening talk on behavior change (it was in Dutch, but with English slides, so I got the gist), designer Ramon Goedvree is providing visual and communications coaching, members of the UtrechtInc are sharing their experience founding companies, and the organizer of the whole event is himself an entrepreneur (Arjan Haring of PersuasionAPI).
But what I’m most interested by is the creativity of the participants themselves. With just 24 hours or so of worktime, they’ve managed to crank out several high-quality ideas, complete with business plans, LaunchRock landing pages, logos, and wireframes. It reminds me how important a solid foundation is to a good app; you can buy engineering to help create something, but for that style of Elance-type development, you have to have precisely thought through what you want before you put on the cash to do it. Which means paper prototypes and hours of bouncing things off the wall and being able to freely suggest (and abandon) ideas.
Which is where the Dutchness comes in. Often at hackathons people are arguing within their group about what the right idea is and how to best pursue it, and a certain amount of that debate is healthy. But too often, people are just arguing about something they feel attached to, rather than towards a place of progress; its about ego, not quality.
In my experience at this Hackathon, however, there has been very little of that type of discussion. In small teams of 3 or so, people are plowing ahead excitedly as a unit – even when someone distinctly comes up with something awesome, they always attribute it to the team. It is refreshing and bodes well for Holland’s long-term entrepreneurial scene; avoiding the egotism of The Valley could be a real edge for the country as it pursues the concept of small business.
Note: the organizers just told me that Dutch people check their poo before flushing and proposed putting a label in the toilet that reminded people to use less toilet paper. I may like Dutch people slightly less now.