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What I’m doing this summer

The entrepreneurial summer of a design student

My 2013 summer vacation is peculiar, to say the least. The two months between academic years are supposed to be a time to relax, go on holiday with friends, do an internship or earn some money working summer jobs. My summer looks like none of the above.

I am spending all the money I earned working during the year, to work some more. I am living a month in New York and another month in San Francisco, building PlaceList. PlaceList allows you to print a collection of places you want to visit while traveling, using recommendations from your friends.

Working on an idea can happen anywhere. I could have stayed in Brussels, Belgium (my home) working on this application. But in practice, it doesn’t really work out that way. There are constant distractions, there is always a reason to do something else. It’s only if you have the strongest will that you can avoid the temptation to enjoy the afternoon sipping a beer on a sunny terrace, spend a few days at a music festival, or hop on that cheap Ryanair flight to the sun.

I need more discipline. And so I went to New York. The idea is to work during the week, and have fun in the weekends. I got a membership at New Work City, a coworking space in downtown Manhattan. This is a place where anyone can come to work on their projects. Many of the people working in such spaces are entrepreneurs, building the products of tomorrow. The coworking spaces are usually laid out as an open floor, and you can sit wherever there’s a free seat. Just bring your laptop, plug it in, and start working. You are surrounded by a dozen people programming, designing, writing and doing business, and this gives a huge boost to your productivity. Just like studying in a library, you are motivated by the people surrounding you.

New Work City coworking space

Coffee breaks (or in my case grabbing some water — I don’t drink coffee) are a good way to meet the other people working there, ask for advice, get feedback on your work, and get help if needed. People help each other out. Everyone has skills to trade, favors to exchange, contacts to recommend. You are never stuck on problems very long before you’ll find someone who is knowledgeable in that particular domain.

Outside of the 10 hours a day spent at the office, New York is a great city to meet people in any domain you can think of. From fashion to database administration, meetups are scheduled daily around countless topics. These are gatherings and events organised so the people who join can learn new things, get to meet the actors in that domain, and network. For me, the best part of attending such meetups is to be able to talk about the concepts I’m interested in with real people, stepping up from just reading articles posted on the internet. I can share my ideas, have a real life two-way conversation with some of the most talented people around.

The plan for PlaceList is to have a working product in 3,5 weeks. This is often called an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), which is the simplest version of your product that your can learn from when your users are using it. I am now 3 weeks in the development of PlaceList, and am about to hit the MVP milestone. I will be doing a demo in a few days in front of an audience, and start having beta users from there on. You can register for the beta on http://placeli.st.

After that I’ll be headed to San Francisco, where I’ll try to meet people working for Silicon Valley startups. This part of my trip is not yet planned, so if you have any suggestions, things I need to do, or know people I should meet, send me an email at charles@placelistapp.com.