1-on-1 with Subatomic’s Melinda Jacobs: the Genuine Rebel
We believe that innovative professionals are the pioneers of the changing world. That’s why every week we go in-depth with one of our favorites and pick up some lessons about what it takes to be a professional rebel. This week we spoke to Melinda Jacobs, founder of Subatomic.
Melinda is a 29-year-old business owner who keeps it real. Having moved to the Netherlands from the US almost eight years ago, she founded Subatomic, an agency specializing in digital user experience, all while coping with social anxiety and navigating the Dutch startup scene. She spoke to Chief Reporter Roald Tjon about business, beer and being open about her issues.
What type of work does Subatomic do?
“I pitch the business in one sentence by saying we’re a company that helps you change behavior. We often tend to do this through play and games. Sometimes we build a separate product, but we’re not like a marketing agency where we come in and we pitch a whole concept.’
“It’s more, ‘Hey you have a challenge, you want people to engage more with this or you want to change this behavior’ and then we come up with solutions.”
Through Subatomic, Melinda has ended up working with companies like Suitsupply, Aegon, and greenApes. On the side, through Craftd, she hosts beer events that showcase local brewers and has started another company called Clustr which helps people set up online marketplaces.
What is it like being a foreign business owner in the Netherlands?
“It’s definitely not the easiest thing in the world. The Netherlands is not on my list of best places to start a business,” says Melinda, citing reasons like the corporate structure and availability of English information from the tax authority.
She adds that in the past many small companies were unwilling to collaborate: “We’re just now getting to a point where people are starting to figure out that maybe working together on some things will actually be a way more productive outlet. It was also very hard to find other startups that just wanted to hang out five or six years ago. It was not a very easy scene to break into as an international, but this has definitely gotten a lot better.”
How has it been to work with beer companies?
“One of the reasons I love the beer industry is because everybody works together. If you think about it, they’re all competitors, they’re all brewing beer, they all want their beer to be bought, but everyone in that industry wants to collaborate. If there’s an opportunity to get six of them together to brew something, they just will.’
Her work with the beer scene started from her own interests: “It was really a hobby that turned more serious. We’ve gotten the chance to work with members of the Amsterdam craft beer scene like Cinema Brewers, BRU’d and Brouwerij Frontaal. We’ve even started a monthly beer box you can buy highlighting the offerings of a local brewer.”
What’s your favorite beer?
“I don’t really have a favorite brewery, it depends on my mood and type of beer I’m into at the moment. If you ask me about sour beer for example I love Cantillon, it’s a Belgian brewery. The funny thing about sour beer is you either hate it or love it.”
Would you consider yourself a professional rebel?
“If you’re a professional rebel, you follow the path you think is is going to be successful — the path that is going to bring the best result and lead to the future. You don’t just follow what everybody else is doing, if you don’t think it’s the right way to do it. Most people hop on the bandwagon, because that’s where money and opportunities start to go. Sometimes you should, just don’t do it blindly.”
The Lesson: Don’t blindly jump on the bandwagon.
Which people have influenced you most?
“Definitely my grandfather. He’s one of the smartest people I know. He was a corporate lawyer but also does a lot on the stock market. He taught me a lot about analytical thinking, how to approach situations and how to have common sense in a business environment.’
“There’s also a blogger I really like called the Bloggess. She’s fantastic. She’s very inspirational to me in the way she dealt with things like anxiety. I also deal with anxiety and it’s always something nobody wants to talk about. The Bloggess is just honest about it and laughs about it in any scenario. She still did exactly what she wanted to do, even though she had a lot of challenges that stood in the way.”
Is there something people would be surprised to know about you?
“A lot of people would be surprised to know that I have anxiety and Asperger’s. This industry is very much shaped for people who are loud. Narcissism is something that is incredibly common in startup founders.”
Melinda explains how important she thinks it is to come clean about your issues: “Asperger’s, depression, OCD, you name it, we all have bizarre mental conditions. If you’re afraid to share it with anyone, or if you’re afraid of it yourself, you’re always going to struggle. And yes, some people will be assholes about it. But if they are, you know you’re better in a place than they are. You don’t need to be an asshole to someone else, if you’re comfortable with who you are.”
The Lesson: Share your issues & don’t be an asshole (DBAA).
Any tips to other rebels out there?
“We get trained to think that we have to be confident enough to say we know everything. If that’s the case, then you probably know the least out of everyone in the room. You don’t have to think you should have nothing else to learn in order to be an expert. An expert is someone who understands that there will always be something to learn.”
The Lesson: Always be ready to learn more.
Professional Rebel & Melinda: We know Melinda through OiL — a group of international startup founders — where her and Chief Rebel Melissa are the sole female members. In future, Melinda and Melissa are planning to collaborate on something yuge!