Awaken the Giant Within — Part 3

By Danny Holtschke

Be inspired and follow the thousands of entrepreneurs that started their journeys before you — also with a first, single, small step … to awaken the giant within.

I am happy that you continued reading.

— This blog post is the third of a three part series about my Entrepreneurial Awakening. A story that can inspire you to awaken the giant within as well. I describe my journey — from ex-communism working class family in East Germany and its limitations to being an entrepreneur. If I can do it, you surely can do it, too.

— PLUS I want to encourage you to leave a comment — either to just say hello, ask a question or give feedback. I highly appreciate you taking the time and helping me to improve the quality of this content for you and other readers.

80/20 Summary

[Summer, 2014] Transition: Live in harmony with your values and goals.

After I voluntarily left my first startup, I asked myself:

  • Who am I? (Or: What are my values?)
  • What can I do well? (Or: What are my talents?)
  • What do I want to accomplish? (Or: What are my goals?)
  • What am I burning for? (Or: What can my mission be ?)

I wanted to make sure to live in harmony with my values, goals and mission because they hadn’t been in line before.

I had a hard time focusing, staying motivated and delivering outstanding results with what I did. My actions weren’t heart-centered, but mind-driven.

How can any result be great if it doesn’t come from a place of love, caring, authenticity and integrity?

I don’t think you can ever achieve outstanding results over longer periods of time unless you really believe in what you do.

Consider ‘discovering your values’ a project.

You can’t believe how much time I spend? Asking? Searching? Identifying? I still do.

  • Is it a waste of time? Maybe.
  • Is it overthinking? Maybe.
  • Does it help me to understand who I am? Definitely.
  • Who I want to be? Definitely.
  • Does it help me to realize with whom I want to work with? Definitely.
  • Better understand what kind of things I want to work on? Absolutely.
  • Do I grow personally? Without a doubt!

Is it a waste of time?

If you consider ‘discovering your values’ a waste of time, it’s ok. As always, it’s up to you. I don’t think so. I think it’s time well spent. If you don’t think so, I hope you realize one day and can change your mind.

For those of you who already believe in ‘discovering your values’, consider it a long-term project. Over the course of several months or years, you will better understand what your values are. Better define them — with rigidity and honesty.

If you are like me, you might feel a lot of self-doubt. Only few people understood what I was going through.

In anchorless times, footholds are a beautiful thing.

Sadly, you don’t find these footholds very often — as it happened to me. But it doesn’t matter that much. No one can hold, guide or protect you. As an entrepreneur, you have to accept that.

The only one who can hold you is …. right … YOU.

The best tips from your friends are of no help if you don’t believe in them. Most of them won’t help anyway. These can only be directions to help you make your own decisions.

Benefits of your discovery

Looking back, the ‘discovering your values’ project has made me a lot stronger, self-secure and self-confident. I started going down the rabbit hole asking uncomfortable questions. Discovering truths I didn’t plan to discover. I had two options: Cry and run away. Or continue and trust my inner compass that these ugly annoying truths lead somewhere.

In any case, are you curious to know my values? I bet.

My values are

  • Fearlessly love
  • Radical honesty
  • Health
  • Freedom
  • Financial independence

My values are not sorted hierarchically. You might be asking yourself: “So what?” … “I don’t care much. I don’t need this value discovery stuff.”

If you know who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in, then you are right. You might not need to discover your values. You might want to calibrate them. Check in with friends and family. Ask them. If you are not interested in ‘discovering your values’ at all, please let me put it this way:

Are you interested in succeeding in life — emotionally, physically and physiologically? Yes? Then you better discover your values.

— Lessons Learned Transition Time: I am happier by nature when I live in harmony with my values. Ever since, I have experienced my most productive and fulfilling phase of life .

— Awaken the Giant Within: Self-doubt and financial necessity are great motivators. Accept your fear. Develop the courage to face your life and your dreams. Pursuing them makes your life outstanding — in so many ways.

In which ones? Discover yourself. Feel herewith invited!

[Autumn, 2014] Freelancing: Develop an expertise!

I had two major goals after leaving my first startup: First, establish yourself as an expert and second, offer a service as a freelancer.

I aimed at spending half of my time on my own projects and the other half on freelancing.

Why? I wanted to pursue and invest in my own projects without financial pressure. My solution to make income was freelancing.

Moreover, ‘expertise’ establishes freedom and financial independence.

Business student and freelancing — how?

I always felt intrigued comparing myself to freelancing designers or programmers. Because they made money while offering their passion, their skills. This doesn’t seem to be realistic for me as a business student.

What can I offer? Accounting? Finances? As a student, you don’t really have any practical experience. No portfolio. No references.

All things that are significant for getting a freelance job.

Hence, creating an expertise became a strong motivation.

I decided to postpone my startup activities until I established myself as an expert. Three questions helped me to focus on where to search for expertise:

  1. Which topic am I passionate about?
  2. What is the potential?
  3. What access do I have or can I build?

Developing an Expertise

My main areas of interest are startups and innovation (culture). I researched both — the local Berlin market (e.g. The Dark Horse; SI-Labs) as well as international pioneers (e.g. Move the Needle). I quickly realized that I want to support startups — not corporations. Though many corporations have a great need for consultancy and coaching in areas, like ‘The Lean Enterprise — How Corporations Can Innovate Like Startups’.

But these corporations are too dull and sluggish for me. They will never be bigger versions of startups by applying the ‘StartupGeist’ — a Startup-like mindset based on startup’s best practices and success principles.

As a result, I focused on organizations that help startups succeed because most startups don’t and shouldn’t have the budget to afford a coach/advisor. Side note: Most startups give equity in return for advice. I needed cash. Hence, I approached startup accelerators.

First speaking and freelancing jobs

In summer 2014, I reached out to my network and I signed two projects as a freelancer and one speaking engagement.

First assignment, Startupbootcamp Berlin hired me as their ‘Lean Guy’ (P.S.: Thanks to Alex and Tanja). I promised to push startups forward. Teaching applicable stuff in ‘Lean Startup’, ‘Customer Development’ or Team Productivity. Feel free to read more about my experiences here.

Customer Discovery #Workshop w/ @dannyholtschke — Sbootcamp Berlin (@sbcBerlin) August 22, 2014

Second assignment, my friend Bjoern, CEO at Compass (formerly Startup Genome) asked me to be the project leader for the 2015 Startup Ecosystem Report. Feel free to download the report here.

— Lessons Learned From my Start as Freelancer: Because I never burn bridges, be kind and try to help people, I leveraged my reputation when I most needed it. I got my first two assignments from friends who knew me well from projects before. Take a look at my freelance offering at I assist Startup Executives in Customer Acquisition and Team Organisation & Productivity. I also inject the StartupGeist to SME Managers via Workshops.

— Awaken the Giant Within: Try stuff. Work with different people in different projects. If you don’t burn bridges, you’re already planting seeds for future ventures.

[Autumn, 2014] First Product: You can do anything you want.

My first idea I followed was a photo booth rental service. I focused on weddings in the greater Berlin area. You might be asking yourself how I found this idea? Yes, I showered and then … ah no! I run and …

Even though media tells us all kinds of different stories how great ideas are discovered. This didn’t happen to me. I did plain old school research. Nothing exciting. I listened to a Mixergy podcast — btw recommended listening — and got inspired by a wedding DJ who started a photo booth rental in the USA.

My rules for building a physical product

Before building anything, I defined rules for validating my ideas.

  1. Initial investment to validate = <250 €
  2. Maximum time to build product = < 1 month
  3. Cost per click Google Adwords = <0,75€
  4. Cost per click Facebook Ads = <0,25€

In line with ‘Lean Startup’ and ‘Customer Development’, I aimed at validating the idea before investing in building the product.

Firstly, I built a simple website — Secondly, I used Google Adwords to bring traffic to the site. Some of the keywords I used in German were [photobooth rental] [photobooth Berlin wedding]. Thirdly, after closing 3 contracts, I built a prototype.

Side note: I already had the product concept in place knowing all parts and where to order them. This allowed me to build the product in two weeks. One of my best friends helped me build the photobooth because I wasn’t able to do it alone. Thanks again, Andre!!!

Why focus on weddings as targeted customers?

Two reasons. Firstly, when I married in summer of 2014, I went through the whole process of planning. Actually, my wife did all the hard work of researching and deciding. I happened to be part of it. Secondly, my wife began to work as a marketing director at a beautiful hotel — Gut Suckow — near Berlin and could leverage my offering. I thought:

Why not connect business and private stuff?

Besides Andre, I also received help from Ken Knoll and Philipp Koschel who are both professional photographers and great friends. I asked them to check my concept. Offering beer and pizza always help to bring friends together to shoot photos for your homepage! What a funny night!

— Lessons Learned From my First Product: Firstly, execution is more important than any idea. Secondly, focus is key in executing your ideas.

— Execution is More Important Than Your Idea: As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to have all the skills required to make and built your product yourself. It’s an important skill to get people excited about your idea and receive help. BUT always always always make sure that your expectations with your ‘helpers’ are aligned. Don’t promise partnership if you want to fly solo. Offer a compensation instead. FotoautoMagic is a small project. Truth assured. Every project takes longer and is more costly. Besides these obvious — still no entrepreneur believes them — learnings, I was able to apply the Lean Startup and Customer Development philosophy.

Test. Validate. Build. Scale. It works as much for startups as for any project!

Focus is key in executing your ideas

It’s ANOTHER important lesson I learned. As an entrepreneur, it’s so easy to lose track of all the things you need to do — especially when you are working alone. No one is there to guide and challenge you. It’s often badly needed in early days.

I also needed to learn that each day only has 24 hours. Never ever sacrifice your health over entrepreneurial progress. It still happens to me. Again and again I am in the hamster wheel of little progress without immediately realizing it. That’s why ‘outside of your mind’ mentors and advisors are so crucial.

— Awaken the Giant Within: No success is created over night. Be patient. Don’t work 20 hours a day. AND don’t start a tech startup as your first entrepreneurial step. Anything — but a startup.

Do a smaller project — like publishing an ebook, starting a podcast — instead. Search for ‘passive income’ or ‘lifestyle business’. Tim Ferriss, blogger and author of 4 Hour Work Week, Pat Flynn, successful blogger at SmartPassiveIncome or Andrew Warner, founder at Mixergy, are great starting points to be inspired. I recommend their blogs and podcasts a lot.

[2015] StartupGeist: Develop your vision and follow a mission.

During my work for Startupbootcamp, a startup accelerator, I developed three concepts:

  1. — ‘Learn to predictably attract new customers’
  2. — ‘Learn how to start a startup’ (in English)
  3. — ‘Discover your entrepreneurial dreams’ (in German)

StartupGeist will be the vessel for going after my personal vision — a 21st century Entrepreneurship University. A life-long learning approach. Nothing to be completed in weeks or months with a certificate. Being an entrepreneur is a way of life. A way of personally growing. A way of exceeding your expectations day in and day out.

I want to infect more students and young talents with the StartupGeist — for building companies, solving meaningful problems and accelerating their careers. Though I defined a target group, it still was too big. I lost track of the readers I originally had in mind. During my lecture at the Berlin School of Economics and Law where I taught ‘Entrepreneurship’, I regained my focus about my ideal targeted readers.

With StartupGeist I now target students and recent graduates. I plan to offer:

  1. a BLOG — in English.
  2. a PODCAST — in English.
  3. a free MEMBERS AREA — in English.
  4. a free Startup Knowledge Base — in English.

The startup knowledge base might be helpful at the beginning of your startup journey because finding and searching valuable stuff on Google is hard. Here I aim at compiling valuable resources for you.

— Lessons Learned StartupGeist: I launched too late and confused target readers. Fortunately, external events gave me some direction on how to decide. Feel invited to learn more about the lessons learned from my first startup. As I was (a student) and am (a first-time startup founder, Internet entrepreneur) part of both target groups, I am following one of the most important startup mantras.

Scratch you own itch (a.k.a. solve your own problem).

— Awaken the Giant Within: Get David Deida’s book ‘The Way of the Superior Man’. David Deida is known as one of the most influential teachers on the subjects of sex and spirituality. Some think he is insightful — others feel he’s provocative. Nevertheless, he offers eye opening and life changing lessons. That you might think, aren’t related to Entrepreneurship. But Entrepreneurship is as much about personal development as football is about shooting goals. David Deida brings in another level of personal development for you.

[1997–2015] My key insight: Discover a mission.

At the beginning of my journey, I was too dazzled by the startup world and tech billionaires. I assumed that every startup founder would become rich and famous. Of course, it’s wrong. For every Facebook or Google, there are numerous startup failures. Most startups fail. Only a few succeed. That’s when I realized that I started off the wrong way.

If you don’t have a startup idea that suits your values and your personal mission, you should start as a freelancer. Take time to discover your mission and your talents by doing various projects.

By doing you will be discover. Not by thinking.

That’s why I recommend you to start as a freelancer and move down the other steps if you want. Freelancing allows you to build a portfolio, acquire basic business lessons and strengthen your soft skills. All required attributes for successfully starting a company.

— Coming next, I share a few things I wish I knew when I was 20. Get insights and inspiration for your own life!

Share your ❤ below — and respond with your thoughts.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.


About Danny: Hi, I bring ‘BE YOURSELF’ to my next level by sharing unfiltered, no BS thoughts here. I started StartupGeist to help students and recent graduates build a business — and have a good life. | StartupGeist |

Originally published at on January 8, 2016.