It’s a wrap! August 2018

The biggest question I’ve asked myself in August was how do you organize an event where every attendee – even the shyest one – goes home with the contact details of at least one potential future friend. How do you create an unforgettable experience for 200 students?

Over the years, I’ve attended a number of conferences and have seen what experiences turn a conference into a great one. I believe there are three key things. To me, a good conference is when I go home with at least one new contact I’ll actually care to follow up with. Yet, in order for me to follow up with someone, I need to know what they are about. Thus, as a conference organizer, it’s key to make people connect over a task or a question that creates intimacy. Another key is making people laugh. And last but not least, you want people to have the space to chat freely, but you need to give them a subject to talk about or a question to answer to start with.

In August, I’ve been obsessing with icebreakers and team building exercises. I’ll definitely write a summary once the event I’m working on happens, but I do want to share one favorite exercise we found that we’ll definitely try. It’s called “the toilet paper game” and it works like this:

“The very premise of this game will get the group laughing. The group facilitator passes a roll of toilet paper around the room and asks each member to tear off how much they normally use when going to the toilet. After everyone has their tiles paper, ask them to tell the group one interesting fact about themselves for each piece of toilet paper they have.”

Please check back for the September summary to hear more about how the event went.

This past month, I’ve also worked on the activation strategy for an intranet of a global brand. As companies grow, the HQ needs tools to keep everyone on the team equally engaged and provide them with information and a loyalty program. Yet whenever someone introduces a technology, it takes time and effort to make sure people actually use it. Technology often feels intimidating, which is also a job of a community strategist to solve that challenge.

I was also asked to write a funding proposal to help a social startup get funds from the government. When writing proposals, what matters is putting the ideas into the social and societal context, which is where I usually step in.

One last thing I’ve worked on this past month was finally recording my Skillshare class on how to run a Kickstarter project. It’s framed for freelancers who want to position their business. I’ve gone in so much detail that everyone who’s planning to run a Kickstarter will find a lot of takeaways. At the end of the day, I did run five projects and not all of them went well, yet all of them succeeded. If you are planning to run a project or someone you know is, share the link with them. I don’t think there is any other resource as detailed as that one, besides, of course, the post Tim Ferriss shared in The 4-Hour Workweek.

As for recommendations, I was lucky to be invited to a Norn dinner, which most certainly was my favorite experience of the whole month. Norn is a salon for structured conversations on topics one doesn’t usually talk about the way the Norm team invites you to do. It’s incredibly insightful and feels intimate. I had the immediate feeling of belonging. It was lovely.

Last but not least, my inner panic monster has finally arrived and I’ve began writing my TedX talk. I cannot even describe in words how intimidating this feels and how long I’ve been procrastinating on this. The event’s on the 13th of October in Graz in case you want to attend and see me live.

I’m heading to the TechFest in Copenhagen and will also be traveling to London and Wales this month. Please reach out if you’re around and let me know what you’re working on. Would love to hear more about inspiring projects.

A Pocket-Sized Travel Guide to Berlin’s Café Scene, now on Etsy!

Do you remember my pocket sized guide to Berlin's café scene I launched on Kickstarter earlier this year? You can now get the cards on Etsy!

I've curated Berlin's 50 best coffee places and shared a little story explaining why I find them unique. 

Whether you’re visiting Berlin or have lived here for a while, you’ll most likely never run out of places to see. New cafés, bars, and neighborhood hangouts are popping up everywhere. It’s hard to keep track. Every neighborhood has some exceptional spots that are worth discovering.

Head over to Etsy to check out the offer. Plus, it's free shipping to all EU countries! 

New Skillshare class: From hobby to a creative career with Kickstarter

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you know Kickstarter was one of my main clients for two years. I got involved with them after launching my first Kickstarter project. After five successful projects, I’ve decided it’s time for me to summarize my learnings and share all my resources to help others launch their own projects on Kickstarter.

Here is the written summary that you can download as a PDF. Please also consider subscribing to my newsletter.

Here is the link to the Skillshare class if you’d much rather watch it as a video tutorial.

In the class I share tips on:

How to frame a creative project

Why Kickstarter makes sense

How to set up your page

How to calculate the costs of a Kickstarter project

How to prepare for the launch

And most of all, what to do when things aren’t going well

I really hope my learnings on how to run a Kickstarter will help you launch yours.

Your idea is worthless and yes, you can and should talk about it with everyone

Have you ever met someone who told you they have an idea for a project or a business but couldn’t talk about it?

I always wonder why that is; could it be they’re scared I’ll hear their idea, immediately drop everything I have been working on myself, and steal it? Are they scared that if they tell someone, they’ll have to finally do something about it? Or is it because they have an idea they think is good, but don’t actually want to commit themselves just yet and think no one else will start working on it because their idea is so unique and brilliant it hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind?

In the knowledge economy, I’d say ideas are worthless.

There are millions of ideas being shared online every second. It’s unlikely I haven’t heard or come across the idea this very person doesn’t want to share with me.

It’s very unlikely I’ll drop whatever I’m passionate about to start executing on something that doesn’t feel like a calling to me already.

If you share an idea with someone who works on their own projects, why should they suddenly make time to pursue someone else’s idea? Especially when the idea is no more no less than an idea; a worthless cloud of thoughts and imaginations.

Ideas aren’t special. It’s the execution that turns decent ideas into exceptional ones. It’s the networks one builds, and groups of fans and followers who prove an idea is worth pursuing.

The team at EyeEm started working on something very similar to Instagram around the same time Instagram was launched. Now everyone knows what Instagram is, but how many know of EyeEm? And how many knew EyeEm when it was just the German alternative to Instagram and not what it is today; a community-sourced stock photo platform.

Before Spotify there was Napster, and while we all know Napster, it was the execution the team at Spotify delivered that made it a successful company worth talking about; they most likely all knew Napster after it was launched. I doubt anyone at Spotify would’ve tried building Spotify if it wasn’t for Napster; a company that was up and running, yet very differently.

How many times have we all heard, “I also had the idea for Facebook, Sims, period panties...whatever?!” Would we know any of those brilliant ideas if they hadn’t been executed with such dedication and excellence by the people who went through the pain of turning an idea into reality?

If someone shares an idea with me, my immediate reaction is I want to help them succeed at turning their ideas into reality, So the next time someone wants to know more about your idea, share it with them. They will much more likely become your fans than your competitors.  

It's a wrap! July 2018

It feels like it’s been two days since I last posted an update here. But then it also somehow feels like it’s been two years since I signed a rental contract in Berlin and turned my entire life upside down. I’ve been wishing to write more. But then had to assemble a bed. I wanted to finally shoot the Skillshare video I started working on in January, yet there I was, trying to unbox and sort through my things.

It would be a lie if I said I was fully focused on work this month. It’s actually surprising how much has happened in the past four weeks.

First of all, I was fortunate to join the Hanzo team for a series of workshops in Wales. It was a user research workshop to learn more about the challenges of academia.

I have also signed a contract with the Upskill Digital team to become one of their associated trainers. And then, the biggest highlight was that I was contacted by the TedXLend team asking if I’d be up for speaking at the upcoming event in October.

For LifeStart, we have organized a series of mentorship events in London to connect students with professionals over dinner or an afternoon tea. We use these events to connect with students offline. To us, it’s a great way to induce small offline highlights and give students a real reason to connect with the initiative online. We also use the conversations the students and mentors are having at the table as a base for our content strategy online. In August, we’ll be rolling out a Youtube channel and a blog. I’m very much looking forward to what’s ahead of us regarding this wonderful initiative facilitated by Virgin Money.

I will be updating my imprint soon, given I had to found a company in Germany and close my Austrian one. It’s been a lot of bureaucracy, but it feels good to finally feel a little more settled. What I think is the most wonderful thing is how much I feel I am in the right place right now.

Last but not least, I’d love to recommend you the following reads:

Some thoughts on what might drive space exploration

How to share your user research

What to do when nobody notices your art

Enjoy your summer!

It’s a wrap! June 2018

I often ask myself whether it’s possible to build a community that’s purely online and without any kind of offline interactions. Is it still a community or is it just an audience? Is it then marketing or is it still community building? 

I’ve always believed there is a distinct difference between someone who works as a marketing consultant and a community strategist. In my job, I always look for ways to bring people together. In my opinion, what makes the internet so magical is that it’s much easier to gather people who have the same passions and interests, and that if you can gather people, you should. 

When we were thinking of what sort of social media content we wanted to produce for LifeStart this summer, we wanted to experiment with career mentorships and actually bring students together to chat with someone who works in the career they might be interested in. 

Luckily, we had a bunch of Virgin Experience Vouchers lying around, so Cleo and I set up group meetings, invited mentors, and asked students to join. We got very lucky with the locations too: from Fortnum & Mason to Grill Plateau, we turned an empty excel sheet into social media content that’s a treat for everyone. 

At the moment, we’re preparing the outreach to launch the next round of LifeStart Challenges that will begin in early fall. As always, we’re looking for UK-based university staff and students to help us. 

Another project that’s been keeping me busy is my upcoming Skillshare class on how to use Kickstarter to build a career as a freelancer. For this, I’ve been carrying around a microphone for most of the month trying to finally record it. 

You might notice my VAT number is no longer active, as I’m currently in the process of setting up a German company. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen I found an apartment and am moving back to Berlin. While it all went through just a week ago, it had been long time coming given that I’ve lived between Vienna and Berlin for five years, and as previously said, just got really tired of traveling around so much. Nevertheless, I’m currently popping in and out of Britain, so should you be in London, we could also a have a coffee one day. I’m mostly hanging out at the Shoreditch Grind when I’m there these days. I like to watch people as they rush through the streets. It’s so different when thinking of Vienna, or even Berlin.

Until next month! 

Things just got official: I’m moving back to Berlin

Last week, and after a three day work session with one my clients, I left London. Months ago, I had booked flights to see one of my best friends who lives in Holland. I had been contemplating from where I should book the flights before I settled on Vienna. I figured it would be the most likely place I’d be at the end of June. That was in January.

I flew to Vienna on the last flight, only to take off for Amsterdam on the first flight again. I spent the day in Amsterdam and headed to Utrecht to have dinner with my former flat mates. Just half an hour before the dinner, I had to spontaneously book an overnight bus to Berlin to then come back to the Netherlands. For months, we had planned to go to Vlieland. I wasn’t going to skip this.

The reason I needed to go to Berlin was to meet the landlord of a place I looked at a couple of weeks ago. The couple who lived there hosted the viewings and luckily, they shortlisted me for the place. The landlord then wanted to meet me in person before he’d commit to signing the contract. 

Yesterday, I flew back to Berlin to pick up the keys and sign the contract. I can't even believe I’ll be living in the most incredible apartment I never thought I had a chance of getting. It feels like the universe is very much approving of this decision at last. 

Nevertheless, it wasn’t an easy decision. Many things happened that made me to commit to coming back to Berlin. 

You might ask why Berlin? Vienna is so clean and beautiful and life there is so good. And you're right. It is. However, and the short story is: I love my friends in Berlin and the people who choose the place to be their home. Somehow, I feel much more alive when I’m in Berlin. It’s just what the city does to you I guess.  

The long story on the other side is slightly more complicated. You’ll see none of this was easy and none of this was planned...

In March 2017, and after two years traveling around Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, I gave up Kickstarter as my main client. I was no longer excited about waking up in a new city every day. What once was fun now became work. I felt like someone new would do a better job. I knew it was time for me to hand it over. It was time to look for something different.

After so much travel, I craved being rooted in one place and having a community again. I remember many times while sitting at the plane and looking out of the window all I wished for was going to the cinema with friends. I was tired. I knew I needed some time off.

Somehow, it was clear to me I needed to go to a place where I wouldn’t take on a new project immediately. I had to go somewhere I’d actually take off.

I had never taken a proper break for longer than two weeks. Having moved out of my parents' house at the age of 17, it’s become normal to hustle. Very often during my studies, I had up to three jobs simultaneously. It never was easy and there never was any money for me to just not do anything. I knew I deserved a break, which is why I eventually booked a trip to Bali. My plan was to be away from everything and without my computer for a month. 

While sitting in Bali, I picked up Tim Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Work Week. I was very much wondering where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. And somehow I also realized I missed having a dog by my side. Given I was planning to have a more stable life, it seemed like a good idea to get one.

Back in my apartment in May, I finally managed to fix my kitchen after getting rid of the water damage I had been dealing with since December of 2017. I got another remote project and was spending time with Orion trying to make her a well-behaved city dog. 

After that a new project request reached me. This time for a project in Iceland. I had to go to Iceland for a bit and then to Holland. Nevertheless, most of the work I could do remotely. But then, I knew that if I wanted to travel less, I needed to make my business more Austria-centric or find something I’d be excited about in Austria. 

I applied to become an associate at Teach4Austria and went through the assessment center. Yet in the last round, they turned me down. 

I then started doing what I was doing when I first went freelance; I reached out to my entire network and told them what I was looking for and what people could hire me for. I was trying to find my first proper Austrian client knowing that once I succeeded at finding two or three local clients I’d be good. Simultaneously, I started looking for jobs. One of the main things I missed when representing Kickstarter was working in a team. I figured now might be the time. 

In October, I then started talking to Die Presse about a role of a digital product manager. In a small country such as Austria, newspapers need a very different approach if they want to be financially viable. In my opinion, here a newspaper can't just copy what has worked for The New York Times, The Guardian, die Zeit, and others who have a much bigger market potential. Having a community strategy background seemed like the best background for such a role considering the constrains. 

To sum up how these conversations went; we talked for six months and in April, after much time investment from my side, they changed their mind. They no longer planned to hire a digital product manager (I still can't believe they’ve had an online presence since January 1999, yet only the editorial team decides what gets displayed on the main page and how). Instead, they requested a quote for a communication strategy. After they’ve received my quote, they simply sent a note they were no longer able to work with me. I might have asked for too much money. 

Given I actually really wanted that job, I spent a lot of time between October and December on acquiring new skills. I learned all sorts of things that the job of a digital product manager requires. I also spent much time researching the media industry. I thought the role would have been exciting. And for once, no new project requests arrived in my mailbox. There were definitely no project requests from Austria.

At the beginning of December, I called a friend in Germany. I told them I needed new projects and that Berlin would be okay again. It took two days and thanks to him, I was fully booked again. On the 15th of January at 11am, I had my last in-person conversation with Die Presse. The same day at 3pm, I was flying out to Berlin to then join the Veganz marketing team for three months. 

In the same week, my friend Eva asked whether I was able to support her as she was working on a project together with Hanzo. Given I always wanted to work on a project with Eva, I said yes. Now I wasn’t just fully booked. I was overbooked. And once I started teaching at the New Design University in St. Pölten, I was literally swimming in work. 

But swimming in work feels more like me and while I was in Vienna last year, there was no work and very often I felt lonely. I had a hard time reconnecting with people in Vienna. It’s understandable as I hadn’t really been there much since I have finished my BA. Despite the fact I’ve always paid taxes and also rent for my apartment in Vienna, I wasn’t really a local.

In a way, it would have been a no-brainer for me to move back to Berlin. Yet with the political situation in Austria and my moral desire to get involved instead of packing up my bags again and leave, I wasn’t ready to give up on calling Vienna my home just yet. 

Another thing popped up I thought could work. After being rejected by Teach4Austria and Die Presse, I then found a job as a digital campaigner for a political party in Austria. I only found out about the role two hours before the application deadline, so I applied thinking I could think about whether I could commit to working for a political party later. 

I’ve always had my issues getting involved with a political party. Nevertheless, the party seemed like the one alternative that could have a chance to challenge the current government. When they then rejected me after two interview rounds as well, I felt like I did everything I could to stay in Austria. I didn’t quite see myself there anymore. That was a new feeling. 

Personally, I’ve always felt like Berlin was too unstable for me to move back to. I remember talking to Sarah, one of my soul friends, and telling her how I didn’t like how people came to Berlin, got what they wanted, and once they met someone and things got serious for them, they’d move back to where they came from. She laughed and replied: “Oh well, you might meet someone and move back too and then your apartment in Vienna wouldn’t be suitable anymore anyway. Think about it.” 

She was right. And for the first time in ten years, I felt like it was time for me to close the door to Vienna. At least temporarily. 

Between February and July, I applied to about 40 apartments. I was invited to about 20 viewings. Right before I left Berlin on the 10th of June, I saw 9 apartments within 48 hours. Somehow, the very last apartment I went to see, and literally the one where I felt a big Y.E.S. but also had zero chances to actually getting it, is the one I’m sitting in right now. 

It’s crazy how the universe is always giving us what we need. Somehow I needed to go through a lot of rejection, loneliness, disappointment, and 20 apartment viewings only to be holding the keys of a place I’ll tell my grandkids about. That’s how good it is. I’m still in awe. 

When we act the way we think we’re expected to act

A while ago, I stumbled upon an article that discussed how many enjoy planning their vacation more than they enjoy the actual vacation. People love to imagine how it will be, how they will look, what they will feel like. They build up an idea about who they want to be and hope their vacation will allow them to be just that. 

I remembered this article when talking to one of the ladies who booked a consulting session with me.

When I first read her story, I didn’t quite understand why she wanted to talk to me. She seemed brave and like someone who just made things happen. However, she was only able to reach all these successes as long as she was living in Mumbai. Once she moved back to Germany, she looked for a normal job and did what she thought was the right thing to do. She lived up to her idea of what it meant to be a proper German. And she felt trapped. 

It made me realize how moving places might be the easiest way to break out of our mental grid. How being in a place where we don’t know anyone and that has a certain reputation makes it easier to become a part of that tribe.

Take Berlin; people come here to party. It makes them feel like they're more fun. People who go to Paris might feel more in love because their mental model of Paris asks them to feel that way. 

It seems hard to change who we are in a place where we have fixed beliefs and set rituals. A place where we act the way we think we are supposed to. 

Liz Wellington, a dear online friend, recommended The Artist’s Way to me some time ago. In the book, the author recommends a few techniques to live a more creative life. Things such as writing three handwritten morning pages and taking oneself on an artist date each and every week. I wonder if one can manage to break out of one’s self-imposed beliefs if one commits to these techniques as recommended. 

Do you have any experiences with Cameron’s teachings? Does your home time make you feel like you need to conform in any way? I’d love to hear from you! 

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Monika Kanokova