I’ve been tracking my habits for over 2 years, and have always used a simple Google Sheet. So in this article, I’m sharing my habit tracker, and my honest experiences with habit tracking.
Do you want to get started right away? Click here to find my simple Google Sheets Habit Tracker, make a copy and get started!
Alternatively, if you want to read my honest guide to habit tracking and find out more about:
- Habit tracking,
- How habit tracking works,
- Which habits you can track, and
- The ‘habit of habit tracking’,
Then read on!
What is Habit Tracking?
How Does Habit Tracking Work?
Which Habits Should You Track?
Which Habit Tracking Tool Should You Use?
A Simple Google Sheets Habit Tracker
Does Habit Tracking Work?
The Habit of Tracking Habits
What is Habit Tracking?
So what is habit tracking? Well, the concept is easy. You use a tool (like a spreadsheet) to track whether you did or did not ‘do’ a certain habit. The goal of tracking your habits is to either implement a new habit that you did not have before — or improve or increase an existing habit.
That means that habits like brushing your teeth are probably not worth tracking, because you pretty much do them every day. However, a habit like eating healthy can be interesting to track. After all, most of us find it quite difficult to consistently eat healthy — and perhaps it’s not something you are currently doing.
Whatever habit you choose to track, that at the end of each day or week, you write down in your habit tracking tool whether you did or did not do that particular habit. Over time, you can discern trends in your habit performance and improve on that basis.
How Does Habit Tracking Work?
In my experience, habit tracking works by actively providing you with reminders to do a particular habit. Provided that you can start the habit of tracking your habits, the habit tracker will remind you where you are with regards to your goal.
Suppose for instance that you have set a goal for yourself: To exercise 3 times per week. Diligently, at the end of each day you fill in your habit tracker and whether or not you exercised that day. Now, halfway through the week, you’ve only exercised once. One look at your habit tracker, and you will instantly see you still have to exercise twice if you want to reach your goal.
Or consider a personal example. When I tracked my habits, I wanted to learn a few words of Chinese every day. I did this by using the HelloChinese app (an app similar to Duolingo). Every evening, I would look at and fill in my habit tracker, and see whether or not I learned some new words. If I had a few days in a row that I didn’t learn Chinese, that provided me with not just a reminder, but also a motivator to actually study the next day and the rest of the week.
Which Habits Should You Track?
From learning a language to exercise and eating healthy, there are endless habits to track. In my personal habit tracker (see below for the Google Sheet template), I tracked 10 different habits, plus the food I ate. These habits included daily meditation, exercise, studying corporate finance, meeting friends, learning Chinese, acting confidently, and a few more.
Obviously, this can be a bit much. If you’re planning to start tracking your habits, I suggest to begin with just a couple: perhaps 2 or 3. Which habits these are, are up to you. However, what I found important were these rules, that may help you choose your first habits to-be-tracked:
Guideline 1: You can quantify the habit (e.g. you learnt Chinese: yes (1) or no (0). Or your confidence level today was between 1-10)
Guideline 2: You can set a specific goal (e.g. you want to do the habit every day, every week, three times per year, etc. Or e.g. you want to reach an average confidence level of 7, etc.)
Guideline 3: You’re the only one who can do the tracking (in other words, you don’t have to rely on others, or ask others to rate you)
With these guidelines, you’ll get off to a good start. Whether it’s learning to play the piano, being kind to strangers, meditating, taking time for your family, being grateful, waking up early, working on a side project, giving compliments, not drinking alcohol, or anything other habit. Simply think of two or three, and move on to the next section!
Which Habit Tracking Tool Should You Use?
Once you find some habits to track, it’s time to look for a habit tracker. There are multiple habit trackers that you can use, from elaborate software tools to apps, or even simple notebooks, like the Habit Journal.
The internet can provide you with more information about which tools work for you. However, I’ve always preferred using a simple Google Sheet (Excel) file. Why? Well, because:
- It’s free,
- You can use Google Sheets from any device and any platform (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.), and
- It’s very easy to use; if you know Excel, then you can use Google Sheets.
So for those of you who want to use Google Sheets, I will share an empty habit tracker below.
A Simple Google Sheets Habit Tracker
If you want to use Google Sheets to track your habits, here is a simple Google Sheets habit tracker. To use it, simple go to ‘file’ and then ‘make a copy’. This will allow you to make a copy that is saved on your drive for personal use.
After making a copy for your personal use, follow these steps:
- Determine the habits you want to track (e.g. meditation, studying a certain subject, exercise, eating healthy, etc.)
- Put these habits into the first row (instead of the text ‘Habit A’, ‘Habit B’, etc.)
- Determine a goal for these habits. For instance: 0.7. This should be between 0 and 1 (0 means you never do it, and 1 means you do it every day). Put these in the second row currently marked: ?
- Start tracking your habits in the 0/1 column. Every day, write down whether you did (1) or did not (0) do a certain habit.
Then, over time, you will be able to see your weekly and monthly averages, and compare that to your goal. This makes this Google Sheets habit tracker super easy and simple to use.
Does Habit Tracking Work?
We’ve already discussed how habit tracking works, but not whether it actually works. In the end, the goal is to implement and improve habits; so does habit tracking help you to do that?
I can only talk from personal experience, but would say that habit tracking certainly works. As mentioned before, consistently tracking your habits provides you with a regular nudge or reminder to do those habits. And over time, you will notice that you also want to actually ‘do’ them. That is not to say that you cannot implement new habits without tracking them, but it certainly helps. Now, any time you look at your habit tracker, you will see your progress — and if it’s not to your liking, it’s easy to change course.
The Habit of Tracking Habits
So if we assume that habit tracking works, that we know which habits to track, and that we have a great Google Sheets-based habit tracker, then why would you stop tracking your habits?
Well, the answer is that the ‘meta habit’ of tracking habits is not easy to uphold. In my experience, after five months of habit tracking I found myself getting less interested. Getting my phone out before going to bed, and noting the habits I did that day, became a bit of a chore. And that turned into a slippery slope. Once I didn’t track my habits for one day, it became easier for me to not do it for two days straight, and so on.
Certainly, you could create a habit tracker to track whether you’re tracking your habits, but that’s a bit much, even for Leonardo DiCaprio (didn’t get it?). Nonetheless, anytime is a good time to start a new habit, even if it’s a meta habit like this one. So I’m confident I will start tracking my habits in the new year, and I would urge you to do so too. Simply use this article and my simple google sheets habit tracker, and off you go!
Meetups, or ‘events hosted around a specific topic’, have gained massive popularity over the last years. The company meetup.com popularized the idea and even trademarked the word ‘meetup’. And currently, companies and individuals around the world host more than 12,000 (!) meetups every day*.
One of these 12 thousand meetups is Enter Network. Started by me, Enter Network is a community for entrepreneurs in and around Utrecht, the Netherlands. We come together every month to discuss topics like social media marketing, recruitment, and startup funding, and to learning from and network with one another.
Now I’ve always been interested in event management. So in the course of organizing these meetups, I’ve encountered a few challenges, such as a low attendance rate. This got me thinking: Should we set up a small fee, to boost attendance rate? In this article, you’ll learn about how we handled this low attendance rate and I’ll advise you whether or not to charge for meetups or other types of events.
* While this number makes it look like Meetup is doing well, there are a lot of controversies surrounding this platform. It was bought by the coworking space multinational WeWork in 2017. WeWork has been in bad weather recently, considering its failure to become a publicly-traded company — as such, it had to cut costs/jobs and is reportedly planning to sell Meetup.com, just two years after having acquired the platform. In addition, Meetup intends to significantly raise prices, and we don’t know yet what that will mean for the Enter Network meetups that I host.
The Bane of Event Organizers: No-Shows
If you take a look at the meetup.com website, you’ll see that the vast majority of meetups are free to attend. In my view, this is great because it lowers the barrier for people to learn something new, volunteer, engage with others, or do whatever the meetup is intended for.
However, a low threshold to attendance also means that there is an incredible low threshold to not show up. After all, you don’t have to pay for a ticket, so not showing up doesn’t have any effect on your personal life. And since Meetup is an online platform, you’re relatively anonymous. You probably don’t know the people organizing the meetup, and so will not face any social backlash from those that now have to deal with fewer people actually attending.
This low threshold to not showing up often translates to a significantly low attendance rate, which we see across the board. For example, some meetup events see massive amounts of people registering, up to even 200 people, while just half or less attend. We’ve personally encountered this issue as well at Enter Network. Our previous events often saw 70-100 people register, and just 25-40 people actually attended. In other words, we had an attendance rate of less than 50%.
As an event organizer, this can be difficult to deal with. If you’re counting on one hundred people to show up to your event, you’ll prepare chairs, drinks, snacks and more for each and everyone of those. With such low attendance rates, it can become a costly and wasteful affair. So how do you solve this?
Boosting Attendance Rate: Charging a Small Fee
One way of solving this for Enter Network, we thought, was to charge for meetups. By asking registered attendees for a small fee, we could hopefully decrease the amount of people that registered but didn’t attend — and in this way boost attendance rate.
With that in mind, we started asking attendees for a €5 admission fee. This would weed out those people who registered but didn’t plan to attend, while ensuring that the bar to attend was still very low.
So after three months of meetups, what’s the conclusion? Since we’ve instituted the fee change in our meetup group, we’ve seen a negative effect on the amount of people who register for an event, but a positive effect on attendance rate.
Before asking for a small fee, we had an attendance rate of around 45%. For example, at one of our previous meetups, 33 people attended out of 73 registered attendees. Now however, we see around 30 people attend out of 40 attendees. In other words, our attendance rate has increased to 70%-80%!
Is Asking a Meetup Fee Worth It?
So it’s clear that a meetup fee boosts attendance rate, but reduces the amount of registered people. That begs the question: Is asking a fee worth it?
For Enter Network, it has generally been worth it. We do see slightly fewer actual attendees, but charging the fee really helps us in knowing how many people will actually attend.
In addition, if you organize an event, you will encounter costs. For instance, if you host such an event through meetup.com, you will need to pay the platform a fee of around $120 per year. Plus you may pay for drinks and snacks, a website, speakers, and other fees. So the fact is, that the small fee you charge for meetup attendees to attend can in fact help offset (a small part of) your costs. That can be another good reason to ask attendees for a fee.
Demonstrating Value by Asking For a Fee
Aside from helping you with the costs of organizing an event plus increasing attendance rate, a charge for meetups may also signal value. However small it is, a fee demonstrates to the attendees that attending the event is actually ‘worth’ something.
It’s something that YOU’ve planned, prepared and organized — all with the goal of delivering value. While it is very noble to give away value for free (and perhaps it’s a vital part in the way you run your business), it actually demonstrates all the hard work you’ve put in. Plus, it may have people actually valuing the event you organize more.
Another Solution: Charging Registrants that Didn’t Attend
But if your goal is purely to increase attendance rate, there are other options. An interesting one is to charge people with a fee when they registered for your event, but didn’t attend. With Enter Network, we haven’t yet tried this. However, I’m positive that it will work, as people are often risk averse and do not want to lose money.
Unfortunately though, charging people that didn’t attend is difficult in practice. Everyone who registers for your event, would also need to provide a payment method — ideally, a credit card — that can be charged after the event. In the case of meetup.com, this isn’t possible, especially not when hosting events in a country (like the Netherlands) where creditcards are less common.
Should You Charge for Meetups? It Depends…
So should you charge for meetups or other events? The answer as always: it depends. If your goal is to get as many people as possible familiar with your meetups (and perhaps your business), then charging a small fee might not be the right choice. After all, even if people don’t show up, more potential attendees will register for your event if it’s free.
However, if you want to increase attendance rate, off-set some of the costs associated with organizing an event, and signal value to attendees, then I would recommend you to charge a (small) meetup fee. This fee then should be in accordance with the event and the value you provide. So charging a €100 fee for a one-hour networking session might not be the best approach. But if you organize an event or meetup (for instance, as a side project), take all these aspects into account, and charge a fair fee for your event, then I’m positive it can help you in the long run.
Recently I re-discovered an interesting concept called path dependence. It came to me after reading the following Tweet, by journalist Jon Stone:
Can you imagine the hysterical reaction if someone had suggested the creation of public libraries today. “For free? how are you going to pay for that, STALIN?”
Considering our current governments which are quite conservative, the idea of public libraries can be preposterous. Most of the parties in power (e.g. in the US or the UK) would not consider providing such a non-vital good (books in this case) to people for free. So how is it possible that public libraries do in fact exist, even though the reigning parties would not consider it good policy? One way of explaining this is with the concept of path dependence. There are a number of different definitions of path dependence, but the one I use here is the idea that a specific product, process or even specific beliefs are in place because of historic use.
This is an incredibly interesting concept, because it can illustrate why something is in place today (such as public libraries) even though it goes against what we currently think is a better alternative or even the best option. In this article, I’ll illustrate the concept of path dependence with three examples.
Path Dependence in Hardware: The QWERTY Keyboard
One of the most famous examples of path dependence is the QWERTY keyboard. Chances are, you are reading this article on a device that uses QWERTY; simply look at the first letters on your keyboard.
This keyboard was created specifically to fix certain errors present in earlier keyboards. These earlier typewriters could jam when specific keys were hit quickly after another — the QWERTY design, created at the end of the 19th century, positioned these keys away from one another, so that the jams didn’t occur.
The story goes that the Dvorak layout*, patented in 1936, was much more efficient than QWERTY. Mr. Dvorak specifically designed this layout for efficiency, and typists trained with Dvorak are said to be up to 74% faster than those using QWERTY.
If this is the case, why then do we currently use the QWERTY keyboard? The reason is path dependence. Once a few companies started manufacturing QWERTY keyboards, and a few people started using them, the standard became an actual standard. If you see people in your vicinity use a QWERTY keyboard, and it’s cheaper than a Dvorak one, the choice is clear.
Even if you know that a Dvorak keyboard is more efficient, it’s not just making the switch itself that is difficult. Certainly, learning to type on a new keyboard layout will be a challenge, but it is doable. However, the path dependence here comes more from network effects, i.e. that everyone uses a QWERTY keyboard. This means for instance that anytime you use a device of someone else, you’ll have to go back to your old QWERTY ways, which makes it even more difficult to make a permanent switch to Dvorak.
Interestingly, even though everyone uses QWERTY vs Dvorak as the main example of path dependence, I do want to let you know that it has received a lot of criticism. Already back in the 1990s, two academics published an article named “The Fable of the Keys“, which demonstrated that there were actually very few efficiency differences between the two keyboard lay-outs. But whether or not it is fully accurate, the story is interesting and does a good job at illustrating path dependence.
* Note that Dvorak is not fully capitalized here, because unlike QWERTY, it was named after its inventor August Dvorak.
Path Dependence in Urban Geography: Cotton in Lancashire
Another interesting example of path dependence I found relates to urban geography, and the UK cotton industry. Blooming in the 19th century, the cotton industry was mostly focused around Lancashire, a county near Liverpool and Manchester. There were two reasons for the cotton industry’s presence here: skilled workers and natural resources (water, coal) that were heavily used in the production process.
Interestingly though, according to economists Crafts and Wolf, skilled workers and natural resources could also be found elsewhere. In other words, there was no specific reason for the cotton industry to be in Lancashire. And perhaps other locations would be even better suited for cotton manufacturers and traders, such as those with better access to London and other capitals.
So the reason that cotton was situated in Lancashire, according to these two economists, was again this network effect. Once people started manufacturing and processing cotton in Lancashire, they attracted others. Suppose for instance that you were interested in taking part in the cotton industry, as a worker, a manufacturer or trader. Whatever your job was, it made sense to go to Lancashire and set up shop there — after all, that’s where you could find work.
And so again, just like with the QWERTY keyboard, this example illustrates that even though better potential options exist, a ‘lesser’ option is taken, and it becomes increasingly difficult to from this option to a better one.
Path Dependence in Business: Fossil Fuels
A last example I want to mention is that of fossil fuels. By now you should have a fair idea of what path dependence is, so you’ll probably see how fossil fuels are relevant here.
Over the years, it has become clear that renewable energy is the better choice. There is no end to these energy sources, and pollution is kept to a minimum. Nonetheless, fossil fuels currently still make up between 75% and 80% of our total global fuel consumption.
One reason for this is that fossil fuels were and still are a cheap source of energy. But considering the climate crisis and all the natural and societal effects fossil fuels (and CO2-emissions) have, there are obviously better outcomes. So the reason for the prevailing power of fossil fuels can be found in path dependence; if you’re someone looking for a job, or a company looking for a market to sell to, you’ll simply have better chances in the oil industry than in the wind farm industry. Or in other words, because initial investments in (extracting and using) fossil fuels were made, it has become easier for others to follow the same path.
Breaking Away from a Dependent Path
So what can we do ‘against’ path dependence? As you’ve seen, path dependence often means that there are better potential options, possibilities or outcomes, that we do not or cannot take. And while this may not such be a big issue for our keyboard habits or the location of the cotton industry, in the case of fossil fuel use, we need to find a way to deal with this.
In my view, there are a couple of ways to do so. First, just like when making unrestricted choices, become aware that you’re on a ‘dependent path’. This awareness should come with the realization that change can be incredibly hard. The unfortunate thing of path dependence is that the problem at hand is now ‘nobody’s fault’. After all, it often relates to in-action (e.g. keyboard users didn’t want to start using the DVORAK keyboard, and keyboard manufacturers thus didn’t want to sell them), and the challenges are enormous. So even for those who do want to make a difference, it’s incredibly difficult.
Nonetheless, change is possible. So second, in some cases there is a first-mover advantage. This means that who ever moves first has an advantage over those they are in competition with. Take the fossil fuels example; those who are the first to move to renewables will have an edge over the competition. This applies to business (e.g. Tesla), but also to governments; countries with the right infrastructure for renewable energy will be a step ahead and attract more investments and jobs.
And third, even when there isn’t a first-mover advantage, there may be first-movers. Consumers, governments and companies may take a specific option that is not the cheapest. You may start to drink oat milk, even though it tastes slightly worse and is more expensive. By making this specific choice, you show others what’s possible. Hopefully, this may lead others to follow, and help us break away from the path we’re currently on.
When I launched a newsletter accompanying this blog, I named it: ‘Unrestricted’. I came up with this name on the basis of the organizational purpose of the company I ran for two years called Infloat. Recently, the company has stopped operations, but I find that its organizational purpose is more relevant than ever. Specifically, our company’s purpose was “to activate people in making unrestricted choices“.
As an entrepreneur in Europe, that was a lofty goal for a 2-man startup, but it was something we wanted to strive for. After all, my co-founder and I felt that people around us made too many choices on the basis of the wrong reasons. Choices about relationships, careers, housing, or other important life issues.
People often do not see the other options available, or are restricted in their decision-making by certain expectations, biases and other limitations. That is something I still feel — that people are too restricted in decision-making. But what do I mean with this ‘restrictedness’? Who or what restricts us from making a specific choice or decision? And even if we can define what ‘unrestricted’ means, how can we make sure to make lift these limitations — and make decisions entirely without restrictions?
What do Unrestricted Choices or Unbiased Decisions mean?
What unrestricted choices mean in this context — the context of decision-making — is partly personal. However, to me it means making choices without limitations. To make decisions without bias. To let go of preconceived notions of what you should do. To not being limited by what other people think, by what is expected from you by society, your parents, friends, partners or the world at large. To think beyond existing patterns and see additional options or choices that you did not see before, or that did not seem like an option at all.
Perhaps that’s still a rather vague concept. But we can clarify this by zooming in, and looking at what or who may sometimes restrict us in our decision-making.
By what are we biased?
So what restricts us? What biases us in making certain choices or decisions in life — whether it comes to our relationships, work, finances, happiness, or something else entirely? Aren’t our lives un-scripted? Don’t we all believe in free will?
While there is a lot to say about free will — and we won’t get too philosophical here — I do believe that restrictions, limitations, censorship, obstacles, biases and blockades exist for many of us. We can think of countless examples, but here are a few that I want to mention.
Societal Restrictions on Decision-Making
However you call it, when making a decision, we often ‘feel’ the expectations from society — or ‘the way things should be’. Consider for instance the way we approach our career or family life. We’re supposed to get a job after graduating, we’re supposed to work a few years for the same company, and we’re suppposed to slowly but surely work our way up. We’re supposed to get a partner sometime in our twenties, marry that person, and get kids soon after.
Certainly, there are some local differences depending on which country or city you live in. But by and large, such expectations really pervade our culture. And we feel these expectations particularly when we want to make a choice that goes against a pre-existing norm. Let’s say for instance you want to move abroad, or take a 3-year sabbatical in your twenties. There’s a fair chance that people around you will discourage you, because it goes against existing norms. “Why would you? No one does that in their twenties! And it will hurt your long-term career prospects!”
Value-Based Restrictions from Friends and Family
Similarly, we can be restricted by our family and friends. Take some time and think about what your friends and family members have in common, and the values they share. Whatever these values are — from frugality to honesty — it is very likely that sometimes somehow they influence your decision-making.
In my personal case, a majority of my family members have studied for a particular career; they studied medicine to become a doctor, or studied law to become a lawyer. In contrast, I studied politics and economics, but did not become a politician or economist. Because this was uncommon in our family, it was sometimes difficult to follow a different path. And even in cases when your parents (or others) support you in making a choice that goes against what is seen as ‘normal’, you still have to face your own doubts and the (often assumed) opinions of others.
Our Cognitive Biases (Kahneman & Tversky)
And then there are the most elusive decision-restricting viarables of them all: cognitive (or psychological) biases. Anyone who has read Thinking Fast and Slow or has heard about the term ‘behavioral economics’, will have heard of this concept before.
Popularized by Kahneman and Tversky (who started publishing their research back in the 70s!), we are all restricted somehow by specific biases. Specifically, we encounter a cognitive bias when we’re prone to take a certain action that would otherwise be illogical to take.
Examples of such biases are the confirmation bias (you actively look for information and evidence that supports pre-existing beliefs), anchoring (you relate the options to a decision to the first option you’ve received), false consensus effect (you overestimate the amount of people that agree with you), and many more.
Just listing these biases is not enough. To really show you how they restrict our decision-making, it is imperative to give an example. Take for instance the availability heuristic. In essence, this means that we attach greater importance to information that comes to mind quickly.
Now let’s say you think about moving. You either want to go to the United States, or someplace in South America. South America is a big place. But with stories about drugs and gang violence and Netflix shows like Narcos, the first image that comes to mind when thinking about South America is not too positive. So instead, you choose to move to the USA: “the land of the free and home of the brave”.
Here, we see the availability heuristic in action. You haven’t actually considered both options on their merits — rather, you’ve based your decision on information that was most easily available (i.e. that in South America drugs and crime run rampant). Obviously, this is just one example of a bias, but there are many more that can influence our decision-making.
Limiting Our Decisions by Self-Censorship
Above, I briefly mentioned the assumed opinions of others. Another highly important way we often feel restricted in our decision-making is by self-censorship. What do I mean with this?
Literally, self-censorship is “the exercising of control over what one says and does, especially to avoid criticism”. In other words, we often specifically NOT go for a specific option, because we’re afraid of what others might think of us — even if we didn’t actually ask or verify this opinion of others.
Suppose you’re at the Starbucks and want to order some coffee. You walk up to the counter, glance at the display, and suddenly you see this massive piece of red velvet cake with Oreo toppings and extra pieces of chocolate. Sounds amazing, right? If you were by yourself, there would’ve been no doubt in your mind to “have your cake and eat it too”. That Red Velvet would be gone in no-time.
You see this massive piece of red velvet cake with Oreo toppings and extra pieces of chocolate. Sounds amazing, right?
But in this particular case, the Starbucks is packed. It’s filled with people who you expect to have a particular opinion of you when buying and eating that piece of cake, all for yourself. So if it was just up to your desires, the choice would be clear. But in this case, you want to avoid criticism (even though this criticism is assumed and only exists inside your head!), so you choose not to buy that delicious piece of heaven after all.
This is just a (perhaps somewhat odd) example, but self-censorship happens all the time. And it’s not necessarily bad, but when we’re making important decisions, it’s good to know when you’re restricted, and when you’re censoring yourself. To ask yourself: What assumptions am I making here? And is this what I really want?
The Goal: Not Unrestricted Decision-Making, but Accepting the Consequences
Considering all of these ways in which our unrestricted choices are in fact limited by what society thinks, the values of the people around us, specific biases and our self-censoring beliefs, may lead us to question everything around us. After all, if we accept that we’ve been heavily influenced in our decision-making, how do we know that we’ve ended up here because of our own personal volition?
That may be a frightening thought, but my goal with this article is not to make you rethink your life choices. If you’ve followed a traditional career or life — and if you have a house, a dog, a wife or husband, children and a job as a teacher, doctor or lawyer, then that’s fine with me. But what’s even finer with me, is if you’ve accepted this.
Let me ask you this: Have you accepted that the choices you made, brought you to where you are today? If you decide to go to work tomorrow, just like any other day, have you accepted that decision and are you happy with it? Illustrating that question is the goal of this article. It’s to show you that there are often other options, even though I don’t urge you to take these. I simply want to show them to you.
Like Morpheus said in one of my all-time favorite movies, the Matrix:
I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.
But in contrast to the Matrix, there is no right or wrong here. Walking through the door or not walking through the door — it’s all the same to me. But knowing that the door exists, knowing that there are other doors out there, doors that you might have not considered in the first place, or doors you might not have seen because they were hidden or because you thought they weren’t meant for you to open, that is the point of this article — and more generally, of my newsletter. To have you realize that a decision, and especially big life decisions, have more options than you think. And perhaps also to try and care less about what other people think of your decisions.
As always, it’s easier to give advice than to follow it. So even though I have taken a slightly different route (in terms of my career) than others, I’m certain that my choices aren’t unrestricted; that many of my decisions are heavily influenced by a variety of variables. And to be fully honest with you, depending on how I feel, I have or haven’t fully accepted that.
For a long time, I’ve been interested in entrepreneurship. In how companies get started and grow over time; and in the people that come up with an idea and actually decide to make that idea into a business. It’s simply amazing to see what people can do when they decide to start a company.
But the reason why entrepreneurship is interesting is not just because of some crazy ideas like Elon Musk’s space travel plans. Entrepreneurship in itself is tremendously valuable. Valuable for the person starting a company and valuable for society at large. Nonetheless, it seems that entrepreneurship — particularly in Europe — is not always seen as such. So in this article, I’ll take a look at why entrepreneurship is so important, and why and how we should value entrepreneurship in Europe.
Value of Entrepreneurship
How important is entrepreneurship? Well, we can’t answer this question quantitatively, but we can take a look at what makes building businesses valuable. First, becoming an entrepreneur brings a lot of value to the person starting the company (which may be you). Often, you willingly put yourself outside of your comfort zone, which is where you learn the most. And this learning, this personal development, is what makes this such a valuable career path.
Perhaps more important is the value of entrepreneurship for society. For example, if you’re an employee at a company, someone sometime had the crazy idea to start that specific company. Indirectly, because of him or her, you now have a job. Perhaps to you, it doesn’t feel like you owe someone anything. After all, you got the job because of your skills and experiences. Nonetheless, without the person that started that specific company, you would have been working elsewhere. So without those willing to take a risk and start something, our society wouldn’t function the way it does.
The story of entrepreneurship is essentially a story about innovation
And this doesn’t just apply to jobs specifically. The story of entrepreneurship is essentially a story about innovation. From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, millions of entrepreneurs around the world have created new inventions; inventions that have been spread to consumers worldwide, by the companies these entrepreneurs built.
Considering all of the effects (personal development, creating jobs, innovation, etc. ) that entrepreneurship can bring, it should be clear what the value of entrepreneurship is, and that our society, governments, infrastructure and people should encourage entrepreneurship at large.
Facilitating Entrepreneurship in Multiple Ways
However, this ‘encouragement’ of entrepreneurship is not a given. And encouraging entrepreneurs to start businesses can happen in different ways. Through facilitating regulations, creating pro-startup infrastructure, or even by the general pervading ‘startup culture’. In that sense, just like with differences in work breaks, we can look at how we can encourage and value entrepreneurship on multiple levels.
International & National Laws and Regulations
Starting at an (inter)national level, we see that certain regulations can make ‘life’ easier for both startups and those wanting to start a company. For instance, the European Union works hard on what it calls the Digital Single Market — an initiative that aims to “tear down unnecessary regulatory barriers” for digital products and services.
Another example of this is the Dutch law regarding capital requirements. Before 2012, you could only start a BV company (an LLC equivalent) with at least €18.000 on the bank. This minimum capital requirement has since been abolished, making it much easier for people wanting to start a business (as a BV) to do so.
Infrastructure for Startups
Alternatively, we can look at facilitating infrastructure, such as other companies that provide services for startups and starting entrepreneurs. In Europe, the amount of money that European venture capital (VC) firms have available to invest in startups has grown quite a bit over the last years. In 2016, VC companies in Europe invested around €6.5 billion in startups, a sizeable amount. Unfortunately, this amount pales in comparison to their American equivalents, who invested around €39.4 billion in that same year.
Another very interesting example of current pro-startup infrastructure in the US is the so-called Thiel Fellowship. This fellowship was founded by Peter Thiel, famous entrepreneur and investor (e.g. founder of Paypal, investor in Facebook, Airbnb, etc.). According to the website, “the Thiel Fellowship gives $100,000 to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom.” In other words, this initiative actively encourages university students to drop out of university in order to found a company.
However, in Europe such a fellowship does not exist. And dropping out of university to start your own business is not something we commonly see. In Europe, failing is less of an option; Why should you drop out of college to pursue a risky dream? Or why would you “throw your life away” over “an experiment”?
Different Startup Cultures
These are just a few examples of how we can enable entrepreneurship in Europe. But as you can see from the last example, it’s not just about laws or infrastructure. It’s in our culture. Interestingly, encouraging entrepreneurship is simply a given in the United States. For Americans, there is no reason to read or write a blog article like this. In the US, if you tell others you work for yourself, you’re met with awe. And even failure (which is of course common among entrepreneurs) is seen as a success.
In contrast, in my experience here in Europe, entrepreneurs are seen as risk-takers. And risk-taking is something Americans do well, but Europeans — not so much. In 2014, >50% of Europeans preferred to work as an employee, while >50% of Americans preferred to work for themselves. Certainly, also in Europe there is some prestige to being an entrepreneur and they are seen as ‘cool’ and ‘exciting’. However, considering the risks and existing red tape, entrepreneurship is not often considered a viable career option.
That is not to say that the situation for European entrepreneurs is improving over time. Access to capital, non-restrictive laws to start a company, etc. are much better now than they were 10 or 20 years ago. But it’s interesting and important to face the legal, infrastructural and cultural divide that still exists — and which results in a brain-drain of startup companies who move to the US (and create jobs and innovation there instead of their home country).
A Call to Value Entrepreneurship in Europe
This article serves as a call to value entrepreneurship, specifically in Europe. And it’s very clear what entrepreneurship can bring. As an individual founding a company, you’ll learn more than you have ever learnt. And if we take a look at entrepreneurs more generally, we see that their contribution to society (in terms of economic development and innovation) is unparalleled.
And so on EU and national levels, we should promote regulations (such as the Digital Single Market) that make it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business and sell their products wherever they want. In terms of infrastructure, we should further support European venture capital firms, or even start ourselves as angel investors. And as individuals*, we should meet with and support entrepreneurs in our social circle. To encourage them in pursuing crazy ideas, even though they may fail — and change our culture bit by bit.
*And if you’re interested in entrepreneurship yourself, start thinking about an idea! Not just because it ‘has value’ for yourself and for others, but also because it’s an incredibly rewarding pursuit. Sure, there are obstacles on the road, and sure, it’s not easy. At first you will fail, but the rewards you get from trying are much more valuable. And if you don’t know where to start, start with the problem space and solution space.