• 70 questions with Dmitry Kudrenko, founder and CEO of Stripo: From email design and marketing to Ukrainian startups and hope for world peace

    70 questions with Dmitry Kudrenko, founder and CEO of Stripo: From email design and marketing to Ukrainian startups and hope for world peace

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    Over the years I’ve subscribed to and unsubscribed from a ton of newsletters. Usually, after a month or two, I hit the “unsubscribe” button without hesitation. But there is one newsletter that has convinced me to stay a subscriber for about two years: Sephora’s.

    There’s just something about their newsletter that captivates me every time. It not only informs, but inspires. It’s visually appealing and emotionally heartwarming.

    I can’t explain exactly what they do right, but I can try: It’s short, fresh, full of color and beautifully crafted imagery, sophisticated yet minimalist and effortless. It feels like I always receive it at the right time and it always leaves me wanting more.

    Despite my fascination with this newsletter, it was just a newsletter to me. I never thought of it as anything more than an email until I interviewed Dmitry Kudrenko, the Ukrainian founder and CEO of Stripo, an all-in-one email design platform. 

    I learned about Dmitry and Stripo at Web Summit in Lisbon in late 2022, and when he graciously agreed to answer my 70 questions, I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever be able to ask so many questions about an “email template builder”. 

    To keep my promise, I started researching and writing down my questions, and the more I read about email design and marketing, the more interesting I found this world that I didn’t know much about.

    Dmitry took quite a while to get back to me, and there were moments when I even forgot about the interview. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised––and incredibly grateful and humbled––when I received his answers.

    He was actually busy writing what I’d call a short e-book or a mini course on email design and marketing, to say the least, and it was more than worth the wait. 

    In almost every sentence, I saw Dmitry as a fount of knowledge in this field and admired his passion for his work. The more I read, the more I realized that email design and marketing isn’t just an art––as I used to think when I thought of Sephora’s newsletter––but a science. 

    His answers turned the concept of “email building”, which was completely “abstract” to me, into something very tangible and easy to understand. And I think everyone who reads this interview will no longer look at the emails and newsletters they send or receive in the same way. 

    The information, thoughts, insights, and stories Dmitry shared in response to my questions ranged from topics like what Stripo does, how to explain an email template to a child, what email and life have in common, and what makes a good gift for an email marketer to “vyshyvanka”, Ukrainian startups, and his hope for peace in his war-torn country and beyond. 

    Let’s dive in and I’m sure you’ll learn things you didn’t think you needed to know. Happy reading!

    1- How would you describe yourself in one sentence, Dmitry?

    I’m a programmer turned serial IT entrepreneur IT, but people know me as a marketer.

    2- What about “Stripo”? How would you describe it in a sentence?

    It’s an email design platform that lets you create beautiful email templates quickly and without any technical skills. You create an email template in Stripo and export it with one click to any system you use to send it.

    3- What sparked your interest in software development?

    I actually started my software development career 25 years ago in high school. I never thought I could do anything else—it’s in my DNA.

    4- How did the idea for your business come about?

    We (my fellow university students and I) started an outsource software development company a long time ago. We had been developing software as a service (SaaS) products for our customers for over ten years.

    Then we realized that we wanted to develop products that would change the world for the better, regardless of the industry. We wanted to learn to build products that would make us proud and be financially successful. 

    And more importantly, we wanted to fully control the success of our products and not just leave it to chance.

    5- What’s the story behind the name “Stripo”?

    So-called stripes make an email. That’s why we decided to name our tool after the email stripe. The stripe, like a ribbon, is bright, flexible enough and yet integral and easy to “play with”. 

    So we first gave our project the name “Stripe”. We were well aware of the Stripe payment system. But we thought adding the .email domain would make it easier for people to distinguish us. That was a huge mistake.

    When we attended our first conference in the United States, people confused us with “Stripe”. That very day we decided to change our name, but we didn’t want to change the whole concept. So we made a small change and now we’re called “Stripo”.

    6- How would you explain an email template to a child?

    This is a difficult question. The first thing that comes to mind is that a template is something like Lego for email production. If you have Lego bricks, you can build anything you want. Depending on what brick sets you have, you can build cars, spaceships, a jungle, or palaces.

    7- How about an email template builder?

    Lego is versatile and offers almost endless possibilities. It’s hard to imagine what a person can create when given a whole bunch of different bricks. Would anyone be able to build an exact copy of the Statue of Liberty or the Lego Star Wars Death Star?

    A template builder is like a step-by-step guide, a select kit, and a block separator. In such an environment, you can quickly build exactly what you need without any technical skills. And at the same time, you have the freedom of choice.

    8- Three things that set “Stripo” apart from similar solutions?

    • A combination of flexibility and simplicity. You’ll hardly find such a good combination that allows beginners without technical skills to use the tool efficiently—i.e. to create emails with custom designs—and professionals to optimize the processes;
    • The modular email design as a basis for creating email templates;
    • Extensive library of pre-built templates and modules.

    9- How did you choose your brand’s color palette?

    We chose green over the other colors because it symbolizes Mother Earth, radiates tranquility and peace, and evokes trust.

    And we chose light gray as the second color because it perfectly matches the green.

    10- What should we know about your logo?

    A ribbon symbolizes Stripe. It’s bright, flexible, simple, and holistic, just like the product.

    Image source: Stripo

    11- The key benefits of email templates for businesses?

    Consistency, time savings, and scalability:

    • consistency in branding, tone of voice and communication;
    • time savings, as much of the routing work for coding, integration, etc. is eliminated;
    • scalability, since you can delegate some of the work to your team members and they can easily do what you need without breaking anything.

    12- “Stripo” wants to become “the standard of email layout coding”. What does it mean?

    To answer this question, we need to dive into some details.

    Currently, there are no standards for email coding. Each email client has its own rendering rules and extensions that dictate how styles should be used. 

    Some even use special markups. For example, Microsoft uses ActionScript, Google uses AMP, Outlook uses VML, and so on. Even for experienced, worldly-wise designers, it’s hard to know all these rules. 

    We’re now creating a space where users without technical and marketing skills can create emails that meet all the best standards, including accessibility, quality of code, and compatibility with email clients.

    On the other hand, the standard for us is the way people see us. And we want to be associated with email. We want to be the first option that comes to people’s mind when they think of email.

    We want to be the first choice when people are looking for professional email production information. Being a standard for us means that we cover all processes around email production:

    • knowing how to support multilingual emails;
    • communicating with stakeholders about email production;
    • offering the right integration with email marketing tools like Figma, Canva, Email on Acid, Litmus, etc;
    • offering the right integration with senders like ESPs, CDPs, MAPs, etc;
    • knowing how to find email inspiration;
    • knowing how to properly manage roles and access levels between stakeholders.

    13- The most common misconceptions about email marketing?

    The biggest misconception about email marketing is that it’s SPAM. Countless books, articles, publications, etc. explain that this isn’t true. But this misconception is very popular.

    There are a few more:

    • Email marketing is about communication. It’s just a channel to communicate. The most popular channel, the most effective channel, but just a channel. And it’s your responsibility how you use it, what you want to communicate to your customers through that channel, and how you make them happy with the messages they receive from you.
    • Sending mass emails is email marketing. The main idea of email marketing is to send the right message to the right person at the right time. You can add many more “rights” to it, like using the right channel in the right context with the right frequency, etc. So it’s almost rocket science to find your “rights”.
    • The email marketer is only responsible for sending emails. That’s not true. An email marketer is actually responsible for the customer journey, influencing the direction in which the business grows. You shouldn’t underestimate the power that an email marketer has.

    14- The biggest change you’d like to see in the email marketing industry?

    There are four important things I’d like to change for all email marketing stakeholders:

    • Marketers. Their main activities should revolve around the customer and what they want. They shouldn’t be occupied with routine processes, but should take care of the customer’s needs.
    • Email senders. They should be the ones email customers look to for guidance. Also, senders need to take an omnichannel approach, not just sending emails and using customer data.
    • Email clients. They should all be similar, with the same rendering rules and standards.
    • Recipients. They only want to see personalized emails in their inbox, which I understand. But they don’t want to reveal any personal information about themselves. So I’d like to see people more willing to share some personal data. And of course, I hope their inboxes are filled with anticipated emails. Simply put, I hope recipients receive only relevant newsletters.

    15- “Not only does he monitor trends, but also sets them.” That’s what it says on your profile page on Stripo. What’s a new trend you’d like to set in this space?

    They would be trends related to:

    Modular email design, also known as modular email architecture: 

    Everyone is talking about it now. But they just understand it as dragging pre-built modules/elements of email. But to me, it’s much more than that. It’s a completely new concept that will fundamentally change email production. And we’ve already done a lot in that direction.

    Goal-driven marketing:

    Today, most companies stick to a campaign-oriented approach. I’d call it goal-driven when marketers have the goal of the entire email marketing communication with a customer in mind, not just a one-time campaign. 

    Imagine if you set a goal and the system does whatever it takes to achieve it. It seems impossible. But a while ago, no one believed in Tesla’s full self-driving car. And now you can simply enter a starting point and destination on Google Maps, lightly hold the steering wheel, and let the car do the rest itself. 

    You can do the same with marketing. All we need is a “map” and roads. And move slowly toward the destination. I think the necessary map is in the customer journey. There are many aspects that the system can improve, such as choosing the best time to send, the communication channel, the number and frequency of messages, and optimizing the quality of the data collected. 

    There are many challenges, but they can move us from campaign-driven to goal-driven marketing. This means that machines do all the mechanical/repetitive tasks and marketers do their work and set the goals.

    16- A tip to improve interpersonal communication?

    When it comes to communication of any kind—personal or professional—it’s critical to listen. For email only, listening means gathering customer data to use properly.

    17- “Shape emails your way”. That’s what it says on the “Stripo” website. How does Dmitry design an email his own way?

    All companies want their emails to always be “on-brand”. Not just visually, but voice-wise as well. They want to stick to brand colors, fonts, and everything else. They want their emails to visually reflect their website.

    However, it’s often difficult to create brand-consistent emails because of custom fonts and design styles. In such cases, marketers have to ask developers or coders for help. 

    With our tool, marketers can create custom brand-consistent emails without any coding skills at all. Even if you use our templates, you can effortlessly create 100% on-brand emails. And that’s no empty boast. It’s what we really do.

    18- The golden rule of email marketing?

    Focus on your customers, not the emails.

    19- I’ve seen photos of you wearing “vyshyvanka”. What do you like most about it?

    Vyshyvanka is our national dress.

    As for me wearing it… Well, it all started about ten years ago. I’m, as I said, a programmer. So I don’t really wear suits very often. Some time ago, I was a speaker at a marketing event. That was supposed to be my first public speech. Honestly, I didn’t have a suit at the time, so I didn’t know what to wear for that event. However, I had my vyshyvanka with me. So I decided to wear it. And I liked it.

    There was a time when I wanted to stop wearing it and switch to something else, but I found out that a lot of people referred to me as “The guy in the vyshyvanka”, and so a lot of people sought me out and found me at events. This is the story of how I started wearing it.

    And today the vyshyvanka is a kind of self-identification for all Ukrainians. We like to tell the world that we’re from Ukraine.

    Image source: Stripo

    20- Email marketing before the pandemic vs. email marketing after the pandemic?

    We’re more active online today, we travel much less than we used to, people live far apart, shop online, etc. And email connects people. Email helps bring information from companies to people.

    Email marketing itself hasn’t changed at all. But the processes within it have changed, which is crucial in times of crisis and war. So to keep up with the times and the current situation in the world today, you need to:

    • revise all automated communication (triggers);
    • decide whether or not to give discounts to your customers;
    • remember that lively, funny subject lines are inappropriate in times of war and crisis.

    21- “Stripo” before the pandemic vs. “Stripo” after the pandemic?

    We’ve all learned to work online. I mean, we have learned to manage all processes remotely. Today, our employees work from different cities and some even from different countries. We were afraid that Covid would have a negative impact on our business, but in fact it taught us to work online and actually prepared us for stable performance during the war. 

    22- Email marketing was alive and well in 2022 because…?

    Because communication is essential for marketing, and email is the best communication channel yet. New channels are popping up, but email remains the most convenient. Because it’s accessible to everyone, subscribers can open emails whenever they have time, and emails allow detailed analysis of campaign performance, which is very important.

    I believe that email can change into something else in the future, but will never be replaced.

    23- Three characteristics of an engaging newsletter?

    • clarity in everything—design, copy, etc;
    • short, concise copy;
    • relevant content at the right time.

    24- What do you think are the main reasons for unsubscribes and opt-outs?

    There are three very popular reasons:

    • Too many emails from the company/organization;
    • The content is no longer relevant;
    • The content wasn’t what was expected.

    But these reasons can be different for each company. So brands need to track this metric for themselves.

    25- You’re a keynote speaker. What’s the speech you’re most proud of? Why is it so special to you?

    I don’t really have a favorite speech. But every 8-10 months a new idea is born, which I call a “Big Idea.” Eventually, it becomes the “favorite idea” that I can be most proud of”

    I want to give you examples of these ideas:

    • I borrowed the Shuhari model from aikido martial arts and applied it to email marketing. I had dreamed of creating a kind of map where I can mark the point where the company is right now and where exactly it should go. This simple thing makes it possible to pave the way to the goal, set checkpoints and decide what to measure at each stage. And the Shuhari concept gives us answers to these questions. I’d really like to share more details about it here, but it would take too long;
    • Qualities of a good email marketer and a career path for an email marketer;
    • Goal-driven email marketing and modular email design.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to give speeches that have changed some people’s minds about their job and the role of direct marketing; we’re now close friends with some of them. It all inspires me and makes me proud to give such speeches.

    26- How did you know entrepreneurship was for you?

    I always wanted to think outside the box when doing a task, like writing software code. Solving a problem has always motivated me much more than the outcome and what I get in return. Sometime later, when I started challenging myself (together with my partners), it became an unforgettable adventure that never ended. 

    27- Your definition of success when it comes to entrepreneurship?

    Every entrepreneur has their own definition of success because we set different goals for ourselves. Personally, I consider myself successful when I achieve my goals and am satisfied with what I’ve done.

    The problem with that is that the goal always changes. That’s why success on the inside isn’t what it looks like on the outside.

    28- The most rewarding aspect of entrepreneurship?

    Freedom of choice because it allows you to do what you like every day. Your job becomes your hobby, a part of you, and you like it. You realize that what you do is meaningful and adds value to the world. 

    29- Is there anything you wish you had known before you started your own business?

    Years ago, my first employer said, “If I had known then that I’d have so many challenges along the way, I probably never would have started my own business. But step by step, we managed to do things that seemed impossible.”

    I honestly don’t know what exactly I wish I had known back then when my friends and I started our own company. 

    30- The best book you’ve read about email marketing?

    Can I name four? It’s hard to name just one book:

    The best book to start with is “Email Marketing Rules” by Chad S. White.

    Then you should read “Holistic Email Marketing” by Kath Pay.

    The next two books are pretty old, but the information they provide is still relevant:

    • “Strategic Database Marketing” by Arthur M. Hughes
    • “Email Marketing By the Numbers: How to Use the World’s Greatest Marketing Tool to Take Any Organization to the Next Level” by Chris Baggott
    Image source: Amazon

    31- Five email marketing terms every marketer should know?

    Domain reputation, return on investment (ROI),  lifetime value (LTV), churn, and customer journey.

    32- The best strategy for deciding what content to include in your email marketing?

    Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, and ask yourself what exactly you want to hear from the company and when.

    33- A good question you should ask an entrepreneur?

    What motivates you to keep going, and what will you do when you reach your goals?

    34- If “Stripo” wasn’t an email template builder, it would be…?

    It would have been something similar to an older project of ours. About 10 years ago, my friends and I started a company called eSputnik, a customer data platform (CDP) for sending and analyzing email performance. It’s like a monster product with many features, each of which can be a small standalone product. We can also call them pocket products.

    Here are the main characteristics of a pocket product:

    • It should be a product that targets the global market and is localized in the most spoken languages of your niche;
    • The primary traffic source should be organic so you get customers without having an office in every country;
    • It should be easy to launch to a wide audience so you can benefit from the product from day one without spending time and budget on setup;
    • The minimum viable product (MVP) should be developed within three months;
    • The product must be for an industry in which you already have extensive experience;
    • The freemium model;
    • A clear exit strategy.

    35- The most important design principles for email marketing?

    Easy-to-read, clear call to action, responsive and mobile-friendly.

    36- The best way to measure the success of an email marketing campaign?

    I think return on marketing investment (ROMI) is the best metric we can track if we look at the email campaign in isolation from the overall communications strategy. But that would be a mistake. 

    Email marketing isn’t about sending emails. It’s about the customer, optimizing the customer journey, relationships, loyalty, and an increase in lifetime value (LTV). Even if you have a good ROMI, you can lose active users who will probably never come back to you.

    So there are:

    • tactical metrics that help you measure campaign performance, such as open rate (OR), click-through rate (CTR), campaign revenue, ROMI, etc;
    • strategic metrics that help you measure your “relationships” with customers, such as LTV, churn rate, average revenue per user (ARPU), etc.

    Sometimes a campaign is about something other than money, such as measuring net promoter Score (NPS), gathering feedback and customer data, etc. 

    37- What should you look for in an investor?

    As a fast-growing company (we’re working hard to maintain our 10% monthly growth), we consider an investor to be someone who understands the market, has ambitious plans, and has proven they know how to execute.

    38- The most common mistakes people make with email marketing?

    To think that email marketing is a short-term game and that the winning strategy in this case is “more emails, more money”.

    However, a customer relationship is a long-term thing. To build lasting relationships and keep customers loyal to your brand, you need to keep your audience engaged and consider whether and how recipients can benefit from your communications.

    39- A no-no in email marketing?

    Never buy a customer database.

    40- An email campaign you’ve seen in the past that you still remember today?

    Wow, it’s hard to pick just one. But the first thing that came to mind was a story about two similar campaigns with opposite results. It’s about onboarding emails I received.

    Case 1:

    When we were working on our email service provider (ESP), we used a third-party tool to send newsletters. When the number of emails reached 200,000+, we realized that we needed our own servers. Our admin selected a few tools we were considering, including PowerMTA by Port25. The latter offered a 1-month trial period. We took it seriously because the check had a 6 digit number in USD. There were other emails as well. When we received a notification email a month later telling us that our trial period was ending and asking if we were ready to make a decision, we knew we were ready to make the purchase. Imagine if they just sent us the “Your trial period is ending, and you’re ready to make a purchase” email without all the previous emails? Of course, we wouldn’t do that.

    Case 2: 

    Around the same time as the previous case, I signed up with a hosting company to host our website. The moment I signed up, something distracted me, and I later decided to go with another provider. And I never signed up with the first website. However, I received a welcome email, an email with login details, and a week later an email saying that my trial period would end soon and that they’d delete all my data if I didn’t pay. They should have informed me about this and offered their help in the following email after sending the access data instead of scaring me with deleting my data.

    Both companies emailed me that my trial period would expire and that it was time to make a decision. However, the first company gained a new client, the second didn’t. The main reason for this is the right message and the right timing.

    And it didn’t matter that the first company sent simple emails with minimal design. What mattered was that they had relevant content.

    A quick conclusion: email content is much more important than design. But a cool design makes your email brand consistent and makes it easier for users to understand your email content and know that it’s you reaching out to them.

    41- Creativity?

    Important, BUT secondary. Value and relevance of content come first. If creativity is part of the brand voice, only then is it required.

    42- Customization?

    If “customization” means personalization—which everyone understands differently—that’s great. Give it a try. But customization doesn’t come without “automation,” because it requires a lot of settings, a lot of time to maintain those settings, and a lot of mistakes.

    If “customization” means implementing an idea that is difficult and complicated to implement and requires many specific settings, then that isn’t OK. My advice isn’t to be a perfectionist. Start with a simple version and make it more complex only when necessary.

    I’ll give you an example: one of our clients, an online bookstore, wanted a very specific sequence of emails for abandoned cart emails. The emails were dependent on:

    • whether the book was currently in stock;
    • whether other publishers had the book;
    • whether it was available in different languages, etc.

    There were about ten different conditions. It took us a year to implement all of these triggers. Still, the customer never activated the sequence (flow). So sometimes it’s better to start with something simple and then improve it over time.

    43- Automation?

    Automation is critical. It allows us to eliminate routine tasks and focus on the things that really matter.

    If you’re just getting started with email marketing, you should follow the rules and best practices to be successful. And when you do that and learn which ones work best for you, automate some of the processes so you have the time to try something new to find your way.

    But many people think that if they automate some triggers, their job is done. But the opposite is true – this is just the beginning. It’s always the marketer’s responsibility to experiment, improve, extend, or remove what has already been automated.

    So automation makes it possible to take email marketing to the next level, where process is less important than quality.

    44- Data?

    Data is important.

    Customer data allows you to properly segment contacts, prepare only relevant content, and find the best time to send for each contact. That’s why collecting data is the most important task for all marketers.

    But collecting data is never enough. To make the most of the data you collect, you need to work on “unifying customer data” This means combining all data into a single 360-degree view of the customer.

    The most common mistake is collecting data but never using it. Many companies regularly put it off until next year. Never be like these companies!

    45- AI and email marketing?

    I don’t recommend fully relying on it for writing copy because no one can write an email copy better than a human marketer. Copywriting requires a creative approach. I know about Persado and Phrasee, and I’m keeping an eye on ChatGPT from OpenAI. Maybe we’ll see a revolution here in the near future, but not now.

    Use AI for the things you can’t do manually, such as when you need to analyze a large amount of data, which requires a complex approach.

    46- Your favorite quote about email marketing?

    Chad S. White, an email marketing expert, shared several rules in “120 Email Marketing Rules to Live By.” One of the rules says, “Focus on maximizing the value of a subscriber, not on maximizing the results of a campaign.”  

    47- Email marketing in 2023?

    More dynamic, personalized, and automated than in 2022, I believe the world will also take a few steps this year toward goal-driven marketing in 2023. Marketers should be more concerned with what to do for their customers and less concerned with how to do it. Good software should cover the “how to” part.

    I hope our inboxes are less spammy and a place where you can always find helpful information from brands.

    48- How do you see the future of email?

    Email can never be replaced. It can be modified or even transformed into something new.

    Any new channel that could ever replace email must:

    • be accessible to everyone;
    • offer solid analytics capabilities.

    But I think it’ll still be “email”. It’ll be more dynamic and much more structured, but it’ll still be “email”. 

    Recent statistics from Litmus show that half a billion more emails will be opened each month in 2022 than in 2021, so there’s still no reason to worry about the “death of email.”

    49- What did you take away from Web Summit 2022 in Lisbon?

    Inspiration and a great list of new contacts and ideas. I didn’t attend a single presentation there and still didn’t have time for tea because for me Web Summit is first and foremost a great networking event. 

    50- Your feedback for Web Summit organizers?

    We have been participating in the Web Summit since it moved to Lisbon. It has become a company tradition for us, and in 2023 we plan to attend the inaugural event in Rio. I can only say “thank you” and “keep up the good work” to the organizers.

    51- What do email and life have in common?

    Relationships, communication and care. I think the relationship between brand and customer is similar to a romantic relationship. 

    You can hardly expect to hear “I do” and build a strong relationship with a woman when you go to a bar, for example, and propose to the first girl you like at the counter, even if you have done thorough research beforehand and know that this bar has the most relevant audience of those you like. 

    Such a proposal should be preceded by getting to know them, having conversations, dating for a while, finding common interests and values, getting to know their parents, and building trust and mutual understanding, and only then do long-term relationships develop. Only then do people start a family, have children, and overcome all kinds of challenges. Now these people are a family to each other.

    The same thing happens in email marketing. Buying a contact list and sending mass emails to those contacts is like going to a bar and proposing to every girl you see. Yes, the audience is huge, but the results are usually small. 

    Your best bet is to get a person’s consent to talk, listen carefully to their needs, and find out if and how you can help that person. Then you work on building trust and respect and step by step develop your relationship from a mere encounter to love.

    52- How would you define emotional intelligence (EQ)?

    EQ is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions and those of others.

    53- EQ in marketing?

    EQ allows you to understand what your customers need and why, and then deliver the right message to provide value. Email marketing is one of the channels that allow you to talk to your customers one-on-one, as in a face-to-face interaction, listen to their reactions, and further improve your  marketing and business. 

    54- Three traditional Ukrainian dishes we must try?

    Borscht, Syrniki for breakfast, and draniki with meat.

    55- You’ve written and talked a lot about email gamification in e-commerce. What’s “email gamification?”

    Gamification is a process of applying typical game-like components to non-game activities to motivate and engage people in the task.

    Email is just one channel to deliver a marketing message to customers, while gamification improves the effectiveness of that message/communication.

    56- How can it help businesses?

    Gamification improves customer engagement by improving communication efficiency and simplifying the path from lead to loyal customer. Can there be anything more important than that?

    57- What’s a good gift for an email marketer?

    Definitely an annual subscription to Stripo, and if they already have it, any of the above books will do.

    58- Social media?

    Social media rocks, but I like the quote from Erik Harbison that shows the difference between social media and email: “If social media is the cocktail party, then email marketing is the ‘meet up for coffee’. The original 1 to 1 channel.” 

    Social media don’t compete with emails, they complement each other.

    59- The team at “Stripo”?

    The team is the most valuable asset we have. We’re now in different countries, and we have difficult conditions that we are learning to deal with at work. 

    Nevertheless, unity and motivation ensure that we don’t feel the difference between our work when we were only 5 and now that we’re over 70, because we all have the same goal and love what we do. 

    Image source: Stripo

    60- If you were writing a New Year’s message to your team, how would you start it?

    “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last year. Anyone who creates emails with our tool or receives an email created with our tool can see these results. I’m glad to know that we’re full of ideas to make the world a better place.”

    I’m sure I’d like to end my message with best wishes for “victory” and a “thank you” to our armed forces and everyone who helps them. 

    61- Lisbon?

    I love the city. I’ve been visiting it for six years in a row now. I love it because of its unique atmosphere. To be honest, I love the outskirts—Sintra, Nazare, Obidos, Cascais, etc.—even better. Everything is special and has its own atmosphere, flavor, nature, architecture, music, food, and rhythm. And of course the people are incredible. 

    62- Ukraine?

    It’s a beautiful, rich, and very original country that embraces freedom. 

    Ukraine has everything. Seas, mountains, forests, fertile land, ancient culture, and history as well as talented, honest, and courageous people. And also great opportunities for development.

    I travel the world a lot. I’ve seen amazing people, nature, architecture, and cultures. I can live anywhere in the world with comfort. But even in these times of war, I’d say, my family and I prefer to stay in Ukraine. So do the vast majority of my team. 

    Many of us defend our country along with the armed forces. At the same time, others support them every day and do all they can to ensure that peace prevails and our future is secure.

    63- Ukrainian startups?

    Ukraine has a rapidly developing startup industry with more than 1,500 active startups. A few years ago, there were no unicorns in Ukraine, but today I know at least eight.

    The war had a significant impact on startups. I’ve seen statistics that show that 12% have ceased to exist. However, most of them have changed and adapted to the new challenges. 

    During the war, some startups that were only meant for the local market quickly adapted to the global market. Many startups “pivoted” to support military technologies, the volunteer movement, and cybersecurity.

    And startups that haven’t lost their funding streams are supporting our armed forces with money and materials as best they can.

    64- How has the situation in Ukraine affected your approach to life and work?

    If we talk about work processes, nothing has changed because Covid taught us to work remotely. Nevertheless, much has changed in our lives. For example, we have learned to work without electricity and to hold meetings during air raid alarms while hiding in basements, bathrooms, subways, or bomb shelters.

    It even scares me to think that we have become accustomed to explosions, to horrible news we hear every day. But this won’t knock us down. We’ll go through everything for our victory. It’ll be just, and humanity deserves to live and work peacefully, without shameful actions like what the Russian Federation is carrying out now.

    65- What are you doing to inspire or motivate your team members during this challenging time for your country?

    My team inspires me more than I inspire the team. Thanks to the clear goals that unite us, we all support each other. It’s a kind of magic. Thanks to this magic, unity, courage and purposefulness, we’ll win this war, we’ll defend our families and our future.

    66- What are you most looking forward to personally and professionally in 2023?

    There is only one great wish: peace for Ukraine and peace for the world.

    67- Dmitry in 2023?

    A happy person who helps his country develop by working on various projects in a peaceful, independent Ukraine.

    68- Peace?

    This is the most important word for every Ukrainian, the meaning of which we fully understood in February 2022 with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    I’d like to thank people all over the world for supporting Ukraine, for joining us in the fight against evil, and for providing military and humanitarian assistance—this is extremely important for building peace.

    Also, I want to say, “Please, don’t stop. We need your help to defeat evil.”

    69- Is there a question you’d like to be asked but wasn’t asked in this interview? And your answer?

    I have many questions for myself, the email community, and the world. I can’t answer them all. It’s not easy to find the most important one. But here’s my answer: 

    If you read books and some blogs about email marketing, you may think that the email industry hasn’t evolved in about a decade. Why does it feel like it’s changing just a little bit while the world around us is evolving at the speed of light?

    I think legacy issues and a poor competitive environment are the main reasons. 

    Just look at how many scandals there are right now around sharing personal email data. On the one hand, data security and restrictions don’t allow us to quickly implement new ideas like dynamic AMP-driven emails or ActionScript. 

    On the other hand, the main players like Apple, Google, and Microsoft can never agree to set new standards. Everyone is just improving their sandboxes. It’s difficult to overcome the first reason, because data security doesn’t like fast changes, but I’m sure that it’s quite easy to find a solution for the second reason.

    70- Any parting thoughts, Dmitry?

    Thanks for your attention to our work and your questions. It was interesting to answer them. Some made me think and others made me realize some things. 

    The most difficult question was how I’d explain to a child what an email template is. I have three kids, so I assumed this would be the easiest question. But it wasn’t. I tried different explanations and ideas with children, but each idea had its weaknesses. 

    They say that a true professional always explains simple things very simply. And here, even simple things like an email template became a challenge.

    The other thing I want to mention is that sometimes it seems like everything has been done before us. But if you love what you do and go deep, there are horizons where you can make significant steps in the evolution of everything.

    Understanding that inspires me as an entrepreneur, as a marketer, as a mathematician, and as a human being. I believe you can feel some of that inspiration in the answers to these 70 questions.

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Radim Rezek, CEO of Flatio: From rental housing for digital nomads, remote work visas, and leadership to his active inner child, a must-try Czech dish, and Punkva caves in Brno

    70 questions with Radim Rezek, CEO of Flatio: From rental housing for digital nomads, remote work visas, and leadership to his active inner child, a must-try Czech dish, and Punkva caves in Brno

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    “You’re the coolest boss I’ve ever had,” I said to Flatio‘s co-founder and CEO Radim Rezek as I relaxed in a hot water pool at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath during our team-building event in Budapest.

    “Really?” he asked.

    I cracked a smile and had a moment where I thought to myself, “Human beings are very funny.”

    Just a few months before that conversation, I couldn’t bring myself to refer to Flatio as “our company” when I joined the team as a part-time freelance writer and met them in their office in Brno. To me, they were just another client.

    And there I was. In a pool with Radim and other Flatio team members, calling him not only my “boss”, but the “coolest” ever.  

    “How did I get from there to here within a few months? How did I become so emotionally invested in this company?” I asked myself.

    I know the answer now. It’s the PEOPLE.

    The Flatio team having fun in Budapest, Hungary, in 2022 (Photo by Oscar Michel, co-founder of Dancing Donkey Studios)

    Much has already been written about Flatio as a Czech-based rental housing platform, which aims to become the first choice for digital nomads in Europe and beyond.

    It’s hosted more than 10,000 digital nomads in over 300 destinations to date, with the most attractive feature being the deposit-free accommodations that can be rented on a monthly basis.

    Many also know that Flatio is the European accommodation partner of NomadX—a community-focused lifestyle brand that partners with local governments to create communities for digital nomads and remote workers in a growing number of repopulation projects in villages, cities, and island destinations around the world.

    In partnership with NomadX, Flatio collaborates as the exclusive international accommodation marketplace partner for the Digital Nomads Madeira Islands project—which successfully shaped “Europe’s first digital nomad village” on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira in 2021. The initiative generates an estimated economic benefit of over €30 million annually in Madeira. 

    All this is public knowledge, but few know about the people behind Flatio, led by Radim.

    Not many people know how he calls restaurants himself to find the best place for a company dinner, or have seen him book a plane ticket for a team member or order a cab or buy bus tickets and scan them one by one on the bus for a dozen people in the company with a smile.  

    Few have heard his self-deprecating jokes, passionate lectures on how to best serve customers and take the company to the next level, or his speech at a company dinner in an admirable attempt to step outside his comfort zone and improve his public speaking skills.

    Radim speaking at a company dinner in Budapest, Hungary, in 2022 (Photo by Michal Hlavka from IT at Flatio)

    Also, not many people know how self-disciplined he is, how he does his best to get all the exercises right during a Freeletics session, how he reveals his kid-at-heart spirit after a good tennis or badminton match, how excited he’s about the idea of team members cooking their local dishes on the next trip, how he embraces challenges, and how calm and composed he usually is under pressure.

    But I know all this and more.

    I know how respectfully Radim talks about their competitors while pointing out what Flatio can do better. I’ve seen how respectfully he disagrees with others during brainstorming sessions, including with his former university professor who’s now the company’s chief marketing officer. I’ve seen how respectfully he treats team members of different nationalities, backgrounds, and generations and asks them for their opinions—not only on work matters, but also on whether we should take a cab or ride a scooter to a place.

    Most importantly, I’ve seen how honest and fair he is and how he encourages the same values at Flatio.  

    Radim—just like every single one of us, and as he himself says—is not without flaws. Nor is Flatio or any other company. Life, of course, is a journey of growth. But I know I’ll remember Radim as a respectable CEO and a good-hearted person who taught me not only business lessons, but also how to ride an e-scooter for the first time.

    Radim and I prepare for a ride in Barcelona, Spain, in 2022 (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    Radim is indeed a “cool boss”, and Flatio is a company that embraces the “human touch” it promises its users.

    And because I find them inspiring, when Radim was in Lisbon during Web Summit week, I asked him to answer my 70 questions as part of my independent interview series, and he kindly agreed.

    Read on to learn what the CEO of Flatio has to say about his fascination with numbers and data, what “human touch” means to him, how playing tennis helps him in business, how he balances being a husband and father with his career, remote work visas, how digital nomads inspire him, a must-try Czech dish, team building, leadership, how to find the right niche market, and more.

    1- Radim, I know you as a very modest person, despite all your accomplishments in your early 30s. What makes you stay so humble?

    I know that there are many more people who are much more successful than I am. I don’t think I’ve achieved anything great yet. Even though I’m enjoying the journey, I still feel like it’s just the beginning.

    2- I also know you as a person with a very active inner child. You enjoy and are grateful for the simple things in life. How do you manage to keep your inner child so alive?

    It’s just the way I am. I like to be very active. Maybe that’s in my DNA. I can’t sit somewhere and do nothing for a long time. I love being active because that’s what makes me really happy. So I just do what I love.

    3- How would you describe yourself in three words?

    Sports. Laughter. Numbers.

    4- What about Flatio? How would you describe it in four words?

    Fascination. Fairness. Freedom. Future.

    5- What’s the story behind the name “Flatio”?

    It’s made up of the words “Flat” and “IO”, which in computer science stands for input/output. To put it simply, IO is how information systems like computers communicate with the outside world. So the name reflects the fact that we’re an online platform for renting flats and other types of property.

    6- Flatio describes itself as a platform for rental housing with a “human touch”. What’s “human touch” to you?

    To me, it’s caring and trust. We do our best to connect landlords with trustworthy tenants who care about the property they live in. On the other hand, we choose landlords who can be trusted and who care about their tenants.

    7- The best way to build trust with your clients?

    By doing your best to deliver what you promised.

    8- When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

    I never planned to become an entrepreneur. But my entrepreneur uncle inspired me when I was in high school because he traveled to China on business and I found it very interesting. I started my first business, a rental housing platform for students because I didn’t have a good experience with rentals as a student myself and I wanted to change something and help the future generation of students coming to Brno. That’s how I got into entrepreneurship. Years later, I’m still in the rental housing industry, but running a company focused on digital nomads.

    9- What’s your long-term vision for Flatio?

    By 2027, we want to be the first choice for digital nomads when it comes to rental housing in top destinations around the world, enabling them to live a liberating life while empowering independent landlords. We want to create a pleasant, efficient rental experience for both parties and remove as many obstacles as possible—budget issues, paperwork, language, etc.

    10- Why did you decide to focus on digital nomads?

    It was an obvious choice because some of our team members live this lifestyle, which I find very interesting and inspiring. Also, we believe that digital nomadism is the future of work.

    11- You co-founded Flatio with one of your university friends, Jakub Škorpík, and your college professor at the time, Ondřej Dufek. How would you describe this experience in one word?


    From L to R: Flatio co-founders Jakub Škorpík, Ondřej Dufek, and Radim (Photo source: Flatio)

    12- What do tenants like most about Flatio?

    That most of the accommodations are deposit-free. They also appreciate the quality of our services.

    13- What do landlords like most about Flatio?

    That there are no middlemen, the lease agreements are signed directly between the landlord and the tenant, we provide them with quality services.

    14- The biggest added value Flatio offers to landlords and tenants?


    15- Aside from trustworthiness, what are three reasons digital nomads should use Flatio?

    No deposit is required for most rental units. You can book stays on a monthly basis, which is a big advantage for many digital nomads, especially those who value flexibility and want to establish a routine in their chosen location. Plus, the process of signing a lease is very quick and convenient.

    16- Three reasons why landlords should use Flatio?

    We give them access to a large network of digital nomads worldwide who are professional tenants and can help them make money all year round. We give them the ability to rent out their accommodation on a monthly basis if they want to. And the team at Flatio is great to work with.

    17- You love numbers and data. What do you find fascinating about them?

    That there’s a huge amount of important information in a simple number.

    18- How do you make sure that data is used efficiently to improve your solution?

    Honestly, there’s still a lot to do at Flatio when it comes to using data more efficiently. We’ve invested in Power BI and developed a system to create personalized reports for each department. But we also need to invest more in training our team members to understand and use data-driven insights.

    19- Flatio allows users to pay with bitcoin. How do you see the future of using cryptocurrencies in the rental housing industry?

    I think the cryptocurrency industry will become more important and regulated in the coming years. We believe that it deserves more work and support, so we decided to use its potential and promote it.

    20- How have your customers responded to this feature?

    Many find it a convenient payment method, and it’s been especially good for those who bought bitcoin at a lower price and later used it to pay their rent on Flatio. For many, it’s proven to be a good investment.

    21- The best compliment you received about Flatio that you remember to this day?

    I was in Barcelona and read an article online about how to find a good flat to rent. Flatio was mentioned there and someone was quoted in the article that it’s really cool that you don’t need a deposit and can easily find a place at a good price. It’s nice when you search the Internet and come across a mention of your startup, especially when it’s users promoting Flatio and not us.

    22- I know that the Flatio team is made up of people from different countries, backgrounds, and generations. How do you handle disagreements or differences of opinion with other team members?

    I really believe in diversity and like the fact that each team member can bring a fresh, different perspective to our discussions. I try to listen to their opinions and will consider the well-reasoned opinions before making the final decision. And I try my best to make a decision that everyone agrees with, but, of course, it’s not always possible to make everyone happy.

    23- If someone travels to the Czech Republic, which traditional dish should they try?


    Svíčková (Photo source: Wikipedia)

    24- And what kind of drink?

    Pilsner Urquell.

    Pilsner Urquell (Photo source: Clube Do Malte)

    25- Something not many people know about you?

    That I don’t like to speak in front of many people. It makes me nervous for some reason. I feel much more comfortable speaking one-on-one or in front of a small group of people.

    26- What do you like most about your job?

    The freedom to implement my ideas and realize my vision, and that I can solve challenges, which makes me happy.

    27- What do you find most challenging about being an entrepreneur?

    It’s not easy to deal with internal challenges and managing the relationship with customers. Then there are financial issues. You have to manage all of that at the same time to make sure everyone’s needs are met and you deliver on your promises. Being an entrepreneur is a big responsibility and a long-term commitment.

    28- The most important question to ask yourself before becoming an entrepreneur?

    Am I passionate about the business I want to start?

    29- Flatio has some partnerships with other platforms and individuals. You’ve also made some acquisitions. What factors do you consider in partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions?

    They should be mutually beneficial, meet our current needs, and make sense from a long-term financial perspective. We must also have sufficient financial resources. 

    30- Three things you’re most grateful for in life?

    I’m thankful for my health, my family—especially my wife—and the other great people I know and work with, like my co-founders and team members. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am and couldn’t do what I do.

    31- What makes you most proud of yourself?

    My determination and perseverance. And that I’m here for the long haul. I’ve been in this industry for many years, but I’m still very active and always challenging myself.

    32- The most difficult decision you had to make to get where you’re now?

    Leaving my well-paying job as a financial broker to start my own business in the rental housing market.

    33- What did you learn from the pandemic, both in your personal life and your professional life?

    I learned that our lifestyles and routines can change very quickly and that we can adapt. Professionally, I realized that my team and I can work remotely and still be productive.

    34- Three characteristics of a good entrepreneur?

    They’re passionate about what they do. They understand what they’re doing. The intention behind their work is to make something better.

    35- The most important leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

    That a leader is an authentic, responsible, hard-working person who can motivate others in the company to take steps to achieve set goals and always has good insights and information to share with the team.

    36- How has starting a family changed you as a person and also as a businessman?

    Before I had kids, I didn’t think I had enough time in the day. But after they came along, I realized I had a lot of time. I just didn’t use it very efficiently. When you have a family, you become more efficient and learn to prioritize. I feel like I have a healthier work-life balance now and am more efficient.

    37- How do you balance your personal life with your professional life?

    One of the decisions that helped me a lot was to separate my professional and personal life. Before I had children, my wife and I lived in the same building as my office, and that did me more harm than good because I spent too much time at work. Later, I moved out of the office building, which helped me draw clear boundaries between work and home life. Now when I’m at home, I’m surrounded by kids and think more about my family than work. And when I’m at work, I can focus on the business. So, in my experience, setting a “physical” boundary can help you balance your personal life with your professional life.

    38- I really like the team-building trips and activities you’ve organized so far. How would you describe your approach to team building?

    For me, the main goal in organizing team-building activities should be that everyone feels comfortable and happy with the experiences I’ve planned.

    Flatio team members enjoying the Széchenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest, Hungary, in 2022

    39- How would you describe the Flatio team in one word?


    40- The niche market Flatio has chosen is rental housing for digital nomads. How can entrepreneurs choose the right niche market for them? Did you have a strategy yourself?

    I don’t think there was a strategy behind this decision. It just came naturally. If you do what you’re passionate about and learn about it as deeply as you can, the next steps will gradually reveal themselves to you.

    41- You deal a lot with digital nomads, who’re your main target audience. How has that affected you and your way of thinking?

    I find their lifestyle very inspiring because you have to be very self-disciplined to work while traveling. It sounds easy, but in reality it’s not. It comes with its own challenges. Of course, digital nomadism isn’t for everyone, but there are some things we can learn from them, especially when it comes to being efficient and productive while traveling

    42- The biggest misconception about digital nomads?

    From a landlord’s perspective, I can say that some landlords still don’t see digital nomads as professional tenants who can meet their financial obligations. But that’s not true.

    43- What do you like about getting older?

    The experience that comes with age, which gives you a better perspective on life.

    44- Part of the Flatio team works remotely. What’s the best way to manage a remote team?

    Holding regular meetings, organizing team-building trips and activities, and setting the right goals for them.

    45- How do you keep your team motivated in general?

    Again, it comes down to setting the right goals. It’s hard to motivate a team if they don’t have tangible, reasonable goals that they can achieve.

    46- A new skill you’ve learned in the last six months?

    Strategic planning.

    47- A new skill you want to learn in the next six months?

    I want to improve my English and earn an English certificate.

    48- How do you invest in yourself?

    By taking time for myself and doing the things I love, like playing tennis.

    49- Why is tennis your favorite sport?

    It combines many things that help improve your mental and physical strength. Not only do I learn techniques, but I also learn how to deal with stress and improve my physical and mental endurance.

    Radim after a “good” tennis match! (Photo by Radim)

    50- Flatio has an initiative where it partners with digital nomads who review rental accommodations? What’s the purpose of this initiative? 

    Yes. It’s a program where nomad influencers review rental accommodations listed on Flatio to make sure they meet the needs of digital nomads, such as strong Wi-Fi and the right equipment for work (desk, chair, etc.). The landlord can choose to have an individual, couple, or family use and review their accommodation. In my opinion, it’s a great verification method.  

    51- In 2020, Flatio acquired NomadX’s real estate assets in Portugal and is its accommodation partner. How would you describe NomadX?

    Pioneers in the field of digital nomadism.

    52- Flatio and NomadX are official strategic partners of the Digital Nomads Madeira Islands project, which created “Europe’s first digital nomad village” on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira in 2021. How would you describe the project?

    Great concept. Great vision. Great execution. I’d call it a very “bold” move. Madeira and Portugal are among our key markets, along with the Czech Republic, Spain, and Hungary.

    Europe’s “first” digital nomad village” was launched on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira in 2021. (Photo source: Startup Madeira)

    53- Happiness?


    54- Success?

    Long-term fulfillment and satisfaction.

    55- Love?

    My wife.

    56- Entrepreneurship?

    Fun. Challenging.

    57- Digital nomadism?


    58- Traveling?

    I love it and wish I could do more of it. I believe that traveling gives you new perspectives. That’s why Flatio wants to make travel affordable and accessible to more people.

    59- Virtual tours on Flatio?


    60- The Flatio blog?

    A great source of information for digital nomads, tenants, and landlords.

    61- Digital nomad visas?

    A step in the right direction, if executed properly.

    62- Your biggest concerns about the digital nomad visa initiatives?

    That some of them are only open to foreigners with high salaries, come with high fees, and don’t take into account the impact on local communities, such as higher prices— including in the housing sector.

    63- The future of the rental housing market in Europe?

    Positive. Affordable.

    64- Community?

    Crucial to the success of every initiative that involves people.

    65- The most important qualities of good landlords and good tenants?

    Being honest and responsible. Knowing how to deal with people. Communicating efficiently.  

    66- An adventurous experience you’d recommend to people visiting Brno?

    A visit to the Punkva Caves near Brno. 

    The Punkva Caves near Brno (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    67- Radim in 2023?

    Hopefully more relaxed!

    68- Flatio in 2023?

    Transition, positive changes, and expansion to new destinations.

    69- How would you like to be remembered?

    As a person who did what he believed in.

    70- Any final thoughts, Radim?

    I just hope Flatio can continue to make the digital nomad lifestyle affordable and accessible to more people around the world, while creating new revenue streams for independent landlords. And I wish everyone a happy and blessed new year.

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

    Disclaimer: The author was working part-time as a freelance writer for Flatio at the time of the interview. However, this isn’t a sponsored post, and the author doesn’t benefit financially or otherwise from this interview. 

  • 70 questions with Michelle Maree, founder and CEO of The Nomad Escape: From Suriname, wood, and the “right” mindset to fresh coconuts, entrepreneurship, and their Nomad Island Fest in the “Bali of Europe”

    70 questions with Michelle Maree, founder and CEO of The Nomad Escape: From Suriname, wood, and the “right” mindset to fresh coconuts, entrepreneurship, and their Nomad Island Fest in the “Bali of Europe”

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    She reminds me of Moana. Maybe it’s her look. Maybe it’s the fierce sparkle in her eyes, her confidence, or her independence. Maybe it’s her adventurous spirit and her eventful life. Maybe it’s that she’s a leader. Maybe it’s her cheerful smile. Or maybe it’s her lifelong relationship with nature. 

    “Only in Suriname can you sleep in the purest jungle on a private island where no one will ever find you, catch piranhas, and light dead trees around the island as candles.”

    Those words alone say a lot about Michelle Maree, founder and CEO of The Nomad Escape, a platform that offers digital nomads an escape from the “ordinary” to a safe haven where they can find “community, clarity, and confidence” to take their lives and businesses to the next level.

    Before launching The Nomad Escape in 2019, Michelle worked as a business development manager in the corporate world. She “loved” her job, but it didn’t give her the complete freedom she wanted to savor in life.

    She pursued freedom not only to make the most of her time, but also to inspire others and help them connect with like-minded people to achieve their personal and professional goals.

    That’s how The Nomad Escape was born.

    For Michelle, the transition to entrepreneurship came naturally. After all, she’s an artist and believes that entrepreneurship “is an art to begin with”.

    Between 2014 and 2018, she breathed new life into “old and forgotten” pieces of tropical wood in Suriname with her “Design by Nudu” brand, while raising public awareness about their sustainable use.

    (Photo source: Design by NUDU)

    Now she’s channeling her creativity, outside-the-box thinking, and ability to build something with limited resources through her bootstrapped business, The Nomad Escape, where she’s showcasing a new kind of art—the art of group dynamics. 

    “There’s an art to bringing the right people together and creating a learning environment where they feel safe to share and learn,” Michelle says.

    Whether through Nudu or The Nomad Escape, she’s always strived for “a better world” and wants to forever “learn, explore, and inspire”. 

    To realize this vision, Michelle and her team host events in different parts of the world, including their signature “Nomad Island Fest“, the next edition of which will take place from December 1 to 7 on the enchanting Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.

    Michelle, a social impact entrepreneur, is confident that the event will be the “#1 digital nomad event of the year” in terms of value-add and impact as they handpick members of The Nomad Escape community.

    In her answers to my 70 questions, she explained why the concept of “community” is so close to her heart. She also told me how growing up in an environment of drug and alcohol abuse and a poor money mindset served as the fuel for her quest to create a space for herself and others to learn and grow.

    But, as she points out, The Nomad Escape stands out from other nomad-related programs. What makes their platform different, she says, is their “holistic approach” to program design that helps people grow in almost every aspect of their lives. The Nomad Escape, according to Michelle, is also known for its attention to detail to give people an “experience” rather than an event.

    And their track record of hosting over 1,000 remote workers during their programs and Mastermind sessions and working with top industry leaders–like Apple, Microsoft, TikTok, Nike, KPMG, and J.P. Morgan–shows they’re a force to be reckoned with in the thriving world of digital nomadism.

    Besides The Nomad Escape and her life journey, Michelle also shared her thoughts on other topics such as the book she’s writing about remote working, how she’s trying to make peace with her past instead of running from it, the best dating tip for digital nomads, wood, a hard truth about digital nomadism, a soft skill that many digital nomads lack, a great myth about passion, why she calls Madeira “the Bali of Europe” and, of course, fresh coconuts!

    Read on and I assure you that you’re in for a treat as Michelle’s answers contain many valuable nuggets of information. Let’s dig in and enjoy! 

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    1- You call the members of the Nomad Escape community “Escapers”. Who’s an “Escaper” and what are they escaping from (and to)?

    An “Escaper” is someone who’s bold and dares to leave the known and comfortable for something greater in life. A life lived on their own terms. A life where they can be location independent, pursue their passions, and work daily to become a better version of themselves. 

    Most Escapers are (aspiring) entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers working in every digital field imaginable. Startup founders, business coaches, crypto enthusiasts, digital marketers, spiritual leaders, content creators, software developers, course creators, etc. You name it and we have them in our community!

    We’ve hosted people aged 22 to 65, all eager to learn and connect with like-minded people who value freedom, personal development, human connection, and growth.

    They’re escaping from the ordinary, usually a life and environment where they aren’t surrounded by inspiring people, and to a learning environment where they can find the right people, learn from them, and find support on their personal and professional journey.

    2- You only accept those into your programs and events who have the “right mindset”. What’s the attitude you look for in an “Escaper”?

    Someone with a positive and resilient attitude who doesn’t victimize themselves and hold themselves responsible and accountable for their own growth and development. Someone with a “sparkle” in their eyes who’s hungry for life, growth, and new experiences.

    Someone who’s willing to share with others, is non-judgmental, and is open to learning from all the different perspectives people in the group may have. Someone who embraces the unknown and takes risks to live a life full of growth and impactful experiences.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    3- A song that could be the theme song of The Nomad Escape?

    Hard to say! Maybe a few, such as: 

    Or any other song that has to do with growth, a strong mindset, and positive energy. 

    4- You describe yourself as a “social impact entrepreneur”. What’s your definition of “social impact”?

    Social entrepreneurs are often willing to take the risk and effort to bring about positive change in society through their initiatives. I’ve been involved in various educational projects, started businesses focused on sustainability and raising awareness, and today I focus on building and growing supportive communities for entrepreneurial minds, most of whom work solo behind their laptops, risking isolation, loneliness, and burnout.

    5- You invite people to book a free “discovery call” with you? Why do you call it that?

    Because people who book this are interested in an experience with us and want to discover how we can help them find inspiration, community, and confidence to improve their business or lifestyle.

    6- Something you want to face in life instead of running from it?

    The difficult relationship with my parents and the story I tell myself about myself in relation to my past. Due to an unstable family situation where my parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol and there was a lot of violence, I could no longer live at home when I was 14 years old. 

    I grew up in state-run shelters and foster care. That shaped me a lot, and I’m still struggling with trauma. I need to change my attitude about money and deal with the issues my parents still have today. I do a little self-reflection every day and recently had an ayahuasca experience that’s helping me deal with it better.

    7- The Nomad Escape is a safe haven for…?

    Everyone. Anyone who cannot be fully themselves in the environment they come from and the people there don’t understand their way of thinking.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    8- The best way to avoid travel burnout?

    Travel slow! Keep a routine! Work normal work hours, find “fixed” friends, create a home away from home.

    9- What’s the “Power Hour” at The Nomad Escape?

    An hour of hyper-focused coworking, with others acting as your accountability buddies.

    10- Your very first job?

    Waitress and dishwasher in a restaurant on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. I lied about my age. I was 13 but said I was 16 because I wanted to make money.

    11- You once wrote on Instagram that we should be conscious of how and where we spend our time. What would you never spend your time on?

    In an environment where people victimize themselves, are passive, and blame the government. I come from such an environment. I go to see my parents once or twice a year, but I leave as soon as I can.

    12- Your favorite event hosted by The Nomad Escape so far? Why was it so special?

    A tough question! I liked them all! The first Nomad Island Fest last year was special because it was the first major event with about 75 people for a week and we worked with a great team. The Nomad Jungle Fest was also special. Hosting a group in the middle of the jungle in Tulum is very unique.

    13- How do you think digital nomadism will have evolved in the next three years?

    It’ll have grown larger and the average age of the nomads will have changed. The people who reach out to us today are both younger and older than before. About three years ago, the average age was between 28 and 45. Today, students and 55-year-olds are applying because they see that they can study or work abroad while traveling.

    14- The two things you think about most every day?

    My father and The Nomad Escape.

    15- Fresh coconuts?

    Yes please! There’s nothing better in the world.

    16- At Nomad Escape, you believe there are three important things in personal and professional life: People, Purpose, and Pleasure. If you were to add another concept that starts with “P,” what would it be?

    Peace. Playfulness. 

    17- The craziest thing on your bucket list?

    Two months riding alone on a motorcycle through South America.

    18- A hard truth about digital nomadism that cannot be ignored?

    It can be lonely and make you restless.

    19- Something you think you’ll never do again?

    Putting energy into people you can’t help.

    20- You say, “I have my dream business, dream team, dream community, dream life, and dream office.” What would you say to people who say you can’t have it all?

    Yes, you can. Look at me!

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    21- Digital nomad visas?

    Smart! Nomads should take advantage of it.

    22- The most memorable team building activity you’ve organized for a corporate client?

    Connection sessions where team members personally connect with each other on a deeper level.

    23- Who are your “influential five”?

    • Hosam Mazawi – Nomad Escaper, great friend, amazing entrepreneur, and financial advisor
    • Carla Biesinger – Nomad Escaper, great friend, amazing entrepreneur, and marketing advisor
    • Emanuele Righes – Nomad Escaper, great friend, and mindfulness coach
    • Laura Kuklasse – Nomad Escaper, great friend, and health and nutrition coach
    • Martim Cafe – Nomad Escaper, great friend, and a young, crazy, spiritual life enthusiast 

    24- The Nomad Escape has hosted over 1,000 remote workers during various programs and mastermind sessions. What makes a good host?

    A host is a community builder, workshop facilitator, and leader. The host is kind of like the dad or mom of the group, guarding the culture, values, and goals of The Nomad Escape.

    It’s a job for a true “people person” who enjoys being surrounded by people and gains energy and motivation by connecting and hosting people.

    The host is able to manage group dynamics in structured settings such as workshops and group activities, as well as in unstructured settings such as a lounge evening. They pay attention to details and make sure everyone in the group feels included.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    25- The most important lesson in marketing and sales?

    Be authentic. Work with systems and automate. 

    26- How to prevent “community” from becoming a hackneyed word?

    It’s already happened. It’s like the word “sustainability”. I think if you want to distinguish the real community builders from the others, you can ask the question: Would they commit their own time and resources to building one? 

    Companies and consultants often say, “Community is key.” But if they weren’t being paid, they wouldn’t be doing it. 

    When I first started, I built my community with no resources or support, just sweat equity. Now that I’ve gotten very skilled at it and can offer great value to my clients, I can charge high-ticket.

    27- Your team is spread across several countries. What’s the best advice for scaling a distributed team?

    Daily stand-ups, weekly meetings, and at least quarterly meetings.

    28- What new skill do you think you can learn in a week?

    Conversion copywriting.

    29- A great myth about passion?

    That it’s always fun and easy to do what you have a passion for. The most passionate people find it hard to stop and unplug from work. That they’re passionate doesn’t mean they can’t burn out, be exhausted, or struggle.

    30- Something that many people get wrong about digital nomadism or remote work?

    That it’s a vacation. Most nomads, especially entrepreneurs and freelancers, work longer days and on weekends because they’re building their foundation and it’s hard to unplug unless you work in an office that closes its doors at 5 p.m. or on weekends.

    31- Something you can only experience in Suriname?

    Only in Suriname can you sleep in the purest jungle on a private island where no one will ever find you, catch piranhas, and light dead trees around the island as candles.

    32- A crucial soft skill that many digital nomads lack?

    Saying “no” to social activities. Not all of them, but traveling to a new place means new people, new places to explore, and new events. So it’s sometimes hard to just stay home to recharge your batteries, without having FOMO.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    33- You say remote work is for anyone who has the “right work attitude”. What are the three most important elements of the “right work attitude”?

    Discipline. Dedication. Structure.

    34- Cryptocurrency?

    It can be the future. I’m not a specialist in this field, but considering that the current monetary system isn’t optimized for the digital and independent world, it makes a lot of sense.

    35- You once created the brand “Design by Nudu” and helped raise public awareness about the use of sustainable tropical hardwood in Suriname. Why did you choose the name “Nudu?” 

    “Udu” means “wood” in the Suriname language, Sranan Tongo. The “N” stands for “New”. I breathed new life into old and forgotten wood.

    36- Your favorite Nudu design? What’s the most special thing about it?

    The Chieftain. It was a real cow skull turned into a work of art. It was literally bringing a “dead” thing back to life by making it a functional work of art.

    (Photo source: Design by NUDU)

    37- Is there a lesson you learned from the Nudu experience that you still apply in your personal or professional life?

    Yes, you can build something from nothing. You don’t need big investments or expensive tools to create a business or works of art. If you really want something, you don’t wait for people or funds to support you, you make it happen.

    38- Will we see a new Nudu art collection?

    Not soon. I’d love to, but the wood you find in Suriname just isn’t available in Madeira. Also, you need a proper workspace for that, which I don’t have right now, and it’s not a priority for me.

    (Photo source: Design by NUDU)

    39- Is entrepreneurship more of an art or a science?

    It’s an art to start with. There’s no perfect formula for entrepreneurship. It starts with an idea, and from idea to implementation, there are steps that can be very different and personal for everyone. 

    At a later stage, you can definitely apply certain principles, structures, and strategies that have been proven to help you professionalize and scale, which would be more of a science.

    I love the book “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman and the course “Invest in Your Leaders” by Cameron Herold that helped me restructure my business.

    (Photo source: Amazon)

    40- How has art influenced your entrepreneurial style?

    The creative part, thinking outside the box, and building something with limited resources.

    41- Does art play a role in The Nomad Escape?

    Yes, the art of group dynamics. There’s an art to bringing the right people together and creating a learning environment where they feel safe to share and learn.

    42- Something that only a handful of people know about you?

    That I love (old school) hip hop, rap, and R&B. Tupac, Biggie, and Wu-Tang Clan. Yes please!

    43- The best investment you’ve ever made in yourself?

    Growing The Nomad Escape. My own network, skills, and mindset have grown so much through all these amazing experiences and people.

    44- Wood?

    The strongest and most beautiful material in the world. 

    (Photo source: Design by NUDU)

    45- The first step toward location freedom?

    Surround yourself with people who are already location independent, develop digital skills, and learn how to sell online.

    46- A question you get asked a lot. And your answer?

    The question you just asked! Many people want to know the first step they should take to become location independent. And my answer is the same as above.

    47- The best part of your daily routine?

    Preparing oats with peanut butter, cinnamon, and banana. 

    48- You’re writing a book. What are you most looking forward to sharing with readers?

    Yes. The title of the book I’m writing is “21 lessons learned as a location-independent entrepreneur”.

    I’m excited to share that mindset and environment are crucial to building a life on your own terms.

    49- One principle from the corporate world that has helped you in your life as a digital nomad?

    Structure. Escaping the 9-5 day doesn’t mean you have to work until late, etc. I enjoy working within regular office hours to structure my day and life.

    50- Something you learned this year that you didn’t know existed?

    So much! For example, the sales strategy of a business owner of a large roofing company, who was CEO of his own company for 29 years and was responsible for marketing and sales.

    The strategy that helped his business explode was to buy old phone numbers from other roofing companies that were no longer in business and forward those numbers to his office so that the other companies’ old customers ended up with him.

    51- A tip for dating as a digital nomad?

    Take time to get to know each other. Be honest from the beginning about what your intentions are. If you like each other, schedule time to spend together and explore new things and places. Nomadic life is fast and makes it hard to build a relationship.

    52- Is there a dating app or platform for digital nomads that you would recommend?

    Haha, The Nomad Escape of course! In our previous escapes, some people found love and now live the nomadic lifestyle as a couple and have even built businesses together.

    One couple built a retreat business, another travels the world in a van and is now building their e-commerce business, and another couple moved to Thailand. She quit her job and became a social media manager, something she had always dreamed of.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    53- “Your best life is only one decision away” is the motto of The Nomad Escape. Aside from starting your own business, what’s one decision that changed your life?

    Leaving the Netherlands. 

    54- Instinctive decisions or conscious decisions?


    55- If you had a warning sign, what would it say?

    STOP comparing yourself to others. It ends in depression or burnout.

    56- Is there anything you learned during the pandemic and quarantine period that inspired you to make a change?

    Yes, don’t live too long with your colleagues. Separate work and leisure. That’s what burned me out.

    57- Madeira?

    I love it. I’d say it’s the “Bali of Europe.” I enjoy living there. It’s a hidden gem where you can literally be above the clouds on breathtaking mountains within 40 minutes and drive to the beach to swim.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    58- When should you quit a job that doesn’t fulfill you?

    I think you should quit your job when it’s really eating you up, you feel miserable when you wake up in the morning because of it, and you’re losing the person you truly are. But we need to be realistic: People need to eat and have financial resources to take care of themselves. 

    So do your calculations before you make a decision. If you meet one or more of the following three points, you can be location independent:

    • Have sufficient funds to support yourself for at least six months, up to a year. 
    • Have skills you can use to make money, online and offline.
    • Have a plan: Even if you don’t know where you’ll end up, you should at least know how to make money on the road.

    59- Mindvalley?

    Love it! A great example for The Nomad Escape. I met great people there, and Mindvalley authors such as Jimmy Naraine speak at Nomad Island Fest events. Also, I met one of my new team members there.

    60- Digital nomad families?

    Super cool. Definitely a goal for me.

    61- What musical instrument best represents you? Why?

    Ukulele. It’s compact and easy to travel with and brings a cozy atmosphere to any social gathering.

    62- The photos you post on social media are beautiful. What’s a good tip for taking photos?

    I use an iPhone 13. Use portrait mode and a filter that smooths your skin. And good lighting.

    63- Freedom?

    My #1 value.

    64- Nomad Island Fest 2022?

    Soon! From December 1 to 7 on the Madeira Island. It’s a “special edition” event of The Nomad Escape. People describe it as a mix of  a mini Mindvalley, a Tony Robbins show, and Club Med. It’ll be the #1 digital nomad event of the year because we select our community and choose quality over quantity.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    65- You wrote a heartfelt Christmas letter to The Nomad Escape team and community last year. If you decide to write one this year, what would the title be?

    How a summer in the Estonian forest helps you refocus.

    66- Your biggest takeaway from 2022 so far?

    Work with a team.

    67- The Nomad Escape?

    A bootstrapped global community of location-independent professionals. We help people find community, inspiration, and confidence to take their businesses and lives to the next level.

    People who join us build new businesses, collaborations, friendships, products, and lifestyles. And it’s all through a week-long, peer-to-peer mentoring program.

    We’ll grow to become the most connected community of online entrepreneurs and inspire millions of people to live life on their own terms.

    68- Michelle Maree?

    Michelle will never be done learning, exploring, and inspiring. She’s a passionate visionary who’s crazy enough to put passion and people before money. She can’t stop talking about entrepreneurship, ideas, and mindset. She loves to dance, explore, practice DJing, inspire people with her story, enjoy nature, and cuddle cats. And she isn’t afraid of the unknown.

    (Photo source: Design by NUDU)

    69- Is there any question you’d like to be asked but wasn’t asked in this interview? And your answer?

    There are actually two questions! 

    1. What’s the “why” behind The Nomad Escape?

    There are two “whys”.

    • My upbringing: I come from an environment with limited opportunities and resources, a poor money mindset, and many issues such as drug and alcohol abuse. I was fascinated by why some people succeed and others don’t, and found out at a young age that environment is crucial. At The Nomad Escape, we create an environment with the right people that you can learn from and grow with.
    • The lack of community I experienced as a digital nomad myself: While traveling the world years ago as a digital marketer, I had freedom but couldn’t find the right people to brainstorm with. Even when I worked in coworking spaces, I sometimes felt lonely and couldn’t find support. I decided to create something for people who want to deepen and enrich their journey and find support in a community of like-minded people.

    2. What makes The Nomad Escape different?

    We facilitate a holistic experience. While many other nomad programs just put people together and host a few parties or workshops here and there, we’ve developed a proven program with a holistic approach where we pay attention to every aspect of life to help participants grow personally and professionally.

    Our experienced and passionate team facilitates top-quality Mastermind retreats for your professional and personal development. Breakthroughs in your business and life are in our DNA.

    We’ve organized over 25 escapes and events across Europe and beyond. We’ve helped startup founders to create 7- or even 8-figure businesses and find greater clarity, confidence, and a supportive community that elevates their business and life.

    (Photo source: The Nomad Escape)

    70- Any final thoughts, Michelle?

    I’m excited about the future. Each person I host opens new doors, new perspectives, and a new network. Everything I’ve done so far in my life wasn’t planned.

    I’ve had extraordinary experiences and jobs over the past 10 years, all of which have had something in common: I’ve been able to inspire people. I believe this is just the beginning, let’s grow together. See you in Madeira! Secure your spot now

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Danilo Rocco, a Brazilian tattoo artist and painter: From first tattoo tips, tattoo regrets, and the healing power of tattoos to Thomas Edison’s electric pen, canvas, and the comfort zone trap

    70 questions with Danilo Rocco, a Brazilian tattoo artist and painter: From first tattoo tips, tattoo regrets, and the healing power of tattoos to Thomas Edison’s electric pen, canvas, and the comfort zone trap

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    “Your paintings look like tattoo designs. I’ve seen similar designs on Ink Master,” I told a painter who was hanging his artwork for an exhibition at Unobvious Lab, a co-working space and art gallery in Lisbon, right in front of the National Museum of Ancient Art. “I’m actually a tattoo artist,” he said, introducing himself as Danilo Rocco from Brazil.

    “You’re the first tattoo artist I’ve met in person,” I added, telling him that I don’t have any tattoos but find the world of tattooing very fascinating.

    Tattoos indeed pique my curiosity and interest. 

    Time and again I’ve found myself staring at beautifully sophisticated or elegantly simple tattoos and admiring the artistry that goes into creating such masterpieces. From time to time, I’ve also caught myself rolling my eyes at people with what I consider “bad” tattoo choices or full-body tattoos.

    And while I appreciate the beauty of well-done inks, I don’t “get” tattoo enthusiasts. I know this is due in part to my inadequate understanding of this art and limited interaction with people who are passionate about tattoos. 

    That’s why I asked Danilo–who I think is a creative, modest, and professional tattoo artist with a strong sense of integrity–if he’d like to share his knowledge and experience in an interview, and he kindly agreed. 

    A few days later, after he’d taken down his unique and bold paintings, we sat down and talked about his art, his favorite tattoo and tattoo artists, tattoo regrets, first tattoo tips, facts and misconceptions about tattoos, the most tattooed man in the world, his advice for aspiring tattoo artists, why he refuses to tattoo couples’ names, celebrity tattoo artist Dr. Woo, Thomas Edison’s electric pen, and his recent foray into painting. 

    A painting by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    Our conversation about tattooing gave me new insights into how this art is much more than just an art and how it can boost people’s self-confidence and body image and help with healing after a loss and coping with depression and anxiety. 

    I now have more respect and understanding for this art and tattoo artists, as well as for those who see tattoos as a way to express themselves, celebrate their bodies and individuality, honor loved ones, or heal their souls and move forward in life. Enjoy!

    Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    1- How did you become a tattoo artist, Danilo?

    I studied graphic design at college in my early 20s and was very interested in monochrome drawings. One of my best friends told me at the time that my designs looked a lot like tattoos. I’d never thought of becoming a tattoo artist, but he asked me to try.

    He then talked to four other friends and said, “Let’s pool money together to buy all the equipment.” And then a funny thing happened. He was supposed to start a private Facebook group for this purpose, but accidentally made it public.

    So some people, including childhood friends and people from the city where I was born, supported us financially. The next day my friend called me and said we got more money than we wanted. That was such a pleasant surprise. We bought a tattoo machine, and that was the beginning. 

    2- When was it? 

    I started in 2014 and spent the first year experimenting. Then around 2015 I started doing it more professionally.

    3- What do you like most about tattooing?

    I like the fact that tattooing has a long history. It’s been practiced all over the world, especially in Japan, for thousands of years.

    Also, what I like about tattooing is that I have the opportunity to meet and learn from different people, including very creative people who always inspire me with new ideas and designs. Human interaction is actually my favorite part about this job. Sometimes it’s tough, but I love it.

    Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    4- Do you remember the first tattoo you did for someone?

    Yes, of course. It was a little bottle with a wave in it. I did it for a friend in Brazil who’s still one of my best friends. It wasn’t done very professionally because I was still an amateur, but it was a very special day.

    5- What was the first tattoo you got? 

    It was around 2014 when I got the word “family” in Italian tattooed on my chest in a kitchen by a friend who also wanted to be a tattoo artist.

    6- How did it feel to get a tattoo for the first time?

    The design isn’t “perfect”, but it was a special moment and an experience that I’ll always remember. I don’t think I have another tattoo that means as much to me as this one.

    7- Is there such a thing as a “perfect” tattoo?

    I’m a “perfectionist” myself, but I think it’s almost impossible to create a tattoo that’s 100% perfect. Tattoo artists are more like “artisans” who create something unique with their hands, and imperfection will always be a part of an artisan’s work. And that’s beautiful because it reflects the human touch involved in the process.

    8- What will your next tattoo be?

    I don’t have a specific design in mind yet, but I think it’ll be inspired by my favorite European tattoo artists.

    9- Do you prefer black or colored tattoos? And why?

    100% black tattoos. Black tattoos look more natural, blend in with the body better, and work on almost all skin types and tones. But of course, this is a personal preference. The other point is that black ink comes from nature. In some areas of Brazil, for example, it’s made from ash.

    10- Your favorite tattoo style?

    I don’t have a name for my style because it’s a combination of different styles, but I can describe it as black tattooing with solid, legible, and clean designs. I especially like designs that blend in with the anatomy of the body.

    Tattoos by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    11- Your favorite tattoo artists?

    Don Ed Hardy, Inaki Aires, Mendoza Futuro, and Takuma Kitagawa. I can list at least 15 more!  

    12-What do you think makes your work as a tattoo artist different?

    I believe that I can make tattoos look authentic.

    13- What should people consider before getting their first tattoo?

    I’d say it’s better to choose a small, simple tattoo for the first time, especially to get a feel of the pain. For some people tattoos are painful, while others feel less pain. This is very personal.

    Also, it’s good to choose a tattoo that means something to you, not something that’s trendy now and won’t be cool in five years. This reduces the likelihood that you’ll regret it, which is especially important for your first tattoo.

    14- Have you ever regretted a tattoo yourself?

    No, I actually haven’t. There are a few tattoos that aren’t my favorites, but I don’t regret any of them. And you can always do a cover-up or a blastover.

    15- What’s the difference between a cover-up and a blastover?

    A cover-up tattoo is a design that’s tattooed over an existing tattoo so that the old tattoo is no longer visible.

    A blastover tattoo doesn’t completely cover an existing tattoo. With a blastover, you can still see parts of the old tattoo under the new design. A blastover preserves the story behind the old tattoo and lets it interact with the new tattoo.

    16- Your message to those who have tattoo regrets?

    That’s a tough question. I’d say they can cover it up with something new or have it removed with a laser. Or they can try to look at it from a new perspective.

    17- The best spot for a first tattoo?

    That’s very personal. But I’d say arms or legs because it’s less painful to get a tattoo there. Also, it’s good to choose a place where you won’t see the tattoo all the time, like the back of your arm. This way you’ll feel more comfortable getting tattooed.

    18- What’s the tattooing process like? What do you talk about with your clients before their appointment?

    Most of the time, people write to me on Instagram or WhatsApp. I ask them three main questions: What design idea do you have in mind? Where do you want it to be placed? And what size do you want it to be?

    Sometimes they also send me visual references, and I give them my opinion on where it would fit better, how we can improve the design, and things like that. I give my clients two designs to choose from when they come in.

    Designs by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    19- What time of day do you like to tattoo the most?

    In the morning.

    20- Why in the morning? 

    In the morning I can fully concentrate and give it my all. I always feel like I have to be fully present while tattooing because the tattoo will be on the client’s body almost forever.

    21- What has been your longest tattoo session?

    It lasted about eight to nine hours with a few short breaks in between. That was at the beginning of my journey as a tattoo artist. 

    22- Do you think you’d do it again? 

    I don’t think I’d do it again, but it was a good opportunity at the time to practice tattooing something big. It was a snake with scales all over my friend’s arm that required so much attention to detail.

    23- Do you recommend that people bring a buddy to their tattoo appointment? 

    No. I always recommend that my clients come alone unless they’re very young.

    24- Why don’t you recommend it?

    The reason is that in most cases the client knows exactly what they want, and someone else’s opinion, who’s not an expert, about the design, size, or placement can be distracting and negatively impact the process.

    Also, the person getting a tattoo is already tense, and the presence of a third person can make them even more nervous. And for the person accompanying the client, it’s usually just a long wait, as some sessions last for hours.

    A tattoo by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: The Tropical Disease/Instagram)

    25- What if people bring someone who’s “cool”?

    It’s fine if you bring someone you’re sure is “cool” and won’t interfere with the process. For example, one of my clients came with her grandmother and the session went very well.

    26- What role does trust play in tattooing?

    It’s very important. If you trust me and give me enough freedom, I can get the best possible result.

    27- Are there any particular clients you don’t tattoo?

    I don’t tattoo pregnant or breastfeeding women. And I don’t tattoo couples’ names because there’s a risk you’ll regret it later. I don’t want to be involved in that.

    I also don’t tattoo someone’s hands, face, or neck if they don’t have any other tattoos. I don’t see the point of having a tattoo in such visible places if you don’t have any other tattoos.

    I also refuse to tattoo anyone under the age of 18. I did it a few times a long time ago, but those were special cases where, for example, the design was pretty simple and small or they came with their parents.

    28- Do you ever judge your clients’ tattoo choices?

    Sometimes I’m asked to do tattoos that I know aren’t the best choice. In such cases, I try to find a way to tell them in a respectful way that it can be improved and give them my feedback. 

    29- What are the biggest misconceptions about tattoos?

    Things have changed a lot in the last few years and people are more informed about tattoos thanks to social media and tattoo shows on TV. But there are still people who look down on tattooed people, especially in certain countries. The reality is that tattoos are a form of art and an expression of creativity.

    30- As we just discussed, some people, myself included, tend to judge people with tattoos. What do you have to say about that?

    Judging people because of their decision to get tattoos is the same as judging them based on the color of their skin, their sexuality, their gender, etc. That’s why it’s good to be open-minded, try not to judge, and show understanding. I’ve tattooed so many professional, respectable clients, including doctors and lawyers.

    31- What separates a good tattoo artist from a great tattoo artist?

    Constantly learning, practicing, and improving your work. You also need to learn how to deal with people professionally, respect your clients, and create an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome. Also, a great artist gives 100% of themselves in what they do.

    32- What have you learned the most from tattooing?

    Patience. Creativity. Respect. The need to learn how to improve your work and deal with people. And finding the balance between what I want as a tattoo artist and what the client wants.

    33- A special moment in your career?

    All the moments early in my career when my best friends and even some strangers saw the potential in me and helped me grow. These people trusted me, taught me the basics of tattooing, and instilled respect for the art of tattooing in me.

    34- Any advice for aspiring tattoo artists?

    Practice every day. If you don’t practice, it’s easy to forget what you know, and your hand will shake the next time you do a tattoo after not practicing for a while.

    35- Do you think tattoo removal will become easier in the future?

    Yes. I think the day will come, probably in 20 years or so, when something like a cream will be invented for this purpose.

    36- It’s said that black tattoos are the easiest to remove. Is that true?

    Yes, it’s true. 

    37- Why is that?

    Experts say that black tattoos are the easiest to remove because the laser can target the black pigment more precisely.

    38- Did you know that the first tattoo machine was inspired by Thomas Edison’s electric pen?


    Thomas Edison, electric pen, 1876. Collection of Brad Fink, Daredevil Tattoo NYC (Photo source: New-York Historical Society)

    39- How do you think tattooing has evolved in recent years?

    Tattooing has become more accessible and affordable thanks to technology, and the perception of tattoos has changed for the better.

    40- Did you know that “tattoo” is one of the most misspelled words in the English language?

    Really? I didn’t know that.

    41- What’s a tattoo vending machine?

    As far as I know, it’s a vending machine that works like this: Customers pay an amount (around $50 or $100) and get a token. Then they put it in the machine, spin it, and get a random design that will be permanently tattooed on their skin.

    42- Dr. Woo?

    Realistic designs. Mainstream.

    43- Bang Bang Tattoo?

    Mainstream. Commercial. Realistic designs.

    44- Lucky Diamond Rich, the most tattooed man in the world?

    Cool. Brave.

    45- Can tattoo artists tattoo themselves?

    Yes. But it’s not very easy.

    46- Have you ever tattooed yourself? 

    Yes, I’ve tattooed myself! It’s a common practice among tattoo artists, especially early in their careers.

    47- Is tattoo ink toxic to the body?

    Not all ink is made of all-natural ingredients, but there’s still much to be discovered and researched on this topic. Some studies show that a tattoo can boost your body’s immune system. What’s clear is that different bodies react differently to tattoos. You should choose what you think is best for you.

    48- Your favorite tattoo? 

    The tattoo on my forearm.

    Danilo Rocco (Photo source: The Tropical Disease/Instagram)

    49- Why is it so special to you?

    A good friend from Japan did it for me. He’s one of the best people I’ve met in my life. So it’s an honor. The design doesn’t symbolize anything, but I like the fact that it’s integrated into the anatomy of my body.

    50- The most important soft skills every tattoo artist should have?

    Communication skills and respectful interaction. 

    51- The soft skill that has helped you the most in your career as an artist? 

    The soft skill that has helped me the most in my career is my ability to interact well with people.

    52- Are there robot tattoo machines?

    Yes, there are. But it’s unlikely that they’ll completely replace human tattoo artists. It’s just not the same.

    53- It’s said that tattoos can be therapeutic for depression and anxiety, especially after a loss. Do you think that’s true?

    I know from personal experience that it’s true. When you get a tattoo, the first thing you have to do is take care of it and nourish yourself properly so your skin can heal. That basically means you take care of yourself more. Also, when people can handle the pain of getting a tattoo, they feel like they can handle almost anything else.

    And there are people who are searching for an identity or want to celebrate something in life. Tattoos help a lot with that. Another important point is that tattoos can improve self-confidence and body image.

    I’ve heard from many people that they didn’t like their legs, for example, but started to like them after they got nice tattoos. Or that some people didn’t want to take off their shirt because they didn’t feel comfortable in their skin, but that changed after they got a tattoo.

    54- What’s the best way to take care of tattoos?

    Keep the tattoo completely covered with plastic wrap for 48 hours to protect it while it heals. You should change the plastic wrap throughout the day. Don’t expose the tattoo to the sun or water for at least two weeks. So no beach, no swimming pool. I also recommend applying an antiseptic cream to the tattoos. It’s a good idea to ask your tattoo artist how to best take care of your tattoos.

    55- I sometimes wonder why people go for permanent tattoos and not temporary ones? I mean stickers. Do you have an opinion on that?

    I think a permanent tattoo feels very different.

    56- What’s your dream as an artist?

    I just want to make more people happy with what I do.

    57- Three characteristics of a good tattoo?

    Clean. Legible. Balanced.

    A tattoo by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    58- What’s a vegan-friendly tattoo?

    Vegan tattoos don’t have animal products involved in any part of the tattooing experience.

    59- Do vegan tattoos fade faster?

    It depends on the quality of the ink.

    60- An interesting fact about tattoos that many people don’t know?

    That there’s a long history behind them. In 2019, for example, the “world’s oldest” complete tattoo kit was discovered. It’s 2,700 years old, and its tools are made from human bones.

    61- Ink Master?

    Tattoo TV shows have changed the perception of tattoos for the better, and you can get inspired by the designs you see. However, many tattoo artists don’t like such competitions, mainly because it’s not right to rush a tattoo or do a tattoo under pressure. And sometimes there’s a lot of drama in such TV shows. I like Miami Ink better and prefer collaboration to competition.

    62- A piece of art you’ve always wanted to create but haven’t yet?

    A sculpture.

    63- What will it look like?  

    I don’t know yet what it’ll look like. It’ll take shape in the process.

    64- How have your travels influenced your career as an artist?

    Knowing more about other cultures and interacting with people, especially artists, from other countries has inspired me and made me a more understanding person. It’s also taught me so many new things.

    65- If you could describe your art in one word, what would it be?


    A design by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    66- Why did you decide to start painting?

    I always wanted to explore painting because I mainly do black tattoos and only work with colors during graphic design projects.

    Painting allows me to work with colors and is a new medium for me to express myself and experiment with new ideas. Painting helps me become a better tattoo artist and vice versa. Switching between the two helps me a lot creatively.

    A digital illustration by Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    67- Canvas?


    68- The best thing about being an artist?

    Freedom and self-expression.

    69- The challenge?

    Financial insecurity.

    70- Any parting thoughts, Danilo?

    I’d like to encourage people to leave their comfort zone. I was in a stable situation in Brazil but decided to move to Portugal. It was a turning point in my career, mainly because I had the opportunity to display my work at the painting exhibition at Unobvious Lab, where I met many new people.

    That gave me the confidence to experiment with new ideas. This is a new step. I feel like I’m starting a new journey, and I’m excited to see where it takes me next.

    Danilo Rocco (Photo source: DROCCO/Instagram)

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Claudia Miclaus, a personal brand architect: From personal branding myths and the Kardashians to Web3, climbing Kilimanjaro, and her mental health-themed debut single

    70 questions with Claudia Miclaus, a personal brand architect: From personal branding myths and the Kardashians to Web3, climbing Kilimanjaro, and her mental health-themed debut single

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    Not everyone has the courage and humility to ask how they’re perceived by those who know them best. That’s why I was intrigued when I received an anonymous personal branding survey in my inbox from a respected serial digital entrepreneur with long years of executive experience.

    Surveys don’t usually excite me, but I was curious about this one. I’d never filled out a personal branding survey before and didn’t even know such a thing existed.

    The survey won me over right off the bat. I was expecting the typical questions I usually see in surveys. But this one was different, both in content and format.

    It included a multiple-choice question about how I’d describe the sender’s personality. A question about their greatest weakness. A question about which car brand and kitchen appliance best represent them. And some other creative questions thoughtfully designed to be fun for the reader and insightful for the sender.

    I liked it so much that I’m thinking about sending out one myself, taking inspiration from the person who ran that survey for the sender and opened my eyes to the world of personal branding, Claudia Miclaus.

    Claudia, in her own words, is a “multi-passionate entrepreneur”. A native of Romania who lives in Chamonix, France, she’s a personal brand architect, host, and trainer.

    She founded Brand Capital Advisors, a personal branding agency for crypto founders, and is also director of personal branding and strategic partnerships at Arcbound.

    Claudia has worked with global investors and CEOs, best-selling authors, and government officials, including presidents, and is fluent in five languages.

    She believes she’s meant to help inspire and empower more people to discover their inner strength and pursue their vision, and she doesn’t just do that through personal branding. She also sings about it.

    “It took me so long to see there is nothing wrong with me,” she sings in “Nothing Wrong,” her debut single produced by Doriinn and released under her artist name, Shellä, The Soul.

    Its catchy chorus sends shivers up my spine every time I listen to the song, which is a call to look deep inside yourself and connect with your vision.

    Claudia generously shared her knowledge and experience, especially about personal branding, in her answers to my 70 questions, which can serve as a valuable mini-course on how to create a successful, authentic personal brand.

    Read on to learn what she has to say about the most common personal branding myths, the best way to get a testimonial, overcoming a personal branding crisis, Will Smith, the Kardashians, music, mental health, a horse named “Piri”, climbing Kilimanjaro, and her Chamonix Crypto project, an NGO with a vision to create a more sustainable world by leveraging Web3 for environmental good.

    Claudia Miclaus in New York City (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    1- What’s personal branding, Claudia?

    You, but better. Authentic and with a great story behind it. Here’s my official definition: Personal branding is a strategic process that involves creating a series of positive experiences.

    2- What personal branding IS NOT?

    Personal branding is not self-promotion without giving something back. The reason I unearth personal brands is to give them a voice that can reach more people to make the world a better place.

    3- Who needs personal branding?

    Everyone. It should be taught in schools. You need to know what you stand for, what your vision is, what your mission is, and what sets your soul on fire.

    4- Some people assume personal branding is only for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and executives. How can employees benefit from it?

    Personal branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. You can be “the annoying guy from the 5th floor who always leaves his empty Starbucks cans on his desk and is always late” or “the “innovative guy who volunteers in his spare time”. People decide whether they want to interact with you based on your personal brand.

    5- When is the best time to start personal branding?


    6- When isn’t a good time to start personal branding?

    Tomorrow won’t be easier.

    7- How would you describe your own personal brand?

    I’d like to say “inspirational”. I hope it makes people do things. It’s definitely always in transition. I’m a multi-passionate entrepreneur so there’s a lot going on in my world.

    8- Is personal branding “expensive”?

    Yes, it is. Especially until you become the brand. It takes a while to find the courage to incorporate your true self into the brand. It takes time, bravery, and money.

    9- The most common myth about personal branding?

    That it’s for famous people. If it were for famous people, how would they get there in the first place?

    10- The three most common mistakes in personal branding?

    I can name one. THE one. Not to develop an authentic personal brand. Every single technical aspect is doomed to fail if the brand isn’t authentic.

    11- Are resumes/CVs still relevant?

    They’ve never been part of my job. I don’t particularly like them, but they’re definitely needed.

    12- The Kardashians and personal branding?

    They got where they are fast. They “rule” the world, and I don’t blame them. They’ve a strong business mindset and strong personal brands. No wonder they’ve made it big. I’d just like to see more philanthropic projects from their side.

    13- Two terms in personal branding that everyone should know?

    “Vision.” Nothing can be done without vision. And “goal”. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t have a direction. Your goal is your map to get where you want to go, and your vision is how it makes the world a better place.

    14- The five most important elements of a successful personal brand?

    Values, Vision, Mission, Goal, and FREAK FACTORS.

    15- How do you overcome a personal branding crisis and get back on your feet?

    With communication. You have to admit it, get out there, and talk about what happened. You can push the results down in the Google index, but if you have millions of people following you, there will always be people searching for something negative about you on page 1,000. You better own up to it. Reputation management is one of the things we do at Arcbound. Sometimes people come to us because they became famous for the wrong reasons.

    16- Will Smith and personal branding?

    He apologized. I don’t dislike the guy. I’m sure he has a good heart. Everybody loses it every now and then. Someone I do dislike is R. Kelly. I recently saw a documentary about him and was shocked at how many lives he destroyed. The damage to his personal brand is irreparable, no matter what he ever says or does.

    17- Meditation?

    Phuuu. I should do it more often.

    Claudia Miclaus (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    18- How can introverts succeed in personal branding?

    By talking about their values and being in integrity with themselves. Personal branding isn’t about “exposure”. It’s about how you live your life.

    19- What role does color play in personal branding?

    Easy recognition. Important.

    20- What color represents you? And why?

    Blue. Light colors. Light. Doing good. God.

    21- What should you look for in a personal branding coach?

    EQ. If they don’t understand you emotionally, it’s hard to get anything unique out of you.

    22- A big red flag to look out for when choosing a personal branding coach?

    That they do it just for the money. Work with passionate people.

    23- On your website, you refer to yourself as a “personal branding architect.” Why the word “architect”?

    Because I bring all areas of your life into the game. You can’t just live your brand from 9 to 5. You live your brand while you sleep and eat. You can’t say you care about sustainability and fly to work by helicopter every day.

    24- Do you have a favorite personal brand?

    Oprah. Outspoken. Bold. Wild. And she’s doing good in the world.

    25- You love zebras. What do you find fascinating about them?

    Oh, zebras. They have each other’s back like no other.

    26- What’s special about the way you help your clients with personal branding?

    I start from where they are. I cannot start from where they are not. For that, I have to ask people around them for data. No data, no fun.

    27- A good quote about personal branding?

    “There is no one alive who is youer than you.” – Dr. Seuss

    28- Photography?

    I used to love it. Now I love music more. I recently released my first single under my artist name, Shellä. The song is called “Nothing Wrong”, and I’m working on organizing a mental health campaign around it. I’m a mental health advocate.

    Claudia Miclaus (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    29- Why are you advocating for mental health?

    I’ve struggled a lot, and, for a long time, I wasn’t aware of how much trauma was ruling my life. Now that I act out of love and not out of fear, I can create anything I want.

    30- Is that why you said personal branding should be taught in schools?

    Absolutely. Personal branding should be part of every school’s curriculum. I’m going to keep fighting for it until I make it happen. I know it’ll change the world. School students need to know their values, principles, vision, and mission. They’ll determine how they behave, what they participate in, and how they live.

    31- A tip for personal branding photography?

    Good lighting.

    32- Something new you’ve learned about yourself since getting into the personal branding business?

    Personal branding has brought me back to life and helped me get, build, and be something I didn’t have or was before. It feels good. I’ve never worked on anything as authentic as this.

    33- Your favorite personal branding trend?

    To be authentic and stand in your power.

    34- Millennials, Gen Z, and personal branding?

    Gen Z’s personal branding tends to be more hectic and much more open to exposure. But their mental health may be more impacted. The education system isn’t keeping up with technology. There’s a big gap between the two. Millennials are more afraid to put themselves out there and create a personal brand, but they’re willing to do it if they know it’ll bring them real benefits. In short, Gen Z’s personal branding is “hectic” while Millennials’ is more “intentional”.

    35- What’s the best way to ask for a recommendation or a testimonial?

    You ask your clients what they fear about working with you. Then you get testimonials from different clients who talk about those specific fears in a very authentic way. A good testimonial addresses the fears and provides assurance that the service is exactly what they need.

    36- A good TED Talk or YouTube video about personal branding?

    I’m sure there are many, but I’ll soon give one myself.

    37- The secret to a useful personal branding survey?

    Send the survey to as many people as possible. More data, more fun.

    38- Can you do personal branding without a website?

    Sure! Personal branding is how you show up in your life, what conversations you have, and how you carry yourself in the world. It’s not just a digital process.

    39- A fun fact about personal branding?

    It brings you home!

    40- The first questions everyone should ask themselves before starting the personal branding process?

    What’s my vision of an ideal world? And what role do I play in the creation of this world?

    41- A simple exercise for those who want to start their personal branding journey?

    Start gathering information about how you envision an ideal world. Or write on a piece of paper how you’d spend $100 million today. And you can’t invest. You have to spend that money today. Then start talking about it.

    Claudia Miclaus (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    42- What do you focus on for the development of your own personal brand?

    For now, I’m putting positive messages out there. I’m planning a TED talk, a book, a new digital program, a new series of NFTs, and a speech at Davos 2023. I’m busy with many other things. As long as I’m contributing to a better world, I’m happy.

    43- How will your personal brand have evolved in five years?

    I’ll certainly be an author who touches millions. And I’ll be the person who managed to get a bill passed on education. I’ll be very happy.

    44- A book on personal branding that you should definitely read?

    There aren’t that many out there. But Dot Lung sells a great personal branding course on Domestika. It’s around $10 and is pretty transformative.

    45- Personal Branding Incubator (PBI)?

    My personal branding program. It’s designed to help more people at the same time create connections around the world. It’s a live program, not a digital course. At our last PBI, we had participants from 13 countries. Some of them ended up working together afterwards. It was great. You should join us next time.

    46- You’re a Web3 enthusiast. What do you find particularly interesting about it?

    The future. By the way, Brand Capital Advisors combines Web3 and personal branding. It’s a personal branding agency for crypto founders.

    47- At Chamonix Crypto, you’re “cultivating Web3 innovation for environmental good”. What does that mean?

    This means that we’re using Web3 to create products (only NFTs for now) that give back to our valley and its environment. We’re committed to addressing climate change in Chamonix, as we see our glaciers melting more and more each year. Since we’re an NGO, we donate all the money we make to the valley. Every year, Chamonix Crypto organizes a high-level educational conference with great networking opportunities. Next year, it’ll be held in Chamonix from March 3-5. With a view of Mont Blanc, of course, and with outdoor sessions.

    (Photo source: Chamonix Crypto)

    48- Where does your love of cryptocurrencies come from?

    I’m more interested in Web3 than cryptocurrencies. Blockchain is much broader. Cryptocurrencies are just a Web3 product. In the next few years, we’ll all have a crypto wallet. It’s just a matter of time before we fully embrace it. Remember how you used to call your friends from a landline phone? And now we have free WhatsApp conversations! There will be more of that.

    49- A lesson you could transfer from personal branding to Chamonix Crypto?

    The conversations about values in general. Without values, you get lost in life. Or in business.

    50- What’s “regenerative finance” in simple terms?

    It uses money as a tool to solve systemic problems, especially in the natural environment. My colleague and partner Siobhan Moret recently wrote a blog post on this topic. It’s a good read.

    51- I think you have a horse named “Piri. What do you love about your horse and horse riding?

    Oh, as much as I’d like to, Piri isn’t my horse. I worked from Portugal for several weeks and Piri was the horse that showed me the “physical wilderness”.

    Claudia Miclaus and Piri (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    52- How have your international travels influenced your personal branding?

    I’ve now lived in eight countries and left a part of my heart in each of them. This has made me what I am.

    53- I like your website tagline: Where branding gets personal. What’s your best advice for not taking things personally?

    The sentence itself, word for word. Don’t take things personally. Everyone lives in their own head and is dealing with their own “demons”. In 99% of cases, it’s not about you.

    54- The best lesson you learned at Toastmasters sessions?

    To stay on time!

    55- Arcbound?

    The team of my life. They’re all the best. I work very closely with Bryan Wish (CEO) and Carson Morell (COO), and I admire how they carry themselves through life. The entire team is emotionally and professionally developed to the point that you feel you’re safe and constantly growing. The company is growing so fast. The best place to start your thought leadership journey.

    56- The most heartwarming feedback you’ve ever received from someone you worked with as a personal branding coach?

    Denisa Filcea, an influencer from Romania, said that it was only through working with me that she understood who she was and that it was a life-changing experience. It made my heart melt. In general, I get very good feedback, but in the end it always depends on how open my client is. I can do so little with a closed heart, but so much when you bring your whole self to the table.

    57- Digital wilderness?

    An interview I filmed with Bianca Grip. A must-watch.

    58- One of your Instagram posts says, “If you try to be liked by everyone, you’ll appeal to no one.” That’s one of my favorite quotes now. Your thoughts?

    Yeah, that’s a great quote. Be yourself. Easier said than done. But you want your target audience to be the people that vibe with you, right? You don’t want to create a brand that appeals to the wrong people.

    59- You’ve never…?

    Eaten cheese. And yes, I live in France. I don’t like cheese.

    60- The most important social media or networking platforms for personal branding?

    First and foremost: your own newsletter. No matter how the algorithms change, you still have your network. Then LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

    61- How did it feel to have a snake on your head once?

    Dangerously amazing.

    Claudia Miclaus with a snake on her head (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    62- How can we stop selling ourselves short?

    Work on yourself. Find a mentor. I’m in therapy and have mentors. It’s a process. You have to start believing that you can achieve more and that you’re worthy. Then positive affirmations. And definitely letting go of people and situations that hold you back. If you surround yourself with people who don’t sell themselves short, you won’t be doing that either.

    63- A person you find inspiring?

    Louise Hay changed my life.

    64- You climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro in 2019. What was the experience like?

    The summit night was hard. It took forever. But as they say in Swahili, “Pole, pole.” “Slowly, slowly.” I’m glad I made it. I plan to climb Mont Blanc in 2023.

    Claudia Miclaus standing on top of Kilimanjaro (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    65- Is it still “the hardest thing” you’ve ever done?

    No. Starting and running two businesses is much harder.

    66- You believe that “The future of business is personal” and “A brand cannot exist in isolation”. How can we strike a balance between these two ideas?

    Personal connection. Exposure. And consistency.

    67- You once stood up to a microphone on a street in New York City and shared part of your life journey with some strangers. Why? And what did you take away from that experience?

    I was attending a self-expression and leadership program and stood up to speak during the program. A few years ago, I was very afraid to speak in public. There I learned that everyone should use their voice. You never know who your contribution might be useful to. You can change lives just by speaking up.

    68- The first photo you posted on Instagram was of your skydiving experience? Why that photo in particular?

    It was random. It was never planned that way. But the photo is actually representative of me. I’m a risk taker. And skydiving is great!

    Claudia Miclaus experiencing “intense feelings” while skydiving (Photo source: Claudia Miclaus/Instagram)

    69- Something you’re very proud of?

    I was born in a communist country and grew up with the limited belief that being expressive won’t pay the bills, and now I teach people how to be expressive to make millions, sometimes billions of dollars. Anything is possible.

    70- Any parting thoughts, Claudia?

    I loved sharing my thoughts with you. And of course, you can get in touch with me on social media! Just search my name and you’ll find me everywhere.

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Everest van der Zwan, co-creator of KidQuest: From the art of listening and Mount Everest to backflips on skis and what adults get wrong about kids

    70 questions with Everest van der Zwan, co-creator of KidQuest: From the art of listening and Mount Everest to backflips on skis and what adults get wrong about kids

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    I start the Zoom meeting and there they’re. Ariane de Bonvoisin is standing behind her son Everest van der Zwan, putting her hands on his shoulders in the most comforting and encouraging way, as if to say, “You’ve got this!”

    Not that Everest isn’t strong enough. He’s named after the highest, mightiest mountain on Earth, and at eight years old, you can tell by his posture, attitude, and tone of voice that he’s head and shoulders above many children, and even adults, in terms of self-confidence. 

    I know he made ME nervous.

    Almost all of my interviews have been with adult professionals, and now I’m sitting in front of a kid almost 25 years younger than me trying to figure out how this works.

    Ariane tells me they got back from vacation about an hour ago, so I ask Everest if he’s tired. And I realize immediately that it wasn’t a good question when he tells me he NEVER gets tired!

    After his mother, an elite coach, leaves the room for an online coaching session, I ask Everest if he wants me to share my screen so he can see the 70 questions I want to ask him.  

    But like a pro, he says, “Only if you want to,” and goes on to say that he’d rather not see them.

    I know that I myself might have preferred to see the questions not only in advance, but also on the screen during the interview, to give “perfect” answers.

    But not Everest.

    He even asked me not to cut the interview short and said he was ready and willing to answer all the questions when I suggested that he could answer some of them in writing later.

    And it should come as no surprise.

    This boy LOVES to ask and answer questions. That’s exactly why he and his mother created KidQuest—a new, award-winning card game that helps kids get to know the adults in their lives by asking them fun, cool, but also important questions.

    When I asked Everest one of my questions about how to give better answers, he said it’s a matter of practice.

    And from his answers and delivery, I can see that practice does indeed make perfect. I was impressed by the insight he’s gained into different aspects of life at such a young age, and also by his tremendous sense of authenticity, which made me want to be a more authentic adult. 

    I was also inspired by how Ariane and her husband Alfie—who was sitting next to Everest out of the camera’s view to help him if needed—let their son do everything on his own, in what I like to call an environment of “supervised freedom”.

    You should have seen how graciously Everest, with the help of his father, handled a technical issue during our call that could’ve easily freaked out an adult. He also confidently and respectfully asked if he could complete the answer to my previous question, while I’d already moved on to the next question after the interruption.

    What I saw in the frame of my screen was a “picture-perfect” display of trust, love, confidence, and joy, even if Everest did mess up his father’s hair a bit at the end of our hour-long interview—a heart-warming father-son moment I’m grateful to have witnessed. 

    Everest van der Zwan with his parents Ariane de Bonvoisin (L) and Alfie (Photo: Supplied)

    Kudos to Ariane and Alfie for instilling such beautiful thoughts, values, and perspectives in Everest, and kudos to Everest for being as special as his name. Just like Everest, he really stands tall, but, as his mother says, he “really is a pretty normal kid too most of the time.” 

    And that’s the way it should be. Kids should be kids. 

    Read on to find out what Everest has to say about KidQuest, life in Switzerland, Mount Everest, the art of listening, tips on giving better answers, how to express our love for others, the best money tip, what adults get wrong the most about kids, and, of course, his 18-month-old dog Waffle that makes him smile. Enjoy!

    Everest van der Zwan (Photo: Supplied)

    1- Everest, what’s KidQuest?

    KidQuest is a fun game where kids get to learn more about the grown-ups in their lives.

    2- How would you describe yourself?

    Cool, funny, and curious.

    3- What do you think about your unique name?

    I like it. I think it suits me because I pursue my dreams, just like the people who climb Everest.

    4- What similarities are there between you and Mount Everest?

    I’m tall. I love doing things in the snow. And I love having fun in nature.

    5- If you could choose a name other than Everest for yourself, what would it be? And why?

    It would probably be “Extreme”. I think it’s quite a unique name, and I also love doing extreme things.

    6- How tall would you like to be?

    Around 190 or 195 centimeters.

    7- How can we start asking better questions?

    Play KidQuest! Also, have conversations you wouldn’t normally have. For example, instead of asking someone what their favorite color is, ask them, “When did you have so much fun that you exploded with laughter?”

    8- The secret to giving good answers?

    I think it’s practicing. And also doing your best to have fun.

    9- Your favorite word?


    10- What do you like most about KidQuest?

    I love that it brings families and grown-ups and kids together.

    11- Why should kids and parents buy and play KidQuest?

    Because you’ll ask questions that you would not normally ask.

    12- Why a game where children ask adults questions instead of children asking other children questions?

    Because when kids ask other kids questions, it’s not really the same way. KidQuest mixes up the questions in a way that you wouldn’t normally do. Also, kids learn a lot more by asking adults questions than they do by asking other kids questions.

    13- What was it like working with your mom?

    It was a new fun experience for me, and I learned a lot.

    14- The best thing you’ve learned from your mother?

    Always be honest and be in the present moment.

    15- And from your father?

    Always explore and have fun.

    Everest van der Zwan with his parents Alfie (L) and Ariane de Bonvoisin (Photo: Supplied)

    16- Who in your family gives the most interesting answers?

    My dad. He has funny stories.

    17- Your father goes by the name “Alfie”. But his full name contains the word “Arie-jan” which is pronounced like your mother’s name, Ariane. That’s an interesting coincidence. How does it feel to have parents with almost the same name?

    I think it’s quite cool, and it’s different.

    18- The best feedback you’ve received about your game?

    That it’s an amazing game and that families love to play it.

    19- The top three things you like about yourself?

    I love that I have lots of fun and play outside very often, especially biking. I love that I’m fun. And I also love that I can think of others and be honest.

    20- The naughtiest question in KidQuest?

    “What’s a really naughty thing you did at school?”

    21- How can we become good listeners?

    If you don’t think about something else, like yesterday or tomorrow or planning or dinner, and just really be in the present moment.

    22- The game questions are divided into eight different categories (School, Home, Friends, Emotions, Work, Humor, Personality, and BigLife.) What does BigLife mean?

    BigLife is mostly like the really big questions, such as: “When did you first experience death?” or “Did you want to get married?” or “Did you want to have kids?”.

    KidQuest (Photo: Supplied)

    23- Your mother is a coach. How would you describe her job?

    She helps people with problems in business and in life.

    24- If you could ask a famous person any question, who would it be? And what would you ask them? 

    I’d ask the Queen of England, “What was the naughtiest trick you played on your parents?”

    25- Do you prefer to live in Europe or in the United States? Why?

    Probably in Europe because when we were living in New York, there wasn’t that much nature. 

    26- The best thing about living in Switzerland?

    You’re very close to animals, trees, and nature in general.

    27- Three things your friends would say you’re really good at?

    I think they’d say that I’m really good at just being myself and not trying to be someone else. That I’m good at sports. And that if I say something, I then do it.

    28- If you could be a parent for a day, what rules would you have?

    You can’t jump off the roof. You can’t eat too much sugar. You have to try to have fun. And you have to be honest.

    29- What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen someone do lately?

    I saw one of my friends, who is 13, do one of these really big jumps on a bike.

    30- Your favorite question in KidQuest?

    “Did you start a business as a kid?”

    31- The last thing that made you smile?

    Seeing my dog Waffle running in the water and being in the mountains.

    Everest van der Zwan and his dog, Waffle (Photo: Supplied)

    32- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

    To be able to talk to animals and understand them.

    33- A movie you recommend kids watch with their parents?

    Yes Day. It’s about a mom and dad who decide to let their children make the rules for 24 hours and they have to say yes to their requests.

    34- What would you ask your parents to do if they gave you a “Yes Day”?

    I’ve actually had a “Yes Day”. I went to a video game center. I had ice cream two times. I went to the beach. And I had pizza for dinner.

    35- If you ever wrote a book for children, what would it be about and what would it be called?

    “Pursue Your Dreams.” It’ll be about encouraging them to do whatever they want to do.

    36- Did you know that some scientists estimate that Mount Everest is 50 to 60 million years old?

    I didn’t know that.

    37- Can you tell us a fun fact about Mount Everest?

    The kids of the 36th British climber to climb Everest are studying at my school.

    38- Shark Tank is my favorite TV show, which sometimes features kid entrepreneurs or kidpreneurs. Have you ever watched it?


    Cassidy Crowley and her mom, Lori, pitch The Baby Toon, their soft spoon for babies and toddlers, on Shark Tank (Photo source: Shark Tank Blog)

    39- The best thing about being a kid?

    Kids don’t need to worry about anything like how much something costs or about taxes. And they also get to do lots of stuff that they want.

    40- The best thing about being an adult?

    They make most of the decisions.

    41- If I were to give a child a board game as a gift, what would you recommend?

    The Game of Life.

    42- Your favorite question to answer on KidQuest?

    “What’s the best advice someone has given you about making money?”

    43- Would you share that advice with us?

    “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” I heard that from my grandfather.

    44- Your favorite question to ask an adult?

    “What is the best advice someone gave you about living a happy life?”

    45- Your role model?

    Bear Grylls. He is an amazing explorer and survivor. He has a great TV series.

    * Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls became one of the youngest climbers ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest, although he’d broken his back in three places in a parachuting accident in Africa.

    Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls (Photo source: Wikipedia)

    46- How would you describe your mother?

    Fun, cool, and adventurous.

    47- Your next idea?

    We want to do a podcast with KidQuest. Maybe we’ll translate KidQuest into other languages or create another edition.

    48- Your mother once climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro and accompanied a group of students to Antarctica. What adventures are on your bucket list?

    I want to climb Everest and go to Antarctica.

    49- If curiosity were a color, what would it be?


    50- What’s your favorite color? And if it had a smell, what would it smell like?

    I really like red. And if I were to make it smell, I’d make it smell like lemon.

    51- What’s self-confidence?

    Self-confidence is believing in yourself. It’s like, “I can. I can.” 

    Everest van der Zwan (Photo: Supplied)

    52- Something interesting you learned about your family while playing KidQuest?

    Something that I didn’t know was that my grandfather and my mom were quite naughty at school. Oh and that I had a relative who survived the Titanic!

    53- Your advice for kids who want to turn their ideas into a business?

    Never give up. And that it will be hard.

    54- You received many prototypes over several months before deciding on the current KidQuest design and packaging. Why did you choose the current version?

    One of the prototypes was a tin. I said a kid would never buy something in a tin. Another one was like these big cards. I couldn’t even hold them. We decided on this design because the cards are smaller. It’s very portable. You can take it anywhere.

    KidQuest (Photo: Supplied)

    55- The most important lesson you learned while creating KidQuest?

    Never give up because you can’t start something, get it halfway done, and think you will put it on Amazon.

    56- What do you think about video games?

    I have some, but I don’t play them so often. I think they melt your brain.

    57- What makes you happy?

    I really love biking, skiing, spending time with my family, and playing with my dog.

    58- Something you’d like to learn next year? 

    I want to learn to do a backflip on skis. Also, I want to learn Swahili because we plan to go to Kenya.

    59- If we love someone, how can we show it?

    Be present with them and spend time with them.

    60- What do adults get wrong the most about kids?

    Most parents don’t let their kids do everything they want to do. I mean, they don’t really let them pursue their dreams. I wish all parents knew that they can really trust their kids and still be amazing parents. 

    61- An activity you like to do with your parents?

    I enjoy playing board games or card games with them.

    62- What makes a child “cool”?

    Dreaming, doing what they love, and being true to themselves.

    63- The most important skill parents should teach their children?

    Let them know that they have big potential.

    64- Do you think everyone needs a coach? Why?

    I think it’s good to have a coach. Like in sports, if you have a coach, you get better at what you do.

    65- A tip for designing a website?

    I like websites where you can easily find things easily and that you should not make it too complicated. 

    66- And what is the best thing about asking and answering questions?

    It develops a skill you wouldn’t develop if you didn’t ask questions.

    67- Your message to the children who’re afraid or shy to ask questions?

    That they should really just ask questions and say the things that they want to say, and not hide.

    68- A question you’d like to ask me?

    “How is it like being a journalist?”

    * My answer is that I got to meet interesting people and traveled to interesting destinations that I wouldn’t have met or visited if I weren’t a journalist.

    69- A question you’d like the readers of this article to ask themselves?

    “Is there something I really want to make or start??”

    70- A question you’d like to be asked but wasn’t asked in this interview? And your answer?

    “What’s it like to live in Switzerland?”

    And my answer: It’s really beautiful. We literally live right on the mountain. It’s a small place, but it’s really nice! 

    If you want to find out more about KidQuest or buy the game, visit here.

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.


  • 70 questions with Samantha North, writer and founder of Digital Émigré: From blog monetization, SEO, a writer’s worst enemy, and voice typing to EU citizenship, Brexit, Istanbul, and North Korean border 

    70 questions with Samantha North, writer and founder of Digital Émigré: From blog monetization, SEO, a writer’s worst enemy, and voice typing to EU citizenship, Brexit, Istanbul, and North Korean border 

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    Of all the freedoms I’ve sought and experienced in my life, freedom of movement is the sweetest and has the most special place in my heart. There’s a sense of “dignity” that comes with it, which I think we all inherently crave and value as human beings.

    For the same reason, I have great respect for people who help others savor this freedom—either by offering specialized services or simply sharing their knowledge and experience.  

    Samantha North is one of them.

    When her EU citizenship was “stolen” from her by Brexit, she decided to turn adversity into opportunity. Not only did she set out to get it back via Portugal, but she also started the Digital Émigré blog in 2020 to help investors and remote workers access the best second citizenships in Europe.

    After all, she believes a second passport is “the best Plan B”.

    What makes Samantha’s mission even more interesting is that she’s drawing on her background as a writer, blogger, and journalist to help others build “sustainable, portable online income” so they can relocate anywhere in the world “with confidence”.

    And why is she the right person to give such advice? Well, Samantha has been “blogging her way to global freedom” for years.

    She has worked remotely for more than 10 years, lived in eight countries, and traveled to over 40 more. Also, she’s grown the Digital Émigré blog to generate a full-time income and support her life abroad.

    Samantha’s living the dream of many people, myself included, and is proof that we can enjoy location freedom, financial freedom, and time freedom all at the same time while doing what we love and is important to us. 

    Read on to learn what she has to say about herself, Digital Émigré, how to find the right blog niche, how to monetize a blog, Ezoic vs. Google AdSense, a writer’s worst enemy, the best tools for writing and blogging, a no-no when pitching to editors, artificial intelligence, astroturfing, Istanbul as one of her favorite cities, and LinkedIn, where she posts consistently and always tries to up her game with original, practical advice. Enjoy!

    1- How’s life after getting a PhD, Samantha?

    I haven’t quite got it yet, still need to defend, but life is much better and less stressed now that I’ve finished writing the thesis!

    2- A life lesson you could only learn by doing a PhD?

    Academia is tough, badly paid, and not the right career path for me. I wish I’d learned that some other way!

    3- A tip for creating a good dissertation title?

    Make it clear rather than clever.

    4- A life hack every writer or blogger should know?

    Voice typing (honestly, try it!)

    5- When and why did you decide to “blog your way to global freedom”?

    I started the Digital Émigré blog in 2020 and grew it to generate a full-time income and support my life abroad.

    6- Why is Digital Émigré’s mission close to your heart?

    Because my EU citizenship was stolen from me. I’m determined to get it back, via Portugal, while helping others access these life-changing rights.

    7- What can I find on Digital Émigré that I can’t find on similar blogs?

    Detailed guidance on how to become an EU citizen. I’ve researched all the best pathways and present this info on the blog for free. I also provide consultations to help people work out which pathway would fit them best.

    8- How does blogging fit into relocating and starting a journey toward second citizenship?

    It allows people to create portable income so they can easily relocate abroad to start the process of naturalization.

    9- Your online writing career began as a freelance journalist in Istanbul. How did that experience influence your life vision?

    I learned that I love writing, but the pay of a freelance journalist is not what I want. Entrepreneurship lets me get well paid for my writing.

    10- When can a writer or blogger call themselves an “entrepreneur”?

    When they’re making money from their blog.

    11- How has your journalism background contributed to your career as a writer and blogger?

    It’s given me credibility, improved my storytelling skills, and acted as a springboard into the world of digital content marketing. 

    12- You recently traveled back to Istanbul for the first time in six years. What was it like to rediscover the city?

    Exciting and invigorating. Great to catch up with old friends. Fascinating to see how the city has changed and developed.

    13- You recommend writers start their own website on WordPress instead of writing on Medium. Why?

    WordPress—I mean the self-hosted version—allows writers to own their site and their content, whereas Medium does not. Also, WordPress is much better for SEO, so you can control the keywords you rank for.

    14- What are the three most important points to consider when choosing a monetization strategy for a blog?

    • Is anyone else monetizing a similar topic? If yes, that’s a good sign you can do it too.
    • Does the topic target lucrative U.S. audiences? That’s best for making more money from ads.
    • Are there existing affiliate programs in this niche and could you easily write articles around these products?

    15- Your blogging record includes three failed blogs and one successful one. What did you do differently to make the last one successful?

    I learned SEO and stayed consistent with publishing, rather than giving up when I didn’t see fast results.

    16- Do you have a writing ritual?

    Early mornings, pomodoros, and voice typing.

    17- As a writer, I know you get tired of writing from time to time. How do you overcome writer’s fatigue?

    Taking a walk on the beach, or going to the gym. If I’ve got a deadline and need to keep writing, then changing my environment helps a lot (e.g. going to a café).

    18- An unwritten rule of blogging?

    Don’t plagiarize.

    19- What are you reading right now?

    Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

    20- If you ever write a book, what will you share in it?

    I’m not sure yet. Maybe something on Istanbul, one of my favorite cities. Or, an e-book about SEO.

    21- How can writers and bloggers make themselves irreplaceable in the rapidly evolving world of AI?

    Infusing their own life experiences into their writing and building a personal brand around that. Learning complimentary skills like SEO and high-level research.

    22- Why do we procrastinate and how can we avoid it?

    Because we’re somehow intimidated by the task at hand. Starting small helps. It tends to get easier once you just start.

    23- Is there something you know you should be doing but you’re putting off?

    Emailing my growing email list to promote my services.

    24- What’s the most rewarding thing about writing and blogging?

    You can build an income around your own ideas or a topic you’re interested in. Plus, the opportunity to create something new.

    25- A writer’s worst enemy?

    Social media notifications. A bad night’s sleep.

    26- Long-form vs. short-form content?

    Both have their place. Long-form for the blog and for good SEO. Short-form for promotion and engagement on Twitter and LinkedIn.

    27- What surprised you most about yourself in 2022?

    My high levels of consistency and commitment.

    28- Your advice for writers who want to learn not to sell themselves short?

    Don’t work for free, ever. Even at the beginning.

    29- How do you handle “tough feedback”?

    I listen and try to take insights from it.

    30- A fun fact about yourself?

    I spent a year living on the North Korean border.

    31- The key characteristics of a good cover image for a blog post?

    Relevant to the content, with a personal touch if possible.

    32- What separates “good” content from “great” content?

    Deep research, good storytelling, and a touch of personality.

    33- What did you learn in the two weeks you posted daily—Monday to Friday—on LinkedIn?

    LinkedIn is great for engagement, and you meet some really interesting people on there.

    34- How do you take care of your mental health?

    Sleeping well. Working out. Spending time in nature.

    35- The article you’re most proud of?

    Still this one: Kurdish bookshop turns page on dark past

    36- The first step to creating and growing a money-making blog?

    Finding a niche (hint: don’t reinvent the wheel).

    37- How can bloggers find the right blog niche for themselves? 

    Look for intersections between your interests, skills, life experiences, and things that make money. The latter is key. 

    38- A no-no when pitching to editors?

    Don’t act desperate, and get to the point in your pitch.

    39- How can writers and bloggers best use AI to their advantage?

    Tools like Jasper.ai are very useful part of the blogging workflow. I use Jasper regularly. But you need to use it as a supplement to your own writing, rather than a replacement. Make sure to edit and fact-check.

    40- Three writing tools you can’t imagine life without?

    • Voice typing feature on Mac
    • Notion for capturing ideas
    • Jasper.ai for getting over writers block

    41- The five best tools for blogging?

    42- The main differences between a writer and a blogger?

    A writer could write anywhere, whereas a blogger writes online.

    43- “Write to express, not to impress.” Your opinion?

    Neither. I write to solve my audience’s problems in a clear and accessible way.

    44- You once wrote a blog post about “astroturfing” on social media? What is it and why does it matter?

    Astroturfing is when fake accounts or personas are used to give a false impression of public opinion on the topic. It’s easy to do online, and can be used in harmful ways, for example in politics.

    45- Your top four SEO practices?

    • Topic clustering
    • Internal backlinks
    • HARO (Help A Reporter Out) outreach
    • Site speed

    46- You recommend bloggers try Ezoic to monetize their blog with ads. Why do you prefer Ezoic to Google AdSense?

    It pays a lot more. The people there are nice to work with.

    47- What’s the biggest misconception when it comes to running ads on a blog?

    That they’ll put off your readers. Ezoic uses machine learning to serve the right type and number of ads to each visitor.

    48- How do you manage to run your own blog and write for your clients at the same time?

    Good organizational skills. Not taking on too much. Charging what I’m worth so I can afford to do that. 

    49- The best way to nail a client’s voice?

    Read lots of their past material. Find out their mission, vision, values, and goals.

    50- How do you invest in yourself as a writer and blogger?

    I buy courses and new tools regularly.

    51- A second passport?

    The best Plan B.

    52- Affiliate marketing?

    Good, but only promote the products you’ve actually used and liked.

    53- Portugal?

    An amazing country that’s been great so far.

    54- Your favorite place to write in Lisbon?

    Copenhagen Coffee Lab.

    55- Canva?

    Amazing and worth every cent.

    56- A seemingly irrelevant skill that’s helped you a lot with your writing and blogging?

    Not really irrelevant, but becoming a PhD researcher has given me a better eye for detail.

    57- Writer’s block?

    I don’t really get it. And on the rare occasions I do, I use free writing, or a tool like Jasper.ai to help me through it.

    58- YouTube for writers and bloggers?

    Great addition and can really help your SEO. Remember that YouTube is its own search engine.

    59- An eye-opening writing or blogging tip you learned recently?

    Using “P.S.” at the end of a LinkedIn post is apparently very good for engagement.

    60- The book “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon?

    Good boost to help you get over imposter syndrome.

    61- Social proof?

    Important in many ways, especially when growing your LinkedIn or Twitter.

    62- Brexit?

    The reason Digital Émigré exists.

    63- SEO?

    Essential skill for bloggers.

    64- Disinformation?


    65- LinkedIn?

    Post every day for best results!

    66- If you weren’t a writer and blogger, what would you be?

    Perhaps a spy.

    67- The future of blogging?


    68- Digital Émigré in 2023?

    Making a lot more money, running mainly on autopilot.

    69- Samantha North in 2023?

    Running two profitable blogs and doing a lot more travel compared to previous COVID years. Learning more about SEO.

    70- Is there any question you’d like to be asked but wasn’t asked in this interview?

    I think we’ve covered everything. Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions.  

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Matej Guid, founder and CEO of InstaText: From ‘fair’ use of AI, future of writing, and artificial empathy to chess and the best Slovenian food

    70 questions with Matej Guid, founder and CEO of InstaText: From ‘fair’ use of AI, future of writing, and artificial empathy to chess and the best Slovenian food

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    Some tools are much more than tools. They open your eyes to a new world of possibilities. They improve more than just the one aspect of your life you needed help with. They change your life.

    For me, InstaText has been a life changer. It’s way more than a writing and editing tool. It’s an experience. One of those turning points that divide your life into a clear “before” and “after” with no going back.

    When you develop an emotional connection with a piece of software and it finds its way into your gratitude journal, it’s no longer just a brand—it’s a “love brand.”

    I fell in love with InstaText the moment I realized it can help me write more like a native speaker and give me perhaps the most precious gift there is—TIME.

    With time, you can create more memories with those you love. You can have greater peace of mind. You can grow more and live a more fulfilling life—emotionally, spiritually, physically, socially, and financially. You can dream dreams and bring them to life. If you ask me, the less tangible benefits of InstaText are countless.

    From a technical point of view, InstaText, at first glance, “over-promises” to help you “write like a native speaker”, but it also “over-delivers”.

    It’s “intelligent” and “helpful”.

    It “reads” your thoughts and shows you what’s wrong without rolling its eyes at your incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes. And, with its beautifully sophisticated simplicity, it drowns out all the noise and distractions in the writing and editing process so you can focus on what truly matters.

    InstaText also has a “minimal” yet “effective” editing style and treats your ideas with care and delicately. It lets your personality shine through the text. It doesn’t take away the human touch from your writing. It respects the story you want to tell. It just helps you tell it better. It accentuates your message.

    Yes, it’s “gentle”—but at the same time “assertive”.

    It doesn’t explain its editing suggestions. It doesn’t offer you different options with colorful labels to choose from. It just gives you the best suggestion it has. You can either accept or reject it. That’s one of the features I really like about InstaText because it helps you avoid decision fatigue.

    Besides, years of writing and working with editors from all over the world have shown me that edits are like jokes. If you have to explain a joke, there’s no joke. If you have to explain or justify an edit, it’s probably a bad edit. So I personally don’t like it when edits are explained to me.

    InstaText can also be called “creative”.

    In a brilliant LinkedIn post, I read that “What’s another word for _______?” is the wrong question in copywriting and makes it hard to find an answer. “You don’t need another word. You need another concept.”

    That’s where InstaText adds real value. It helps you look at your message in a fresh way. It keeps the core of your own idea, but also offers you new perspectives.  

    I also think InstaText is “competitive” and brings out your competitive side—and the best in you.

    When I recently recommended InstaText to a friend, I likened it to a Chessmaster experience because I want to beat it every time with better texts. Later, I found out that the world of chess was the inspiration behind InstaText.

    They say a brand becomes successful when users start treating it like a person. They talk to it, praise it, have expectations of it, and even yell at it.

    So when I give InstaText a text to edit and shout “Bring it on!”, you should know that it’s coming from a loving place.

    But it’s a kind of rival that’s more on your side than against you because InstaText is, above all, a “teacher.”

    If you pay attention, it teaches you how to write and edit better. Not only does it not stifle your creativity, it actually encourages it. It shows you how to wrap your ideas in a more eye-catching wrapper and present them more elegantly.  

    It helps you with so many things, but at the end of the day, you’re the one adding the finishing touches to the text and making sure it’s the version you want to put out in the world—and that’s the best feeling ever.

    And last but not least, it’s simple and teaches you simplicity.

    I asked InstaText founder and CEO, Matej Guid, how InstaText does what it does, and he generously and patiently answered not only that question, but my 69 other questions as well.

    Read on if you want to know what Matej, a Slovenian entrepreneur, AI specialist, and computer science professor, has to say about artificial empathy, how he’d explain AI to a child, InstaText vs. Grammarly, “fair use” of AI, how to make the most of InstaText, popular entrepreneurial advice he disagrees with, and of course, the best reasons to visit Slovenia and the most delicious traditional food it has to offer!

    InstaText founder and CEO Matej Guid (Photo by: InstaText, Jože Suhadolnik—Delo)

    1- “Write like a native speaker”. That’s a pretty bold statement, Matej. What gave you the confidence to choose it as the motto for InstaText?

    It came naturally. I never really thought about it. It just felt right because that’s what InstaText does: it helps you write like a native speaker.

    2- I assume that “Insta” in “InstaText” stands for “instant”. Am I correct?

    Yes, it is about speed. The idea is that you can write high-quality texts faster. This is important because it allows you to focus on your thoughts and ideas while writing or editing.

    3- What was the highlight of this year for InstaText?

    In July, we launched the InstaText Chrome extension, which lets you use InstaText directly in several web applications, including online word processors, email clients, collaboration tools, and social media.

    4- How and when did you fall in love with AI?

    I think it was when I tried to teach a computer program to annotate chess games about fifteen years ago. Computers are excellent at chess, but they are terrible at explaining their decisions. It was great to see that our program could explain chess moves in a quite reasonable way.

    5- How would you explain AI to a child?

    Intelligence is the ability to learn by yourself. AI stands for artificial intelligence and means that a machine can learn on its own.

    6- Do you ever wish you were a native English speaker?

    No, of course not. I love the Slovenian language. But when I write a text in another language, I often wish I could write like a native speaker in that language—fast, confident, with all those juicy words and phrases.

    7- Would you please explain in simple language how InstaText does what it does?

    InstaText rewrites your text in a way that maximizes readability. It was inspired by AlphaZero, a computer program that just a day ago knew nothing about chess and was able to learn the game better than any human, playing only against itself.

    So I asked myself, “Could we set up text improvement as a game? Could such an approach be applied to computer language acquisition? Could we maximize the readability of texts, for example?”

    It was the breakthrough in reinforcement learning known as AlphaZero that enabled powerful technology that continues to improve and leads to better and better performance.

    InstaText learns from myriads of texts available out there to continuously improve and come up with better and better suggestions. At the same time, the engine is designed to preserve your message and voice as much as possible.

    InstaText founder and CEO Matej Guid (L) and InstaText co-founder and CTO Marcus Hassler (Photo credit: InstaText)

    8- The best country for AI?

    I think it really depends on the domain you are interested in and the problems you are trying to solve.

    9- The most important email etiquette tip?

    I find it useful to sometimes go to the “Sent” folder right after sending an important email and read it again. When you take a fresh look at your writing and know there’s nothing you can do to change it, you can learn from your mistakes and think about possible improvements.

    10- What do you like most about InstaText?

    You feel confident in your writing and are grateful when you see that your text sounds better.

    11- InstaText vs. Grammarly?

    Editor vs. proofreader. Recently I read an interesting article where the author pointed out the difference very nicely, “The thing about Grammarly is that it’s a good proofreader, but not an editor. And, as any skilled writer will be happy to tell you, the editing is the secret.”

    Grammarly sticks very closely to the original text, while InstaText gives you a lot more ideas and suggestions on how to improve your text and make it more readable and understandable. This is probably the main reason why InstaText is especially useful in the editing phase of the writing process.

    InstaText browser extension (Photo credit: InstaText)

    12- What does the InstaText logo stand for?

    The pipe symbol in the center represents a cursor and a separation between the original text on the left and the improved text on the right. The arrow-like shape on the right side represents both the enter key and an algorithm in the background.

    13- For AI non-experts like me, would you please explain what differentiates AI writing and editing solutions from each other when they all use the same technology?

    Most AI tools are based on large corpuses of data on which they learn the models that are later used to process the texts. The algorithms for learning may differ, and the corpuses may vary as well. Some post-processing may be implemented, and different tools may emphasize different aspects or have different goals. Finally, the underlying technology may differ significantly, as is the case with InstaText.

    14- Your thoughts on this news story? “Researcher tells AI to write a paper about itself, then submits it to academic journal

    Technology can be fun and productive, but it is up to us not to abuse it.

    15- The top three reasons to visit Slovenia?

    Nature, cuisine, and people—as in most countries. However, in Slovenia nature is very well preserved and it’s really not too crowded.

    Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital and largest city (Photo source: Unsplash)

    16- The best website/blog to follow AI news?

    I’m probably not aware of most of them. I think wired.com is pretty good and has many interesting and informative articles.

    17- What do you like best about your workday?

    Flexibility. And passion—I love what I do.

    18- To what do you attribute your accomplishments?

    I have been training chess quite a bit, and I think it has improved my decision making and problem solving skills. Also, perseverance and determination to finish something I started. Doing what you love to do and what you believe in. And not only trusting your intuition, but also trying to understand it.

    19- Your answer to this question? “Is using AI to write morally wrong?

    Certainly not if it’s about communicating the author’s thoughts and ideas.

    20- How would you describe the “fair use” of AI for writing? Your website says: “This product is not designed for extreme use such as [by] SEO copywriters.”

    I think fair use of AI in writing is about getting real-time help to make up for the gaps in our writing skills. InstaText is designed to help writers and editors, i.e. content creators.

    There are other tools developed for duplicating content (in slightly modified versions), mostly for dubious purposes. And there are also tools for generating content automatically.

    21- Can we ever enforce “fair use” of AI?

    I think that we don’t want to force this—it would be much better to improve people’s moral values.

    In a few years it will be almost impossible to distinguish machine writing from human writing.

    As in photography, today almost anyone with a good camera can take an excellent photo. However, a skilled photographer is much more likely to take outstanding photos. And only a skilled photographer can make a great story using only photos.

    22- A mistake you made early on in your business and laugh about today?

    I think there were no serious mistakes, only inaccuracies. And I laugh at them as I answer this question. But seriously, I think we did quite well.

    23- Can native speakers also benefit from InstaText?

    Certainly. I often wish InstaText was available in my own language (but the Slovenian language is quite complex and the market is really not big enough to justify the development costs).

    We often get great feedback from English native speakers. Business people benefit from clear and effective communication, marketers are happy that their texts sound better, and copywriters acknowledge that they are much more productive.

    24- The biggest misconception about AI?

    Most people believe that AI must have consciousness to achieve general human-level intelligence. They believe that a machine must be self-aware in order to act very intelligently on its own.

    However, this is not really necessary—machines can act very intelligently only by maximizing the value of a certain variable.

    For example, a giant computer system like Google can become smarter than the entire humanity only by continuously improving the quality of its knowledge. With the help of humans, of course. And also by manipulating humans to contribute to a single goal of maximizing the aforementioned value.

    25- What have you always wanted to learn but haven’t yet?

    The Italian language.

    26- AI and bias?

    AI models for decision making can be biased in similar ways as humans. Our decisions are based on our past experiences and also on our perception and interpretation of the current situation.

    The models can be trained with a limited amount of data and the algorithms used for training may not be optimal for certain situations.

    27- The best research paper you’ve written?

    The most famous was the paper Computer Analysis of World Chess Champions (written with Ivan Bratko, one of the pioneers of AI research), in which we compared the strength of some of the strongest chess players who lived in different eras, many of whom had no opportunity to face each other at the chessboard.

    We did this with computer analysis of individual moves. The results were interesting to the general public and some were quite surprising. On the other hand, the work was quite controversial because we used a computer program that was probably weaker than most of the champions (the analysis was done in 2005!).

    Therefore, there was a big debate in the chess world about whether the results of the analysis were valid or not. And it turned out that the answer was positive! As reported in our subsequent research papers, our intuition was correct and the ranking of the champions was fair.

    The main reason for this is that the program analyzed a large number of moves and was biased approximately equally for each player. The entire methodology for estimating human performance with computers was later presented in the article Using Heuristic-Search Based Engines for Estimating Human Skill at Chess.

    InstaText (Photo credit: InstaText)

    28- A technical AI term that every beginner should know?

    You mentioned bias earlier, and in AI it is often associated with variance. It’s like you are aiming at the bullseye on a dartboard. You may always hit the board to the left of the bullseye, and that would be a consequence of bias (e.g. due to a constant wind). However, it is very likely that the darts are spread all over the board, which we could attribute to variance (e.g. your hand is slightly shaking).

    AI algorithms behave similarly: they are often slightly off (they don’t hit the bullseye), and this could be due to both bias and variance.

    It is quite common for an AI engineer to modify the machine learning algorithm to better fit a given data set, resulting in less bias—but increasing variance. Or vice versa.

    29- The biggest risk of language-generating AI?

    How it can affect human behavior. Creating entire articles based on a few thoughts of the author can backfire in several ways.

    First and foremost, quality writers can struggle with their work because quantity sometimes beats quality—something like that seems to be happening in journalism recently.

    30- Can AI help improve our writing skills?

    Certainly. We have received comments from several InstaText users that their writing skills have improved over time and that the program has taught them to write better English.

    One of the most important reasons is immediate feedback by the program. In areas that involve problem solving (e.g., math), several studies have shown that immediate feedback is very effective in improving one’s skills.

    Editing and improving texts can also be seen as problem solving in some ways. It is therefore not entirely surprising that receiving high-quality feedback in real time can improve our writing skills.

    31- The best lesson about writing you learned while editing with InstaText?

    Over time, you develop a sense of word order and learn not only that a simple sentence is usually better than a complex one, but also how to express your thoughts in a simplified way. This is especially relevant for non-native speakers and happens to me quite often as well.

    32- The most important skills that made you who you’re today?

    I’ve already mentioned decision making and problem solving skills. Perhaps also empathy and the ability to figure out what’s best for everyone involved. And a special ability to take a short nap by simulating dreams to quickly recover and become fresh again.

    33- Can you please explain in simple terms what an AI algorithm is?

    An algorithm is usually a set of rules, calculations, and problem-solving operations. An AI algorithm is no different, but it also contains mechanisms that enable intelligent behavior, usually by automatically learning from past situations to perform well in future situations.

    34- Why computer science?

    It’s probably one of the most creative fields for engineers. It fits virtually any domain or discipline. For example, your hobbies may have to do with animals or languages or astronomy, and computer science allows you to create something useful in any case.

    35- Why did you decide to bootstrap your business?

    First and foremost: because it was feasible to do so. Most startups don’t have that luxury, they usually need money to finish the product or find a sustainable business model.

    We managed to develop a minimum viable product with our own funds and were able to find product-market fit quite early—also with the help of our advisors.

    Not only did this help us establish a sustainable business model, but we also found a way to further develop and improve our product without investor money. In this way, we have managed to remain independent and grow on our own terms.

    36- What’s the best thing about bootstrapping?

    You can make your own decisions. In the end, these decisions are backed up with advisors and shaped together with the team, but they are in no way forced by anyone else.

    We act in the best interest of our customers, the product, and the team—not to achieve any goals or targets set by someone else.

    37- The biggest challenge of bootstrapping?

    To not run out of money or out of time (by being too slow).

    38- How can people get the most out of InstaText?

    I prefer to improve one or two paragraphs at a time. This also allows me to occasionally re-edit and re-improve the text.

    There is a personal dictionary that you can use to retain certain words or combinations of words that are part of your professional language or personal style.

    It’s important to realize that not all suggestions should be accepted—rejecting certain suggestions, revising, and re-improving is part of the editing process.

    InstaText browser extension (Photo credit: InstaText)

    39- The future of writing?

    The quality of writing will continue to improve. Thoughts and ideas will still matter most, and people will be able to express themselves better.

    40- What’s the difference between machine learning, deep learning, and AI?

    I’ll give you a simplified answer.

    Machine learning is learning from data to infer models that help us make decisions about data we have not seen yet.

    Deep learning can encompass more data and more complex data as well as imagery.

    And AI is a much broader term that covers other forms of machine intelligence, including decision making and problem solving with heuristic search and reinforcement learning.

    41- Your message to those who see AI as a threat to writers?

    It is fair to say that better and better software for writers will come to the market. As with photography and translation, significant changes are to be expected. However, experienced photographers still stand out from the crowd, and they too have learned to use software to their advantage.

    As with InstaText, I can confirm that skillful writers benefit more from the software than ordinary users because they are more adept at rejecting and accepting suggestions, editing, and revising the text, and finally improving it again.

    42- What would it mean for AI to have a “soul”?

    I suppose we don’t have a clear definition of what it actually means to have a “soul”. So let me rephrase the question: “What would it mean for AI to have empathy?”

    Intelligent machines can definitely learn to recognize and even understand emotions of other “agents” (that’s the term we often use in computer science).

    More than that, they can continuously improve their understanding of emotions and empathy. How would this affect their behavior? Well, to put it simply, it depends on how they are programmed to use this information, or–if they were acting independently–what goal(s) they would aim for.

    43- If AI were a geometric figure like a square, triangle, or rectangle, what would it be?

    I have no idea. Just as I have no idea what geometric shape would represent a human being.

    44- Ljubljana Technology Park?

    Pleasant environment, not only for startups, but also for established companies.

    45- The most common feedback you get from academic writers about InstaText?

    It really helps them increase their acceptance rates at academic conferences and shorten the time to publication in academic journals. There is a faculty in my hometown where every professor and researcher has an annual subscription, and they more than doubled the number of research papers published in academic journals within one year of use.

    Many of them hardly wait for the MS Word add-in, and I’m happy to say we are working on it. We have learned a lot from the academic writers who have used InstaText and their feedback.

    46- The most difficult day you’ve had at InstaText?

    It happened one day that the servers were unavailable for a few hours. We received tons of emails from our users and no clear information from the infrastructure provider. In the end, everything turned out fine, and we also made the system more robust.

    47- The best day you’ve ever had at InstaText?

    Perhaps the day we received the Start:up of the Year award in 2020.

    InstaText receiving the Start:up of the Year award in 2020. (Photo credit: InstaText)

    48- What AI apps do you have on your phone?

    Like most people, I use Google’s apps and more or less all of them use AI in one form or another.

    49- Reskilling and upskilling?

    Learning new skills can be enjoyable and rewarding. However, successful people tend to constantly improve at what they are already good at.

    50- The most important lesson you’ve learned from teaching?

    I’ve learned that learning by teaching can be very productive. I’ve also learned that sharing knowledge and experience with others can be quite rewarding.

    51- AI and human touch?

    In 2003, I visited Stanford University in California. There was a device there that allowed you to touch the ball at the neighboring table via a robotic hand. It felt like touching a real ball. That was twenty years ago. So I can imagine that anything is possible.

    52- What’s the most delicious traditional Slovenian food everyone should try?

    Prekmurska gibanica. It’s a layered pastry and a national specialty of Slovenia.

    Prekmurska gibanica (Photo source: Wikimedia)

    53- Your main strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur?

    I’m determined, persistent, and hardworking. I’m passionate about our product. I often pay close attention to details, which can be both a strength and a weakness.

    54- The “non-negotiables” in your business?

    I can’t think of anything, but, in general, I prefer argumentation and not negotiation.

    55- Your most satisfying moment as an entrepreneur so far?

    Last year, we more than quadrupled our sales compared to the previous year. This allowed us to speed up development and increase our advertising efforts. InstaText is used all over the world, which I’m proud of.

    InstaText team at their office in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Photo credit: InstaText)

    56- What can’t you imagine your day without?

    I think it’s the Internet. It’s my window to the world, the source of knowledge and information, the connection to other people…

    57- The biggest challenge for AI?

    The whole world seems to be contributing—in one way or another—to building powerful AI in gigantic computer systems like Google. It’s becoming increasingly clear that sooner or later these systems will be smarter than any human in the world.

    More than that, they may become smarter than all of humanity combined. No one really knows what will happen then. What values will these machines have, what goals will they pursue? Will they be beneficial to humans and in what ways?

    Once the machines have reached the same level of general intelligence as humans, they will quickly become much smarter than we are—most people are not really aware of this.

    The challenge is therefore to build them in such a way that they are clearly beneficial to humanity. This is probably the most important challenge of this century—more important than climate change, hunger, and nuclear apocalypse combined.

    Because if we fail this challenge, there is clearly no way back. This challenge is excellently described in the book Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control (2019) by computer science professor and renowned AI researcher Stuart J. Russell.

    Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control by computer Stuart J. Russell (Photo source: Amazon)

    58- What do you think about this news story? “No Joke: Google’s AI Is Smart Enough to Understand Your Humor

    No surprise. Intelligent computer programs are getting better than humans at individual tasks these days. Interestingly, we do not seem impressed when that happens. We feel a little cheated, as if someone passed our car in the wrong lane and it no longer counts.

    In reality, it doesn’t matter if intelligent behavior is achieved computationally or in some other non-human way—it’s still intelligence.

    59- Do you have a favorite quote about AI?

    I can’t think of it right now. However, there is one quote about AI that really deserves attention: “Machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make.”

    The author of this quote is Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University and author of another very interesting book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.

    The quote is closely related to the AI challenge that we discussed earlier. AIs that far surpass general human intelligence could solve all of humanity’s problems. However, it is not clear whether such AIs would really benefit humanity.

    Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom (Photo source: Amazon)

    60- Who do you look to for guidance and mentorship?

    I prefer business coaches who have vast experience with similar products and also understand business aspects and challenges.

    61- How do you think entrepreneurs can benefit from a life/business coach?

    Over the past few years, I’ve learned that a coach really can make a difference. Sometimes even a big difference. A good coach can help you lead (do the right things) and manage (do things right).

    In my experience, it’s important to set up regular meetings with an advisor, prepare relevant information in advance, highlight key challenges, and explain them as best as you can to show your current understanding of the situation.

    The subsequent interaction is often an iterative process: you have more information than your coach and he has more knowledge and experience—you both need to contribute to figuring out what the best decisions might be.

    The coach can also shape your thoughts and understanding that can guide you in your future decisions.

    62- The best way to handle conflict/disagreements in the workplace?

    I think argumentation is the most important and also effective way.

    63- Your strategy to avoid burnout?

    Sleep well—even a short nap in the afternoon—healthy diet, sports activities, watching movies and TV series, and flexible working hours.

    InstaText founder and CEO Matej Guid (Photo credit: InstaText)

    64- AI and cryptocurrency?

    I’m not a fan of cryptocurrencies. In my opinion, they just contribute to a lot of speculation and waste of time. Moreover, they are not backed by anything solid in the real world. For example, their value usually doesn’t depend on technological progress in any field.

    65- British or American spelling?

    I think that in Europe we are supposed to use British spelling, but it seems that the American spelling is present everywhere. InstaText supports both. The user can choose the dialect and the program makes sure that the text is improved accordingly.

    I was quite surprised to find that there are many differences in vocabulary—far more than I expected. For a non-native speaker, it is impossible to know all the differences.

    InstaText (Photo credit: InstaText)

    66- A popular piece of entrepreneurial advice you disagree with?

    One such advice would be to find an investor in an early stage, not only because of money but also because of knowledge, experience, and connections.

    I think that investor money is usually very expensive and having an investor severely limits your possibilities. You can obtain knowledge and experience from coaches and advisors and you are supposed to find appropriate connections yourself.

    Of course, it may not be possible to do without an investor. But sometimes you can simply change your goals and develop an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) first.

    Most importantly, a startup shouldn’t waste time pitching to investors (unless it’s really necessary) and should rather focus on customer discovery and building sales.

    The goal of any startup is to find a sustainable business model. Once this is achieved, investors will approach you. You will save a lot of time and money and have better options on the table.

    67- The best book about AI for beginners?

    I recommend a university textbook Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig. It may not sound like a book for beginners, but it gives a great overview of different fields and aspects of AI and can give you a deep understanding of all kinds of AI algorithms.

    Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Stuart J. Russell and Peter Norvig (Photo source: Amazon)

    68- The next milestone for InstaText?

    MS Word add-in. We are focusing on the online version because it seems that all the trends are going in that direction. In the meantime, we will also continue to develop browser extensions.

    69- The questions in this interview were edited by InstaText. Are you happy with the result?

    I cannot imagine answering these questions without InstaText!

    70- How do you say “thank you” in Slovenian, Matej?


    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Dave Williams, co-founder and partner at NomadX: From digital nomadism to love and the heart of a live cobra

    70 questions with Dave Williams, co-founder and partner at NomadX: From digital nomadism to love and the heart of a live cobra

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, rafting on the Zambezi River, bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge, going on walking safaris outside Durban, scuba diving in Australia, winning a shark fishing tournament in Montauk in New York, backcountry snowboarding in Japan, living in a Buddhist temple, hiking the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and having Shamanic experiences in Machu Picchu, Peru are just a few of the experiences Dave Williams has had during his travels to more than 50 countries.

    Dave Williams in Tokyo, Japan (Photo: Supplied)

    In between all his trips and adventures, he managed to co-found 360i, one of the first and largest search marketing companies in the ad tech industry, founded BLiNQ Media, which signed one of the first ad API partnership deals with Facebook, won a lifetime achievement award, appeared on Bloomberg TV, and co-founded NomadX, a community-oriented platform for digital nomads, with his wife Jen.

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen at NomadX #HELLYES Summer Launch Party in 2019 (Photo: Supplied)

    He’s also thrown and enjoyed parties all over the world and was part owner of Opera Nightclub in Atlanta, which was one of the “top 10” nightclubs in the United States. And I know for a fact that Dave and Jen are the life of any party—in no small part due to their endearing authenticity, contagious enthusiasm, sharp wit, and unique sense of humor.

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen at NomadX #HELLYES Summer Launch Party in 2018 (Photo: Supplied)

    To me, Dave, a current partner and former CEO of NomadX, is like a great book worth reading over and over again. I’ve interviewed him more times than any other person in my career. But no matter how many times I talk to him, I always take away something new, fascinating, and inspiring.

    Dave, always generous with his time and advice, graciously answered my 70 questions, which opened another page in the book of his life for me that surprised, delighted, impressed, moved, inspired, and also enlightened me.

    Dave Williams in New York City in spring 2011 (Photo: Supplied)

    Our conversation ranged from digital nomads, the secret to a loving relationship, the “weirdest” food he’s ever tasted, the book every entrepreneur should read, tips for a successful business exit, how to throw fun parties, handling negative criticism, investment advice, and what he’s most looking forward to in the second “half-century” of his life. Let’s dive in!

    1- Dave, I know you as a “charismatic” person. Is charisma innate or can it be learned? If it can be learned, how do you think we can develop it?

    I think if you’re passionate about what you do, you bring the energy and charisma along with it. People like to work with those who have a love for their business and want to help others.

    2- Which is more important? The entrepreneur or the idea?

    It’s all about the entrepreneur, timing, and alignment. The idea is important, but without the right team and founder alignment, the idea won’t be realized. 

    3- “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Your thoughts?

    I think it’s most important to find your niche and build your career ideally around an entrepreneurial venture. A job is only where you get paid to work and can have limited fulfillment. As an entrepreneur, there’s no guarantee of success, but it allows you to create the business and job of your dreams.

    Dave Williams (R) with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (L) at Google Dance DJ party at the Google Headquarters in August 2002 (Photo: Supplied)

    4- The biggest difference between American and European investors?

    America is the Mecca for entrepreneurship, investment, and innovation. In Europe, they’re held back by the culture, diversity of each country, employment laws, and mindset, but things are starting to change, especially over the past decade.

    5- Digital nomads?

    The modern hippy with a smartphone living and working throughout the world while traveling slowly to maximize their local experiences.

    6- Digital nomadism. Who ISN’T it for?

    For those that don’t like to travel, loneliness, or to be unsettled.

    Dave Williams with NomadX’s first customers in Arrifana, Portugal (Photo: Supplied)

    7- The biggest misconceptions about digital nomads?

    That they are young stinky backpackers who are on a joy ride. They are mostly professionals, singles, dating, and even married between the ages of 25-55, and pretty evenly split male and female from around the world.

    They are very responsible and make great guests as they are truly global citizens of the world with many interesting experiences.

    They generally don’t drink in excess or do drugs, but prefer yoga, meditation, hiking, networking, and outdoor events.

    Mostly, they are independent workers and others with their own companies that they run, but now post-pandemic, many more of them are remote workers for corporations.

    Dave Williams with a group of friends in Ibiza (Photo: Supplied)

    8- Which path do you recommend early-stage startups take? Bootstrapping or funding? Why?

    Bootstrapping is the best way to get started, scale, grow through reinvestment, and then exit on your own terms. Or if the idea is really big, then an Angel or VC investment should be considered. But this path will significantly limit your freedom and autonomy as the founder as then you’ll be accountable to a board and investors.

    9- The best time to seek outside investment?

    Once you’ve achieved market fit and have a scalable business model so the money isn’t wasted.

    10- The money advice you’ve benefited from the most?

    Invest in yourself and, as the founder, you’re the last one to get paid. 

    11- The one book every entrepreneur should read?

    “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie is a classic must-read.

    “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (Photo source: Amazon)

    12- You recently sent out an anonymous 360Reach Personal Brand Survey to people who know you, saying that it’ll give you “valuable information about how I am perceived externally.” One of the questions was something like: “What’s Dave’s biggest weak point?” Not many people, myself included, have the courage or humility to ask such questions. Why made you do that?

    I wanted to know how I’m perceived by my personal and professional network to make improvements and find insights into strengths and weaknesses I might not have identified on my own. It was a very valuable exercise as I look to reinvent myself and double down on my biggest strengths and identify perceived weaknesses to turn them into strengths.  This survey was conducted by one of my close friends and mentees Claudia Miclaus

    Dave Williams at BLiNQ Media’s headquarters at TechSpace, Union Square, New York City. (Photo from a Wall Street Journal article featuring Dave. Credit: Rob Bennett Para/WSJ)

    13- The most interesting thing you learned about yourself from the survey?

    I found it interesting that “truth-teller”, “giver”, and “philanthropist” came up in the results as I think I must just take these personality traits for granted. Now I know that people see this in me which I hadn’t considered before. The top survey results across my network, in descending order, were:

    Brand Personas:

    1. Entrepreneur
    2. Thrill Seeker
    3. Evangelist
    4. Visionary
    5. Motivator
    6. Achiever
    7. Optimist
    8. Giver
    9. Truth-teller
    10. Philanthropist, World Citizen

    Leadership Competencies:

    1. Visioning
    2. Inspiring
    3. Relating
    4. Developing
    5. Resourcing
    6. Expressing
    7. Solving
    8. Delivering
    9. Deciding
    Dave Williams in Courmayeur, Italy (Photo: Supplied)

    14- The biggest change you decided to make after reading the survey responses?

    I’m thinking about how to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths as some of the weaknesses were due to my interest in moving very fast and always adjusting to find market fit, and sometimes being too nice and transparent. Also, I found it interesting that people saw my trusting, giving, and generosity as potential weaknesses as I see these as strengths.

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen with a group of friends in Arrifana, Portugal (Photo: Supplied)

    15- In the survey, you asked what kitchen appliance and car you could be compared to and why. What kitchen appliance and car do you compare yourself to and why?

    As a car, I like to think of myself as the Tesla Roadster as it’s innovative, fast, and ahead of the competition. I had the opportunity to drive one of the first Roadsters in the summer of 2009 and it blew my mind how fast, innovative, and quiet it was. 

    As a kitchen appliance, I like to think of myself as a blender as I like to mix things up but in the end it always turns out good and can be the start of a fun party!

    Dave Williams driving his friend Marc Fleury’s Tesla Roadster as one of the first in Atlanta, Georgia, in July 2009 (Photo: Supplied)

    16- You and your wife have been together for a very long time. What do you think is the secret to a healthy, loving relationship?

    Find someone that complements your strengths and weaknesses. For example, my wife is very organized whereas I like to move fast and focus on the big picture so we work well together. She also grew up in an entrepreneurial family so she can understand and accept my crazy entrepreneurial adventures. It’s also important to find a partner who never gives up even when things get tough, plus who wants to share in passions and new adventures and experiences so as to always be growing together instead of apart. 

    Dave Williams with his wife Jen scuba diving in Australia (Photo: Supplied)

    17- Something you could only learn from your wife?

    A passion for adventure, travel, and fierce independence.

    18- One thing your wife thinks you’re not good at?

    Laundry and packing as she loves packing and planning for adventures. I live with very few clothes as they are always clean. 

    19- I’d describe your wife as a “sweet person with a lively inner child.” How would you describe her?

    My soulmate for life. Fiercely independent, global explorer, adventurer, life of the party, and extremely social who has friends for life all over the world. 

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen in Machu Picchu, Peru – Aguas Calientes Waterfalls (Photo: Supplied)

    20- What are you most proud of in your life?

    I’m most proud of finding a connection to the natural world and living a truly global lifestyle. I’m also very humbled by being awarded the Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year at the Goizueta (Emory) graduate business school back in 2011. I’m also quite proud of global adventures I’ve done with my wife such as rafting the Zambezi, pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago and to Machu Picchu, hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, and climbing Kilimanjaro. My ultimate goal is to visit the moon and be alive when we discover other planetary life. 

    Dave Williams heli boarding with a group of friends in Whistler, Canada (Photo: Supplied)

    21- What do you like least about today’s digital world?

    It’s too much in the cloud and doesn’t always feel real. Not enough in-person interactions and inspirations. Having said this, I’m very excited for this next evolution of the Internet with Web3, blockchain, digital assets, etc. 

    Dave Williams, the then chief strategist of 360i, is among the advertising execs listening as Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates is interviewed during the Strategic Account Summit in Redmond, Washington, in May, 2006. (Photo credit: Meryl Schenker/Seattle-Post/Intelligencer)

    22- Metaverse?

    Our next generation web browser offering a view into everything Web3 and beyond. It’s an exciting time to be alive as it will continue to make the world a smaller and more connected place. 

    23- Three characteristics of a good business idea?

    Alignment with the founders, niche opportunity where you can be #1, and good timing. 

    24- Your favorite productivity hack?

    In-person retreats and meetings to build team alignment and connection to plan future quarters and, most importantly, to have fun!

    Dave Williams on Bloomberg TV (Photo: Supplied)

    25- A networking tip that works for everyone?

    Always arrive early to events to more easily meet those who also arrive early, help the organizers, and act like the event is yours. Ideally take out the VIP connections afterwards for drinks or for an executive lunch meeting over the next couple weeks. The best networking is to create your own event, which I really enjoy doing as a way to give back. 

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen at a private Lisbon Living Room Session in 2018 (Photo: Supplied)

    26- How do you handle negative criticism and comments?

    I try to use it to improve but not take it too seriously as there are too many keyboard warriors and some people are just a**holes. Nothing you can do to please everyone sometimes, unfortunately as hard as you might try. 

    27- Surfing?

    It’s a goal of mine to become a much better surfer. I love the sport. Big boards, small waves! I think it’s such a cool sport and have a lot of respect for the big wave surfers (modern day gladiators) as I rode a jet ski at Nazare with Portuguese big wave surf legend Hugo Vau on a 60-foot wave. 

    28- Portugal?

    My paradise.

    29- What do you think your gift is?

    To be able to envision the future and understand how I can best play a role in it.

    30- Your favorite quote?

    “The best plan is no plan.”

    31- A good travel tip?

    Go to a place where you are most passionate about and make the focus of the trip to do something adventurous and out of your comfort zone. You should always be pushing your boundaries and get comfortable being uncomfortable. This will help you succeed as an entrepreneur and in life. 

    32- You’ve won many awards in your career. Which one do you remember most fondly? And why?

    I won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Technology Association of Georgia in 2011, as this was very unexpected and much appreciated. It really was the icing on the cake for me professionally. 

    Dave Williams receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Technology Association of Georgia in 2011 (Photo: Supplied)

    33- You’ve organized and hosted so many events and parties. What makes an enjoyable and successful event?

    The venue, music, atmosphere, and making sure it’s got lots of energy and a great mix of guests.

    Ibiza Sunday sunset party at Cala Benirrás in the northwest of the island (Photo: Supplied)

    34- The “weirdest” food you’ve ever tried? Where did you try it?

    I drank the blood and swallowed the liver and beating heart of a live cobra and then ate the meat in a soup and salad in Vietnam. I ordered the house specialty and this is what I got. The cobra was brought out live and then they proceeded to cut its head off and drain the blood into my wine glass. Then they pulled out the liver and beating heart, which I swallowed and chased with the Cobra blood. Little did I know it’s a common aphrodisiac. YOLO! 

    Dave Williams and his wife with a group of friends in Chamonix, France (Photo: Supplied)

    35- You advise early-stage startups that want to grow. What kind of companies/entrepreneurs do you like to advise the most?

    I like to work with young, impressionable entrepreneurs to help them push their boundaries and to be irreverent. I know how hard it is to start a company so it’s fun for me to help the next generation, but the business has to be a strong cultural and business fit for me. 

    36- A must-know for first-time digital nomads?

    Try it for one month. Then go home and set the future plan to live the lifestyle. And, go to a location that has a strong community or somewhere that you’re passionate about. I might be a bit biased, but I’d suggest checking out Madeira Island first as it’s NomadX’s top digital nomad community globally.  

    Some cool street art NomadX created in Lisbon for summer 2017 with Matty Mo “The Most Famous Artist”, who was NomadX entrepreneur in residence (Photo: Supplied)

    37- A new skill you learned recently?

    I’ve been playing a lot of golf in my downtime as I just recently recovered from knee surgery. I’ve been playing against the British, Scottish, and Irish retirees and having fun playing it competitively. 

     Dave Williams (C) achieving a lifetime goal by winning the 2022 summer golf club championship at Espiche Golf Club in the South West Algarve.

    38- A new skill you’d like to develop?

    My main goal is to become a strong surfer now that I’m recovered. 

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen backcountry snowboarding in Hokkaido, Japan (Photo: Supplied)

    39- What would you like to incorporate into your daily routine?

    Morning meditation before sunrise, yoga, boxing, paddle boarding, padel tennis, and more hiking. There’s not enough time in the day. 

    40- A habit you’d like to eliminate from your daily routine?

    Zoom calls. Lol!

    41- The best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?

    Join and run an industry organization that you are most passionate about to give back to your industry.

    42- You had a stint as a college professor. What was that experience like?

    I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for me as my wife and I liked spending too much time with the students at their social events, which wasn’t acceptable by the university. I loved the experience and built great connections, but it was too conservative for me. 

    Dave Williams at a London nightclub (Photo: Supplied)

    43- The future of universities?

    On- and offline global learning platforms with more hands-on, real-world, and global experiences. 

    44- The best way to get PR hits?

    Be a friendly resource to journalists and offer them early insights into your business and industry. Always follow up quickly when they contact you, otherwise you’ll miss the opportunity. 

    45- Cryptocurrency?

    Is the future of the world! Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next as it’s still early days. 

    46- What are you most grateful for in life?

    My family has had a big influence on me and always has been supportive of allowing me to pursue my dreams. I’m also grateful for all of my global experiences and connections along the way. 

    (Photo: Supplied)

    47- An interesting startup you’ve invested in over the last five years (not founded by you) that we should follow?

    PrizePicks Daily Fantasy Sports. It’s a rocket ship! I was an Angel investor and advisor to the business from the very beginning. I think soon they will be a unicorn and they have an amazing team, culture, and CEO. They’ve won top national awards in the fantasy sports  industry and have been awarded as a top place to work and as a fastest growing company. The growth is incredible. I’ve never seen a company grow so fast! 

    48- What do you wish more people knew about you?

    I’m very humble and just a very normal person who works hard to achieve his dreams in life and business. I’m not money-oriented, but I do see it as a way to measure success in business. I love simplicity. The world is becoming too complex, so I need to work hard to keep things as simple as possible. Simplicity is the key to happiness. 

    Dave Williams in Whistler, Canada (Photo: Supplied)

    49- The country at the top of your travel list?

    Japan although I’ve already been there several times. I’d love to live there sometime in the future after Portugal.  

    50- The most valuable business lesson you’ve ever learned?

    Follow your instincts and don’t second-guess yourself. 

    51- How would you describe your bungee jumping experience?

    Pure adrenaline!

    Dave Williams bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge (Photo: Supplied)

    52- The next adventure you’re looking forward to?

    Snowboarding in Chamonix, France, this winter and heli boarding for my wife’s birthday in Courmayeur, Italy. 

    53- The soft skills that have helped you the most in your personal and professional life?

    Empathy, being nice, giving, and caring as a mentor for the next generation.

    54- Pitching to journalists. How can founders get it right?

    Offer them value first. And know how your business relates to them and can help them.

    55- If you could relive one week, day, hour, or minute of your life, which would it be?

    Where I’ve made my biggest mistakes or lost my temper. I’d go back and take the high road, take more time, and just let go of it although it’s hard as my strong passion and drive can get in the way. 

    56- The best country for digital nomads?

    Portugal is #1 in the world and continues to get better every year. 

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen on a walking safari outside Durban (Photo: Supplied)

    57- The top three things you consider when making investment decisions?

    Founder fit, timing, and valuation, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the entrepreneur.  

    58- How important is the role of a business/personal coach in the life of an entrepreneur?

    It can be very helpful, especially if you’re a remote worker. It’s interesting as a couple decades ago, life coaches weren’t a thing, but I think now they are very valuable, especially if you are experiencing hardships or going through difficult periods in life and business. I’ve worked with life coach Nyah Pham and experienced great results. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to you as they can’t do the work for you. 

    Dave Williams hiking the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco with a group of friends (Photo: Supplied)

    59- How do you stay inspired and eager for more despite all your professional successes?

    I find inspiration by disconnecting and going on global adventures in nature, especially on long distance hikes, as it gives me time to decompress and think more clearly and creatively. When at work, I get inspiration by connecting with my teammates in person, advising young entrepreneurs, and going to global conferences to share ideas with my industry peers.

    Dave Williams at a shark fishing tournament in Montauk in New York (Photo: Supplied)

    60- Coca-Cola or Pepsi?

    Coca-Cola. I’m from Atlanta, which is where it was founded. Plus, it just tastes better, and I love the brand. 

    61- Unicorns?

    SpaceX is my favorite.

    62- You’ve had several successful business exits. What’s your top tip for a successful exit?

    Timing and building a strong relationship with the acquirer and using a strong investment and legal firm to help with the process. And, it’s very important to have your legal, technology, and accounting records in excellent shape for due diligence as if the records and code aren’t good, you will lose the deal or get a reduced valuation. 

    Dave Williams training at Gotham Boxing Gym in New York City (Photo: Supplied)

    63- Top qualities to look for in a business partner?

    Strong entrepreneurship drive, personal connection, complementary skills, and business ethics. A business partnership is more challenging than marriage so it’s important to find the right partner as most business partnerships fail. 

    64- Your next startup, if you ever launch one?

    I don’t plan to launch any more startups as I feel that I’m past this stage in my career of founding and running companies over the past 25 years. It’s very hard work. Now, I’m most happy to advise future generations of entrepreneurs from the outside versus being on the inside. 

    65- Community?

    Super important for digital nomads, remote workers, and the industry’s growth and development. 

    66- As far as I know, 360i is a brand you’re still in love with, and you wrote a heartfelt message after it was announced that the name would no longer exist. When you look back, what was the best thing about 360i? What did the name mean to you then and what does it mean now?

    360i became the #1 search engine marketing, performance marketing, and digital agency in the U.S. It was the first big business I started in 1998 and so I have a deep connection and love for the brand and the dot-com startup journey. We were one of the first agencies to buy ads on Google and won their Marketing Machine Award as their #1 U.S. Partner in 2007. The agency now has over 1,000 employees and manages over $2 billion in advertising. The brand was recently merged with Dentsu Creative global holding company. 

    Dave Williams at Opera Nightclub in Atlanta (where he was part owner) with his business advisor Genevieve Bos, her husband Remco, and world-famous DJ Ferry Corsten (Photo: Supplied)

    67- The best thing you learned in the first “half-century” of your life (as you call it yourself)?

    Move fast and work with people who share your passions. Nothing can substitute hard work and hyperfocus. Take time away from work to rejuvenate and see if the business can run without you as that’s when you’ve created the most value when the business isn’t reliant on you. 

    68- What are you most looking forward to in the second “half-century” of your life?

    Travel, adventures, advisory work, and meeting new people from all over the world.

    Dave Williams being awarded the Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year at the Goizueta (Emory) graduate business school in 2011 (Photo: Supplied)

    69- NomadX?

    The #1 brand for digital nomad communities in amazing remote locations throughout the world. Super fast wifi, cowork, community management, and lots of events everyday. At the moment, we are on Madeira Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Costa Caparica, Lisbon, and soon launching in Pipa, Brazil, on November 1, 2022. Those interested can join our nomad community by visiting our website

    Dave Williams “living it up in Ibiza with all the promotional gear!” (Photo: Supplied)

    70- Dave Williams?

    Thrill-seeking digital entrepreneur with a strong vision for the future and still with a lot to give back to the world.

    Any parting thoughts, Dave?

    Don’t try to be perfect. Move fast. Focus on a niche that you can own. Have fun and focus on winning! 

    Dave Williams and his wife Jen in Ibiza (Photo: Supplied)

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

  • 70 questions with Tiago Silva Pereira, founder of Unobvious co-working space and WYZE Mobility: From art to helicopters and e-scooters

    70 questions with Tiago Silva Pereira, founder of Unobvious co-working space and WYZE Mobility: From art to helicopters and e-scooters

    By Elham P.Mohammadi

    Vibrant colors, futuristic design, cute furniture, fancy stationery, comfy sofas, and Instagrammable spots can be found in almost every co-working space these days. But there’s one thing you won’t find everywhere: a soul. 

    It’s something that cannot be bought. It can only be breathed into a space.

    And “Unobvious” obviously has it.

    A co-working and co-creating space, café, events venue, and art hub in Santos, in the picturesque heart of Lisbon, Unobvious has life. 

    Its founder, Tiago Silva Pereira, has definitely brought a special spirit to this space, and you can tell because “vibes don’t lie”.

    Unobvious is actually more like a museum or art exhibition. It’s full of unique works of art that will captivate art lovers and non-art lovers alike. It’s a place where you can easily find yourself immersed in a state of flow. It’s where you can feel detached from the rest of the world, but strangely, not isolated.

    It’s quiet and loud at the same time.

    It warms your heart, feeds your soul, and frees your mind.

    “Sophisticated” is what it is.

    Unobvious Lab (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    Sustainability enthusiasts will likely appreciate Unobvious even more, as it was designed with hedonism and impact in mind and aims to raise awareness of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which focuses on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    So Unobvious was the obvious choice to host Tiago’s other business, WYZE Mobility—an impact startup on a mission to make urban centers more liveable with aesthetic, silent, and decarbonized micromobility solutions that combine technology with two-wheeled electric vehicles.

    After being given a tour of Unobvious by a friendly staff member with a beaming smile, I sat down with Tiago to ask him 70 questions. 

    He describes himself as a “hedonist,” believes there’s no “Planet B”, was an advisor to the Portuguese minister of defense, worked as a director at the Anglo-Italian helicopter design and manufacturing company “AgustaWestland”, and, of course, likes art and entrepreneurship. 

    So our conversation ranged from sustainability, art, happiness, and kick scooters to co-working tips, business advice, and helicopters. I hope you have as much fun reading about them as we had discussing them. 

    1- What’s “unobvious” to first-timers at Unobvious, but not to regulars?

    The special attention to detail that has gone into the design and decoration of this space. For example, no two chairs here are the same. Even if they’re the same model, they have different colors.  

    Every piece is carefully curated and hand-picked because I wanted it to be an inviting space where people wouldn’t only feel comfortable, but also inspired. A place where they’d love to be and return to.

    2- Why is Unobvious the best place to host WYZE?

    Because WYZE wants to be “wise”. I didn’t want WYZE to be just another player in the market. I wanted it to have a personality and stand out from the crowd by promoting a lifestyle that combines hedonism and impact.

    Unobvious Lab (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    3- Your definition of hedonism?

    Happiness. Maximized happiness. People have different definitions of happiness, but you should always seek it and live in accordance with your own unique definition.

    4- What’s the inspiration behind Unobvious?

    It happened quite organically. For many years I’d wanted a space that combined a café, an art hub, and a co-working and event space. I never liked conventional offices and wanted to build a place where I myself would like to be.

    5- You spent about a year in Paris in 2002. Do you think that experience helped shape your creative side?

    It probably did, even though I may not have been aware of it. Paris is full of life, aesthetic surprises, and interesting architecture. After my stay in Paris, I developed a taste for unique pieces of furniture.

    Unobvious Lab (Photo source: Unobvious Lab/Instagram)

    6- The most important co-working space etiquette tip?

    Respecting the privacy of others and minding your own business. Of course, co-working is about building a community and networking, but you need to be understanding of others’ moods and preferences.

    7- Your favorite spot at Unobvious?

    My office on the top floor.

    8- What’s special about your favorite spot at Unobvious?

    The view. I can see everything from there–the people, the street, the art. Even the art that’s being created. For example, we had artists here who painted, and tattoo artists who created beautiful works of art.

    Unobvious Lab (Photo source: Unobvious Lab/Instagram)

    9- If “Unobvious” wasn’t a co-working space/café, what would it be?

    Hopefully it would have been the United Nations SDG headquarters in Portugal.

    10- Why “WYZE”?

    In terms of both name and purpose, I wanted something that reflected impact and hedonism.

    11- Your definition of “wysdom”?

    Enjoying your life while being responsible and making an impact.

    12- The most aesthetically pleasing smart cities you’ve visited?

    Stockholm and Amsterdam.  

    13- The best life lesson you learned during your career at the Ministry of Defense?

    Work hard.

    14- What do the military industry and entrepreneurship have in common?

    They can both thrive on innovation.

    15- Your favorite piece of art at Unobvious?

    My favorite piece of art used to be a painting that’s no longer here. But my favorite now is the small bunny sculpture over there. It’s funny. It’s colorful. It makes me smile when I look at it.  

    Tiago’s favorite piece of art at Unobvious Lab (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    16- What entrepreneurial mistake did you learn the most from?

    Casting the wrong people because it’s going to be very painful to have people on board who don’t align with your values and your business in general.

    17- What’ll be your next startup if you decide to create one?

    Actually, I’d like to create two more startups. The WYZE Foundation to further promote sustainability, especially the SDG agenda. And Unobvious Sustainable Investments.

    18- What’s micromobility?

    Light vehicles, typically two-wheeled, used for short rides of up to five kilometers.

    19- Do you have a hidden talent?

    I’m not even sure I have an “obvious” talent, let alone a hidden one!

    20- What are you most proud of in your life?

    My son. My family altogether, but especially my son.

    21- The best thing about not being an employee?


    22- Your top three personality traits?

    Stubbornness, which we can call “determination”. Mental strength. Humility.

    23- Three characteristics of a good entrepreneur?

    Humility. People skills. Resilience. 

    24- What kind of art would you pursue if you were an artist?

    Photography. It’s a fantastic way to express art and make moments last forever.

    25- And if you were a photographer, what would be your niche?

    People and landscapes.  

    26- Your favorite artists?

    I love Damien Hirst. His sculpture “For the Love of God” is incredible. I also like Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso. And, of course, Banksy–the artist whose painting self-destructed after it sold for $1.4 million at auction.

    “For the Love of God” by artist Damien Hirst (Photo source: Wikipedia)

    27- How would your colleagues/friends describe you?

    I have no idea, but maybe a stubborn person, a positive guy (not an optimist), and hopefully someone reliable.

    28- The most interesting thing about helicopters?

    Their look.

    29- Your favorite event at Unobvious so far?

    “Art for Ukraine”. It was about raising money to support Ukrainians, and art was the catalyst to achieve that goal.

    Unobvious Lab (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    30- What do people always get wrong about you?

    I don’t know.  

    31- What do people get right about you?

    That I’m a genuine person.

    32- Your favorite drink at the Unobvious cafe?

    Ginger Kombucha. You should try it!

    33- If you could change one thing about the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) blueprint, what would it be?

    The level of awareness should be much higher. Many people don’t know about the SDG agenda.

    34- Which SDGs are closest to your heart?

    Almost all of them. But definitely “No Poverty”, “Zero Hunger”, “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, and “Partnerships for the Goals”. 

    United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (Photo source: UN)

    35- Where do you see the SDG agenda in 2030?

    I see that it’s endorsed more broadly and many companies inevitably implement it to varying degrees.

    36- Where do you see yourself, WYZE, and Unobvious in 2030?

    I see myself as a happy, relaxed person who enjoys his family, his business, and the people around him. And WYZE and Unobvious will be spreading happiness and making an impact all over the world, not only in Europe.

    37- Did you know that the word “helicopter” comes from the Greek words “helix” (spiral) and “pteron” (wing)?

    No. That’s interesting

    38- Did you know that the military slang for a helicopter is “helo” (HEE-low)?

    Yes. I’d heard it from some people and also in movies.

    39- Your guilty pleasure?

    Candies and chocolates.

    40- Your definition of a smart city as a hedonist?

    A city that gives both its permanent and temporary residents as many buttons as possible to push so that their happiness level is at the highest possible level, starting with mobility. It also teaches them how to live sustainable lives by raising awareness of the SDG agenda.

    41- Your favorite book?

    The one I’m reading right now. “A Life on Our Planet” by David Attenborough.

    “A Life on Our Planet” by David Attenborough (Photo source: Amazon)

    42- A life lesson you wish you’d learned sooner?

    Know who to trust.

    43- What would you say to your younger self?

    “Be wise. Work well. Play better. Never be afraid of being the black sheep, and don’t waste your time.”

    44- What would you ask your older self?

    “How long will it be before I achieve the level of freedom I seek?”

    45- Which city is smarter? Lisbon or Paris?


    46- The most important productivity skill?

    Time management. It looks easy, but it’s not.

    A piece of art created at Unobvious Lab (Photo source: Unobvious Lab/Instagram)

    47- If you were a vehicle, what would you be and why?

    Helicopter. I like the way they look. I like the way they fly. With a helicopter, I can take my family and friends and fly wherever I want.

    48- The biggest misconception about sustainability?

    People think it’s all about the environment and CO2 emissions. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about all 17 SDGs. People tend to reduce the UN sustainability agenda to the environment.

    49- Your favorite sustainability trend/practice?

    Sharing economy.

    50- A global sustainability trend you wish was more prevalent in Portugal?

    Shared mobility.

    51- The best compliment you’ve heard about Unobvious?

    “I love it!”

    Tiago at Unobvious Lab (Photo source: Unobvious Lab/Instagram)

    52- The best feedback you’ve received from WYZE users?

    “With WYZE, I can reach my destination in a fast, cool, and sustainable way.”

    53- The smart cities that are at the top of your travel list?

    Singapore and Oslo.

    54- The most important thing people can only learn with age?

    Tolerance. And I’d like to emphasize that it’s different from “patience”.

    55- Your favorite electric car brand?

    It may sound like a cliché, but as far as I know, Tesla is doing well. I love Tesla, but I might have named another brand if I’d known more about the electric car market.

    56- A good gift idea for a sustainability lover?

    A WYZE electric moped or kick scooter.

    57- You mean like a subscription plan?

    We sell them too! Renting them is the core of the business, but we sell them as well.

    A WYZE vehicle (Photo source: WYZE Mobility/Instagram)

    58- Something you used to strongly believe in but now don’t?

    That people are good. I still have faith in humanity, but my experience shows that people in general aren’t so good.

    59- Elon Musk and sustainability?

    He’s a genius. But I don’t know in detail how sustainable his companies actually are.

    60- The next milestone for you?

    Fundraising for WYZE Mobility.

    61- Your favorite quote of all time?

    “One life. Live it well.”

    Unobvious Lab (Photo source: Unobvious Lab/Instagram)

    62- A piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

    Surround yourself with the right people.

    63- The biggest myth about entrepreneurship?

    “It’s easy and anyone can do it.”

    64- If green didn’t represent sustainability, what color would? Why?

    Pink. It’s a bright color that makes me smile. It’s also associated with women, which I find interesting.

    65- A habit you wish you’d developed sooner?

    Waking up early. The earlier you wake up, the more you can enjoy the day, whether for work or for other purposes.

    66- A habit you’d like to break?


    67- A new skill you learned in the last six months or want to learn in the next six months?

    I want to learn how to pitch efficiently to investors, especially for fundraising purposes.

    68- The entrepreneur who inspires you the most?

    I hope it’ll be me in five years.

    69- How do you want to be remembered?

    A good, happy guy who could teach and inspire others to live a good life.

    70- A question you’d like to be asked but wasn’t in this interview? And your answer? 

    What drives you? 

    My answer is: Love and happiness.

    I think for many years happiness was like a “taboo” or something “unachievable”. I don’t believe in that. I think you can and should incorporate love and happiness into your daily life, your conversations, your work, and everything you do.

    You should love what you do. You should love the people around you. You should be happy for as long as you can.

    That’s what drives me: Love and happiness.

    Unobvious Lab (Photo by Elham P.Mohammadi)

    Author bio: Elham P.Mohammadi is a journalist and the founder of ElhamX Media.

    Disclaimer: Some photos in this article are old photos from Unobvious Lab. However, from my own experience, I can say that Unobvious looks even more aesthetically pleasing now.