Free is not a USP, or is it? It is for me.

I discovered the theory of setting up and running a business after that I practiced it for more than 35 years. As a product of Art School, Film, Video, Screenprinting, and Photography, I stumbled into entrepreneurship because I would never ever work for anyone. I wanted to be free doing what I want when I want. I never worked for someone, but that doesn't mean that this freedom brought nothing but happiness or prosperity. On the contrary. For more than 35 years of so-called freedom, I struggled a lot but luckily also had some successes. I learned that being free had a huge price but now I have a full suitcase of experience(s).

One of the expressions I learned very late was Unique Selling Point or USP. And free was not in there as the value you create is balanced against money. Simple. Nothing is for free, nor the roads we drive on, nor the water we drink, despite being a natural product. Platforms like Facebook and Google seem free but we all understand what is the business model. We expose ourselves and become targeted potential consumers sold to the highest bidder. The startup scene with mentors and investors has also some free aspects, especially mentoring where experienced people are asked to give back, or in some platforms can earn virtual or real currency. I love Manatee Mentor for that, a new platform that just started and that will hopefully fill in the blanks about mentorship.

Thanks to Covid-19 I could level up Now Sprint Accelerator into an international platform from the start. Completely bootstrapped and thanks to some great friends like Branka van der Linden, Dr. Eren Kocyigit, Özlem Yalım, the Nomad Skillshare team, and all the amazing mentors! I just announced the 4th cohort online and the 5th one in-person (IoT in Agro4.0). I did and will do maximum 3 online programs/year for free. A very good friend, who moved from Istanbul back to Berlin, a very experienced angel investor, told me during our latest Google Meet that I should think about monetisation, like convertibles for example. Like the food I buy needs to be paid with money and not goodwill, he has a point of course. I offer for free and no equity. Actually, I prevent talking about money or assets at all. I focus on the program with a lot of workshops and homework. Challenging teams on the problem statement, Product/Market fit, and sustainability. Until now the results have been amazing. Of course, now you ask, what result? It is all for free and no strings attached. The remark of Erila Haska, Program Manager at Partners Albania, summed it up very well. She was impressed by the commitment of the participants although there are no direct rewards. Most programs you see, practically always involve money, as investment or prize. The idea is that teams will not do their best if nothing is to win. I have another view. As I never talk about money I can do what I want. I select based on SDGs and sympathy for the idea and/or team. I kick out teams when they do not perform, I invite trainers when and where I want and I modify the program as we progress. Heavenly I call it. As there is no money involved the focus is on learning, sharing, pushing forward together. Those teams who go until the end learned a lot about what they want to achieve and are very grateful. It is a positive barter.

Free is one of my USPs in the Now Sprint Accelerator program, as the purpose is to create a positive impact on the participating teams. Each survey after the programs gave over 90% satisfaction as a result and I always get very nice quotes they let me use to attract the following cohort. Some teams were able to get investments. The relation with the teams is always very warm, direct, and transparent. Of course, there is Selling in USP. Selling stands traditionally for money, but it doesn't need to be money. For me more important, after a rich entrepreneurial life, is impact and the result of that impact. I earn the future for my kids and grandchildren in the hope they will know happiness and living the life they envisioned. The other day I saw a program on tv about indigenous people in Canada. In their culture, they protect nature, not because Greta told them, but they understand that the next generation will need it to survive. Something we lost today. As a community we consume and we do not realise that in the end the shop will be closed. Forever.

Although free is an important USP for me, that doesn’t mean I am not looking for ways to make it sustainable. One of the things I am working on is an investment platform to invest in early-stage startups with a focus on Africa and the Balkans. Not an easy task but I am not in a hurry. Paid programs for corporates are always one of the first ideas that come up, but only on my conditions, so that will be tricky. Not that I am a difficult man, but most corporates just do not understand intrapreneurship or the startup approach as most of the time they have very short-term strategies. I prefer therefore donations, grants, or sponsorships without too many strings attached. In the end, I need to find a way to buy my food too. On a personal note, it all makes me very happy and I get great energy from the participants. And that has no price tag. Happiness can not be bought but earned by doing good. As my mother, from heaven, taught me.

Kolay Gelsin,

Patrick Bosteels

patrick@stage-co.com

Co-Founder Now Sprint! Accelerator, Stage-Co, Creative Academie

and Urla Coworking

Stage-Co, Urla Coworking, Now Sprint! Accelerator and Creative Academie co-founder, Facilitator, Accelerator Program Manager and Mentor