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When professionals become students again

It was my father that told me that the longer students go to college the more stupid they become. I never had a good relation with the man. I respect a lot that he gave me the chance to enter this world with the luggage he made available by letting me go to art school. Not that he liked it. Never said to me he appreciated what I did nor did he ever come to art school or any other event to see what I did. This makes that I was not so happy with this repeated one-liner. He had others too, in the same category. I also recognise that when he was young, son of a farmer, he had no choices. Work, work, work, no pleasure.

I never heard at these times things like work-life balance. I think they invented it later when there was time left for doing nothing and suddenly there was this balance. Middle class warmly embraced the idea, while the rich were already in life-work balance. What I do remember from these times was working in the shoe repair shop with my father while he taught me how to do the job. I became very good in the sewing zippers in lady bags or any other. Also in boots, not easy believe me. I never got any official training but my father was really good in this and I stole with my eyes how he did things and tried behind his back. I was not allowed to do anything he was not sure of that I could do it perfect. This is where I started to appreciate craftsmanship. At a certain moment I knew the job and he just looked over my shoulder. It was between my 12 and 18 year I was sitting next to him practically every Saturday. No play. Just work. But I was not unhappy.

After almost 5 years in the startup scene in Turkey made me realise that we miss this way of teaching. We have universities and students and teachers but we have no crafts anymore, even in Turkiye. I see very young entrepreneurs in a “would be” startup ship that sails nowhere. These young people need guidance as they only know the theory, but not the craft. Nowadays they don’t think about bootstrapping but about collecting money from investors, not from customers. The investors try to be mentors but most of the time they lack the time or the attitude. Or even the skills.

Two years ago we started a mentorship training program. The skilled professionals are good in their job but they never had an apprentice next to them nor do they understand the startup world. Not that this world is complicated. It exists because of the jargon and the methods that are new or just another version of the old. We focused on attitude. Empathy, story telling etc. Soft skills they never used but that are crucial, at least to me. It was a paid training and went well. More will come. In the meantime some people started to give a mentorship training in universities and other places backed by government money. The end is a certificate.

Talking to startups is always very enlightening to understand what they think of mentorship. It comes down to the fact that they like it that mentors are nice but bottomline they want a master who can help hands on. Not just repeat the same remarks like “how will you do this and that?” not knowing the answers themselves. The certificate does not make you a mentor but the skill set you have and the way to transfer this to the mentee. Most startups expect a lot from mentors but come home empty handed and that is sad as the average age of our startups in Turkey is 25 something with no experience in the professional world.

"I didn’t go to college at all, any college, and I’m not saying you wasted your time or money, but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity.” The words of Ellen DeGeneres. Always admired her. Today she is inspiring a lot of people, private and professional. I am hopeful that we will get some very skilled people into the startup world that can truly help our so fragile startup world.

Only later I understood what my father meant with his oneliner. Maturity and skills are missing despite the long years in class. He never wanted to explain. He knew that I learned better by hitting the wall. Each usta (craftsman) his way.

Patrick Bosteels, co-founder Stage-Co and Yeni Yetenek, for — patrick@stage-com

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

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