‘If you have the ability to push the world forward, you should’
Alumnus and Product Marketing Manager at Google Daniël Gaspersz calls himself a Serendipity Engineer. ‘What if you could engineer "happy accidents" for yourself and for others? That’s a question I’m fascinated by.'
Upon entering the Google offices, you recognize the colours immediately. The famous bright-blue, red, yellow and apple-green that we see every day on our screens. The small tables, the coat rack, the bicycle attached to the wall – all in blue, red, yellow and green. In the middle of one of the floors of the tall office building at The Zuidas in Amsterdam stands a caravan. At every Google office around the world typical local habits and objects are displayed, I learn. That’s why the Dutch office got this vintage caravan.
RSM alumnus Daniël Gaspersz (1988), wearing sneakers and jeans, shows me around. He walks and talks fast and enthusiastically. ‘Google likes to encourage healthy living. So the unhealthy snacks like chocolate and soda are hidden in boxes, while healthy items like water and nuts are clearly visible. A simple hack to reduce the daily sugar intake of people by 20 percent, that’s great, isn’t it?’
He’s currently working in Brussels; only visits the Amsterdam office every now and then. ‘In Brussels the famous Google lunches are even better!’ Our interview takes place in the ‘stroopwafel’ room.
How can someone become an Associate Product Marketing Manager at Google and ‘Global shaper’, as it says in your LinkedIn profile?
Daniël Gaspersz: ‘During my management studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam I was active in several student boards and committees. For example, I was a fulltime board member at STAR for a year. I think this is where it all started. It offered me an opportunity to experience running organizations, while also making a lot of mistakes early on and learning from them.
After my board year I became interested in entrepreneurship. At first I couldn’t figure out what kind of business to start. I had a lot of ideas but none of them were brilliant. Then I started doing a brainstorm around my personal frustrations: at the top of the list was ‘not knowing what I wanted from my career or life’. The idea for an online mentoring platform came up. It would allow students like myself to connect with experienced professionals and learn from their successes and failures.
Me and a co-founder designed the platform in the style of a dating site: you create a profile and get access to a database of mentors. What started as a side project, transformed into a startup called MentorMe (later renamed to Dwillo). The RSM was the first faculty that agreed to run a pilot. From there we expanded it to other faculties and universities. The idea to build the business model around matching students and alumni, came from the United States: where educational institutions embrace the idea that alumni are of great value for the university, and that they are willing to give back.’
How did you find out Dutch alumni were also willing to give back?
‘When you reach a certain point in life where you have a job, a house, a car and some money in the bank - often the next thing you’re motivated by is adding meaning to your life. Sharing your experience and insights with a younger generation is a simple example on how you can do this. I’ve observed that beautiful things happen when generations collide and start sharing experiences.'
'I like coaching people, because I got very helpful coaching myself at crucial moments in my life.'
Daniël Gaspersz, Alumnus and Product Marketing Manager at Google
How did your startup helped you get a job at Google?
‘During my Master, I was fortunate enough to land a summer internship at Google in Dublin. In the evening hours I was working on my startup and in the nick of time I also managed to complete my thesis. After graduating I decided to continue the startup full-time instead of applying for a job. While the startup was successfully matching people and even winning some awards, it didn’t grow as fast as I’d hoped for a, so after a year I was looking for a new adventure.
Shortly after that, I was admitted to the Summer program of Draper University, an accelerator and startup school in Silicon Valley, founded by billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper. We got TED-like lectures from known investors and big Silicon Valley-entrepreneurs. We also had to do unconventional assignments like a survival week where we were dropped in the middle of the Californian nature. The goal was to radically push us out of our comfort zone, something that you as an entrepreneur have to do constantly.
Another adventure that I had embarked on was launching Awesome Foundation Amsterdam, a non-profit initiative that I started with two friends. Originally based on an idea in Boston, it’s a simple concept where we offer no-strings-attached grants of 1000 Euro each month to realize impactful ideas that make Amsterdam more awesome. The money comes from 20 trustees who each contribute 50 Euro a month. It turned out to be very successful and the initiative is still up and running until today.
While these were fun projects, they didn’t brought in enough money to sustain myself. Furthermore, I wanted accelerate my learning curve. That’s when I decided to apply for a job at Google. It’s a company that values curious, creative and entrepreneurial mindsets so these previous experiences definitely helped me in getting a job offer.'
What is your dream right now?
‘With Google I will have the opportunity to go abroad this year. I would love to spend time in Asia, a continent that is vastly changing and that has huge cultural differences that I’m excited to explore. Another dream of mine is to work in the commercial space industry at some point. The human settlement of the Moon and Mars is bound to happen this century, and I cannot think of something more exciting than to contribute to those missions and explore ways in which we can leverage space technology to improve life on Earth.'
On LinkedIn, you call yourself also a ‘Serendipity Engineer’. What do you mean?
‘Serendipity can be defined as: finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it. It are the happy, unplanned coincidences that shape our lives. While the key characteristic of this phenomenon is that it’s unplanned, it might be possible to distinguish the patterns and environments in where these ‘happy accidents’ occur. Once you identify these patterns, I think it’s possible to replicate them, ‘engineer’ them. To deliberately create systems where serendipity can occur. This world of serendipity engineering and is a field I’m fascinated by and have been experimenting with for years now. That’s why I call myself a serendipity engineer.'
Can you give some concrete examples?
‘There are a of lot ways in which you can engineer serendipity, varying in effort and impact. From easy-to-implement things like randomizing your life by taking a different route to work to more heavy forms like organizing weekly salon dinners for 15 strangers to foster a collision of perspectives. Ultimately, you can use it as as tool to make your life more interesting and exciting, but also as a means to do good for the world. Personally, I’m most interested in the latter. I believe that if you have the ability to push the world forward, you should.
That’s also why I still to go back to Erasmus University Rotterdam, to RSM in particular. I like to give guest lectures and I like coaching people, because I got very helpful coaching myself at crucial moments in my life.'