How to drop out of uni and become an entrepreneur


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I hate to admit it but I’m jealous of Pieter Moorman

Why am I jealous? At the age of 23 he resides in a palatial villa with a pool, housekeeper and cook. What’s more, he doesn’t even have a degree. I have two.

Pieter is ‘geo-arbitraging’. Don’t worry… I didn’t know what that means either. Geo-arbitraging means taking advantage of the dirt cheap living costs of the developing world while earning an income from the western world. The deliciously favourable exchange rate and low cost of local labour mean that you can live like a veritable sultan at a very reasonable price. Cheap living also means you dont have to earn as much, which means more time for business development.

Pieter’s lives in Ubud, Bali. We met at a vibrant co-working community called Hubud; a fertile hotbed for startups and entrepreneurs just like Pieter.

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Pieter Moorman

Pieter leads a small team of young europeans working on a rapidly growing business that specialises in making fast turnaround video advertisements for the recruiting industry. By fast… I mean 24 hours. Over a beer one breezy Bali evening, Pieter explained how his business works.

Clients place orders during European business hours, Pieter’s company, Vicancy, capitalises on time zone differences. In addition to his team in Bali he has people in Pakistan who work on the videos while Europe is sleeping. By the time the client is slurping their morning cappuccino, the video campaign is ready.

Vicancy has created video campaigns for famous brands including Coca Cola, Nestlé and engineering giant Siemens.

“We’re paying the bills but we’re quite ambitious so we have more expenses than revenue – we’re always reinvesting more and more,” says Pieter.

As I listen to him waxing casually about his business while slouched in a banana lounge, I find myself wondering why I wasn’t more like him when I was in my early twenties. At that age I was battling my way through a double degree in law and arts and hating it bitterly. The main difference between Pieter and I is that he had the courage to drop out of uni to try something different – something he’s truly passionate about.

Before finishing school, Pieter says he considered studying physics and architecture, but settled on economics–a discipline he says afforded him plenty of spare time.

“If you study physics and architecture you’re expected to study 60 hours a week and if you do economics you have plenty of time so that was definitely part of the decision,” he says.

When he arrived at uni, he discovered he would have lecturers perhaps four times a week, with very little else he had to do.”

“People told me that university would be way harder than high school but it didn’t turn out to be that way at all. You could go to different parties 6 or 7 days a week and just skip all lectures and still actually pass.”

Pieter’s typical week went something like this:

Monday: hang out at the fraternity (a kind of student club) which inevitably culminated in a drinking session

Tuesday: Participate in campus sports… before heading to the bar afterward for a drinking session

Wednesday: Back at the fraternity–more drinking

Thursday: Go sailing with the student sailing club–even more drinking

Thursday: The big student party night–soda water anyone?

Friday: Probably attend a house party

Saturday: Go out on the town

Sunday: Take a break–think about doing some study… maybe

“I did that for one and a half years,” says Pieter.

 

Campus boozehound to globetrotting entrepreneur

“The whole party thing got old all of a sudden. I quit doing that and got myself involved in all sorts of new projects and out of that started entrepreneurship.”

One of Pieter’s first ventures was to start an online marketplace where students could buy and sell used textbooks.

“It was really small scale but within two weeks half the students at the university were using the platform. I’d run into random people in the street who would offer me beer because they’d sold their old books and made 100 bucks – that was really cool. That’s the kind of success you need to propel yourself forward.”

Pieter recouped the costs of setting up the site by selling his own books and made a few extra dollars in advertising on the website, but decided the business model wouldn’t deliver the revenues he wanted so moved onto other projects.

His current business evolved when he attended a ‘create a startup business in a day’ workshop.

“We found out while we were sitting there that you were meant to already have an idea to work on and we didn’t’ have one. We made up an idea in the corridor and that’s basically how we started out.”

In third year uni Pieter made the hard decision to drop out of uni.

“We started running a company and at some point the company was doing well and basically I had to decide whether to work on the company or keep studying because it was getting harder to combine the two.”

The decision was made harder by the fact that his parents were bankrolling his education at the time.

“My mum was an entrepreneur as well so she was very supportive and that was a big factor in the decision,” he says.

And yet, he says he doesn’t feel like he was being particularly courageous: “I was just bored with the alternative [to dropping out].”

 

Can anyone drop out of uni and become an entrepreneur?

In theory, yes, but judging by what Pieter says, it takes determination, confidence and plenty of smarts.

“It’s definitely helpful to be a bit overconfident and think that everything will work out even if there’s no real reason to believe so. You just screw up a lot and if you can’t handle that, then it’s going to be tough.”

So… aside from the willingness to screw up and cop it on the chin, what sort of skills do you need exactly?

“The main thing for entrepreneurship is the realisation that you have no clue what you’re doing, but neither does anyone else so you might as well just try and see where you end up and that’s basically what we did,” says Pieter.

“If you could see a checklist of all the skills you need to be an entrepreneur you would definitely not start out – it’s a bit intimidating. You need to learn how to write your own legal documents, how to incorporate the company, how to do the finances, how to do taxes, how to do marketing, how to do sales, how to do software development… it’s a massive list,” he says.

“We screwed up many, many times. But the funny thing about entrepreneurship is you can screw up nine times and the tenth time you might succeed, but the overall result is that people remember the one try that turned out well.”

Success also relies on having the right people around, he says. Pieter teamed up with a mutual friend who had worked in Silicone Valley – the tech startup capital of the world and the place where companies like Apple and Google have their headquarters. In addition to that invaluable experience, his co-founder came with a knack for fundraising. Together they’ve accumulated tens of thousands of euros to get the company going.

But I couldn’t help but wonder: would Pieter still go to uni if he could start all over again?

“I would definitely go to university again if I was to do it all over and I would definitely drop out again. University, at least for me, was a massive learning environment where you can build a load of social skills and build a network of people and get involved in all kinds of things and try out and be in this environment where it’s okay to screw up all kind of things.”

This is all well and good, but it’s worth noting that Pieter went to uni in Holland, where it’s much, much cheaper than in place like Australia or the USA.

“If I was studying in Australia I would definitely reconsider,” says Pieter.

Pieter’s story flies in the face of conventional wisdom that you need a degree to succeed. But when I think back to the insecure, pimply younger I was at his age, I find it hard to believe I could have done anything as ballsy as what he did.

It’s possible Pieter and I are just cut from different cloth. While he had supporting parents and entrepreneurship running through his veins, my youth was much more sheltered and conservative. I was an insecure young fellow so I followed the safe path of getting good grades and a degree.

Looking back now, I didn’t really have a choice, and regret is such a useless emotion anyway. Besides, there are plenty of things I’ve achieved and am proud of that wouldn’t have been possible without those expensive pieces of paper.

And yet, I can’t help but feel just a little bit jealous.

[Pieter Moorman has kindly provided his email for anyone who wants to know more about his story, or needs advice on whether to pursue a similar trajectory: qieter@gmail.com]

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