September 27, 2021

5 Minite Coffee with Ruben Brave, the grand connector of startups

5 Minite Coffee with Ruben Brave, the grand connector of startups

With a last name like his, Ruben Brave, he seemed born to do something extraordinary in his life. Some have even called him one of the “Netherland’s fathers of the internet”. His first startup was valued at 20 million at age 25. But it was never about the money, and when that same company got into dire straits after the first dot-com bubble burst, he realized this more than ever. Today Ruben is the CEO of Entelligence, an academic business incubator, and he connects a rich community of entrepreneurs together wherever he goes. For the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, he interviewed over a hundred individuals about their workplace experience, and found better ways to incorporate diverse teams into the modern workforce.

We sat down with Ruben for a 5 Minite coffee and conversation about his journey.

Your first startup was valued at 20 million at the age of only 25. Is there a magic ingredient that skyrocketed your company to that dazzling valuation?

“It was partially the beginning of the internet age that led to such a high valuation. But the most important ingredient was that I surrounded myself with a group of people who could provide me with a network. I had this board of advisors at my side, which strengthened our proposition.” Coming from a lower/middle class family, Brave’s doors to opportunity were opened through the connections he made with the people who already had their foot in the door. “People like this added credibility and provided me with realistic views of my venture: this is what ultimately gave my company a very credible valuation.”

That same startup hit the rocks after the dot com bubble. You say we gain much more from not meeting expectations than just success. What did you gain from this experience?

“When I got that valuation, I thought this is just the beginning. It was not my main focus to have a high valuation, my focus was to create new things." More than money or anything else, Ruben’s focus was the development of mobile internet. “So when I was, so to speak, “riding my chariot at the edge of the ravine” it didn't move me in any way, although my co-workers reacted differently. My tech lead even cried to me: “you shattered my dreams!” That really hurt. Then I realized, money is a force that is also stealing people's self-worth-- it was never part of the purpose. I only saw money as a means to attain a goal, but my coworkers’ reactions made me realize how people look at monetary value and tie it to their own value. I decided to turn things around. You're blessed if you don't overthink things too much. My mother probably would have framed the sudden detrimental circumstances in that period as a test of God, an ordeal. I was able to turn the tide, rebuild and eventually sell the business”.

“It's not about me. I'm like a channel: I see all my wins and losses as a manifestation of the powers, circumstances and people that surround me. It’s all for the greater good: connecting through cultivating value.”

You're all about delivering value for others around you. Why is it important that we set our egos aside and actively think about what we can do for one another?

“The media have called me a successful entrepreneur, and my journey is being made into a university course”. Ruben, however, has harnessed this praise for the greater good. “It's not about me. I'm like a channel -- (ed. the entrepreneur community likes to call Ruben “the great connector”). I see all my wins and losses as a manifestation of the powers, circumstances and people that surround me. It is spiritual capital that is most important to me. It has nothing to do with ghosts (laughs), but with how you connect to the world around you and provide value in that relationship. It’s all for the greater good: connecting through cultivating value. This also brought me to develop a transformative guidance methodology for entrepreneurial minds: the Hero's Journey Framework (HJF). It’s strongly related to transversal skills, as professor Campbell sees myth as the mirror for the ego.”

You're passionate about inclusivity and diversity. Can you tell us more about your involvements, what they mean and why they matter to you?

“Last year I was approached by Volkskrant and AD to give a voice to racism and discrimination in Dutch society. The director general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate reached out to me after that, and I set up a diversity & inclusion exploration and round tables to empower untapped potential. If we are able to find a passage through this mountain of exclusion, we can provide genuine talent to companies, and add value to the world. Different perspectives enable out-of-the-box thinking and innovation. If you can provide everyone the opportunity to flourish, that’s when we will have broad, sustainable prosperity. It's crucial for business and society that we have this constructive form of diversity and inclusion. I spoke with over 100 people about being excluded, and heard many heartbreaking stories. We should perceive inclusion and acceptance like VAT (value added tax): everyone who can add value to the overall commonwealth should have a place in the world. Right now, so much of that value, a hidden gem, is still being caged, and it needs to get out.”

“We should perceive inclusion and acceptance like VAT: everyone who can add value should have a place in the world. So much of that value is still being caged, and it needs to get out.”

What has been a defining moment in your career, from which we can all learn?

I have to go back to when I was 25 and confronted by my startup’s major dive downwards. I could have carried personal accountability, too. One night, I was standing in the middle of the living room, pondering in passion and possibility. It was really like a scene from one of those superhero movies, where you suddenly discover your powers. I thought, I’m going to do this. I saw this high profile lawyer on TV, Gerard Spong. With only 5000 euro left on my credit card, I met Gerard.

He directed me to his colleague who wrote a half A4 to the major creditor - the former investor, and then, everything was solved in 6 months. I believe that everything is connected to what you do. Being purpose driven is a sort of a state of delusion-- a beautiful one and really productive. You find yourself in a flow where you deeply connect to the things you are doing, and all the other things just move out of the way. Like you are in a trance-- you see only the thing that you want to create. It's liberating, total freedom.

Ruben has helped Minite in more ways than one, and was there to support our founder Micky when she pitched Minite on RTL Z recently. “In a world that moves as fast as the startup scene does, his presence brings calmness.” The grand connector continues to do the work of a purpose-driven startup prophet from the beginning of the internet days-- Ruben Brave’s number one talent is that his magic never tires. Legend says there are nuggets of his kindness and wisdom in every little passion project in the Netherlands. What if the world operated on spiritual capital? It is a reality Mr. Brave is working towards.

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