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Master
Economics

Mark Walschot: 'Being a talented student has little to do with being a talented worker'

This month’s alumnus in the spotlight is Mark Walschot. He graduated in 2009 from the MSc in Economics at the UvA and is now a partner at Startup Studio Nescio. We asked him, among other things, about his job and how he got to his current position.

Economics and Business Career Centre alumni

What was your dream job as a child? And what is your dream job now?

As a kid I probably wanted to be an architect. In fact, I still love building things, whether it’s a company or an office interior. So maybe I became an architect in my own way, ha ha! The funny thing is that creating something out of nothing probably was and still is my main drive. Whether it is a product, team, company or something completely different, it all feels really satisfying to me.

What do you do at work? What does a working day look like for you?

I consider myself very lucky in my job, because I can do many different things and thoroughly explore each one of them over time. I believe this is a logical part of building a company from scratch: you use common sense, ask experts for help when you get stuck and build experience over time.

Each day may involve anything from product strategy to finance, sales or recruiting, all of which have very cool aspects to them. As the company grew, we got more and more specialists in our team, but originally we fulfilled many of these different tasks ourselves. For example, we first did everything Operations Managers and Product Owners now do. It was only as the company grew, that we could hire a fulltime Operations Manager and a Product Owner to take on these roles full-time. That way, we experienced all the challenges, the fun and the skills needed for those jobs first-hand. This makes hiring a lot easier, because you know exactly what you’re looking for in a candidate.

What do you like most about your job?

What I like most about my job is that I can create something out of nothing. I love the process of turning a vague idea or a hunch into an actual product, feature, or ‘real-world’ discovery. Typically, the journey starts with that exciting suspicion that you’re ‘on to something’. Then you start putting in effort and focus on your goal, and you have to pay very close attention to the world around you for feedback.

To me, it’s magical to combine all that energy and those insights into something that actually works. It’s the biggest thrill. I get this feeling when creating a new software product, but also when, for example, we can expand the company to a new country, or hire an incredibly talented person.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

This one is easy… As an entrepreneur, you always strive for (or at least I aim for) simplicity and progress. When these very fundamental ways of doing and thinking are hindered by needless overhead or complexity, I can get pretty frustrated.

An example could be a very thorough due diligence of a particular prospect that costs plenty of time and money, with red tape spanning five departments of the prospect-company, while, in my humble opinion, the actual product and size of the deal do not justify this effort. In these cases I can get a feeling that it’s a waste of resources, as I strongly believe that all that energy (both within our company and in the organisation we’d like to work with) could be spent on much more useful things.

How did you get this job? Did it take a long time?

In my previous job I consulted for other companies regarding (mostly) strategy and financing. What is now Startup Studio Nescio used to be a much smaller tech company. I got to work with the founding team in 2012 and we ‘clicked’ instantly. Pretty soon we thought: Hey, what if we were in this together, that would be really cool! We started talking and seemingly in no time at all we came to an agreement. I became a partner and together we grew the company to where it stands now. It has been a real rollercoaster and I love it.

I feel that a job like mine is very difficult to find when you go out and actively search for it. But if you are open to opportunities and are willing to take some risks, there’s plenty out there. The only thing you need to accept is that unless you try, you’ll never know. So far, this has turned out to be a great adventure, but I couldn’t have predicted any of it beforehand, of course.

Can you apply the knowledge that you’ve gained during your study in your work?

Probably more than I would admit at first, ha ha! Obviously, academic schooling of any sort makes you think about problems in a pretty structured, analytical way. This can be tremendously useful when running a company as well – and we apply parts of the academic methodology constantly. But we do ‘convert’ it a little though… For instance, we look for falsification and we use (rapid) experimentation on a daily basis. But time is always short and we need to make decisions based on much smaller data sets or very biased ‘respondents’, for example. And obviously we use our gut feeling as well, something that is vital and something that academia can’t provide for you. As for my studies specifically, I guess I apply courses on strategy, mathematics and maybe marketing most frequently, but I mostly do this subconsciously.

What advice would you give students at the start of their career?

For one: don’t panic! We often hire talented, recent graduates. The question that scares many is: ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ There’s not really an answer to that question lying around somewhere. The question is simply too big – and too theoretical. So drop it, at least for a bit.

Especially for university graduates, it can be refreshing to acknowledge that you won’t actually learn anything unless you just do something. And do it today. My experience is that this more practical (more short-term) approach to work, of figuring out what seems useful, fun, or smart to you, puts things in a healthy perspective. It teaches you about what you want and like at this point in your life. And you can still think about what you want to do with your Big Future in the meantime.

Apart from that, I think that it’s important to know that being a talented student has little to do with being a talented ‘worker’. Do more internships, that sort of thing. Disappointment early on in a career comes mostly from expectations that were skewed or too high, not from a lack of skills or achievements. Get your hands dirty, have fun, do good work, pay close attention, bump your head, get up again and learn how to trust your intuition. Greatness doesn't come overnight, but it comes gradually if you keep at it. This explorative, experimental mindset actually plays a huge role in why we named our company ‘Nescio’ in the first place.

The EBCC thanks Mark for his insights and advice, and the time he took for this interview.

Questions?

If you have any questions, Mark is happy to answer them. You can reach him via email.

We hope this month’s alumnus was an inspiration. What kind of Economics and Business career would you like to know more about? Let us know, and we will try to arrange an interview with alumni who have experience in that field for a future instalment of Alumni in the Spotlight!