Danny Mekić (1987) started his first company at the age of fifteen. Its rapid growth made it infeasible to keep up alongside high school, so he dropped out of school. Besides his company, he has completed a training as a mediator and studies jurisprudence at the University of Amsterdam. Furthermore, he often appears as a guest lecturer on entrepreneurship and new media. in 2009, the entrepreneurs’ magazine Sprout declared him the most successful young entrepreneur in the Netherlands, and before that he appeared on Elsevier’s list of talents. ‘Using a unique combination of disciplines and experiences, I try to implement improvements in society.’
“People often say I do everything but the kitchen sink, haha. It’s true, but if you take a step back, you can definitely see a common framing. You’ll see the recurring theme in my confetti-strewn smorgasbord.
At a young age I took up volunteer work at Stichting Impuls in the Geuzenveld district of Amsterdam, where I grew up. It had more appeal for me to help them with the youth events they organised than to participate in them myself. When I was twelve I took up volunteer work at internet service provider Het Net (now part of KPN). In the years before that, my father had started working with computers more and more, and when he was off to work, I tried to do all sorts of things with the computer at home: playing music on it or programming small applications. Every once in a while the thing would crash and then I had to repair it again before my father would be back, haha. That’s how, for a long time, he didn’t notice a thing. At the age of fifteen, I started my first company, a hosting provider. I wanted to make it a high end, professional hosting provider that would have a good, personal relationship with its customers. Last year I first attained one million euros of revenue with my companies, and I’ve already got plans for expanding to Germany and America. I quit high school in 2004 because I couldn’t keep it up any more alongside my businesses. But I wanted to continue growing, so in 2007 I took a colloquium doctum entrance exam to study jurisprudence at the University of Amsterdam.
When I was young I saw two important developments happening on the internet: it makes more and more interaction possible, and in 2002 I already strongly suspected we’d end up using the internet as an extension of our social lives, and maybe even as a substitute for it in some cases. I discovered later that there are important juridical, psychological and economical aspects at play with the internet as well. That’s why I’ve also taken up a number of courses at other universities and other faculties. I’m not in a hurry to get my degree, as long as I get my ECTS. The advent of the internet is such a novel phenomenon in our society that you could ask yourself how this would work and continue to work in the future. To companies, that question ranges from a product-oriented one – what should the website be like, technically? – to a customer-oriented one – how can you create an online experience that really connects to the wishes of your users, and leave a lasting impression? To individuals, it was becoming more and more important as well. Studies showed that one of the things internet users used social media for was for feedback on their personal identity. The example researchers gave was that of insecure young people uploading photos to Hyves (a Dutch social network site), and were very concerned about feedback on those photos: which photos do people say positive and which do they say negative things about? And then you might think you’ll know how you should dress. As part of my training as a peer mediator, I’ve picked two specialisations. Firstly, there’s learning processes: how do people learn? A mediation is often nothing more than just helping both sides to learn from each other, by listening and taking on the right attitudes and phrasings. New media also factor into conflicts, so the second specialisation I picked was relationship issues. I soon realised that new technologies, like the internet, mobile phones, SMS and similar means of communication and platforms would end up playing a larger part in relationship conflicts. And not just in romantic relationships, but also at work: suppose someone posts something on Twitter that their boss takes a lot of offence to, with a lot of rather heated replies. Bold statements in the pub, which can reach a decent number of people all the same, aren’t judged as harshly, even though the Twitter account has only one or two followers. There’s something gigantic and grand about the Internet, it could potentially reach a far greater number of people. That’s what makes that situation somewhat more intimidating to an employer. If you want to become good at something, you have to keep doing it for a long time. In my case, that ‘something’ is my development as a generalist. I think the best generalists have a specialisation too. They’re people who study a large array of disciplines, and then start elaborating their knowledge and continue to specialise. In many of the things I do, I’m definitely not a specialist, but I’m certainly a specialised generalist regarding the intersection of technology, media and communication. That combination hasn’t been around for a long time yet. There’s so much that I want to learn a lot more about, but fortunately, the specialist specialists are often happy to work with a discipline connector like me, as I like to call it. My major clients – aside from running my company, I often take consultancy assignments – often put me to work in a large team with very experienced specialists. And then I try to be a discipline connector; getting the marketeer to talk to the product manager, showing the money person what would happen if nobody would listen to the innovations director and they invest more in new technologies like the internet, but also getting the director themselves to listen to the new jurist’s opinion on the ways things are handled in the company. Experienced specialists sometimes live in a bunker, and in that situation it’s a good idea to open the doors together. What I try to do, 24 hours a day, is to shape my development in such a way that I keep learning more and more within the focus I’ve acquired. Using a unique combination of disciplines and experiences, I try to implement improvements in society.
My father was born in the former Yugoslavia and he met my mother, a real Amsterdam woman, on a vacation before the war. It was love at first sight and they decided to live together in the Netherlands, and a few years later to get married, and they had two children. Both my father and my grandpa, who did live through the war and was freed with the help of Amnesty International and got to live in the Netherlands too, are two great examples to me of how to be active in society in a very positive way. My grandpa was very old, and he acquired the Dutch nationality, and then – like all old Dutch people – he got a state pension from the government. That felt awkward to him – maybe he felt a little bit guilty – and so, having been a mechanical engineer, he spent his spare time helping people in the neighbourhood in Amsterdam Bos en Lommer by repairing laundry machines and TVs, just to do something in return. That’s the kind of environment I grew up in and that’s why I think that if you have ideas about what society should be like, you can’t just limit yourself to spreading the word. My grandpa thought it was strange that he got ‘money for nothing’ just like that, and so he did something back for society.
In very many areas, such as living, ‘separating work and your private life’ and making a career, this society still relies on models that were introduced a long time ago. However, there are two major changes going on that are changing lives – everyone’s lives. Firstly, the participating segment of the populace is growing: young people are urged at an earlier and earlier age to make career decisions, to start working; in brief, to participate. Schools tell us we have to be ‘unique’ and ‘be ourselves’ and be ‘authentic’: they keep throwing that sort of trendy lingo at you until your ears are ringing. Introspection. What’s also happening is that people are expected to make career choices at an earlier and earlier age: what do I want to do for a living? That means the people who start enterprises and participate in public debate are becoming younger and younger as well. Simultaneously, we see people living to be older. That makes for less and less similar people in a dialogue, in a political system.
Secondly, society has become so incredibly digitalised in the past ten years: we all have mobile phones and even many elderly people are now taking their first steps on the internet, I think that’s a wonderful thing. The internet certainly does bring people together.
These two developments have given rise to an interesting challenge: the way society works has become obsolete. Look at universities, the subjects and specialisations they offer, and the way they are organised into faculties. It’s severely lagging behind reality. Look at developments like that within law, for example: there’s an increasing demand for specialised judges. A demand in society, but also in law itself. The design of our society is not timeless, and it’s due for renovation.
In the traditional system, people educate themselves and then get to work. I think in the future we’ll see a world where after a basic education people will get to work and then go back to studying, but also continue learning in the course of their career. People will keep developing. Society is changing so rapidly now, so much information coming at you. You’ll occasionally read things on Twitter that happened less than a minute ago and haven’t been covered by the media yet, while the news ticker on the bottom of CNN keeps changing and I get a breaking news text: a volcano with an unpronounceable name has erupted in Iceland. Information paralysis. Meanwhile we’ll happily google up a term paper, libraries aren’t all that necessary any more when Google Books is quicker, and so we’re a lot less likely to read anything we aren’t looking for, which – I think – used to happen more often back when you still had to manually go looking for all the information in books. I think developments like this encourage particularly the younger generation to form opinions very quickly. Maybe sometimes too quickly to give it due thought.
It doesn’t suit my life at the moment to go into politics, but it’s true that I’m very politically involved. What happens in politics is the vanguard of what’s about to happen in society, or a (sometimes overly) direct result of something that’s already happened. It’s difficult to choose a party that I’d want to support generally. I have a fairly liberal attitude and think it’s important to give individuals enough space, but because my mother was unfit for work, I also understand the necessity of a good social welfare system for those who can’t work. Besides that, I also support political innovations and a sustainable arrangement of society. Perhaps in the future there will be new political movements or there will be changes in existing parties that will make them suit the future generation better. At any rate, politics gives people with new ideas space.
One subject that really upsets me is the lobbying campaign for a ban on downloading. The problem with a ban like that is that to do it, you’ll fairly quickly end up needing to use a technology called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). It’s the same technology that China and other less democratic countries use to censor the internet. There’s actually a sizeable levy on blank, writeable media like CDs and DVDs to benefit musicians, but in debates people often act like those who download are committing a ruthless act of theft. That’s not true. Instead of a ban on downloading, I’d rather consider that compensation. I think a feasible idea would be to introduce a minor levy on internet connections: if you want unlimited downloading, you pay a levy on your internet connection of five or ten euros a month. I think the entertainment industry would be very happy with all that extra income. We keep getting hung up on this banning subject and now people want to criminalise what millions of Dutch citizens are doing. We’ve all downloaded an MP3 file some time. That would suddenly be made a crime. The problem with Deep Packet Inspection is that all data people send over the internet will need to be analysed. The danger being – and it will probably be done via the internet service providers, just like current taps – that private companies would end up with the responsibility to store your data. And having to pay for the government’s hobby! That’s why I think, as a matter of principle, that we shouldn’t use technology like that to create a money flow for the music industry. And besides, do you think an absolutely innovationless industry should be rewarded with protection? They should just start innovating. Ever tried to buy a film online? As a side note, this is a fine example of what I mean by combining disciplines; I understand the technological aspects but am also aware of the ethical and philosophical issues.
My parents were never very rich, and that’s why I see money in a neutral way. In the decisions I make, the money aspect never really interests me very much. In 2008 I was the youngest member of Quote’s list of Movers & Shakers. I liked that, but I would never want to be on the Quote 500: that list really only looks at how rich you are. With no money but a lot of knowledge, you can achieve more than with only money. Last year I went on a holiday to Miami. To a five-star hotel on South Beach, the place to be according to Americans. It cost me less money than spending that week at home, because I’d made an appointment with the hotel to help them develop their views on youth marketing, in exchange for my accommodation. Suppose I would have spent that time working full-time, making money, then I probably wouldn’t have earned enough to pay for a week in that hotel. I think this confetti generation wants more than just money, they also want knowledge and self-development for example. There’s a risk in this, though: you do need to be able to judge the economic value of what you’re working on.
For everything I do, I ask myself: what can I learn from this, what could other people learn from me? I’m 23 now, and I still don’t have a single clue where I will be ten years from now. This year I want to go back to writing for a paper medium, and at the moment I’m working together with other young entrepreneurs to form a new company: a consultancy firm run by people in their twenties, that will advise companies at the highest level about the developments our generation is growing up with. This is only the beginning.”