They’re the three young musketeers. Their eloquent and often contrarian views have made them into national celebrities. Sywert van Lienden (21), who wants to demolish the Dutch political establishment. Gadget guru Alexander Klöpping (25), who also makes many a lady’s heart overclock. And possibly the most versatile of the three, Danny Mekić (25). Internet entrepreneur, troubleshooter and much more.
This week he opened the academic year for Jurisprudence, while still a student himself. That takes a touch of brilliance.
His success story in brief: takes up volunteer work at Het Net (now part of KPN) as a twelve year old high school freshman. Learns to play the piano because his kindergarten teacher Floor lets him play with the keys. Earns his first paycheck as an editor at startpagina.nl. Gets phone calls in class at school, from clients who want him to build websites for them. Travels off to Geneva at the age of 16 to go explain why he could build the best website for the Eurovision Song Contest. Leaves his parents’ house at the age of 18 and buys an apartment in Amsterdam right away. Nowadays he’s a consultant on technology, media and communication for 25 of the 100 largest organisations in the Netherlands. He’s been around for a quarter-century.
While eating an eggplant, Danny says: „I’m restless. I’m ambitious. I long for people with a well-founded vision. You are human to the extent that you understand the world.”
Then the rhetoric ensues, in his pleasant voice. The rest of the restaurant listens in. And enjoys it. Or maybe not.
„I’m frustrated with the poor quality of our educational system. The exam criteria should definitely be more difficult. Ex-prime minister Balkenende was right: we live in a culture of mediocrity. I quit school when I was seventeen. Just before my final exams. The teachers believed I spent too much time on my company, even though I was getting good grades. I don’t understand that narrow-minded mentality. A few years ago I was admitted into university after all with an entrance exam. I study jurisprudence now. By year two I was a teaching assistant, acting as a guide to first-year students. You get only six hours of class a week. That’s ridiculous. It’s really a very easy subject. You can easily do it on the side, unlike medicine for example. I think there should be much more discipline in education. I have no problem with the idea of an authoritarian, competent university teacher. And the educational system will drive you mad with all the group assignments where nobody takes responsibility. I think you should first learn things and do things by yourself, before working with other people.”
„You know, our educational system doesn’t properly accommodate for overachievers. So the smartest ones try to find their own way and go abroad. Have you ever heard of the Kauffman Foundation? It’s an incredibly wealthy foundation that offers scholarships in America to exceptionally talented students. You’ll get to meet the brightest young minds in the world. There aren’t enough sign-ups from our country. That’s shocking! We’re becoming a nation of thinkers who don’t act. I have my sights set on the gold medal: making the most of myself. Because I keep in mind that this could be my last conversation.”
More eggplants follow. Danny picks his words carefully and says: „There are more and more young people who take antidepressants. That’s a dangerous development. There could be a good reason for it, but I’m far too energetic to be depressed.”
You also said recently that at the age of 25, all of your dreams have already come true?
„I’ve been so busy I forgot to come up with new dreams. Sometimes I think I’ve run out of ambitions to fulfil. So I won’t exclude the possibility that I might be the CEO of a large company in a few years. Or that I might go see the world. Because the journey is more important than the destination. In that case you might find me in a little bar somewhere, anywhere in the world. Where I will have made my great passion into my job. I’ll be playing to piano and earn a pittance. All I still need is a 1987 Steinway grand piano. Maybe one of your readers can help me find one.”
Aside from all his secondary activities, Danny is the owner of consultancy firm NewTeam. „I cancelled the rent of our building, because we’re hardly ever there anyway. Now my staff just meets at the clients’ places, or we work at home. It’s a lot cheaper that way.”
Mekić is a powerhouse of ideas and viewpoints. During the almost four hours of the conversation, you’d often get the feeling that you’re talking to a man who has seen every aspect of life and who doesn’t shy away from any surprises.
He says: „I want to discover the world. Sometimes when I’m abroad for a few nights for a convention, I decide not to spend the night in a hotel but to sleep on the streets. I’ll meet homeless people and learn different things, and I’ll learn to let go of my fear of sleeping on the streets.”
„I used to be afraid of spiders. I didn’t get therapy, but instead I very carefully caught a spider and put it in a jar, and watched it in my bedroom. After a few nights, the fear was gone.”
You are a consultant to countless major companies. You have ties to all the people who really matter. Could your next step be going into politics, becoming the youngest Secretary of State ever?
„I’m a member of three different political parties. GroenLinks (green progressive), D66 (social-liberal progressive) and the VVD (conservative-liberal). The VVD stands for smaller government, D66 is consistent and GroenLinks dreams about how wonderful the world could be.”
This is the first, diplomatic answer. I’m thinking the VVD should have a chat with you.
Even though Mekić is specialised in the internet, he’s not an unquestioning fan of this innovation. That’s what makes him so unusual.
„I can be very conservative. Not every digital development is progress. A while ago, banks wanted to introduced mobile payment, i.e. paying via your mobile phone. They invested a few millions into it. I told those investors: how could you adequately protect a mobile phone? What if your battery dies? In the end, the project was called off.”
„And now e-readers are on the rise. I don’t like reading from a tablet. I don’t even want to imagine a future without books or newspapers. You wouldn’t be able to gift them any more either. What an awful prospect! We have a tendency to replace very wonderful things with digital versions, even though that’s not what the customer wants. The question is: do we serve technology? Or do we fight back against technology and make it serve us again?”
You can’t change the world, the world changes you?
„I predict that ten years from now, a facebook-like website will tell young people who to date. Facebook would know more about you than you do. The social network would decide for you who you like. Fortunately you could always blame Facebook if dating doesn’t work out. Then you could take charge of your own search for the one, and that will be more satisfying.”
He sighs and says: „If I ever become a father, I don’t know if I’ll want to have internet at our home.”
His father is from Bosnia and Herzegovina, his mother from Amsterdam. Their love was greater than their distance, and the result was this ‘little genius’. And then a little sister too. Danny is a family person to the bone, and lives near his parents. He talks about his relatives with the greatest affection.
„I was born in the Netherlands and I’m really happy to live in this country. Here you can make your dreams come true, provided that you want to achieve something. But I do worry about rudeness and the decline of common respect. And if some political party ends up in charge that says I should pay 75% taxes, I’ll emigrate right away.”
So you make a lot of money.
„I can’t complain. I could afford much, but I don’t. When I was a little boy, I loved those Home Alone films. In the first film, the family passes Christmas Eve in the posh Ritz Carlton hotel in New York. I thought: when I grow up, I want to sleep there. But one night at the Ritz Carlton is 600 dollars. I could easily afford that, but it’s also enough to buy an entire bedroom’s worth of Ikea furniture. And possibly more money than my father’s net income in a week. He repairs mobile radio towers. That’s why I don’t.”
Do you charge money for everything?
„Not at all. I often give unsolicited advice, for example. Last year, a German businessman started up a new hotel in Croatia. I was there visiting relatives, and gave him some advice on how automation systems could be much better and cheaper. He was delighted. I visited again this year. He did let me stay in a suite for free…”
Interview by Emile Bode, Telegraaf