BBQ with a Dutch ICT/start up Delegation

So a few weeks back I received an interesting email that at first thought looked like a scam.

In short I was being invited to a BBQ at the Consul General’s residence in Sydney to meet an ICT/start up delegation from the Netherlands. Let me straight up say I have no idea why I would receive something like this. I am not dutch, have no dutch ancestry (that I am aware of) and while somehow is listed on the top startups in Sydney somehow its not as though it has lots of press coverage or is a real start-up (its more a hobby side business at the moment).

You can view the email above. I think its the use of _ in the title that triggered my personal spam filter. However it was not flagged as such by Gmail, the headers all looked fine and when I followed through the various links it all seemed above board. I posted it in the company slack channel asking what others thought. There was a bit of debate, but I figured I would follow it up on twitter with the person who sent to email.

They actually responded back that yes it was real and if I could respond to the email. Which I did.

A short while later and the details were sent though. Monday 16th October 2017 at an address in Seaforth (swanky!). There was some discussion about if this was indeed a real event and that I should have an escape plan.

Assuming it was real I had two goals. The first was to find out why I was invited. The second was to find out why they were interested in Australia.

The day came around and I took a taxi driven by a racist who hates uber (the guy driving and his stories are worth his own blog post) and I arrived.

I had no expectations going in. I have never attended anything like this in my life. My plan was to just roll with the punches and see what I could learn and perhaps meet some interesting people.

Have you ever had that moment where you realised not only are you the most poorly dressed but you also just dragged down the average age by being an outlier? It was one of those meetings. I quickly noticed that I in jeans and hoodie was really underdressed by most who were wearing suits. I guess I could have played it off as though I was the next Zuckerberg though. I was welcomed by Willem (the Consol) a very nice chap who greeted me in what I presume was Dutch but frankly could have been English as I was so bewildered. He swiftly invited me in and offered me a beer. At the time I was more thirsty and requested water, and pointed out tap water was fine. Probably a mistake on my part. Here I was in a fancy house/mansion and asking for a glass of tap water.

Anyway after some brief chatting I noticed Nicoline who was the one who invited me. Not familiar with Dutch culture and frankly not being good at reading people it was hard to see what she thought of me. I suspect surprise at my appearance and age perhaps? I can only apologise for not being more impressive. I didn’t get the chance to say hello at this point as I was ushered outside.

The view of the house was excellent and while the backyard was small due to the presence of a pool in the middle of it it was quite pleasant. After walking outside I noticed that Paul Budde just happened to meander outside. I did a double take for a while before realising it was indeed him, especially when he pronounced his last name. Spotting some individuals more my own age I went over and introduced myself. Turns out they were interns working at the consulate and dragged into cooking duties. I ended up chatting to them for a while learning that Holland exports quite a lot of natural gas but is also starting to stop this process due to it causing the land to sink further.

Around this time Willem gave a quick speech. I got the impression that the Dutch look at Australia as a missed opportunity, considering that they found it 100+ years before the English but never did anything with it. They were quick to point out that it was called New Holland for a time. Highlight of the speech was the arrival of a Kookaburra who was eyeing off the BBQ goods and the surprise of the visitors to Australia at the native fauna.

Following the speech there was a “round table” introduction of who you were and why you where there.

Awkward. Thats the word that best describes me at this point. After Paul Budde, everyone else was Directors of companies, CEO’s, Founders, Co-Founders etc… At my time to say who I was I decided to go with the technique I believe is called a purple elephant. I mentioned who I work for (Kablamo) what I do (programmer working with AWS) and that I run on the side as well. I finished by saying “And I don’t like to eat raw tomato”. No idea why I use that but it tends to be easy to remember and makes you stand out. No longer was I the uncomfortable poorly dressed guy, I was the uncomfortable poorly dressed guy who doesn’t like to eat raw tomato. It did prove a talking point when the salads were being served with a few individuals pointing out I should steer clear of the middle one due to the presence of chopped tomato.

Following the round table there was a call for a group photo. As such there is some photo of an ICT startup delegation in the backyard of the Dutch consul generals house with a scruffy Australian in the back. I made sure to place myself in it such that it would be easy to photoshop me out. I’d love to get a copy of the photo though.

I figured at this point I would attempt to mingle, went to grab a beer and with that in hand start chatting away. Paul Budde of who I have read a lot of his work regarding one of my pet hates in Australia the mismanagement of the NBN. I decided there and then to have a conversation with him. After a swig of liquid courage I walked up offered to shake his hand and mentioned I was a big fan of his work, and especially interested in his comments about the NBN. I managed to hold a 15 minute conversation with him about the NBN without feeling like an intellectual numpty. Interesting takeaways from the conversation were that he thinks it will be 2030 before anything is done to fix the current situation, and that he has talked to the Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull on it and he believes that Turnbull 100% knows he is doing the wrong thing but has to continue for political reasons. I managed to suggest a beer to him from the selection available which he agreed was a good choice after tasting it.

Following this the party moved inside around the kitchen. I ended up at this point chatting to a few people the main one being Ruud Alaerds the director of Dutch Hosting Provider Association DHPA. He asked me about how hosting companies are in Australia and how they are going with being acquired. He was interested in know if the local companies are merging into a super-company and pointing out that companies such as OVH are probably waiting for most of the local companies to gobble each other up and then acquire the winner. I believe he is looking to get in before this. He was also able to answer my second question of why Australia? Turns out Australia is seen as a good stepping stone into Asia as Singapore is already “full” and the other places such as Taiwan and Hong Kong are not worth investigating at this point.

Other conversations I had were interesting. Things like discussions about houses in Double Bay (very swanky) lead to some asking where I live (near Berowra) and after explaining where it is there were comments such as “Oh that must be nice for you”. Which in fairness by comparison it is a very humble place to live.

Eventually the desert was offered (small cheesecakes) a small thank you speech and people started leaving. At this point I went for the direct approach. I walked up to Nicoline and thanked her for the invitation and again asked why was I invited. Her response was not really encouraging, just that she was looking around for local people involved in the start-up community in Australia. I guess that since I have worked for start-ups and have what is considered one that might be why I popped into her list, but I suspect ultimately it was more a mistake. I did have an enjoyable evening regardless!

All in all Boyter’s uncomfortable night out with the Dutch ICT/start up Delegation was quite entertaining. While I didn’t get any actionable items out of it I did enjoy meeting Paul in particular and seeing how people who are considerably more successful that I am live.

8/10 would do again. Much thanks to the very kind individual who gave me a lift out of there as well which got me home before 11pm. I still believe I was invited by mistake and that while there I was more of a dancing monkey than someone who was able to contribute but none the less it was very interesting for myself.