Lucy von Sturmer on building a business in Amsterdam
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and where are you from?
I grew up on Auckland’s West Coast and have a deep love for the ocean. Both of my parents are creative entrepreneurs and artists, and they’re young. This means that in many ways I grew up alongside them, and I share their passion for innovation and creativity.
My step father is a wordsmith and writes for a lot of New Zealand publications. This prompted my passion for writing and working with the media. I’m very lucky to have a strong creative network in New Zealand. Before I left at age 23, I’d worked as an actress starring in Shortland Street, a news presenter for Wellington’s RadioActive FM, a band manager for a hip hop artist signed to EMI, and a lead writer for an independent magazine called Fluro.
How and when did you become an expat?
After finishing my postgraduate degree in International Relations and Digital Media in Wellington, I was itching to get out and see the world. I had no ties to Europe and no idea where to go, so I literally picked a spot on the map. I chose Italy which seemed exotic and took a gap year spending time living in both Venice and Rome teaching English. I fell in love with European culture and so decided to make the move. I returned to Amsterdam as I wanted to work in English and launch my career in digital media.
Did you always plan on living in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is a world leader in social innovation and social entrepreneurship. In Amsterdam in particular, there is a huge emphasis on the value of creative culture and the arts, and this resonated with me deeply. It’s young, vibrant, creative, and I like the Dutch and their directness.
Tell us about your work with The Humblebrag. What’s it like running your own business?
As a foreigner with no ties to Europe, I had to work hard to stay in the Netherlands. I worked as a highly skilled migrant for six years before I could work on my own terms. This was great for me as I had to aim very high in terms of my career from the get-go.
I worked on incredible global programmes across non-governmental organisations, multi-stakeholder initiatives and the creative industries. After seven years, I received my permanent residency and I was ready to build on my own vision.
Starting The Humblebrag, a purpose-driven communications consultancy that champions thought leaders and change-makers, has been exhilarating. Yes, starting a business has been scary, but The Humblebrag has led me to work with people that inspire me on work that I believe in.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that sometimes no matter how smart and savvy you are, you can’t fast-track experience. Building a business and having a skillset you want to sell are two very different things. Jumping between executor and entrepreneur has been a journey. In my first year, I grew too fast too soon, so I’ve taken some time to restructure my business to meet client demands.
As an expat Kiwi, I’ve also learned that every time another New Zealander tells you a Kiwi is coming to town, take the chance to grab a coffee. Kiwis eager to move overseas usually have a great story to tell and I’ve made some amazing connections just because I was open and said yes.
What advice would you give to fellow Kiwis thinking about going into business overseas?
Don’t underestimate how forward-thinking and innovative New Zealand is. There are so many Kiwis both locally and globally that are raising the bar. We have an ingrained entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, and on a global stage that resonates.
How has Kea helped you along the way?
I found out about Kea through other expats. I got involved after two years living in the Netherlands when I started to explore how to live abroad while fostering a greater connection with New Zealand. I’ve reached out to various contacts through Kea either out of personal interest, to engage with the community, or to attend events.
It’s been great knowing Kea is there to support Kiwis achieve their dreams. You don’t have to leave New Zealand when you physically leave it. We have a unique history tied directly to Europe, so Kea is a great way to work on a global scale, but remain connected to home.