Digital Proust Questionnaire: Sjoerd van Gelderen

Author: Thomas Halter

Emakina Group has rapidly grown in recent years, in part thanks to our managing directors leading the way. But who are these MDs, besides leaders in digital, creative and business growth? Let’s sneak a peak inside their heads with this new series: Emakina’s Digital Proust questionnaires!

The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlour game popularised (though not devised) by Marcel Proust. The French essayist and novelist believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature. This is an adapted basic Proust Questionnaire for the digital age.

Today was Sjoerd van Gelderen’s turn to play the Digital Proust game. Sjoerd is an impressive man, with a true ‘get-it-done’ attitude. He’s a leader in technology, eCommerce and entrepreneurship, combining his leadership with efficiency and people skills. As early as 1994, Sjoerd co-founded one of the first Dutch Internet agencies, Info.NL. Five years later, he started IP geolocation company Realmapping (later sold to Quova). And in 2004 he launched Solify, which later became Relephant, a company integrated in Emakina Group.

Besides his key role as MD of Emakina.NL, he is a Partner Advisory Board Member of Salesforce Commerce Cloud. But there is more to the man than meets the eye. So who is he, what really moves him?

1. What is your idea of happiness?

The Serengeti: sun comes up, sun goes down, sun comes up, sun goes down, sun comes up… Well, you get the point!

Do we? 

2. What is your greatest fear?

The lack of time for living a full balanced life. Do I spend my time right, and focus on what I really want?

3. Which historical figure do you most admire?

I like logical thinkers defying common perceptions with elegance and perseverance. Like Darwin, Popper, and many others. Popper proved you cannot prove anything to be true. How simple and brilliant! And the theory of evolution is so elegant.

4. Which living person do you most admire?

Nassim Taleb completely changed the way I look at determinism, risk, chances, exceptions and especially success.

Guess you didn’t expect this answer, did you? #Huhu

5. Who is your favourite writer?

Stephen J. Gould’s writing offers the right balance between science, nature and the insignificant place that humans occupy in nature.

6. Who is your favourite fictional character?

Tony Soprano stands for everything I dislike, but still…

I guess ducklings are the new indulgences!

7. What part of the digital media industry makes you happy?

Having the chance to meet really smart people who actually create stuff that is useful. I like technology, algorithms, math and science. But also people, systems, customers, products, business models… This industry brings it all together; most of the time, it’s the perfect combination.

8. What part of the digital media industry makes you unhappy?

More and more people get involved, including the less gifted. That’s more talking and less creating.

9. Who/what inspired you most in your career?

I was lucky enough to share an office in a great venture with the former CFO of a major Silicon Valley business. He mentored, he was a great source of inspiration… Yanks build good companies out of tech, and in a surprisingly more positive way than I thought.

10. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My first year studying Computer Science at The Netherlands’ best technical university: Delft. I finished that year thanks to perseverance, hard work and my then youthful brain. I am also proud of the three companies I started, which are all in good shape.

11. What tech company do you wish you had started?

Betfair. Peer-to-peer betting on all kinds of sport events. Real platform. Beautiful combination of financial transactions, wisdom of the crowd, massive technical obstacles in terms of speed and scale and great UX.

12. What digital project would you have most loved to be a part of?

Altavista. They got it right, too soon…


13. What is your favourite digital app/ tool?

For following the current Shakespeare story in the US: The Washington Post app is what I use the most. That’s for the content of course. And Blockfolio to keep an eye on the hourly lottery in my crypto-portfolio.

14. What digital app/tool that does not exist would you would like to create?

An app that reads the mind of the person your phone is pointed at. Huge time saver.

15. What is the trait you are most proud of in yourself?


16. What is the trait you most admire in others?

Generosity in time and attention.

17. What is the trait you most dislike in others?


18. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A hippo: they take the best cool spots in the savanna, which is my happy place (see question n°1).

Fun fact: hippos are bad motherfuckers and kill around 500 people each year. 

19. What is your most treasured possession, and why?

I treasure my 15 € buckwheat pillow.

20. What is your motto?

Single mottos are far too simple for life in complicated world. But if you really want one: ‘Do something you are afraid of every day and your life gets better every day.’

Except if you’re afraid of feeding hippos; don’t do that.

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