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VEGgies

Hello VEG!

Here I am. I currently live in the University Village in Albany, California with my partner, who is a graduate student at UC Berkeley. We moved here in July 2013 from my home country, The Netherlands. We knew that when we came to the United States, my partner would devote all his time to studying. While previously we both worked full-time jobs, I alone would now be responsible for bringing in all income for our family. Hello, pressure!

I better start making money, or else this will be all we eat for a very long time.

Fertile soil?

Before we came to the United States I worked for a Dutch publishing company where I wrote and edited textbooks, developed online learning tools and assessments, exams and tests. I started looking at the San Francisco Bay Area job market a few months before we left and quickly learned that a fair amount of my skill and expertise was too specific to The Netherlands to make me a perfect fit for an American company. Still, I did a lot of work in the field of English as a second language and routinely wrote, edited and translated Dutch and English texts. Surely there would be an employer who would see the use in that?

The tools of my trade.

The week before we got on the airplane to San Francisco, I sent out my first job application. A little over a week after that airplane landed, I sent out the second. Then set a rule: every week I had to apply to a minimum of six jobs. Many of these applications I never heard back from, which I found very frustrating and demoralizing.

After several weeks of writing chipper-souding letters and doggedly tweaking resumes, I received a positive response. It followed out of a rather unassuming Craigslist ad in which an agency requested speakers of Dutch to work on a project. I sent the agency my resume and they sent me information on the project. When I visited the client this agency had dispatched me to, I began looking into what to do with the money I would make.

VEG roots

So, I had the papers that allow me to work. I found a client and got a first project. All good to go, right? Except that I had no idea about taxes, social security payments and whether I was doing things legally. While I was somewhat familiar with freelance work in The Netherlands, I had not looked into self-employment in the United States. So when my first US client offered me my first assignment, I set out on a long process of internet searches to get my plans off the ground.

Photo by PT Money under a Creative Commons License.

During the same period, I went to a meeting of the Village Resident Association and joined a meeting of the Berkeley Spouse Partner Association. During these meetings I learned two things:

#1 many people struggle with their financial situation while they or their family members study at UC Berkeley

#2 there are many clubs and associations, but none focus on self-employment

When I spoke up, asking about a way to meet other (future) entrepreneurs, I was told there had been talk of starting such a group, but that it had never happened. The meeting was barely over when I was approached by Zoya Street and Eiko Kielty. They told me that they were both very interested in setting up a group for entrepreneurs. We agreed to meet again to explore what we could start with. We exchanged some e-mails, drank some coffee and came up with the concept of VEG: a group for people somehow connected to UC Berkeley who are currently entrepreneurs or are looking to become entrepreneurs. While the name of the University Village is prominent in our name, other UC Berkeley affilliated entrepreneurs are also welcome.

A budding venture indeed

As already mentioned in the official opening post of the VEG blog, VEG is very much a new group. There are many plans and many ambitions and with the help of you, we hope to see many of them come to fruition.

As my business grows, I hope to see VEG grow alongside it. I hope that VEG can provide a place where we can share our knowledge and combine our forces, where we can support each other, spend time together and benefit from what each of us has learned.

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IMG_0218My business card has a lot of words on it.

Design historian, games writer, art technologist, researcher… it’s a bit of a mess. I got them printed a year ago. Since then, I’ve been more or less succeeding at directing that eclectic jumble of freelance jobs and creative projects into something resembling a career.

I get paid to write about video games — sometimes that’s through contract work, and sometimes it’s through entrepreneurial ventures such as crowdfunded projects and digital content start-ups. I’ve self-published a book about the Dreamcast (a games console released in 1999), I work for various outlets as a correspondent journalist, and I am Deputy Editor at business site Gamesbrief.

All of my writing is an investigation into how economic and technological change is affecting the way we live and work; and how ordinary people like you and me can influence that change.

I really love coworking

coworkingBefore moving to University Village, my partner and I lived in one small room in somebody else’s house. It was manageable, though I really hated living under someone else’s house rules. One thing that helped me to cope was renting a desk in a cheap coworking space five minutes walk away. It got me out of the house, and allowed me to connect with other people while working in a foreign country.

Coworking spaces are a relatively new phenomenon, but already they come in different shapes and sizes; from the lush, expensive, all-inclusive packages of Regus suites to something altogether more approachable. The space I used to rent fit in the latter category, and it was perfect for me. It was affordable, friendly, and had drip coffee on tap. People who didn’t want to make small talk used headphones, and the rest of us chatted about the frustrations of web technologies and shared advice on marketing and social media in between getting work tasks done.

I really miss coworking

When we moved up to Albany, I knew I couldn’t afford to rent a coworking space anymore. That’s not a major problem; for the first time in my life I have an actual living room, and I’m perfectly happy using it as a work space. Still, I quickly felt sad no longer having anybody to talk to. I’m no more focused in the quiet little haven of this lovely new apartment than I was in that friendly coworking space, because I just end up trying to use Twitter to satisfy my social needs.

Sat alone at my desk, I started pondering; surely there are dozens of other people in the village who feel the same way? There must be lots of people working from home, who would like to occasionally share a work space. How do I find them?

The Village Entrepreneur Group is a way of reaching out. It’s a chance for us to find each other and create more supportive conditions together. Those supportive conditions will include a weekly coworking date, but it encompasses so much more. It’s a way for entrepreneurs in the village to share information and help each other to get professional advice on the myriad challenges that face home businesses. Confused about taxes and immigration? So am I! Let’s go and find help on that together, and share resources with others who may also need them.