You may know us as the folk who bring you tech news and opinion every day on these very pages, but hey – we’re people too. While we’ve now devoted our lives to obsessing over the latest news from companies like Google and Facebook, and hunting down fresh startups for you to get excited about, it wasn’t always like that.
Here, we delve into the pasts of the team to find out what they got up to before our ‘New Post‘ tab became their best friend.
Alex Wilhelm – Microsoft Editor
“The most awesome stage”
Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
Alex is a feisty reporter on all things Microsoft, and he has a canny understanding of the financial markets too. However, earlier in life he wanted to become a professional trumpet player. Realizing that such jobs are “rarer than Zune owners,” (as he puts it), he gave it up. Alex has also spent time as a volunteer construction laborer in Mexico, and driving farm harvesters on the night shift.
Although a native West Coaster, Alex has just wrapped up his studies as a philosophy student at the University of Chicago.
Amalia Agathou – Community Manager
Amalia may run our social media presences from beautiful Corfu in Greece these days, but her background is in fashion journalism, and in what could be a scene out of ‘Ugly Betty’ (without the ugly bit), she even got a chance to do a bit of modeling too.
“I served as an emergency model for Glamour magazine so I have an 8 page spread photo shoot in it where I model from the neck down.”
Although she’s Greek, the first word Amalia learned to read was Japanese. “I learned how to read before I went to school because I wanted to read in the newspaper what time my favorite anime was on TV. So the first word I learned how to read was Taotao.”
Anna Heim – Media and Latin America Editor
Anna was taught economics by one of the world’s most (in)famous economists – former IMF Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Before the world of tech blogging came a-calling, she had a life buying and selling films. “I came across movies that were quite unusual, and for a short period I ended up handling international sales for the Icelandic box-office hit ‘Astropia‘, aka ‘Dorks and Damsels’,” she says.
In her downtime, Anna is a big fan of European comics and animation.
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten – Co-founder & TNW Magazine Editor-in-Chief
His life wasn’t always based around tech and business though. “I dropped out of school when I was 15 and went to the circus school,” Boris explains. From there he went to an Art Academy and into Web entrepreneurship, but we bet he’d have made an excellent clown.
Brad McCarty, Managing Editor
Along with Martin Bryant, Brad keeps the good ship TNW on course on a day-to-day basis, making sure that we’re covering all the stories we should be, while looking after commercial partnerships and keeping the editorial staff happy. However, his move to a career in publishing is pretty recent. Before that, he was a nurse. One of his earliest experiences in the healthcare profession will stay with him forever.
“My Charge Nurse (first-line supervisor) came running down the hallway, grabbed me and told me to follow her. She was speeding down the stairs toward the emergency room, so I just kept up and kept quiet. We get into the ER, she whips open the curtain and the next thing I hear is “hold this, don’t drop it”. I look down and I’m holding a guy’s arm. He had gotten it caught in a farm implement and driven himself to the hospital to see if they could reattach it.
“A few months later, I met the guy again. His arm was intact and he looked great, all things considered. To this day, that stands out to me as the moment where I had to decide whether or not I really wanted to be in that profession. Let’s just say that I’m pretty happy to be a blogger now.”
Courtney Boyd Myers – Features Editor
“From the age of 17 to 24, I owned a pet sugar glider named Jupiter,” Courtney says. “Sugar gliders are marsupials that have pouches and bond to one person for their whole life. She used to crawl into my hoodie and I’d even bring her to class with me. When I lived in a dorm room my freshman year of college, we didn’t have a lot of space, so I put her in a giant cage under my mounted bed.
“My roommate used to get really freaked out when Jupiter started barking in the middle of the night. See, sugar gliders are not only nocturnal, but they also make a wide range of sounds. Fascinating creatures. Unfortunately, after 7 years, she perished when my roommate’s cat got a hold of her. Le Jup as we liked to call her, is now buried in Tompkin’s Square Park in the East Village.”
Aww, next time you’re in the East Village, make sure you stop for a minute to think of poor Jupiter.
Drew Olanoff – West Coast and Apps Editor
Drew is a well-known face around San Francisco, and even if you don’t recognize him around the Bay Area for his ability to spot great apps and tech stories, it’s hard to miss his tattoos – he has 23 of them. “I’ve gotten them in different cities in the US including Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, Cleveland, and Los Angeles,” he explains.
“Each one of them are extremely personal and mark significant milestones in my life. For example, I have a tattoo of a space needle signifying my time spent in Seattle. Even though I never actually went to the top of the needle, the tattoo is a reminder that I started my career working with startups there and it has been off to the races ever since.
“One of my favorite tattoos is the one my mom drew for me. She had always joked that I had no tattoo that said Mom on it and that I’d better fix that immediately. I surprised her with a challenge that if she drew the tattoo and 100 people on Twitter (yes, she’s an avid Twitter user, @sw33ti3) urged me to get it inked, I would. She did, so I got the ink and she was able to watch the entire process. When people who don’t know me see my tattoos, they assume that I’m in a gang or something, but once they take a closer look they see a bunch of hearts and messages promoting hope and love.” Awww…
Harrison Weber – East Coast and Design Editor
“I was in a pop punk band called Colin Healy & The Jetskis. We went on tour up and down the East Coast right after I graduated high school,” Harrsion says. “I started designing posters for the band and fell in love with it. While we were on the road, I took online design classes and eventually transferred to Parsons after the band broke up. There I took a creative programming class and loved it, which led me to attend some hackathons in NY.
“I became hooked on the startup scene and got hired by one. Then I left school, started contributing to TNW (thanks to a tweet from Courtney Boyd Myers) and eventually became the East Coast & Design Editor.”
Hermione Way – Video Director
Hermione produces much of the original video content on The Next Web. She’s also a ferociously good networker – you can’t go to a tech conference anywhere in the world without bumping into someone who says “I know Hermione!”
It might not have turned out so well though, as she explains. “I almost died in a rip current in 2005 when I was trying to show off a new bikini I had bought on Bondi Beach Australia. Thrilled at my new sexy bikini I ran straight past the rip current signs and into the water only to be coughing and spluttering water in the waves, thinking it was my ‘time to go’ a few minutes later.
“Luckily, the Australian lifeguards rescued me and the ordeal courted quite an audience on the beach, by the time the lifeguards bough me back to the shore, I had lost the bikini (and my decency) altogether.”
Jon Russell – Asia Editor
Jon is staking his claim as one of TNW’s most nomadic writers. Though he’s up against some stiff competition, his five months on the team so far have seen him post from four different countries, including a delightful pancake cafe in Laos, a crumbling Internet cafe in central Thailand, Starbucks in Singapore and, like all good tech bloggers, the trusty kitchen table in his flat in Bangkok.
At his most desperate, he even posted a blog from a remote farm in Northern Thailand, armed with a trusty notebook and a tethered mobile Web connection. Proof that you can work just about anywhere you like these days, if you have the right tools.
Jorg Ruis – CMO
“When I was 20 I was scouted by one of the biggest model agencies in London,” Jorg says. “Unfortunately my look wasn’t in fashion at that time. That was too bad because I really wanted to experience such an adventure.
“Funnily enough I helped someone out ten years later by modelling for Tony Chocolony and those first shots got me a chocolate bar, free t-shirt and a place with one of the best model agencies in Amsterdam. I am all crazy about the Web but now I am also doing fashion shows and shoots on the side for the fun of it.'”
Martin Bryant – Managing Editor
Along with Brad McCarty, Martin keeps The Next Web running day-to-day and makes sure commercial partnerships run smoothly. Based in the UK, he takes care of the European daytime shift. He’s also one of the voices you’ll hear regularly on the Daily Dose podcast, perhaps unsurprising as he has a degree in Broadcasting. Rather than go and work for the BBC though, his first job out of university was training young people to create TV and radio programmes, while working as a media technician at a high school.
In what seems quite a common trait in the tech blogging world, Martin had a stint as a musician, making electronic pop music under the name The Star Fighter Pilot. “I’d wear a naval officer’s jacket and bounce around on stage with a bunch of synthesizers and gadgets. I have one release on iTunes, which actually got released on vinyl too. Called ‘Another Penny’, the song was shamefully inspired by hearing Britney Spears’ version of ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Thankfully, it sounds nothing like that,” (Martin is also a shameless music snob).
The Star Fighter Pilot name lives on in Martin’s Twitter handle, MartinSFP. “I joined Twitter to promote my music but at the time there were only tech geeks really using it. Inspired by their chatter, I got dragged into the world of tech blogging and slowly left music behind.”
Matt Brian – News and Apple Editor
Matt’s keen eye for a hot tech story has led him into the role of News Editor at The Next Web, but he could vouch for the power of social media as far back as seven years ago. He met a woman called Katie via Myspace (“She messaged me,” he points out). Seven years on, they’re married with two kids – aww!
While he’s now known as a pundit who has appeared on the likes of Bloomberg TV and the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast, traditional media hasn’t always been so kind to him. “I was caught with my University friends ‘mooning’ a photographer which was then used in a newspaper article in the national press entitled ‘Students, don’t you just hate ’em?’. My mum was very proud.”
Matthew Panzarino – News and Apple Editor
“I broke my arm when I was 11 and had the cast removed in Tahiti by a group of burly drunk Polynesians using a hacksaw. I looted my first shipwreck when I was 9 or so. I’m almost supernaturally good at most video games. My friends refuse to play with me any more.”
Before moving into tech news, California-based Matthew ran a wedding, portrait and commercial photography business, but he has had a long-running interest in computers. “I started building my own computers when I was about 7 because a friend’s dad was one of Pacific Bell’s first local programmers.”
Nancy Messieh – Middle East and Social Media Editor
“I was born and raised in a tiny country in Southern Africa called Lesotho which no one has ever heard of – it’s pretty much a coffee stain on the map, entirely landlocked by South Africa.
Nancy’s witnessed social upheaval both in Lesotho and in Egypt. “My family and I were evacuated from Lesotho twice as “refugees” (that’s what they called us at the hotel at the time). Once when the military split into two factions and there was a power struggle, and another time when rioting and looting broke out, as a result of anger directed towards the expat community,” she says.
Meanwhile, last year’s Egyptian revolution was what Nancy calls “The most exhilarating time in my life. Going to Tahrir itself was incredible because it showed all of the potential that Egypt has as a country, in one place. Everyone was truly united in a way I have never seen, and probably will never see again.”
She may be best known for covering tech news, but she’s a poet and photographer, too. “I’ve had a book of poems published (now out of print) by an independent UK publisher, and have finished a second collection of poems about Lesotho,” she says. “I’m now working on a third collection about Egypt, and more specifically, Cairo.” Egyptian bilingual newspaper Midan Masr has published some of her photography.
Patrick de Laive – Co-founder & Director of Events
One of the people you should thank for The Next Web’s existence, Patrick’s time is largely taken up these days with preparing this year’s The Next Web Conference. He wasn’t always a successful entrepreneur though, he started his working life as a stockbroker with a less-than-flattering nickname.
“When I was 18 I was the youngest broker trading in options on the Amsterdam Exchange. That year I traded calls and puts with a total value of around $2.5bn and made over $10m in commission for my employer (ING bank), of which I made a nice salary for an 18-year-old, but no bonuses… :(
“On a very heavy trading day I made a mistake, that mistake, although it seemed not a real biggie, went down as the biggest loss for ING in their history of trading options on the Amsterdam Exchange. Hence the nickname my broker buddies came up with: The Dutch Nick Leeson.”
Paul Sawers – UK, Media and Apps Editor
“I once accompanied some actor-friends along to an audition to appear on Moviewatch, I ended up being dragged into it too, and ended up on the show! I lied about my age too, I was only 17 at the time. Presenter Johnny Vaughan gave me a hard time for saying that there was nothing inherently humourous about men wearing dresses, after I watched a pretty dire flick called To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.”
Meanwhile, Paul is well-traveled. He’s set foot on every continent except Antarctica, “Though that is on the radar,” he says.
Robin Wauters – European Editor
“I used to be into trance and house music a lot when I was a teenager into my early twenties,” Robin explains. “In fact, I produced and remixed existing trance music since I was about 16 years old and almost had a record out when I was 18 – it didn’t happen because I got into a dispute with the studio owners over changes they made to one of the tracks I made. I still have the demo CD recorded at the studio, lying around the house somewhere.”
Sophie Op den Kamp – Marketing Manager
As well as taking the lead with The Next Web’s marketing, Amsterdam-based Sophie is working with Patrick to bring this year’s The Next Web Conference together.
Earlier in life, Sophie had her eyes on a life of dance as a ballerina, and she even had the opportunity to audition for the Royal Academy. However, it wasn’t to be. “I was starting puberty and discovered the existence of boys and became bedazzled by that. I was a quite early fan of Bacardi Breezers, and the idea of no social life killed me, so I decided to let go of that.”
Luckily, she still gets an opportunity to show off her moves around The Next Web head office, although she hasn’t persuaded anyone to pay for a routine yet.
Wytze de Haan – Event Organiser
Wytze has recently come on board to work on the events side of The Next Web, and he also writes our regular events round-up posts. His career could have gone in a different direction, though. In 2003, aged 12, he appeared in TV movie Brush With Fate, alongside Glenn Close and Ellen Burstyn.
While Wytze admits that his role as the character Francis Vermeer wasn’t a big one, “I take pride in the fact that I can still be found on IMDB,” he says.
Zee M Kane – CEO
“My first attempt at business was selling homemade em…’adult’…magazines to school kids at my school. I was 15. I used the free school exercise-books, that the school would give away to the students, to stick the pictures into. What’s worse, my mother happened to be the school principal.
“I made a few grand before my mother ended up finding the ‘magazines’ and money hidden under my bed… I still have nightmares of her screaming, ‘You’ve got NOTHING LEFT TO SEE!! You’ve got NOTHING LEFT TO SEE!!’ after she saw what was in the school books/magazines.”
If that doesn’t go down in the history books as one of the classic entrepreneurial ‘first business’ tales, there’s something wrong with the world.
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