Walid Samander (25) had an entrepreneurial spirit before he understood the meaning of the word. He recalls falling in love with paintball when he was 12, but his parents refused to fund his hobby. So he had to invent ways to make money. “I figured out a way to resell empty DVD cases at a profit… I built a website for one of my high school teachers… that was the first (and best) 300 guilders ($170) I had ever made!” In hindsight, it was less about paintball and more about having fun with his close friends. These very friends – and Warren Koch in particular – introduced Walid to 12-hour summer electronic music festivals 8 years later, while studying in the Netherlands. A transformational experience on all accounts.
Though Latin, Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Reggae and Ritmo Kombina are far more popular in Curaçao, Walid saw a business opportunity in producing electronic music festivals: “it’s summer 24/7 365… so I had to show Curaçao the music festival experience: people fall in love with the experience… the vibe, the lights, the set-up… it’s all about what you *feel*… the music is just a component.”
An Industrial Design Engineer at his core (but not by diploma) Walid wants to improve peoples’ lives by designing new experiences, products and services. His brainchild, Amnesia, is Curaçao’s unofficial matchmaker… “many people find love at the festival… it’s incredibly beautiful to see.” No stranger to hard work, burning the midnight oil and long To Do lists in preparation for Amnesia, Walid is nothing short of ‘Awesome Young Professional’. But he thinks it’s a little premature to be featured in this series. Needless to say, it’s this very sentiment that leads me to believe that he won’t rest until he’s Curaçao’s Richard Branson. (You read it here first, people!)
10 lessons from Walid Samandar, the Visionary behind ‘Amnesia Curaçao’:
Lesson #1: If you can’t visualize your goal, you won’t be able to achieve it.
The first time Walid was asked to orchestrate a Beach Festival (in 2011), “I got to Wet & Wild and stood on a high point and just saw it right there in front of me. The stage will be there, the other stage will be there, the people here. I held onto that vision throughout the entire organization process. That vision is my motivation… because everything that can go wrong, will inevitably go wrong. A big part of the exercise is improvising on the fly. But then standing at that same spot the day of the festival and seeing it all in real life… I’ll tell you, that feeling of achievement is incredible. It’s better than money. It’s better than sex. Because… it’s a lot of hard work and no one taught [us] how to do it.”
Lesson #2: ‘Poko poko’ / Easy does it.
Walid understands that his music festivals, much like everything else in life, require build-up. “We had to take something that didn’t exist on the island and introduce people to it, poko poko [slowly but surely] The majority of the island still doesn’t like electronic music. But we’re seeing a big, big difference compared to 3 years ago.”
Lesson #3: It’s all about understanding people.
“I’m so happy I picked Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft as a major. Because if you want to design products that people love to use every day, you have to understand what people want, understand how they think, their psychology.”
Lesson #4: Listen, listen, listen, and then listen some more.
“While in university I developed a strong sense that I didn’t need a diploma to do what I want to do in life. But I had a lot of convincing to do because my mother really wanted me to finish my studies. I put a lot of thought into my decision. I discussed it with young people who had just graduated, older people, old old people, people who have a diploma and who are successful and people who have a diploma and are not successful, people who don’t have a diploma and are successful. Most of them told me to finish my studies, get my diploma. I listened and I listened and I listened. I took it all in. Then I made my decision [to drop out of school and move back to Curaçao]. I have no regrets. That said, I wouldn’t advise anyone to drop out of school.” [Walid runs his family’s business and considers Amnesia his hobby.]
Lesson #5: The best ideas are born when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
“I had been living in Holland for a year or so. And Warren [Koch] would try to get me to go to house music festivals. I’d tell him, ‘no! no! I don’t listen to House! And to listen to House for 8 hours… You must be crazy.’ It took him a full year of convincing. I finally gave in. That experience taught me everything I know. We woke up early in the morning, rented a car from Rotterdam, drove all the way to Eindhoven, to [Aquabest]. We didn’t know what to expect. We got there and saw all those people… They were all so happy, smiling… In Curaçao I had gotten used to, you know when you accidentally step on someone’s shoe, they start with you. There, you do that, they smile at you, dance with you. It was amazing.”
Lesson #6: Experience is the most valuable education.
“I’ve been reaching out to sponsors since I was 17 (organizing small-scale parties). I’ve gotten rejected a bunch of times. Every time I get a better understanding for what [sponsors] want. This last beach festival, I knew exactly what I wanted to sell to Fun Miles, Digicel and Girobank before going to the meeting. I knew that they wouldn’t think of having their own area at the party. I knew that I had to sell them on the concept. I had to get them involved. It benefits me too, because I have to fill up the festival with activities. For Fun Miles, we set up fun games, but people had to have a Fun Miles card to play, if they didn’t have a card, there were Fun Miles promo girls with iPads where they could subscribe. Girobank had their logo on all the tokens that people used to buy stuff at the festival; everything that had to do with money had Girobank’s logo on. Digicel had a palapa, so we created a ‘Chill and Charge’ zone. Because it’s a full day event, so people could go relax and charge their phones.”
Lesson #7: Get clarity around your core values and communicate them frequently.
“Amnesia Curaçao has always been about Love, Respect, Dance. Everything you see and everything you don’t see revolves around these core values. Before you come to the party we tell you to bring a smile. Bring your friends. Be happy. We set the tone through images, songs, texts, teasers.”
“It’s a diverse crowd: Latinos, locals, young professionals, Dutch interns, older people… tourists… people from all walks of life. We’ve always focused on diversity and unity. Because House music is something that makes you feel good. When I see thousands of people jumping and screaming… it’s such positive energy, you can just feel it flowing. That feeling is incredible. It makes so many people happy. Together. Not just one person. I don’t want to stop.”
Lesson #8: There’s no ‘I’ in Team.
Though Walid is the brains and engine behind Amnesia, he never refers to the effort in the first person. It’s always ‘we’. So I had to ask, why say ‘we’ when it’s just ‘you’? “Because it’s the company, Amnesia… it’s me, it’s the people who come to the festivals and create the experience, it’s the 100+ people involved in setting everything up: Ian Silie is the Production Manager and integral in creating the experience, Yvo Pronk does DJ / artist handling, Sanjiv Daryanani keeps the bar stocked, Girish Nebhwani is in charge of music productions, my brother Ibrahim helps out with accounting and finance. In the early days the set-up guys would resist going out of their comfort zones… because it’s more work for them, but now they’re all excited, ‘okay, what’re we gonna do this year??’ We keep encouraging them to do more.”
Lesson #9: Work hard to change the things you can change. Accept the things you can’t change.
“I have a problem in that I’m never happy with the outcome of my work… I really believe that you can never have a perfect product. With anything. With yourself. With your life. In relationships. In your health. In the way you eat. In how you think, etc. I constantly look for improvements.”
Lesson #10: HAVE FUN.
“I always say, Amnesia is my hobby. It has to stay fun. If it’s no longer fun, it’s no longer tied to my initial vision. I’m currently organizing Amnesia Beach Fest 2014 (July 5, 2014): we’re going to have 4 stages, 6 music genres (House, Urban, Latin, Ritmo Kombina, Reggea, TechHouse), 12 hours. It’s going to be more krioyo… not so much an ‘electronic’ music festival, but a music festival. It’ll be a much bigger event.”