INTERVIEW by GARY GOLDMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY by ROWNAK BOSE
Fabian expects a lot from you. He expects a lot from you as a consumer, which is why he founded Holstee – a lifestyle design brand with a conscience and a manifesto more than fifty million of you might be familiar with. More importantly, he expects a lot from you as a leader eager to make a significant impact, which is why he started Sandbox Network. In only three years, the Swiss-born Columbia graduate managed to create a family of over six hundred brilliant individuals under thirty (entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists, artists…) and help them get access to funding, exposure, and peers. Why is this concept so exceptional? By providing Sandboxers with the tools and resources they need to achieve their full potential and demanding that all members systematically give back to the community, Fabian and his team are ensuring that our next generation of leaders is intellectually curious, globally aware, and always respectful of others.
You might as well be on crack, considering the amount of projects you simultaneously undertake. What gets you going?
People. I’ve started quite a few projects in my life, and I’ve never done it alone. In fact, the people I work with are as important as the project itself. I could be cleaning toilets with Nico, Antoine, Christian, and Severin (Sandbox co-founders) and wouldn’t mind.
Million dollar question. As someone who interacts with burgeoning leaders on a daily basis, what has been your most interesting observation in regards to what businesses need to succeed?
When I first started working with startups, I believed about creating value for customers. Now, I think it’s just as important to create values. An organization does not only stand for the products sold anymore, but for their mission and vision as well.
In order to be valuable, you need values.
What makes Sandbox different than other incubators?
We incubate people rather than organizations. Whether you’re an artist, a corporate person, or a scientist, we embrace diversity and have created a trusted peer community. Also, while many incubators choose to provide specific time-sensitive services, Sandbox opts for a bottom-up approach: the incubation happens through the community members providing for each other.
How exactly do you find potential “Sandboxers”?
Through active and passive recruiting. Since we’ve gained more prominence, people now approach us and apply. On the other hand, our active presence in twenty-three cities worldwide has allowed us to be proactive in terms of recruiting individuals who match the profile.
Can you give me just a few examples of who these brilliant people are?
Where are you right now?
Alright, so in New York we have Eric Kuhn who built up social media for CNN and is doing the same in Hollywood at the talent agency UTA. Steve Daniels, who developed the interface of the IBM Watson computer and just launched a new publication called Makeshift about grassroots creativity and invention around the world. Kosta Grammatis is democratizing access to the internet on a global scale (check out our interview with Kosta here)…
I’m surprised to see that you only endorse guys!
[laughs] My bad. We actually have a great amount of girls in our network. In fact, on the recent Forbes’ 30 under 30, five were Sandboxers, and three of them were females: Laurie Segall (CNN), Rachel Sterne, Sarah Austin.
I’d like to get more practical. Let’s imagine that John Doe joins Sandbox. What happens?
Depending on where John Doe is, we would first provide him with a local peer network. He would have access to all of the internal resources: events on a national and international level, our network of over six hundred Sandboxers, including ambassadors to every city and mentors or senior leaders — which means that he can have a couch to crash at in quite a few locations! John would have to organize an event that first year that would benefit the group, where they could learn something valuable. We would not be helping him directly, but he would be submersed in an environment that he will navigate in order to find the answers to his questions.
I find it fascinating that you foster such a fantastic community of leaders from a variety of fields who could certainly benefit from each other’s expertise. Are there any organized events?
We’ve done about a couple hundred events so far, with three or four a month per city. It’s funny, considering that I hate large events. I hate panels. I hate conferences. They’re so boring and all about self-promotion. Our one rule is to never organize events that we wouldn’t want to attend, which is why almost all of our events are based on interactivity and our bigger events consist only of interactive sessions.
Well, now you have to give me an example!
At a recent event in Mexico, we asked all eighty attendees to suggest one interactive session that they could lead. We picked thirty-two and curated a very diverse mixture, from someone discussing work-life balance, to what poker could teach entrepreneurs, to a leading CTO talking about origami building. Everyone at our events has the quality of a panelist or keynote speaker, so why not take advantage of it? This type of high-energy interaction is to be expected at our first Global Summit on January 20-22 in Lisbon.
What is next for Sandbox?
We’re focused on expanding in the Middle East, Asia, and South America. We just opened up a hub in Mexico and will soon open others in Cairo, Tel Aviv, and Mumbai. Those will be the interesting places to be, where you especially see so many hungry, talented young people.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Sandbox exists to support young changemakers and help them have more impact. So, if you’re young and love to execute on the ideas in your head, get in touch with one of our ambassadors across the world. Young doers achieving more is the ultimate success of Sandbox.
If you’re a senior leader and want to support young people who make things happen, get in touch with me and I’d love to show you how rewarding it can be to mentor or sponsor a Sandboxer.