Education

From Gut Feelings to Global Stages: Thiemo Gillissen’s Journey with ‘Fifteen Seconds’

Thiemo Gillissen on Fifteen Seconds: Gut Feelings, Growth, and Staying Curiously Ahead

In a digital landscape teeming with innovation and cutting-edge discussions, few platforms have made as significant a mark as Fifteen Seconds. Founded in 2012, this Austria-based enterprise redefines the traditional conference scene, marrying the vivacity of a music festival with the gravity of a business conference.

Thiemo Gillissen, the Co-Founder and CEO of Fifteen Seconds, a visionary who began his foray into the professional realm with a passion for typography and graphic design at just 15. In an engaging conversation with Matthew from Temy, an international software development company, Thiemo unravels the origin story of Europe’s festival for curious minds.

Beyond delving into the intricacies of the festival, the discussion also explores Thiemo’s unorthodox journey, one that deviated from academic norms yet proved to be a cornerstone for his subsequent success. As global brands like NASA, The New York Times, and Facebook collaborate with Fifteen Seconds, the festival stands as a testament to the power of curiosity and collaboration. Dive in as we uncover the narrative of a man who chose to follow his passion, rewriting the norms of business and innovation.

Thiemo Gillissen on Fifteen Seconds: Gut Feelings, Growth, and Staying Curiously Ahead
The Rebel Designer: Thiemo’s Journey from High School Dropout to Curiosity Fest Maven

Ah, the age-old tug between following the beaten path or daring to venture into the uncharted. Thiemo’s tale? Nothing short of audacious. When most of us were contemplating prom dates or dodging algebra homework, this guy was carving his niche in the world of graphic design. At just 15, he bid adieu to hall passes and hello to typography. “Life definitely did take me by surprise,” Thiemo muses, reflecting on his bold decision to quit high school and immerse himself fully into design. For him, it wasn’t just about the artsy side of things; science and technology also beckoned. So, intertwining these domains, he co-founded Fifteen Seconds, Europe’s go-to fest for curious minds.

But it’s not just the narrative of a high school dropout turned entrepreneur that’s so riveting. It’s the brainchild he and his co-founder, Stefan, birthed – an event that’s a delightful cocktail of a groovy music festival and a business conference. Imagine dancing to the tunes of innovation by day and unwinding with a beer while discussing the future of AI by night. Thiemo shares, “We wanted to get the best breed of a music festival… and combine it with a business conference.” Their vision? To craft an experience where participants don’t just passively soak up knowledge but feel inspired, network, and genuinely enjoy the whole shebang.

Yet, the heart of our chat with Thiemo isn’t just about the festival. It’s about courage, intuition, and the guts to step off the trodden path. Recalling his younger years, he says, “I really want to do this full time. In hindsight, it was one of the best choices I could have made for my career.” It’s a testament that sometimes, the road less traveled isn’t just poetic but pretty darn successful. And as Matthew rightly pointed out, to step out of the regular system, especially at such a tender age, Thiemo must’ve truly felt school wasn’t his jam. And boy, did that bet pay off!

I really want to do this full time. In hindsight, it was one of the best choices I could have made for my career

The Spark Behind “Fifteen Seconds”: From Frustration to International Acclaim

Diving straight into Thiemo’s journey, his decision to quit school at 15 made ripples in the convention pool. “I quit school and didn’t just think, ‘I’ll see where life takes me’. I was occupied with what I loved, with an education system that, to me, seemed ridiculous. Somehow, I believed I knew where I was going. Looking back, it was the best path I could’ve taken,” he recalls with a note of audacity. What seemed naive then has now shaped into a story of ambition and passion.

But as with every entrepreneur, the path isn’t linear. The inception of “Fifteen Seconds” was no magic wand moment but more of a concoction of frustration and inspiration. Teaming up with his co-founder in a marketing venture, Thiemo soon realized the potential of international conferences and the glaring absence of such events in the German-speaking region. “Why isn’t there anything like this in the German speaking region? Why not stop pursuing the marketing agency plan and put all our energy into putting together a conference?” he pondered. The challenge was clear: attract global minds to a relatively unknown city, Graz, with an event never attempted before.

And, like any authentic success story, there were naysayers. “Most people told us we were crazy, thinking nobody would attend a conference that had never happened before in a small town. But in 2014, we managed to get 1,300 people to attend our first conference,” Thiemo recounts with a hint of pride. This was not just a number; it was a testament to their indomitable spirit and the magic that happens when you challenge the norm.

Most people told us we were crazy, thinking nobody would attend a conference that had never happened before in a small town

Fifteen Seconds of Gut Instinct: The Power of Curiosity in Building Dreams

At the very core of the innovative conference “Fifteen Seconds” is a simple yet profound principle: Trust your gut. Thiemo, the co-founder, elaborated on how the conference’s name embodies the idea of the rapid judgments we make when encountering new people, brands, or even advertisements. In a world dominated by fleeting social media engagements, our gut reaction comes quickly, and for Thiemo, this principle became emblematic of their brand. “This is something the world needs because we believe in it. And we are frustrated because there is nothing similar out there. So why not create it?” he mused.

This is something the world needs because we believe in it. And we are frustrated because there is nothing similar out there. So why not create it

Diving deeper into his personal journey, Thiemo took us back to the early roots of curiosity. He painted a vivid picture of a child’s insatiable desire to learn and explore, unburdened by societal judgments. Sadly, he observed, the education system often curtails this innate curiosity, moulding students into a one-size-fits-all frame. For Thiemo, reclaiming and embracing this innate curiosity became an essential part of his personal and professional journey. The cornerstone of his success? “Being curious was one of the biggest things that really kept me sane,” he reflected.

But of course, no dream is built in isolation. Expanding upon the growth of his brainchild, “Fifteen Seconds,” Thiemo emphasized the importance of community and collaboration. Throughout every hurdle, be it the foundational challenges or the devastating impacts of COVID on the event industry, it was the unwavering support and belief of their community and team that propelled them forward. True to his principle of curiosity and gut instinct, Thiemo’s journey underscores the necessity of surrounding oneself with like-minded visionaries, ready to take on the world together.

The Evolution of ‘Fifteen Seconds’: From Curiosity-Driven Conferences to Personal Growth

Delving into the heart of ‘Fifteen Seconds’, Thiemo opened up about his hands-on role in orchestrating the globally-acclaimed conference. With a dedicated team working year-round, ramping up in intensity as the event approaches each June, Thiemo remains deeply involved. As someone overseeing operations from close quarters, he witnesses the transformation of the event firsthand. “Life and the business side of life is full of surprises,” he chuckled when reflecting on their incredible journey.

But what’s next for ‘Fifteen Seconds’? Thiemo’s eyes lit up with passion as he revealed the conference’s evolving focus – personal growth. While they have always celebrated a spectrum of ideas, the spotlight now increasingly shifts to personal health, growth, and chasing dreams. Centered around the mantra of perpetual learning and an insatiable curiosity, Thiemo excitedly hinted at more products and initiatives under the ‘Fifteen Seconds’ umbrella in this vein.

Closing on a reflective note, Thiemo shared a quote by Richard Branson that has inspired and guided his journey: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and falling over.” A poignant testament to the ethos of ‘Fifteen Seconds’. As he signed off, he warmly invited everyone to experience the magic of their next festival in Austria. “Check out fifteenseconds.com,” he urged, “and join our curious and evolving community.”

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and falling over

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