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Teun Aalbers: My Real Passion Lies With Creating Societal Impact Through Serious Games

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Teun Aalbers | Digest Inn

Tell us about yourself?

My background is in Human Movement Sciences and I hold a PhD in researching the effectiveness of eHealth interventions. While completing my PhD I found that my real passion lies with creating societal impact through serious games. I have been the co-founder of multiple game companies since. Trying to improve healthcare, research and education where we can.

Obviously I am somewhat of a nerd myself so I play games a lot and once upon a time a friend and I completed a 24.000pcs jigsaw puzzle. Fun times.

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

That any tech startup must have insane amounts of investor money. Startups and starting a business a two different things and those that hit the front page are not representative of the space as a whole.

If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey, and give yourself one tip, what would it be?

Even though you already “know” this because people tell you when you start out, living through several experiences where you just don’t have the energy to deal with people who are negative about what you’re doing. Leave them be and don’t try to sell it to them. Find the people with a baseline enthusiasm about what you’re doing and your life will be so much better. There might not be a substitute for the experience itself, but maybe I could warn myself.

What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?

It’s probably also my biggest pitfall but I am extremely focused on getting the results that are the most optimized for the largest amount of stakeholders/people possible. I’m good at making everybody feel heard and included. Which is important to me.

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What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?

Even though work technically never stops, make sure that it does. I figured out rather fast (luckily) that working more basically only generates more work. I know it might sound strange from an entrepreneur (which in and of itself is strange), but I think maintaining a proper work/life balance is absolutely crucial for a happy life. That doesn’t mean I have a 9-5 attitude, but it also doesn’t mean I like working 90hrs a week.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

For this specific company me and my business partner read about the ongoing adherence issues for healthy living and weight loss goals, especially for people visiting a dietitian in the Netherlands. We couldn’t help but feel that gaming and gamification could play a role for a lot of people in aiding them to feel empowered and a sense of agency over their lives while trying to adjust to a new and healthy lifestyle.

Where do you see your business in five years?

We are planning on implementing Digest Inn in multiple obesity clinics, producers of dietary products and routine hospital care. I hope that we can build on the solid foundation we have laid out over the last couple of years and start further tailoring the game features to the needs of our player base. Ideally this would mean going abroad and see if we can tackle the same issues in different cultures.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?

Serious gaming as a sector has a long way to go to transition from a “gimmick” into a certified intervention strategy. A lot of healthcare professionals still need to adjust to the fact that spicing up their treatment just a little bit might actually improve patient outcomes. Getting a number of best practices out there would be huge to the community.

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Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?

Getting the results out of our clinical validation study, providing us with the evidence that what we thought would happen, actually did, was pretty awesome. We know healthcare professionals in the Netherlands do a good when they get the chance. But the fact that people dropout of treatment takes that chance away from them. Getting clients to come back to their practitioner repeatedly was really cool.

How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?

Unfortunately we’re not the best sales people that money can buy. So for future endeavors finding a partner that can help us realize those dreams would be most welcome.

What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?

You have to have the right mindset. It is difficult enough when you DO believe that what you’re doing is able to affect a lot of people in a positive way. But if you already doubt this yourself, I wouldn’t go through all the trouble.

And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally, and your business?

Truth be told, we belong that the group of people that doesn’t have to get rich from being an entrepreneur. It would be awesome if we can get a business case up and running that provides for the development team, sales reps and management so that we can keep improving the game, bring new products to the market and serve multiple target audiences in their quest for a healthier life.

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