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Vertellis: How it all started...

Liz Zeeman

The story of Vertellis: from handmade cards to worldwide impact!

In December 2015, Bart and I were about to embark on the biggest adventure of our lives. We were 100% ready to leave “security” behind and go for our dreams, BUT...we still wanted our families to be on board with our decision. (Don’t we all have the desire to be understood and feel supported by our loved ones?)

That desire was the driving force behind Vertellis. 

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of how and why we started Vertellis, plus share six questions from the Vertellis Holiday Edition that you can use to connect with your friends & family. (Only here for the questions? Scroll to the end! 😊)

A fresh start...

At the end of 2015, Bart and I were only a few days away from leaving the Netherlands for an indefinite period of time. As you might guess, there’s A LOT to do when you plan to uproot your life and travel long-term!

Although we’d prepared extensively, I still had one very important thing to do…I had to quit my job. Now, like many people, I derived a large part of my identity from my job. It was a ‘good’ permanent position with ‘good’ opportunities and a very generous salary for a 24-year-old. There was just one thing missing…it didn’t make me happy.

At that time, Bart had been working in Copenhagen for six months. He submitted his resignation, as well. We’d be leaving our apartment in Haarlem, where we had happily lived for almost four years. I had to find a new home for our beloved cat 😥. We sold all our furniture and donated more than half of our clothes.

Was this impulsive, youthful, rash? 

No, far from it. But it wasn’t easy to communicate these kinds of actions to our loved ones, who only wanted (and still want!) the best for us. They struggled to understand us. Granted, they had a hard time fathoming why we would give up a beautiful life of (financial) security for a long, uncertain journey. They had to wonder, just as your loved ones would: Are they really okay? 

Liz and Lars, co-founders of Vertellis, smiling in a car with Liz throwing up a peace sign.

A creative, final Christmas

That December, the holidays were at our doorstep and it would be our last Christmas in the Netherlands for a long time. Bart and I wanted that Christmas to be extra cozy and memorable—both for us and our families.

We went out of our way to make it special. We made an intense chocolate dessert for everyone that included homemade truffles, chocolate mousse, nut shots, and meringues. In addition to making dessert, we realized we had the desire to explain our dreams and motives to our loved ones. Out of this urge to communicate and share our inner thoughts, we came up with the idea to make a unique question card game as a gift. Our goal was to initiate conversations within our families in a playful way.

Once we started thinking about good questions, we couldn’t stop the flood of them—they just kept coming! At night, instead of falling asleep, I found myself scribbling questions on a notepad I kept beside my bed. 

We began to tinker. We wrote our questions on beautiful paper cards. Still, we were a bit nervous. Would our little question cards please our families? We knew we had included some tough questions like: 

"What did you not achieve in the past year that you wanted to achieve?" or "What are you most proud of about your accomplishments?” Could they answer these types of questions and still have fun?

Bart and I had endless conversations (and tears) about these concerns, but all too soon, the moment of truth arrived: December 25th. 

Round one...

That day we planned to celebrate Christmas with Bart’s family. Just as we prepared to begin dinner, Bart announced our new game. Enthusiastically, he tells everyone that we’ve made a simple question card game to play during dinner. 

"The idea is that we all answer honestly and in as much detail as we can,” he says.  (Oops, this wasn’t very subtle, and I think I see a few people swallowing hard at the table…. Is this going to work? Or fall flat on its face?)  

No one actually objects, so I quickly take the first card from the pile. I’m going to go first and set a good example by giving an open and honest answer.

To tell you the truth, I can’t remember what that first question was, but I remember it launched countless deep & meaningful conversations. We talked and listened to each other. Everyone offered rapt attention to whoever was answering their question. With only a couple brief hesitations, everyone (to our great relief) took turns sharing 100% of their hearts. 

Bart's parents admitted that talking openly like this was something they had never learned. They weren’t used to it. I had always thought them to be well-informed and forthright, but I found out there was SO much I didn’t know about them. Same went for everyone else at the table.  

That night we were all surprised to learn that a family member had a much more difficult year than we knew. That’s when we realized that people universally fall into meaningless patterns and routines when it comes to connecting with each other. The ‘standard answer’ when someone asks, “How are you?” is ‘Good’ or ‘Fine’. Perhaps you’ll hear a ‘Great’ every now and then. But we ask the question as a pleasantry, then dismiss the answer. No real information exchanges hands. 

Christmas 2015 was different for us. Yes, there were some tears and sadness when people opened up, but it was cathartic, as well. We shared tears of joy, too. Everyone felt relieved to finally be able to speak truthfully and be understood.     

As the day progressed, the vibe was exhilarating. Family members hugged and laughed together. We shared genuine, deep emotions that were initially scary for some people, yet they loved it. That night, we couldn’t sleep. We felt alive and hopeful from all the shared intimate moments…or was it the chocolate overload? Perhaps both. 😀

Bart and Lars smiling and playing Holiday Edition

Round two...

We spent the next day with my family. I was particularly curious about how my mother would do. She was the 'hardest talker’ of the bunch and perhaps the biggest challenge of all.

We introduced the game and played again. Just like the day before, our little question card game elicited extensive and honest discussions. And my mom? She still talks about how special that Christmas was with all the conversations and everything that was shared.

We had accomplished our goal! Not only was everyone talking, but Bart and I were able to explain our dreams to our families and have them understand and accept them. Now we could truly leave on our journey with peace of mind.  

Christmas 2015 was certainly special and memorable for everyone. What started as a desire to share our hearts and motives ended up accomplishing so much more than that. The real value was that our loved ones were opening up and coming closer together. Everyone expressed how they felt so much more connected to each other!

Vertellis was born!

Now...the handwritten question cards are a thing of the past. The experiences we had in 2015 inspired us to create Vertellis (which means ‘Tell me more’ in Dutch) and turn those handwritten cards into a REAL game: the Vertellis Holiday Edition.

Nothing makes us happier than hearing about other families who’ve tried our game and experienced the same results as we did. It’s a great way to create a special, memorable holiday season for everyone. 

People can play the Holiday Edition any time, but it’s especially rewarding at the end of the year when family and friends gather to share, reflect, and celebrate the season. With the questions from the Vertellis Holiday Edition, you spark open-hearted conversations about interesting topics in a playful way. 

Cards from Vertellis Holiday Edition with candy

How do you get the non-talkers talking?

Bart and I are talkers, in contrast to our parents who aren’t. But our experience shows there is a huge need for openness among non-talkers. Once the non-talkers in our families warmed to the idea of answering questions and saw how it worked, they absolutely loved playing…our Vertellis game helped them find their ‘voice.’ 

I believe it will do the same for you and your loved ones. The only thing I would do differently (if I could) would be to announce the game slightly more subtly than Bart did with his family! 😉

The holidays are an excellent opportunity to chat about what you're doing, what you've experienced over the past year, and what your plans are for the future. It’s a time to put away the phones and make deeper connections with people. Personally, I’m already looking forward to the moment when the black and silver box shows up on the table this holiday season. I can’t wait to hear what my relatives and friends have to share!

Now it’s your turn!

If you’d like to get started with a few questions from the Holiday Edition, we’ve compiled six of our favorite questions for you HERE. Bring them to your next get-together and enjoy the open, connected conversations!

Want to deepen your connection with others and experience even more meaningful conversations? Get the full version of the Vertellis Holiday Edition HERE. I should let you know that last year, we sold out of the Holiday Edition well before Christmas, so if you’d like to have one this holiday season, I’d recommend ordering soon. :)

 

Liz’s Bio:

Liz lives together with her daughter, Yuna, in the beautiful Dutch city of Haarlem. As one of the co-founders of Vertellis, Liz started her Vertellis journey by creating handwritten questions on cards. Today, making new products is still what she loves to do most. For Liz, this means waking up and going to bed with ideas and immersing herself within the creation process. In addition to product creation, Liz manages an all-female finance team that provides a stable backbone for the growing company. Liz energizes by spending time with Yuna and seeing the world through her daughter’s eyes, taking necessary time alone and offline, and long, long conversations with her friends that cover all aspects of life.


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