Swedish Startup Space

Mikael Pawlo on Mr Green, the lost art of the business plan and his biggest business regret

Written by on November 14, 2013

Mikael Pawlo is certainly one of Sweden’s most well-known entrepreneurs and is primarily known for being the co-founder of Mr Green. In addition to Mr Green, he has invested in Happy Pancake (one of Sweden’s fast growing online dating sites), and also invested in various early stage startups here in Sweden.

Mikael was recently back in Stockholm, so we caught up for a chat about entrepreneurship, his biggest regrets and of course, Mr Green.

Tell me about your background, were you entrepreneurial growing up?

I wouldn’t say I was entrepreneurial – I had no idea what entrepreneurship was growing up, but I started making money from computers in my early teens by writing articles and selling code to computer magazines on the Commodore 64 (6502/6510) and later Amiga and Macintosh (68000).

I also reviewed games. A lot of games. When I was 15, in 1989, I had my own section in the computer magazine SvenskaHemdator Nytt, called C64 in toto (that’s latin for “everything about the C64”) of some four to six pages each month. I guess the roster of potential geeks writing for the magazine was limited at the time.

However, I was convinced that I would stop using computers at the latest when I turned 18, since it was obvious that it was impossible to both use computers and meet girls. Perhaps I would even be able to land a “real job”. As it happens, I still haven’t managed to get out of the digital business, but I am very much looking forward to the day!

Tell us about your first “taste” of entrepreneurship?

I started my first venture when I was about 18 years old together with childhood friend Fredrik Sidfalk, who is also a co-founder of Mr Green. The company was called Digital Dreams and we produced music videos with 3D graphics. It wasn’t very successful, but a lot of fun. We also did large chunks of the first edition of Internetguiden, a magazine on this new thing called the worldwide web, together with legendary editor-in-chief Hasse Nilsson. He knew everything about any given subculture on the Internet.

Later I moved on to do an intrapreneur stunt with the Swedish branch of IDG where I was taught very well by the CEOBengt Marnfeldt and my first real boss Nicklas Mattsson.

I started out as a temporary news editor at MacWorld and later moved on to head up IDG Interactive with Sweden’s largest First Class community IDG Online (later killed by the web). I sold the first banner at www.idg.se and was involved in the setting up of the magazines Internetworld and ITBranschen. A lot of fun memories and very useful. I still like to work with ex-IDG people whenever I can, because you know you will get speed and adaptability.

You’ve built businesses across a variety of different industries – how do you personally tackle problems and try to build businesses around the solutions?

It is all about the team. One thing I do know – is that I know very little! Therefore I need to work with people that are smarter than myself.

I like the quote from former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “There are known knowns – these are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know, but there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Since we know very little, it is all about action, adaptability and speed. You need to keep moving and constantly evolve. The way to be able to do this is to have a tight team that are smarter than you. This coupled with good attitude and work ethic, and you’ll move mountains.

When I attack something new I try to learn as much as possible about it, then I do a plan and a budget. The business plan is not held in as high regard these days, but how will you evaluate your efforts if you don’t have anything to measure it against? What you know when you start out is that it will not play out the way you think.

However, that is not a warrant to skip the strategy. The strategy is – rightly executed – the way to yield a better outcome and result than your resources would suggest looking at them from the outside. So basically: team, measuring and strategy. Then release early and tweak all the time.

You’ve been in the game for a while – tell me what you think about the “startup tidal wave” that seems to have hit Sweden over the past few years?

Well, I still feel very fresh to all this and I feel like a very ‘accidental entrepreneur’. Even referring to myself as an entrepreneur feels a bit weird. Anyway, it is very good for any society that its inhabitants try to start new ventures. Having said that, the IT startups will not save Sweden. They will not employ enough people to affect the coming windfall. But for Internet or IT entrepreneurs it is great to have an ecosystem where you can find talent that is used to working in startup like environments, even though they might be very different between different companies.

Which of your companies are you most proud of, and what is your biggest business regret?

I think we did well with Mr Green, going in six years from aPowerpoint to a listed company with some 120 employees and a gamewin the first 9 months of 2013 of 347.6 MSEK.

Since Mr Green & Co is a listed company these days I can not talk about the future, but I have about the same energy level and obsessions as I did six years ago when Mr Green was only a Powerpoint. We now have a new star – Marcus Nylén ofBredbandsbolaget fame – running the day-to-day operations in Malta, while the holding company where I am the CEO is looking after its core holding Mr Green LTD in Malta but also into new possible ventures – so it is a new phase in the company history, with new challenges and opportunities.

When it comes to business regrets, I might have a few, but like Frank Sinatra said – too few to mention. I try to avoid dwelling on them. Most are related to the year 2000, but I think it is time we all moved on from that. I think Esther Dyson said it the best: always make new mistakes!

One common theme is that I am a bit too nostalgic and don’t like to let go of even hopeless ideas that never takes off. Sometime they might… if we only work a little bit harder!

Thanks Mikael!

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