Swedish Startup Space

Nicholas Högberg, CEO at 3 on sales, entrepreneurship and Swedish startups

Written by on January 20

Nicholas Högberg is one of Sweden’s most well-respected entrepreneurs and is commonly regarded as one of Sweden’s top salespeople.  He is currently the CEO at 3, was responsible for building up BIP (which sold to Spray for 240M SEK in 1999) and is also involved in a number of local startups – including Bannerflow.

I caught up with Nicholas for a chat about entrepreneurship, how he became involved with 3 and of course – his views on sales and the stigma surrounding sales in Sweden.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into the idea of entrepreneurship?

I am from the suburbs of Stockholm and already in the early days I started to sell my toys on the street where I lived. So, in that sense I have always been interested in doing business.

After my university studies, I started my career at an American management firm. There was a total lack of flexibility, creativity and it was a very uptight environment so I quit and went to a relatively young TV channel called “femman” later Kanal5. Everyone was really focused on sales, entrepreneurship and breaking new ground.

After Kanal5, I was recruited as the CEO of BIP, a company that revolutionized the online advertising space back in 1998. It was a true startup and it was entrepreneurship in the truest sense of the word. BIP was sold to the Swedish Internet company Spray which was one of the early pioneers in the Internet space. It was during this time, that I realized that building companies and taking leadership and growth management to the next level was my thing!

My entrepreneurial career continued as CEO at CampuzMobile the last really successful MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) in Sweden. Campuz was also a pure startup that we took from zero to commercial success.

Campuz was sold to Vodafone, so I became CEO of Vodafone Stores. Eventually Vodafone was sold to Telenor. Not very entrepreneurial, so I left and a year later I joined 3 Sweden.

3 was a big company with huge challenges. I joined and together with all great people we acted as it was our own company and implemented typical entrepreneurial leadership and values. I have been on that journey for seven years now.

You’re renowned as a heavily sales-focused entrepreneur. Tell me about your views on sales, the stigma around sales in Sweden.

From a Swedish perspective I might have a strong sales focus but in the English speaking countries my sales focus is nothing!

Very early I understood that there are two things that are important if you are going to build a successful company. Costs and revenues.

Focus and prioritisation is of great importance. Sales is how companies survive, so why not make sure that the company is understands that?! I think this view is becoming much more accepted in Sweden, especially now with increased international competition.

What I am trying to get everyone to understand is that sales is an occupation and you have to take it very seriously. You wouldn’t go to surgeon that hasn’t studied to become a doctor and specialist. So, why should you buy anything from someone that doesn’t take his or her occupation as seriously as the surgeon?

How did you become involved with 3?

I took a lunch with Peder Ramel who asked me to join 3. I had watched 3 from a distance when I built campus and Vodafone and I thought they made some strange decisions. So, when I got the question I thought – “it’s easy to criticize when you don’t need to take any responsibility”. This was my chance to see if I had what it takes to make a change in a big company and, together with the team, make 3 successful, and I mean really successful!

You’ve recently joined the board of Bannerflow – what do you think about the startup scene in Sweden? How can Sweden better support entrepreneurship and encourage young people to start companies?

Nordic Factory Solutions is a very interesting company and I think we have a unique startup scene in Sweden. There are plenty of factors that contribute to making Sweden a great place for entrepreneurship and technology. We totally changed the Swedish mentality in the late 90ties and early 2000 too – we dare to try!

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