What do tech startups and German cars have in common?
Vorsprung durch teknik. The best ones lead by technology.
The Audi Forum was bustling with chatter as I arrived— an excited murmuring not unlike the restrained gurgling of an RS4’s idling 4.2-liter V8. Hosted by Audibloggen and the StartUp Grind, the evening’s “Accelerate Night” was gearing up to be rather intriguing. With guests from wildly differing backgrounds and hosts from seemingly unrelated industries, I knew this event was going to be different. Yet, as Jonas Almeling of the StartUp Grind so eloquently described, there was in fact a common underlying theme linking Audi via Audibloggen to the StartUp Grind, and to the rest of Stockholm’s entrepreneurs:
Indeed, entrepreneurship is all about innovation and who better than Audi to inspire us to do just that.
The evening’s hosts:
- Jonas Almeling – co-founder and director of the StartUp Grind
- Love Sahlin – entrepreneur and founder of Audibloggen
- Leo Haidar – co-organizer of Accelerate Night and member of Audibloggen
The evening’s guests, our fuel for the evening:
- Finnur Sverrisson – entrepreneur and co-founder of Qnekt
- Ramona Karlsson – professional rally car driver, mentor, and entrepreneur
- Konrad Bergström – serial entrepreneur and founder of Zound Industries
The guests have much in common with today’s startup grinders (and there are almost 100 of us here tonight). They all possess a passion and drive (no pun intended) for entrepreneurship. One striking characteristic that they share is their attitude toward persistence as a key to success. After all, ‘it’s only failure if you stop trying.’
2nd Gear – Finnur Sverrisson – Qnekt
A serial entrepreneur since the age of 10, money isn’t everything for Finnur. If life was an app he would be in it for the user-experience. He’s a self-described “educated chaos pilot” with an entrepreneurial style that is spontaneous, artistic, and fiercely anti-conventional.
For Finnur, whose role model is his father, success is “doing what you want to do.” His latest venture is called Qnekt, an event app aiming to add interactivity and value for event organizers and attendees. And, with events being one of the “things” in today’s ‘internet-of-things’, interactive connectedness has huge potential. And so does this app, it’s as sleek as the metallic gunmetal V10 R8 I saw on my way in. It offers all kinds of info on tonight’s event, and the real-time poll option is a neat feature. Interesting stuff! I’m looking forward to trying it out again.
3rd Gear – Ramona Karlsson – Ramona Motors AB
It’s not everyday that someone says you’re on the path to fill your own role model’s shoes. But this has been said about Ramona, now 33, a professional rally driver who has been racing since childhood, starting motocross at the age of four.
So what’s her startup angle? Ramona considers herself an entrepreneur. Her decision to become a rally driver meant working nine part-time jobs in order to finance her first rally car. The nature of motorsport means negotiating dangerous curves and negotiating sponsorship contracts; very few racing drivers can say they’ve bootstrapped their own racing career.
For Ramona, whose role model is rally champion Michèle Mouton, success is “being able to enjoy the moment.” The journey as is important as the destination. So where’s the actual connection between off-road motorsport and startups? “Rally is all about finding new solutions, quick-thinking and problem-solving,” she says. Indeed, they are some of the most important characteristics an entrepreneur can possess.
4th Gear – Intermission
We’re given a brief intermission to do what we love most—network and mingle, against the backdrop of test-drive videos of some awesome cars courtesy of our hosts at Audibloggen. The high-spec vehicles make for an invigorating soundtrack for our mingling, reminding us of the evening’s theme. The revving engines echoing throughout the showroom are like aural adrenaline, inspiring and motivating everyone here tonight. I’m beginning to like the choice of locale more and more.
5th Gear – Konrad Bergström – Zound Industries
We gather round the proverbial fireplace for our chat with Konrad, whose advice for entrepreneurs is (rather bluntly) “Believe in yourself!” His entrepreneurial streak began when, as a child, he needed pocket money and didn’t like asking anyone else for favors. Moving to New Zealand alone at the age of 15 dealt him a crash course in entrepreneurship. Fast-forward to his second year of high school and he had already acquired distribution rights for Quiksilver™ in Sweden. He also sold his profitable Thule roof-rack business at the age of 19.
Konrad, whose role model is his father, quoted singer Patti Smith when asked about his thoughts on success, “If you have a talent you have to use it.” In other words, use your talent(s) and you will become successful.
Konrad’s road to Zound Industries was long and winding. A bout of bankruptcy left him with nothing but his loyal dog by his side. But as mentioned before, failure is only for quitters, and Konrad bounced back to figuratively and literally own the headphone industry with a startup that has exploded in just three years.
Now, he has a vision to boost Zound’s valuation and maintain brand proliferation. Konrad is a pure brand manager. He wouldn’t tell us what he was cooking for the coming year, but hinted that it was “…software plus hardware equals something really good.” For now, it will have to remain a secret.
The evening rounded up with some awesome prizes, and goodie-bags for everyone to take home. Nice touch!
As Jonas dug into each guest’s past and present, their stories of failures and successes came to light. Rounding off each interview with his signature ‘SOS’ (three-short, three-long, three-short) questions, he unraveled and offered much insight into their survival instincts as entrepreneurs. All three came from meager beginnings, and went on to shape their own futures by creating opportunities. Still, it wasn’t enough that they continued to grind beyond their failures. They owe their success to learning from their experiences, and adapting accordingly.
We’ve all heard the old adage that failure is for quitters, but tonight it was nice to finally see it in practice. Qnekt was not Finnur’s first brainchild. A flaming rally-car meant the end of Ramona’s world championship, but not the end of her career. Bankruptcy signaled the end of Konrad’s lifestyle and events career, but it paved the way for the founding of a company that has grown almost 11,000% in just three years.
Many entrepreneurs, when asked about their endeavors, speak first of their past failed projects that spurred them to develop other ideas. Tonight, I learned that if you have the right frame of mind, any experience can lead you to your definition of success. Any experience can be the fuel you need to accelerate.