For Entrepreneurs: 21 Inspiring Tips from Start-Up Day Stockholm + Photos

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Over the weekend, I attended Start-Up Day organized by Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship. The event brings together entrepreneurs, investors, creatives, students, digital tech-heads, and start-up companies in an educational matter-of-fact forum. This year, it was held at superb warehouse-style locale Münchenbryggeriet in Södermalm with some pretty sweet views of Stadshuset, Gamla stan, and Kungsholmen across town (see photos below).

Running my Stockholm-based media company Geotraveler Media for awhile now and having just launched Slow Travel Stockholm (more on that soon), attending Start-Up Day was a no brainer for me. Not just in terms of networking with key players in our local start-up scene, but also gleaning practical information on how to take things to the next level off those who’ve done it and are doing it.

Many of us entrepreneurs are stuck at trying to brainstorm that “revolutionary idea” that could change the course of our lives forever.  Many of us have already found that revolutionary idea and are struggling to execute it, while many of us seem to be spinning with no real focus.

So instead of summarizing how the event was, who spoke about what, and which exhibitors were there, I wanted to share 21 practical one-liners, tips, and a few “A-ha!” moments I experienced that every entrepreneur – whether struggling, breaking through, or established – will find useful, reassuring, or just the kick they need to move to that ever elusive next stage.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

1 – “Ideas that don’t change kill companies”…Carl Waldekranz, @Tictail | @postcarl

One of my favorite quotes of the day came right off the bat from Carl Waldekranz, CEO and founder of e-commerce platform Tictail. The self-proclaimed “geek rockstar” (seriously, he’d just taken a cab directly from the airport, arriving from Oslo where he was hanging with the Royal Family – I think I heard that right) said he wasn’t a strong believer in ideas. That he didn’t have a Eureka! moment when developing his start-up. It reminded me of a design conversation I had earlier this week. Ideas need to be fluid. They need to flow and change otherwise something that was once revolutionary and cool won’t be able to scale and adapt to inevitable change.

2 – “Your team is much more important than your idea”… …Carl Waldekranz, @Tictail | @postcarl

This quote spoke to finding the right people who are equally as passionate about your idea as you are. Building your team culture is more important than your idea because it’s that team that will execute and foster your idea. Find parts of your team’s culture and dynamics that work and stick to it.

3 – “There is meaningful work to be found at the intersection of start-up and social impact”… Chad Hamre, @EthicalOcean | @chadhamre

For those of us struggling to find ways of making a difference in the world while trying to make money, you may fare better heading over to small start-ups that do social work and other social entrepreneurship than massive NGOs and non-profits. Another one-liner I appreciated from Hamre was this one when he turned in his resignation at his 9-5 job to pursue his passion…”Here, I’m pursuing more meaningful work…I quit!”

4 – “If you fail to innovate, you will go out of business”…Chad Hamre, @EthicalOcean | @chadhamre

While this may seem like no-brainer advice, you would be surprised by how many creatives (I can speak to journalists and photographers in particular) who fail to adapt with the times and hopelessly cling on to what was once the way of doing business.

Innovate or die, simple as that.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

5 – “A business idea is nothing”…Alexandra Bylund, @FoapApp | @alexandrabylund

Bylund was speaking to the ridiculousness of trying to hold on to and protect your “business idea” and not publicly speaking about it. Talking about an idea is one thing. Actually executing it is another. And you never know who might be listening that can help get that business idea off the ground.

6 – “Build something that engages users everyday”…Alexandra Bylund, @FoapApp | @alexandrabylund

This was my favorite quote of the entire day. For those stuck brainstorming the perfect idea, you have to think of something that engages users every day. That’s obviously one of the reasons why companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter as well as major players and bloggers in your industry are successful. They’ve built something that engages users every day. I got my Eureka! moment here…and a few ideas too!

7 – “Simple tools + Framework + Gaps = Interesting”…Conor Delahunty, @SomewhereHQ | @conordelahunty

Delahunty spoke about intentionally leaving holes and broken spaces in your product “so that people can surprise you by doing things that you could never have guessed.” By leaving gaps, people can fill those gaps for you and make your product better. In essence, give people the tools and building blocks they need to build what they want.

This all screamed one company name to me – LEGO.

8- “The most meaningful experiences happen at the local level”…Ole Ruch, @Airbnb | @oleruch

I’m a big advocate of going local and going slow whenever possible, and Ole Ruch, managing director of Airbnb in the Nordics reiterated this in his talk about the apartment rental company’s strategy and vision. In a nutshell, Ruch said you need to go where your customers and users are. You need to have a local presence. Part of my team needs to be based in whatever market I’m trying to reach. I’m super excited about Slow Travel Stockholm which is the sister site to Slow Travel Berlin, and we’re looking forward to sharing more meaningful experiences from our respective cities.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

9 – “When you’re growing fast, you need to keep your focus”…Ole Ruch of @Airbnb | @oleruch

To me, this translates to not trying to please everyone because the quicker your company grows, the more voices bubble up to the surface – from competitors and customers alike – and these voices and opinions can quickly derail your fast moving business. This also reminded me of a documentary I watched about Southwest Airlines and how they were able to survive successfully for so long without folding. They never lost their focus.

10 – “If you give a lot, people won’t see you as a threat.”…Ida Ostensson, @xingboarders

I loved this quote when it came across the #SUD13 hashtag. I know a lot of people who I’d consider selfish career-wise. Who hang on to information, content, and experience like it’s their only lifetime as they claw to carve out a niche for themselves. When you give, you get more than you’ve given. It’s very biblical too. But the kicker is, the more you give, the less people see you as a threat that needs to be unseated and “dethroned” for lack of a better word. Which means, you can grow and build without making as many enemies as you potentially could if you didn’t share.

This also reminds me of a Yoruba proverb – “The sky is big enough for all birds to fly”. Think about it.

11 – “Copy -> Modify -> Paste. Do not reinvent the wheel.”…Kristian Tryggvason, @BioLamina

Sometimes you can execute an idea better than others. And instead of reinventing the wheel, get inspired by it, try to modify it to fit your own vision and target audience, and go with it. Sometimes, this is the way great partnerships are formed. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, just partner with the idea owner and bring your own strengths to the deal.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

12 – “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”…lyrics by Leonard Cohen.

This was a wonderful quote Conor Delahunty shared by artist and poet Leonard Cohen backing up his point about intentionally leaving gaps in your product or idea. Striving for perfection is impossible. Hinge that energy on community building instead.

13 – Thinking “the company will not survive without me” is a mistake…Alexandra Bylund, @FoapApp | @alexandrabylund

You seriously need to build a company that will survive without you. It shows that your focus is on the right place…your customers, and that you’ll put the right structures in place to make sure your teams consistently delivers – with or without you.

14 – Perform occasional gut-checks.

If what you’re doing doesn’t feel 100% right, ditch the idea even though you’ve invested a lot of time, energy, resources, and money into it.

15 – “Get up on stage”…Lisa Lindström, @doberman | @lisalindstrm

Even if your idea isn’t fully baked, get on stage. Participate and speak at international conferences. You need to start promoting your brand and taking it to a global audience. Coming from a consulting background myself where our project managers often sold solutions  – Yes! We can do it! – before telling us developers and asking if it was humanly possible, I do see her point. Selling your product and brand is important and it will also force you to be innovative in terms of execution as well.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

16 – “You can’t calculate what you should dream of”…Lisa Lindström, @doberman, @doberman | @lisalindstrm

This speaks to those who want to know the outcome of every venture before undertaking it. As I understood it, what Lindström was saying here was that you should follow your heart. Follow your gut. We will all make mistakes. We will all fail miserably at some point. But we need to follow our dreams anyways.

17 – “What if you could re-live a moment in your life?”Oskar Kalmaru, @MemotoTeam | @okalmaru

While this isn’t so much a quote or piece of advice as it is a company slogan, it did get me thinking. We all have those moments of our lives where we would love to re-live. Sometimes the best ideas come from reevaluating past mistakes to see if you could have done something better in a particular situation. So for those of us struggling for ideas, re-evaluate key moments of your life. Those ideas just may be lurking in those shadows.

18 – Aim for a mono product -> a product that solves one problem perfectly.

This was something Conor Delahunty touched on as well. Instead of trying to solve as many problems as possible, try to build a product or brand that solves one problem “perfectly.” And again nothing can be perfect because you want to intentionally leave gaps in it so users can keep taking ownership of the product and perfecting it for you.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

19 –“Don’t just compete on social ethics, compete on quality too”…Chad Hamre, @EthicalOcean | @chadhamre

In other words, while saying our company has zero environmental footprints and our shoes are made from the most organic of organic materials, add some competitive flair. Say our shoes are also better looking and more durable than yours.

20 – Ride on cultural coattails

I thought it was an insightful point when Lisa Lindström of design firm Doberman mentioned that, when trying to enter a new market, since Sweden was already known around the world for design, they didn’t have to focus as much energy on introducing themselves as a “design”  firm but rather, focused that energy on showing the client how they were going to solve their problem. Because “Swedish design” is a trusted cultural brand, they could ride on the coattails of that common knowledge.

So if there are cultural advantages that can be leveraged, use them.

21 – “Do what you’re good at.”…Lisa Lindström, @doberman | @lisalindstrm

There really isn’t any need to be anxious. Just do your thing – what you’re good at – and do it best. And as we say in Swedish, “Punkt slut!”, which means “that’s the end on that subject and it’s not open for future discussion.”

Do what you’re naturally good at.

Start-Up Day Stockholm #SUD13 - Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström
I truly couldn’t have asked for a more picture-perfect spring day. The sun was out, the sky was a warm blue, and there was optimism in the air. Many of the speakers mentioned trusting your gut, knowing your strengths, doing only what you’re good at, believing in your work, and patience.

I left with the overarching take-away of not try to solve all problems. I only need to solve one problem and solve it exceptionally well.

Here are a few more photos from Start-Up Day #SUD13

Did you find any of these tips useful? Please share your thoughts below.