Have you ever been thinking of opening your own restaurant, shop or hotel? Or even something more original and unique that nobody else has ever done before? But then you were stopped by the fear – fear to fail or because you didn’t know where to start. May the example of B. Joakim Wikström, which managed to overcome the fear of uncertainty and go through the “fire”, let you reconsider your dreams that seemed unreal.
Text: Elizaveta Vinogradova
– I want to be an entrepreneur.
– What? You mean open YOUR OWN BUSINESS? Well, good luck with that, it is never gonna be my thing.
This is somewhat my opinion about entrepreneurship that I had three years ago. However, things change, priorities and choices develop over time. If you ask me now about opening my own business – I say yes.
Entrepreneurship seems a challenging, difficult and responsible area of activity. Building a business appears to be something unreal: a complicated, risky, costly, time-consuming process. Why on Earth would anyone choose to be an entrepreneur? I would say that opening something of your own is a way to challenge your own self, get out of a comfort zone and do something different from a usual scenario. Many of us may have ideas, but to start DOING something to develop them requires courage.
Yet let’s think you really want to start your own business and develop the idea you have cherished for some time by now. How do you start? Is there any algorithm that you should follow? This step is another sieve that may filter out some of the less dedicated and persistent people. However, it is not as scary as you may think. Truly, it is not. Moreover, one of the ways to develop your idea and change your perception about creating a business is to study how it is done. The Arctic University of Tromsø provides this opportunity with the Master Program “Business Creation and Entrepreneurship” (BCE). This is a unique program that helps young entrepreneurs find their way in the world and simply makes you believe that it is possible.
I am graduating from this program now and I must say it gave me precious experience that I may not be able to gather on my own. There is a certain technique that the program is based upon, which is called the Design Thinking method. When I learned the design-thinking process I found out that it is possible to do everything. Of course, entrepreneurship is still really challenging, but design-thinking gives a certain direction that one can follow. This method combines two very important parts of the business developing process – creative and practical (“design”) and analytical (“thinking”) and it changes the perception about opening a business into something feasible without investing in too much time and money.
The value of the methodology is a different way of thinking, which opens one’s eyes and mind, giving an opportunity to create. It gives a starting point from where the actual work can begin. Being absolutely not a straight line process it, however, gives some guidelines and structure to follow, while retaining a freedom of creation and choosing all the possible directions. This space for ideation encourages people, opens their minds to see things in another way and then express their discoveries, share their ideas and feelings.
In order to find out more practical view on the topic I conducted an interview with one of the students of the BCE program, B. Joakim Wikström, who is currently a CEO at Interdeli AS; CEO and co-founder at Hrogn As; planning to launch a new eating place in Tromsø center. He is a, so-called, serial entrepreneur – in the last two years he started three different businesses. He is an example that proves how being an entrepreneur is a real and exciting alternative.
U: What is entrepreneurship in your opinion?
J: Entrepreneurship is the activity that allows you to create something that you want, whatever it may be. It is also about not satisfying yourself with what you see around you, willing to make a difference, express yourself through doing something that separates you from others, also other entrepreneurs.
U: And who is an entrepreneur then?
J: There are many people that are thinking in entrepreneurial terms. I mean, that they have some new different ideas on how to make things better. Real practical entrepreneur actually sets it down and goes through the fire. With fire I mean, for example, this incredible amount of paperwork that you must go through. When you think entrepreneurial you think of ideas that you can actually MAKE happen. And this is the point – to be able to actually make them happen you need to go through these different stages of absolutely crazy boring things. Things like for example rules and regulations of different authorities, which you think are not necessary or relevant when you sit and think about that great idea of yours. I call it “fire” because that takes down 90% or more of all the people who are somehow entrepreneurial.
U: What is your opinion about BCE-study and Design Thinking Methodology?
J: In respect to the studies in itself I would say that theoretical background is good in order to study how to open your business and how to act on the real market place. As you do market research or any other kind of research before you start the business, you realise certain possible problems. I find the Design Thinking method particularly interesting and useful, because it practically helps to start. There is a huge difference between thinking of an idea and actually doing something to realise it. Now, when I started with Interdeli AS just a month ago I must say that Design Thinking is really helpful when it comes to understanding the issues and challenges in front of me and how to approach them.
U: What are the actual challenges that you have faced during your work with Interdeli AS?
J: First of all, my background experience. I am a restaurant person so I know a restaurant business and as for me it is much simpler than managing a food store. Here you have 5, 6, 7, 8 up to 100 different items and some of them change price maybe 2 times a week, especially when it comes to vegetables and fruits. And you spend so much time learning these things that you don’t really have any time to do all the great things that you were planning and researching in advance. That is the reality. For example, I haven’t had a chance to do anything else than just programming the cash register for the first three weeks and learning how to deal with the “vegetable guy”. Only now, when my colleague has started to come in more to work with me, I can start focusing on actual marketing part and fun activities that I have been only thinking about until now, for example social media promotions. There was no chance of doing it when I just started this new business; I just had to get things going.
Another challenge, which I called “fire” previously, is the amount of rules and regulations that I need to go through. How to properly register the company, then importing and ordering things is properly done, also the Norwegian Food & Safety authority in Norway (Mattilsynet) which has a lot of rules and regulations that you need to know. If you want to transport some exotic special goods – you must learn about custom regulations if you didn’t know it before. And all that is the responsibility of the CEO. You know, it’s just so much of this paper work that it can really take all your motivation away.
U: Being entrepreneur is extremely challenging from you description. Why are you actually still doing it?
J: I am quite stubborn, so I keep going even though there are these obstacles. Or maybe I am just stupid because I keep on trying in spite of these terribly, terribly boring things [laughs]. I think it is about being stubborn and also a little bit unaware about how exactly difficult things are. My stepfather used to say, “You know, it seems that nobody told Joakim that things are not possible sometimes” because I just don’t see that. I just know I have to go through the obstacles, the fire as I call it. Some people say I am not realistic, but I say that I am an optimistic realist. I know that it might be very difficult to establish a business and achieve success, but I still think that it’s totally possible. I do it anyway, because I learn things on the way. There is a lot about learning. I can’t know if this or the other of my businesses will work out on the long run, but I will do everything I can to make it happen. And either way, I learn so much about these things on the way that in the next step of my life I have all this knowledge gained already, and then it is truly like jumping over all the fences.
U: What is the current state and future plans for your business in Interdeli AS?
J: We are working with food products from foreign countries and trying to provide unique or rare products that were not available on the Tromsø market before. We want to develop further and are happy to receive suggestions about the assortment from the customers. We aim to have the price range quite in the middle or even low, I would say. We will further focus on providing affordable specialty products to other businesses and primarily the regular customers, including students that get discounts, which I think is very important because many of them are international.
U: The last question to conclude our interview – would you recommend people to become an entrepreneur and if you do, why?
J: First of all, I think it’s not for everybody, because some people really like the comfort and stability of the everyday life as an employee. Entrepreneurship is not exactly about that. However, if you have ever had even the slightest interest in knowing what your capacities are, or you are thinking of something that might help people, then, I think, you should try.
A proper education may be of a good use as well, you need the tools to become a good entrepreneur. What I mean by that is simply that you get to learn how to do some research. You can have luck and everything like that, but it makes the probability of succeeding much higher if you do, for instance, the BCE studies. You get a whole lot of tools on how to research and approach your idea and so on.
Thereby, I would definitely recommend people to become an entrepreneur. Why? Because you get a chance to learn something about yourself and about the things that move the world forward. You get to know something about how the real world works – the world of business or the world of ideas. Your business may fail, but I would say it even SHOULD fail. That way you learn something more and the luggage of what you have learned will be even more valuable for the next time you decide to make another entrepreneurial endeavour into something that you discover.
As you understood, entrepreneurship is a challenging activity and being entrepreneur is not that easy and requires your courage. However, this example may inspire you to do something more with your life, discover your own self and dare to dream out loud. Maybe bringing to life your dreams is truly something that is worth trying?