Making businesses click

 

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Carl Waldekranz is fast becoming Sweden’s most sought-after entrepreneur. Two and half years ago, the 27-year old teamed up with some friends in Stockholm to launch an online store platform called Tictail. The website allows users to set up their own online store within a few short clicks, for free. Tictail then makes most of their revenue from the commission it takes on the sale of add-ons to online stores by third party web developers. Add-ons allow each store to have its own unique design, of which there are hundreds of possible variations. Tictail takes 30 per cent commission. The company now serves more than 35,000 international stores.

It doesn’t do to resist calling Tictail the IKEA of e-commerce. It is every bit an equivalent. What makes Tictail so striking online is its simplicity. The welcome page begs to be touched, pressed and put to immediate use. It’s so simple your cat could go into business just by walking over the keyboard. Tictail gives you the sense that the idea is what counts, that at the heart of every innovation lies a concise thought.

"Great people make great businesses.It's that simple." Photograph by Vincent Skoglund

“Great people make great businesses.It’s that simple.” Photograph by Vincent Skoglund

Yet when Waldekranz and I discuss what advice he has for entrepreneurs seeking their big break, something he says comes off oddly. The tall Swede peers at me over his round rimmed spectacles with a beaming grin and says, “I’m not a big believer in ideas. Ideas that are too strong are what kill companies.” This throws me, and I allow a pause to let the meaning seep through. Where would businesses be without ideas? Surely that’s what they are, beneath the corporate padding and hired manpower  – ideas! How can a company exist without first passing the brain child phase?

But as Waldekranz explains, businesses today thrive when least laboured over. His message, like everything else, is simple: in our high speed global economy, it is better to fill potholes in the road than try to reinvent the wheel.

You say you don’t believe in ideas. What then makes Tictail different from companies that are rooted in a concept?
We’re creating an easier way to create online stores. That’s not an idea. At Tictail, we decided to take e-commerce and make it easier for people to use. Most companies today are small companies that don’t choose their type of business based on profit margin reports in that market.

People start business because they love what they make. We’re essentially trying to give something to people who don’t care about e-commerce, but who should be able to engage with it all the same. Tictail is not just a tool either. We’re a community, linked by several stores.

What is it that gives somebody the skills to be an entrepreneur before they are inspired to start their business?
Traditionally, an entrepreneur is thought to be someone highly educated, someone groomed into their field and who is eventually given the opportunity to start their own company. I think what we’re seeing more now is a world in which those who go into business have to change with a world that is moving faster and faster. A lot of what people learn in education ceases to be valid within two years of graduation. The biggest asset you leave with, however, is the ability to learn. Entrepreneurship is about constantly taking in the information around you and turning it into a kind of pattern recognition that later becomes your business.

"We still have a sales team, only we don't call it sales, we call it community management" Photograph by Vincent Skoglund

“We still have a sales team, only we don’t call it sales, we call it community management” Photograph by Vincent Skoglund

You yourself didn’t go to university, as I understand it. How does what you say fit in with your experience as one of the co-founders of Tictail?
The pattern I noticed started with all the ways in which consumer services had come a long way. We’re really in the future when it comes to this sector. We have video conversations on iPads on aeroplanes, and we get frustrated when the internet is slow 10,000 metres above ground. We take it so much for granted. I saw a gap in business-to-business and e-commerce when I saw consumer services that were flexible, easy to use, and where the pricing models were based on scale.

However, the technology was being made for IT departments, not ordinary individuals. The interfaces looked terrible. I asked myself why these businesses thought they weren’t making these services for people. As far as I know, companies are run by human beings. They use Facebook when they’re off work. Why shouldn’t their business-to-business software be as easy to use?

Your first business was a digital advertising agency, which you set up in Sweden before the financial crisis in 2008. How did it affect you and how do you spot opportunity in a recession?
We had to cut our rates, stop growing, work longer hours. But I think it was a good thing for us, in a way. The financial crisis forced us to ask what we were doing and where we were going. We had to ask ourselves whether, at the rate things were going, we really wanted to be in the same place in two years’ time. The hardest thing to stop doing (in a recession) is something that works. As for recession in general, I think the same opportunities apply whether or not an economy is in a crisis. Ambitious, motivated people always find opportunity, but the determining factor lies in taking risks. I think risk is something we overestimate. We’re so worried a business might fail that we often don’t take the risks we should.

When you hit upon a gap in the market, what is the first step you should take to harness your inspiration and take it further?
I believe in people. If you can engage the people around you in your idea, that’s the fastest way to make the idea a reality. It might mean calling your best friend and asking whether your idea is good or not. In most cases, it’s about sharing that idea with someone. But here I mean sharing everything about that idea; the successes, the challenges, the whole journey. The wrong way to do it is to keep an idea to yourself or to think it’s something precious that the world shouldn’t see. Sooner or later your idea needs to become official. It’s not the few months you gain by not telling anyone about your idea that will make you a successful player. It’s everything that comes afterwards.

Carl Waldekranz and the fellow co-founders of Tictail Photograph by Vincent Skoglund

Carl Waldekranz and the fellow co-founders of Tictail Photograph by Vincent Skoglund

What about the principles that make a business team thrive once an idea is formed and has the confidence of the team?
Companies need to have two things, which are more important than ideas or business plans, and that’s focus. Whatever you come up with, try and make it smaller. Find the crucial thing you’re trying to solve, and solve just that. It takes a hell of a lot of time after all. The only way to create something really great is to make that something pretty small.

Should the prospect of making people’s jobs worthless get in the way of an invention?
(Laughs) I don’t think the jobs themselves become worthless. It’s more whether people stick to doing their jobs in a traditional manner. If you look at Tictail, we still have a sales team, only we don’t call it sales, we call it community management. 35,000 store owners can be managed through social media. Before, only 35 stores would have been managed, and they’d have been managed through Excel sheets, through meetings and dinners. So that’s the shift. The people that don’t adapt to new challenges  – they’re the people we’re putting out of work.

You co-founded Tictail with friends from childhood. Sharing a history with people can be an enormous advantage in business. What if you hadn’t had that?
That’s a great question. To be frank, we’re four founders of Tictail. The last to join was Siavash Ghorbani. Two and half years ago, when Tictail was first registered, we decided to put out a message by burying a piece of text in the code of our webpage. It read, “If you’ve found this message, you’re obviously as keen a developer as we are, and should get in touch.”

A month later, we got a call from Siavash. He came to have coffee with us and started visiting the office every day after work. Eventually we asked him whether he’d consider quitting his job and working for us. Eventually, he did. That was two years ago. He’s one of the most important people in my life today. With some people, you just know that it’s right. You don’t need a five year history. Great people make great businesses. It’s that simple. –

by Jack Aldane

 

From the current issue of Glass – Strength

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About The Author

Jack Aldane

Glass Magazine financial correspondent

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