“5 Things You Should Do To Become A Thought Leader In Your Industry”, with Ethan Nyholm

It was definitely a process; it wasn’t something that happened overnight. I think a lot of it comes from my longevity in the industry. I’ve been doing this a long time and know a lot of players and the tech world. It’s important to have knowledge and understanding of all the categories of your industry. […]

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It was definitely a process; it wasn’t something that happened overnight. I think a lot of it comes from my longevity in the industry. I’ve been doing this a long time and know a lot of players and the tech world. It’s important to have knowledge and understanding of all the categories of your industry.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ethan Nyholm. Ethan is the CEO and Co-founder of STM Brands, the parent company of two global brands designing lifestyle accessories for tech devices — STM Goods and Element Case. Based in Sydney Australia, Ethan has a wife and two young sons, and has been at the helm of STM Brands for 20 years. Ethan co-founded STM with his business partner Adina Jacobs when Ethan was attending university in Sydney in 1999. Now, STM has offices across three continents and 50 employees.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I am the Co-Founder and CEO of STM Brands which encompasses both STM Goods and Element Case. My business partner and I started STM in 1999 when I was attending university. I had purchased a laptop that was expensive and extremely fragile, and it basically had my entire life on it. The problem was that I couldn’t find any way to comfortably carry it from my house, to university, to tutorials and back except for a black briefcase. I really didn’t like carrying around this bulky briefcase because one, I didn’t want to want to announce to the world I had a laptop I was carrying, and two it was really uncomfortable to carry. In addition to the briefcase, In addition to that I had also purchased a bubble wrap sleeve that I would carefully place my laptop in to carry in my backpack for a while, and that was kind of the germination of where the idea of STM came from.

The backpacks we design are created specifically to carry a notebook/laptop and conceal it from the public and protect it from drops, knocks and stuff that happens on the daily commute.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I think there are a few aspects to thought leadership or my ability to talk about my field. I think one is my longevity in the industry and seeing how it has morphed and changed and our company’s ability to adjust to those changes as it happens over the last 20 years. If you think about it, laptops have gone from an expensive commodity or expensive item that once had all of your information on it to a commodity item with almost nothing on it. There’s the evolution of phones (there was no smartphone back then), and of course the introduction of tablets which were nonexistent. So that ability to translate what we’re doing across those different periods of evolution is part of where I’m an authority on thought leadership as it me enables me to not only speak on topics within our field but also how to manage the transitions we’ve seen and will continue to see in our field.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

For me, one of the most interesting things that I’ve come across during our time is our ability to keep our story the same in terms of innovation and what’s important to our brand. We’ve continued to apply that across the changes of how the industry has evolved and haven’t changed essentially who we are, what we want and how we look at our products within the industry even though the industry has changed so much. Keeping our identity from a business perspective as the industry has changed is probably one of the most interesting things to have happened to us. Overall, what was important to us back then, is still important to us today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not sure if this is funny, but the first set of bags we ever designed didn’t have zipper pulls on them, and zipper pulls are the little attachments that make opening and closing zippers a lot easier. We had purchased 400 or 500 bags and for whatever reason we didn’t purchase zipper pulls. When we received the bags, we took a look at them and immediately noticed something was missing. So we ended up spending a lot of time, both my business partner and myself, putting zipper pulls on bags in a garage. On each bag there were 9 zipper pulls, so with 400 bags or so, we essentially ended up putting on around 4000 zipper pulls ourselves.

I think the lesson learned here was that the details matter. It’s often these small things that create the biggest hiccups and so if you look after those small details often the big stuff works out. The bags themselves were great, but it was that small little detail that really made the difference on the quality of the product and the experience from both a user perspective and a product visibility standpoint.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I don’t know if there is a huge different between a typical leader and a thought leader. Leadership from that perspective manifests itself in a slightly different ways, but I think that a thought leader is able to articulate their thoughts a little bit easier as opposed to a typical leader who is more likely to show what needs to be done.

A thought leader to me, is someone more often in a specific industry or someone who has a deep understanding of the market and is able to look at that market and develop concepts and ideas around that segment as opposed to a leader in general who usually applies to a much broader spectrum.

With that being said, as thought leader, you do influence people or could be considered an influencer as well, but I don’t feel that an influencer is necessarily a thought leader. The two concepts to me are not interchangeable.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Being a thought leader allows people to better understand where you’re coming from or helps give a sense of what you’re doing a little bit more and provides additional credibility about what you do and the direction you’re going. I think being a thought leader is both internal and external. Internally you’re able to lead your team in a direction or your business in a direction and externally it helps to provide you with a little more credibility of what you’re doing as a company or organization and the direction you’re going. It also allows you to broaden your horizons quite a bit because it allows you to look at issues, look at the industry and look at the category in a different way.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

You’re investing in resources to help your business grow and in that sense, you’re not going to be able grow financially if you don’t have people who lead you in a certain way.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

It was definitely a process; it wasn’t something that happened overnight. I think a lot of it comes from my longevity in the industry. I’ve been doing this a long time and know a lot of players and the tech world. It’s important to have knowledge and understanding of all the categories of your industry.

You need to know the history and what is perceived moving forward as you can’t base everything on the past. Having a broader understanding of the world, what’s going on and making sure to have macro view of things. You should always be continuing to learn. One of the biggest inhibitors you can have is being a know it all. Usually the more you think you know, the less you actually know. At the end of the day, be willing to share your ideas and experience with others around you without being afraid that they’ll take it incorrectly.

I’m not sure I have a specific example to share, but if I did this is probably one of them. Talking about thought leadership even if I don’t necessarily consider myself to be an expert. However, I do feel I’m an expert in my field and have a lot that I would like to share with the community and that is one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

In some instances the term can definitely be overused. I think if people use the term when referring to you then that’s OK, but I would not call myself a thought leader amongst other titles used. It’s a title that should be bestowed by others.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Find an activity outside of work that allows you to focus on that and nothing else like yoga or surfing. Something that provides humility to your life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would probably be something in the energy field. Everyone uses an enormous amount of energy and we have a huge issue brewing with global warming. So yes, I definitely think I would do something with clean energy.

Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Treat people how you want to be treated.” Overall the energy you put out comes back to you in some way and its important way to live life in general.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I think it would be fascinating to have breakfast with Barack Obama. I just think it would be really really interesting.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @ethan_nyholm

Twitter: @stmgoods // @ElementCASE

Facebook: @STMGoods // @elementcase

Instagram: @stmgoods // @elementcase

YouTube: @stmgoods // @elementcase

LinkedIn: @stm-goods

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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