Always give more than you take! Over time you will learn that giving to the right people will come right back to you to benefit your business and growth.
Invest in your team. You need to create a culture and make people feel that they are a part of the business.
Listen, learn and understand. Ask for help when needed. Just because you’re the CEO you don’t know everything.
I had the pleasure to interview Hawaro Juul and Rasmus Cort Hansen of Iron & Ink. Iron&Ink is owned and founded by the young Danish entrepreneurs, Hawaro Juul (31 years old) and Rasmus Cort Hansen (29 years old). Rasmus is born and raised in Denmark whereas Hawaro came to Denmark is a child with his family as Kurdish refugees. The pair initially bonded over their love for tattoos — they both have a lot! — but later they realised that their sense of business could change the tattoo game completely.
Even though they have a very different cultural background that see themselves as brothers combining the best from each of their worlds. Besides owning the tattoo studios they also own a barbershop and a skincare line for tattoo aftercare called Sorry Mom.
Hawaro and Rasmus are now making their American dream come true with their first US location in the heart of Los Angeles on Melrose Avenue which opened its doors this October. Bringing Nordic Cool to LA, the space is an exclusive cozy, clean and minimalistic shop that brings luxury and Scandivian design to their American customers.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Hawaro: Rasmus and I come from very different backgrounds and got started in different ways.
My career started by me crushing my parents dream and leaving my cultural obligations behind. I was born as Kurdish in Syria and there social status comes with a higher education that will eventually make you rich so that is what my parents know. But I came to Denmark at three years old and that is the society and culture I was raised in.
It took me a few years to understand what to do and how to find my own path. I dropped out of school and I was inspired by American tattoo TV shows and that industry. I saw a lot of opportunity to do better than what was put on TV and optimize an existing industry.
I started out with one studio and one tattoo artist. Today we have four studios, three in Europe and one in Los Angeles and we employ 75 tattoo artists! We have created a new business model and culture that allows the artist to do what they do best while we focus on business.
Rasmus joined Hawaro after he had launched his first studio in 2012.
A coincidence and hustler mentality introduced me to Iron & Ink when it was nothing compared to what it is today. Long story short:
My mom married her husband Danni. Danni had a friend who was doing tattoos in The Philippines.
The friend wanted to come visit Danni in Denmark, and I wanted a tattoo. I was broke, so I thought I could get a cheap tattoo (maybe even for free…) If I could help this guy to Denmark. I wrote Iron & Ink and asked if they wanted to have a guest visiting.
The guy on the other side of the screen turned out to beHawaro. He was happy to get the guest in, so we sat down for a chat. He had no clue how to handle the paperwork, and I thought challenge accepted. The challenge and the chats turned into a friendship, a shared business venture called Sorry Mom, another venture that went bankrupt but taught us valuable lessons, and a new venture called Iron & Ink, and here we are today. Brothers in business though he’s Kurdish origin and I’m Danish.
4 Years ago we went on our first trip to the US to become inspired, learn, but also to take a break from a rough year where we were let down by a business partner in London.
We went to a tattoo convention in Long Beach, California to represent Sorry Mom and we fell completely in love with the city of LA.
We were actually talking to some friends in the tattoo space at that time about partnering with them in their new tattoo shop on Melrose Avenue. This fell through but we both knew that this is where we should open our first Iron & Ink shop in United States.
Since then it’s been a dream and ambition. We knew that the US needed a state of the art tattoo studio where the client is the main focus all the time, and where there are no compromises on quality — in any aspect.
Today the shop is open for business and we are super stoked to be here!
Being an entrepreneur is the same in Europe and the US. You need to have drive, discipline and goals as well as the right team.
The process of setting up a business in the US and the practical things are the biggest differences. There are a lot of legal requirements that are different and it is less digital. In Europe no one uses checks anymore so having a US checkbook was new for us!
What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?
Success comes from two things. 1. Doing what you love. 2. Aiming at making a difference.
Working 9–5 doesn’t do the job — hard work is more than that. In order to be able to work harder it is important to have good habits and being able to prioritize what’s important and what’s not.
Social media is painting a fairytale of being an entrepreneur. Reality is that it is hard work and it comes with at a high price that you have to be willing to pay.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My dad. He came to Denmark with a higher Syrian education but as a refugee he didn’t have the option of using it since the rules are different. He had to take a step back, clean toilets in night clubs and create a new foundation in Denmark to take care of his family. He later opened a store and a pizza place in Denmark. But now he works as a translator for the Danish authorities and has a great career.
He taught me to work hard. When I was 10, I would help him out at his store and it helped me become the entrepreneur I am today.
I have been very fortunate to have a lot of good people around me, including my family, friends and business partners. My mom for example has always been an explorer by nature, and she has always been a caring and good person. I try to take that, along with her always positive and open mindset, into my way of working and running a business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are many stories! Overall, it is the personal journey we are on. Learning from our mistakes, building relationships, becoming great leaders and taking our businesses to the next level.
We love how we turned our initial friendship into a business venture and a brotherhood.
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?
At the time it was not funny at all, but today we can laugh about it. Our bankruptcy was a huge mistake. We did not know how to pay our taxes, and it had a crucial cost for us back in the days.
We have also had times where we have trusted the wrong people and made bad decisions.
Our first employment contacts we did ourselves and they had smileys in them! It was very amateur hour!
We learned a lot about running a business and understanding rules and legal issues. We definitely also learned that it’s important to team up with GOOD people. And good people with good intentions can do so much.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Good leadership does not show when the leader is present but it shows when the leader is not! If your team is not onboard you will not grow your business.
Good leadership for us is when you have a team working WITH you and not for you! The team has to share your level of passion and dedication. This is only achievable if people find it fun to work with you. It is crucial to treat people well, not just in terms of financial payment, but also in making work life enjoyable.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. As a leader / CEO you set the standard. Set it high if you want your team to perform.
2. Always give more than you take! Over time you will learn that giving to the right people will come right back to you to benefit your business and growth.
3. Invest in your team. You need to create a culture and make people feel that they are a part of the business.
4. Be honest. Give harsh feedback whenever it’s needed. You’re not helping your team if you’re not being honest with them.
5. Listen, learn and understand. Ask for help when needed. Just because you’re the CEO you don’t know everything.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It is okay to fall down as long as you do not stay down!.” Success is built on failure. When you understand how to learn from your mistakes you become successful.
Bruce Lee: Be water, my friend.
Be like water, be adaptive, and always be in flow.
Water is needed for survival, so it’s important to remember yourself every day.
Also, you are important for people around you, it’s important to be adaptive and the best version for yourself, your family and the challenges facing.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
For a long time I have been following Bedros Keuilian. And a few days ago I actually got to sit down for dinner with him!. We share a similar background and I admire his energy. It was amazing hearing his stories about entrepreneurship and views on the world.
I would love to have lunch with David Beckham. I would love to talk tattoos, sports and entrepreneurship with him. He is currently launching a football club in Miami, and that is so cool!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We have a very active Instagram to please follow us!
https://www.instagramcom/sorrymomtattoo (Sorry Mom)