Experimentation is key to finding the magic. So be open-minded and explorative; go play in the kindergarten. Often it is by mistake that you find a successful path.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing…Konrad Bergström, the CEO & Founder of electric boatmaker, X Shore (www.xshore.com). Konrad is a leading Swedish entrepreneur whose various innovations have been recognized for excellence in export, design, communication, marketing, technology and fashion. Prior to X Shore, he co-founded Zound Industries, one of Sweden’s fastest-growing companies of all time. Beyond his entrepreneurial career, Konrad has developed a true passion and dedication to saving our oceans. He is a UNOPS Innovation Ambassador and is personally involved in several charitable programs protecting the environment and wildlife. In 2018, Sweden’s Royal Patriotic Society awarded Konrad the highest honors for his extraordinary achievements: The King’s Medal.
Thank you so much for joining us Konrad! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in a really small village, called Norrskedika, which was once dubbed “Sweden’s most boring drive-thru”. Throughout my childhood however my family and I traveled a lot. This meant that I was lucky enough to experience all kinds of different landscapes, visiting some of the most beautiful mountaintops and oceans on earth.
As a child, I was surrounded by truly smart and ambitious family members, and this has always inspired me in my own career. My mother was a theater director and my father a teacher in math and engineering, who later decided to dedicate his professional life to his passion; the ocean. My grandfather was an innovative engineer who made many patents for the healthcare industry, and it was from my grandmother, who grew up in a family of fishermen, that I derived my profound passion for nature and the ocean.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
When my father turned his big passion for the ocean into a career as a boat salesman it showed me how it was possible to make good business out of something you love. I started to work from an early age and have always tried to put my passion into everything I do.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I am fortunate enough to have a lot of ideas and it’s always been that way. When I was younger I was more naive and tried to make them all happen at once. Now I have a clear agenda and adopt a much more strategic approach. I look for business opportunities with high margins, global scalability, and a unique product around which I can build a good story and a strong brand.
I have also learned to surf the wave of a tech shift. When we were making headphones and speakers at Zound Industries, this was about complementing the smartphone revolution. With X Shore’s 100% electric craft we are piggybacking on the electric revolution for cars, using automotive technology and remodeling it to a marine environment.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
To build a business case for your hobby you need to do your homework. You only have 24-hours per day and seven days per week to ensure that you are betting on the right horse in turning a passion into an actual company. You will need to work out if you have good enough margins and whether you are capable of reaching a high enough volume of sales to make money. You also need to consider the complexity of developing your product or service and how to best distribute it.
A well-thought-out plan for how to bring your product to market is crucial, but even more important is being realistic about how long this will take. Underestimating ‘time to market’ will negatively impact your entire business ecosystem, so be wary of this.
Remember, the world is full of cash and there is plenty for any well-prepared business case with great potential.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Always keep innovating and don’t stop challenging yourself. If you have a true passion it will not die. If you bring in help to deal with the less enjoyable tasks, this will help you focus on the things that you are most passionate about.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
When you get your business to work, it pays off — both in your mind and in the bank. I take great comfort in knowing that I can change the world and make it a better place by building a sustainable business like X Shore, and this is a huge driving force for me.
What I have noticed over the years is that many people believe that running their own business will grant them more freedom. I see it as the opposite. You never know when you have to be the one to jump in to solve a problem or to put out a fire. In many regards, solving problems is what being an entrepreneur is about and this is something I’ve always been good at.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I’m a working class hero and have had to put in all the hard work myself to get to where I am today. As part of this I have ensured to always be in full control of my career and only go for opportunities that I am passionate about. Working with things that I love has meant that at no point have I regarded working as a chore or a burden. In a way, I’ve never really had a ‘real’ job in this sense.
This also applies to my current work with X Shore. When setting up a business, things don’t usually go exactly as planned, but overall, my expectations have matched the actual outcome.
Turning X Shore into the market leader for electric boats was always going to include hard work but that hasn’t stopped me from having fun and enjoying the ride as we go.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Yes, there have been a few of those times but I always recovered quickly. I simply slept on it, woke up, and threw myself back into the fight again. As an entrepreneur you need to dare to jump out in the open; sometimes you will land comfortably, other times you won’t, but on those occasions, you just need to be quick to pick yourself back up again.
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?
I make mistakes on a daily basis, but that is one of the only ways you can drive forward and make progress. You may have a plan for success but only time will tell how this turns out — you need to keep experimenting until you find the magic formula. It becomes a process of trial and error, and gradually, the results become more positive. Never give up.
Also, listen to the right people — those who are constructive will help you, but you must ignore those who are negative. Believe in yourself — if they believe in you, then you can too.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Three individuals that inspire me to be a great leader are Albert Einstein, Salvador Dalí, and Winnie the Pooh. The thing that they have in common is that no one really listened to them, but they were all brave and dared to challenge the system.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
After selling my business, Zound Industries, I wanted to combine creating a great business with doing good for the world. The oceans are an essential part of this planet; if they die, we die. Our core mission with X Shore is to secure the future health of our oceans, and this is why we made our X Shore craft 100% electric and silent, bringing minimal disruption to marine life.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Nothing comes for free. It is an everyday fight to get a business off the ground. From the conception, to growth, to innovation — you need to keep the fire burning.
- Don’t be afraid of change. Today’s solution might not be there tomorrow. Work on a plan A, B, and C in your mind, and if the first one doesn’t work, move on to the next.
- Experimentation is key to finding the magic. So be open-minded and explorative; go play in the kindergarten. Often it is by mistake that you find a successful path.
- Recognize talent to help your organization grow from the inside. When you take on new people, you have to keep the dream growing internally — otherwise you risk losing employees to other companies who may have a greater passion than yours.
- Always run a profitable business. This is the rule that will give you the freedom to do what you want.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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.
I do believe that it is the entrepreneurs’ responsibility to fix the issues our world faces today. Through innovation and technological advancements, we can make humanity the species that protects the rest of the planet, not the one that destroys it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To achieve you have to believe.”
The scope of your ambition will determine the extent to which you will succeed. Essentially, if you imagine a cottage you will build a cottage, while if you imagine a castle you will more likely build a castle.
This is the very framework that I have based my entrepreneurial career on. If you want to be successful in any walk of life you need to, fundamentally, believe in what you are doing. Don’t be scared to dream big because that is the only way your ideas will come to fruition and without this approach, I would never be where I am today.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Warren Buffet. The last few years have seen the emergence of some truly incredible young entrepreneurs but Mr. Buffet is someone I consider the true shaman of business and the father of our current business ecosystem.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.