Never be too proud to get your hands dirty by being involved. It is important to build a trusted relationship with your employees by taking part in the operations of your company and be a leader, not just a boss. You want to be able to connect with your employees and have them trust in your leadership.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rune Sovndahl.
Rune Sovndahl, is a co-founder of Fantastic Services — an international brand with 10+ years of experience that combines technological innovations with bespoke customer care to deliver services for the home, office and garden.
He was born in Denmark. His father’s career as a self-taught programmer for IBM meant that his family had one of the commercial laptops and private internet connections. He was adept into coding from the age of eight. He worked as a chef in the Royal Danish Navy, where he cooked for dignitaries and members of the Royal Family. Sovndahl moved to London in 1999 to study BA (Hons) in Business information systems design at South Bank University. He set up the European Young Professionals committee in London and assisted in website creation and recruiting more than 200 new members. He was accepted onto a graduate program with BT Group, and later took a role developing e-commerce for the telecoms firm. He then joined early tech pioneer Lastminute.com, where he ultimately became Head of SEO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Denmark and my father influenced my interest in technology solutions. He was a self-taught programmer for IBM and this drive and determination to learn and improve have been my driving force ever since. I was privileged enough back in the days to grow in a family that had one of the commercial laptops of IBM and private internet connections. I was adept into coding from the age of eight.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes, or should I say Japanese proverbs, that has been used in reference to entrepreneurship is “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” This is the sort of attitude that every entrepreneur needs to develop and nurture if he or she is in for the long run and aims for the stars. Success does not come easy. Success will make you work for it, and work hard I mean. Being in this line of work for over 8 years.
A true entrepreneur can never give up, no matter what the market throws at him, no matter what pranks the competitors play on him, no matter how tough the going gets. You should push your skills further than they can take you — learn and improve yourself constantly.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Walking, running and setting the right milestones on the entrepreneurial road made me learn, adopt and develop the most important qualities in order to be successful — perseverance, equanimity, and determination.
As recreation I go scuba diving with sharks — it may sound dangerous, but actually as long as you stay calm and keep equanimity is a great learning experience. When you’re so deep underwater, there are barely any sounds and it is an amazing way to train both your body and soul in exactly these qualities that serve the entrepreneurial mind. I like to point out the rule of thirds in regards to perseverance in business. The rule of thirds is fundamental in cave diving. It means you need to use only a third of your most precious resource, oxygen, before retreating. Ensure you have enough air to go back by using the remaining 2:3 only in emergencies. This practice can also be incorporated in business. Imagine the oxygen is cash — if not managed correctly, you die. When we invest or start a project, we ensure we have enough money to survive even if things go out of hand.
Diving with sharks without a cage is one of the most thrilling things I’ve done so far. Seeing the predator circling me 29 meters deep underwater I thought “this can eat me in one bite”. Such experience changed the way I approach stressful situations. For instance, one of the scariest things in business is meetings with investors — the bull sharks of the corporate world. Diving has helped me understand that I can survive whatever happens in the boardroom, as members cannot literally eat me.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
It was a short period between high school graduation and university when I had the honor to help in the kitchen of the Danish Navy and cook for dignitaries and members of the Royal Family. Cooking is so much like coding — you have the ingredients, there is the mathematics of quantitative and qualitative variables and the way to tweak it a little bit to your own signature. As much as I liked this period of my life I was always determined on how I would like to live and thrive — discovering new potential ventures, investing, making my way to be a successful CEO.
I moved to London in 1999 to study BA (Hons) in Business Information Systems Design at South Bank University. He set up the European Young Professionals committee in London and assisted in the website creation and recruiting more than 200 new members.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
My entrepreneurial journey started in 2009, when my business partner Anton Skarlatov and I launched Fantastic Services. It took us a lot of strong efforts to get where we are today. It all started with a share laptop and the vision to revolutionize the industry. Back then it was impossible to find a flawless easy to book and plan standardized service for your home and this is how we found the niche. We have invested over £5 million in developing a sophisticated technology (CRM + app) that will meet the business needs. Now we are ready to sell this product to the service market as a separate product. It seems that the right mindset and goals will lead you to a 3-dimensional “sweet spot” where all the sweat and tears you’ve invested in making your dream true result in more products/services/revenue streams.
We have learned the hard way how to deal with growth as we didn’t expect these results in such a short period of time. It’s crucial to be prepared in these times and me and my partner Anton, we pride ourselves to have established a business in times of crisis without external investment.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
One day, moving out of the London flat I was living in at the time, I noticed a red wine stain on my carpet. My initial thought was, of course — “I’m never going to get my deposit back”.
After ringing round a whole bunch of cleaning companies, I was even more certain this was going to be the case. None of them looked like they were going to get results — and none of them would provide a quote over the phone.
This annoyed me to the extent that I was happy to spend a little time complaining about it at a friend’s dinner party the following evening.
By sheer luck, the person I ended up chatting with was someone who had their own personal interest in the subject…
Anton Skarlatov is now my business partner. But at the time, he had his own cleaning company. He was only too happy to talk about the state of the industry. We soon realized we shared a similar vision for what the services industry should really be like.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I have mentioned resilience before and I believe this is the quality I have adopted the most during the early days. We were living on fast food and energy drinks, barely sleeping, spending 80–90 hours working every week. This had a huge effect on our personal lives and we didn’t know how to create balance in the business flow. Either we had too many bookings and too less manpower or we ended up with too many staff and not enough clients. I’ve learned empathy — until that moment my journey was more egocentric. With Anton we have adopted the 360-Degree Happiness philosophy. This is the idea that everyone in the company should be treated like a partner — equally, with respect for the skills and dedication which they bring to the team.
Even including the passion and drive we had in the beginning, I think it’s this philosophy more than anything else which has stood us in the best stead over the years.
Now, ten years after we were working 80–90 hour weeks living on junk food with one mobile phone between us, in 2018 the business reported over £32.5 million worth of services, around 300 franchise partners and nearly 2,000 professionals operating under the Fantastic Services brand in the UK alone. We’ve also spread to Australia and the US.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
No job is too small or unimportant if it fits to your company values. That’s how I brought a snail to the office to “babysit” it, while it’s toddler owner was away with his parents. The owner was the young daughter, who had been diagnosed with autism. The girl was convinced that this little snail was holding the soul of the pet rabbit they’d just buried. The child had refused to go on the flight without knowing that her pet was in good hands. And since we are there for our clients every step of the way, we agreed to look after the snail in our office for a week. This is how my employees learned to be diligent and attentive to even the smallest of the tasks and details.
We have tested a service for Pokemon questers and we have just launched the new concierge service for Clubhouse. We are never missing an opportunity to open up a new service, expand the market and make customers happy.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My business partner and my family who have supported my journey and Fantastic Services growth along the way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The snail story is one of my favorites.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Never struggled in such ways because I believe that ships are safer in the harbor but they are not meant to stay there. Same with my life journey — I’ve always left the comfort zone and you have to do it with confidence if you want to succeed.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Professionally, I find being out of my comfort zone by having to deal with HR issues, the legalities of starting and running a business a real eye-opener. There was no way I could avoid these day to day tasks so I do what I always do. I throw myself in. I never do anything half-heartedly. Growing and learning is to me what being an entrepreneur is all about. One of the most rewarding aspects is seeing the implementation and results of my ideas come to fruition. They are not all going to be successful, this is guaranteed, but it’s those kinds of experiences that make you more rounded and eventually a better version of you. I am also lucky enough to be in a position now in which I have more flexibility and control over my time. It was a complete joy to wave goodbye to my 9 to 5. I am able to have a better work-life balance to really focus on doing what is important including keeping up the hobbies.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. No job is too small or unimportant if it fits to your company values. That’s how I brought a snail to the office to “babysit” it, while it’s toddler owner was away with his parents. The owner was the young daughter, who had been diagnosed with autism. The girl was convinced that this little snail was holding the soul of the pet rabbit they’d just buried. The child had refused to go on the flight without knowing that her pet was in good hands. And since we are there for our clients every step of the way, we agreed to look after the snail in our office for a week. This is how my employees learned to be diligent and attentive to even the smallest of the tasks and details.
2. Ships are safer in harbour, but it’s not what they are made for. It’s the same with good leadership — employees want to see that you take risks and you are confident in the direction you are taking them.
3. Never be too proud to get your hands dirty by being involved. It is important to build a trusted relationship with your employees by taking part in the operations of your company and be a leader, not just a boss. You want to be able to connect with your employees and have them trust in your leadership.
4. Becoming a self-made leader will breathe more respect to your leadership afterwards. This is the essence — not being fed with a silver spoon and doing all the hustle to get there will make your employees more diligent and respectful to the job.
You are a person of great 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?
I like the idea of the base income and I believe with progress of technology we should be able to provide the minimum to every human being on the planet. Then everyone will have the possibility to climb up the Maslow pyramid and thrive as human beings. It might look like a socialist concept, yet I don’t preach for equal income, just for a base one to meet the basic needs. The rest will be again up to your determination, hard work and luck.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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. 🙂
Having dinner with the whole Musk family would be something. All the 3 Musk children are so gifted and have the entrepreneurial mind set — would be great to “hangout” with them over a weekend 😊
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!