Taking the first bite of the Big Apple – Del 2

Walter close up

Noget af det jeg elsker allermest ved iværksætter-livet er, at man langt hen ad vejen bare er nødt til at kaste sig ud i det, når man står overfor en ny udfordring. Tidligere har jeg været vant til, at kunne læne mig op ad viden jeg har fået gennem min uddannelse eller ældre kollegaers erfaringer.

Sådan er det ikke som iværksætter. Her må man typisk bare ud og prøve forskellige ideer og tiltag af, for at få sine egne “hands-on” erfaringer. Heldigvis er det en læringsproces, som jeg i den grad trives med.
Sådan var det også på seminaret i New York. Her skulle vi naturligvis også ud og prøve kræfter med den virkelige verden. I mit tilfælde betød det, at jeg skulle ud og finde nye forhandlere til Danmarks nye design-brand.

Efter et par gode pep-alks fra Mik fra Lemonsqueeze, var det på tide at flyve fra reden! Første gang jeg trådte ind i en butik i New York, var det en smule grænseoverskridende. Men der viste sig hurtigt et mønster. I modsætning til Danmark, hvor Danish design i bund og grund bare er.. design. Så er Danish design åbenbart super sexet i New York.
Det blev til i alt 5 besøg den første eftermiddag. For hvert besøg blev jeg lige en tand skarpere i mit pitch og jeg lærte hurtigt mere og mere om, hvad der fangede de forskellige forhandleres interesse. Til trods for god interesse i de første 4 butikker, gav det dog ikke pote.

Da jeg kom til den sidste butik, var der endelig jackpot. Her var det ejeren selv, der stod bag disken. Han bød mig velkommen og var meget begejstret for mine designs. Så begejstret, at han inviterede mig tilbage to dage senere, så vi kunne få alle de praktiske detaljer på plads. Jeg var ovenud lykkelig og helt paf! Havde jeg virkelig fået min første forhandler i New York!? JA SGU.

Det blev det sjoveste møde jeg længe har haft. Til trods for mine mange forberedelse anede jeg intet om deres “basic terms and conditions”, hvordan logistikken skulle strikkes sammen eller hvordan vi skulle forholde os til betalingsvilkårene. Men vi satte hos ned og gennemgik alle forholdene punkt for punkt. Til sidst kunne vi give håndslag på et godt samarbejde.

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Tony fra ABODE

Kommer du en dag til New York, så tag endelig en tur forbi ABODE i Williamsburg. Her vil Tony og Brian helt sikkert tage rigtig godt imod dig.

Men det stoppede ikke med en ny forhandler. Mik havde lige et sidste es gemt i ærmet. Ugen igennem havde vi talt om muligheden for, at få mine figurer på hylderne hos én helt særlig forhandler. Her talte vi om en forhandler, der i min verden var fuldstændig uopnåelig. Men Mik havde en vej ind. Tilbage på kontoret kom Mik hen til mig “Fredag kl. 17.00 møder du op på denne adresse! Dont be late”.
Fredag kl. 17.00 troppede jeg så op hos et af New Yorks mest eftertragtede designbureauer. Efter en rundtur i deres allerhelligste lokaler og et indblik i deres nyeste produktudvikling, fik vi os en god snak om mine produkter. Igen en vanvittig og surrealistisk oplevelse. Et halvt års tid forinden stod jeg hjemme i værkstedet i Nordsjælland og drømte om hvad mine små hvaler kunne blive til. Nu sad jeg så i et imponerende kontor midt i New York og talte med et ikon indenfor design. En mand, som nu ville gøre sit for, at få mine designs afsat hos en forhandler i den absolutte superliga inden for design. Det var næsten ikke til at fatte.

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Turens mest spændende kaffemøde

Efter mødet vidste jeg ikke, om jeg skulle slå vejrmøller hele vejen ned af Broadway eller tage i byen og købe den største flaske champagne jeg kunne støve op.

Ugen var ved at komme til sin ende og det var så småt på tide at vende næsen hjem ad igen. Kufferten var tømt for designfigurer og i stedet fyldt til randen med oplevelser, indtryk og ikke mindst en ny forhandler.

Hvad jeg ikke vidste på daværende tidspunkt var, at et tilfældigt møde den sidste dag i New York, med en ikke helt tilfælde skolelærer, skulle vise sig at tage hele konceptet for Design by Witt i en helt ny retning… Men mere om det i næste blog.

ABODE
Go Grow
Lemonsqueeze

Taking the first bite of the Big Apple – Part 2

Walter close upOne of the things I love most about being an entrepreneur is, that when facing a new challenge, most times you just have to go out there and trust your gut feeling. Earlier I used to depend on knowledge I had gained through my education or experiences from older colleagues.
As an entrepreneur you can not do this. Instead you just need to go out there and try out different ideas and approaches. This way you will get your own ” hands-on “ experiences. Fortunately, it is a learning process that comes very natural to me.
This was also the best way to learn during the seminar in New York. Here we had to go out and test our products and concepts in the real world. In my case, I had to go out there and find new retailers for Denmark’s newest design brand.

After a few good pep-talks from Mik, it was time to leave the safe surroundings at Lemonsqueeze. The first time I walked into a design store in New York, it was a bit scary. But I soon discovered a comforting pattern. Unlike in Denmark, where Danish design basically just is… Well… it is just design. So it turned out, that in New your Danish design is super sexy. That afternoon I visited a total of 5 design stores. For each visit, my pitch got a little better and I quickly learned more and more about what caught the retailers´ interest. Despite some good interest in the first 4 shops, no one bought anything.

When I walked in to the last retailer, I finally hit jackpot. Here it was the owner himself, who stood behind the counter. He welcomed me inside and was very excited about my designs. So excited that he invited me back two days later, so that we could get all the practical details sorted out. I was truly happy and excited. Did this really mean, that I just landed my first retailer in New York!? I think it did!

It turned out to be the funniest meeting in a long time. Despite preparation, I did not know anything about their “basic terms and conditions”. Nor did I know anything about how we would deal with the logistics or in what way we should come to terms with the payments. But we sat at down and went through all the terms and conditions point by point. Eventually we were able to shake hands and they could start selling my designs.

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Tony from ABODE with his first Tokens of Happiness

If you some day come to New York, do not hesitate to stop by ABODE in Williamsburg. Tony and Brian will certainly invite you in and take really good care of you. And please do give them my best.

But it did not stop with a new retailer. Mik had just one last thing hidden up in his sleeve. Throughout the week, we had discused the possibility of getting my designs on for sale at one retailer in particular. We where talking about a retailer, that in my world was completely unattainable. But Mik might just have a way in. Back at the office Mik came up to me and said “Friday at 17:00 you will show up at this address! Dont be late”

That friday at 17.00 I showed at one of New York’s most respected design agencies. After a tour around there offices,  we sat down and had a good talk about my products. Again a crazy and surreal experience. Half a year ago, I was back home in the wooden workshop in Denmark. Here I was making my little happy designs while I was dreaming about what might be. Now I sat in an impressive office in midtown Manhattan and spoke with an iconic in the design business. A man who now tried to help me sell my designs through the nr. 1 retailer on my list. It was almost impossible to comprehend.

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The most exciting coffee meeting in a long time.

The seminar was coming to its end and it was about time to return home. The suitcase was now missing all my designs and instead filled with good experiences, lots of impressions and not least a new  retail contract.

What I did not know at the time was, that a random meeting on the last day in New York, with a not so random schoolteacher would turn out to change the whole concept of Design by Witt… But more on that in the next blog.

Lemonsqueeze
Go Grow
ABODE

Taking the first bite of the Big Apple – Part 1

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“Yes Martin, we would love to sell your beautiful designs”.

Wauw!! This one sentence just marked another great milestone for my little design firm. Not only did it mean that I could add yet another design store to my list of retailers. It also meant that I could add my first retailer in New York to the list.

It seemed completely unreal. Now I could say that my little designs could be bought in New York City. Imagine if I could get more retailers!? What if this could lead to an unexpected breakthrough and pave the way for a whole new market and new opportunities. A familiar phrase inevitably popped into my mind “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. Well at least I had my hopes up, and why not be optimistic about it.

But how did I end up here? How did I go from my little charming wooden workshop north of Copenhagen, to suddenly finding myself shaking hands with a design retailer in New York?
As with everything else concerning this little entrepreneurial adventure, it had to do with a good mix of hard work, an awful lot of networking and not least a big portion of luck.

Luckily enough, I had been admitted to the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneur Ships incubator program “Go Grow “, a few months before. Go Grow is a program specialized in helping entrepreneurs like myself, to reach their full potential.

The primary purpose of Go Grow is to help  the start-ups go to new markets outside the boarders of Denmark. My first intuition was to focus on the Scandinavian market. It seemed most likely and  manageable. But during the Go Grow course, I got an unexpected opportunity to reach just a little further than the Scandinavian countries.

All the teams on the Go Grow program got an invitation to participate in an exciting seminar in New York.

The purpose of the seminar was to teach us how to conquer new markets and in particular how to get into the US market. The invitation came from Lemonsqueeze – a very succesful young company. They had created a concept, that helps companies enter the US market

New York was not exactly part of my original plan. At least not this this early in the process. But since the opportunity presented it self, why not take it and just let my little Walter swim with it. I jam packed my suitcase with my little designs and jumped on a plane across the Atlantic.

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Mik Strøyberg, founder of Lemonsqueeze, exceeded everyone’s expectations with the impressive line-up of true “rock starts” within the entrepreneurial environment. Every day there were new lectures from entrepreneurs, that we would otherwise only read about in various magazines. One day it would be a young brilliant fundraiser from Forbes “30 under 30”-list, the next day we would visit Kick-starters headquarters. Kick-start is for entrepreneurs what Google or Apple is for IT-geeks. This was truly mind blowing!

During the week, the people at Lemonsqueeze had a strong focus on all participants in the seminar and our businesses. The team behind Go Grow and Lemonsqueeze did everything to help us solved what ever challenge we might be facing.

The culmination of the seminar was an investor-pitch. We should prove ourselves, and pitch our businesses and ideas. And so we did.

But there was yet another important purpose of the seminary. We should once again prove ourselves and see if our tiny fragile entrepreneurial wings would let us fly. It was time to leave the safe environment at Lemonsqueeze, and go kick in some doors and take our very first bite of the Big Apple…

Will be continued this thursday when part 2 is released.

* A big and thank you straight from the heart to the teams behind Go Grow and Lemonsqueeze. Your help and support meant everything to me. Go Grow Lemonsqueeze

From real estate agent to entrepreneur – part 2

MetroHere is the continuation of the story about how the whole idea of Design by Witt occurred. If you haven’t read the first part yet, you may want to read the first blog post – From real estate agent to entrepreneur.

After I made the first edition of Walter the Whale in my fathers workshop, my new little project “Design by Witt” quickly startet to evolve. There wasn’t hardly any waken minut of the day, where I wasn’t coming up with different ideas or new projects regarding Design by Witt. My closest friends and family help in the process of brainstorming on the new ideas and initiatives. The whole business structure surrounding Design by Witt was slowly starting to take form. But if I wanted it to look professional and if I wanted to be taken seriously, I would also have to do it professionally. This made me think about founding my first very own company. It should be a real company with a registered VAT-number, a website, a business plan and everything else that one would need in a serious company.

My biggest challenge was, that I knew absolutely nothing about how to build up your own start-up in the design business, building a website or structuring a company. But one thing is was good at, was gaining help from my network. Both privately and professionally. I would never have gotten anywhere, if it wasn’t for the enormous help I got from day one! Help that I in every way is deeply grateful for.

Equipped with a potent “lets do it” attitude, an uncontrollable motivation and a good deal of impatience I began to work on my project. A great lawyer from my network helped my to found the company. For that I needed a name! “Witt” seemed like a no-brainer, so I wanted to go with that. But unfortunately it turned out, that the name was already taken. Since I was making design, I instead wanted to go with “Witt Design”. So I made all the paperwork and founded the company.

Afterwards a really good friend of mine helped me purchase the domain for my website. But when we wanted to buy the domain name “Witt Design” this name was also taken! Back to coming up with a new name! Quickly I come up with “Design by Witt”. Fortunately is name was available both with the registration authorities and for the domain. So I changed the company name with the authorities and finally I was established. It was an amazing feeling and I felt like I was walking around with an S on my chest! So now I just had to structure the company and built the website and webshop. But to do so I also needed a logo. Back to the drawing board. Very quickly (read: a lot of long nights, a lot of help from close friends and some great deal of frustrations) I now had my very own one man company, making my own designs and having my own website. I was so proud and super excited. Finally! I had created something that I could build on. And that I would! I could not help it.

When I showed my designs to people I met, they seemed enthusiastic and they liked the energy I put into the project. This created a synergy that just made my motivation and my drive grow even more. Quickly, I updated my website, expanded my concept and suddenly I also had my first retailer. It was an amazing feeling, to know that my small handmade figurines was now being bought by people who wasn’t friends or family.

Quite early in the process I got my big chance. My cousin had arranged a meeting with the Purchasing Manager in one of Scandinavia’s biggest and most exclusive design and home furnishing warehouses. If I wanted to look professional before, now it was even more important to come on as a serious and well-established company. In order to appear strong and serious, I called up a good friend of mine and offered him the job as sales director. He accepted and a few days later we sat down at a presentation meeting with the Purchasing Manager of this exclusive warehouse. I toke out the designs from my backpack, unwrapped them from towels and presented the individual designs. Meanwhile my new sales director asked about order sizes and delivery terms. In retrospect we were probably out presenting just a bit too early. But I guess there was no law against being an optimist.

The Purchasing Manager could see the potential and was happy with the products. But as she very kindly explained to us, she was not ready to take the products in commission. That would require a bigger production, professional packaging, barcodes and basically just a more serious set-up.

Although we did not close any deals that day, I now had a very concrete goal to target. I had to find a manufacturer who could supply us with a high quality production of the designs.

A year would pass after our meeting with the Purchasing manager, before I got my first batch of products home and stashed my apartment completely with boxes of my design products.

It was an indescribable feeling! There I was, about to open my very first Design by Witt gift box – I was thrilled! But I had not come this far without tons of hard work.
I had been around the country, to find a manufacturer in Denmark. Unfortunately, either the quality or the cost were acceptable. This led me to Slovakia and Romania. Here the production price was absolutely acceptable, but the quality of the products were no way near anything that could be accepted. During the process, more than once I was presented to a Danish company, which was specialized in production of design products in the East.

Every time I dropped it, because I thought it would be too resourceful and difficult to start up production in the East. But again, via my network, a meeting with production company was set up – Thank you again to the Go Grow manager. For the first time I met someone with the kind of commitment I had been looking for. Here I sat opposite an old (still young of age) cabinetmaker who took my products very seriously. They could make the products under the best possible conditions and at the same time I felt we really hit it of. 7 months after our first meeting, this company could deliver the first batch of products.

Alongside the search for the right manufacturer, I also started to built up a more serious structure around my company. I went from a private one man company, to a more serious business structure with a holding company and an operating company. I assigned an advisory board and assured me the proper design registrations and trademark protections. Most importantly, I applied to join the Go Grow – an entrepreneurship program at CSE, Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship. Luckily I got in. The help and the network I got there, was more and better than I could have ever dreamed of. I was lucky to get in on a wild card and suddenly I found myself studying at the entrepreneurial school. Here I had to work on my KPIs, my CRM system and my VPs. Not to forget my GTM-level and my revenue streams – plus my pitch. Google quickly became my best friend during this period.

Go Grow gave me exactly what I needed and more. Go Grow made my business more structured, streamlined and expanded my mindset. From being myself and with a single retailor, I got a company with three foreign trainees, production in the far East and sales in Denmark and New York. Yet the entrepreneurial journey had only just begun.

The first steps into the life as an entrepreneur has been the most fun I’ve ever done. It has undoubtedly been extremely hard, tiering and not without sacrifice. But there is also a reason why my new motto is: If it was easy, everyone would do it! But the hard work was nothing compared to the enormous boost and the indescribable satisfaction it gives, to build something from scratch. Something, that with a little luck, maybe turn into being something greater than just a business involving me.

As a real estate agent, I worked to earn money. With Design by Witt, I work because I can not help my self and and because I think it is incredibly exciting and fun. At the same time, I now have the opportunity to do something good for others. Right from the start I decided to support different charity organisations. Besides some small sponsorships, I quite early decided to go in and support the WWF. There was no profits from the company yet, but the feeling of giving something back made it worth it. And the sponsorship fitted perfectly into the concept of the Tokens of Happiness.

So why was it, that I decided to quit the life as real estate agent to become an entrepreneur? Why I drop the easy path and instead choose the uncertain one? After all, for me it was fundamentally all about feeling free and trying the adventure. My biggest fear was to spent an entire working life not trying something else and not see what I could do with my potential.

My good friend – the one who accepted the job as my sales director – said it best. One day I was complaining a bit about the uncertainty and lack of financial bonuses I had been accustomed to as a real estate agent. He listened, but just said ” I hear what you are saying Martin. Just remember, every morning you wake up as a free man” Continue reading

From real estate agent to entrepreneur

Walter&Witt

Why did you do it? That is probably the question I´ve been asked most times over the last year, since I decided to take a leap of faith and start out as an entrepreneur. To be completely honest, I have also asked myself that very question once or twice. Why on earth did I quit a somewhat safe and sound career as a real estate agent with a relatively reasonable income, in favor of a funny and in so many ways crazy idea? Continue reading

Fra ejendomsmægler til iværksætter

Elephant light

Fra ejendomsmægler til iværksætter – Del 1.

Hvorfor gjorde du det? Det er nok det spørgsmål, jeg er blevet stillet flest gange, siden jeg tog valget om at springe ud som iværksætter for lidt over et år siden. Skal jeg være helt ærlig, har jeg da også stillet mig selv netop det spørgsmål en gang eller 3. Hvorfor i alverden var det nu lige, at jeg droppede den ellers sikre karriere som ejendomsmægler, med en relativ fornuftig indkomst, til fordel for en på mange måder skør ide? En skør ide om at lave noget så anderledes som, at designe, producere og sælge træfigurer. En skør ide uden nogen form for garanti om indtjening eller succes. Continue reading