Tor Rolfsen Grønsund – thoughtSeeker
Who are you and what do you do?
Currently I am running a company called Lingo Labs. The background belongs to a story which might be interesting. At the moment we do regional strategy, marketing etc. and some technology we outsource for companies and organizations in Norway.
We are focusing on technology aspects because this is what we know best. So I could tell you afterwards about how we got there. We are currently iterating, spinning, testing the projects. We do operate a lab as well. We focus on WordPress projects in that lab. The last project and the current project we are about to launch soon is called business model press. It’s based on a problem that my students had at the university using the business model canvas. The change was that we used custom development combined with business model canvas meaning to develop the business model. You get market feedback, customer feedback and annual reports. We also blog.
We just started creating this because once we faced a specific problem and that problem was the students blogging business model, they essentially had to download the business model canvas, then they created a picture out of it, upload it to power point and from there they had to again put some random text on top of it. And they would create a new picture out of it. Then download it to embed in a WordPress blog or into a similar platform. So this was a kind of time consuming process for a student. We focused on simplifying the process. We focused on the process not the tool essentially.
So why not create a business model plugin for WordPress? This solves exactly that model problems. I am a WordPress enthusiast. The idea behind it is perhaps creating an interactive online course for students. It might be for entrepreneurs. I am having plenty of ideas, I want to test them, I want to get feedback from them. I need a tool to do that. So the business model press might be that place where you can do that. We are thinking about different directions for it. Some ideas we are testing. One of them is that you can have a panel, a professional panel of experts, startup experts, if you say so. In the other end you might test and publish your thoughts, ideas and processes.
A moment or point in time which changed your world perception?
In terms of entrepreneurship in the retrospect, I had this process when I was like 13 years old. I was collecting basketball cards. I am not tall enough to play basketball professionally but essentially we played a lot of basketball in school and we started collecting cards of all these players. I remember that we came to think of having too many duplicates of the cards we were collecting. So when you went to the stores to buy the new cards we always got more duplicates.
And there was a small local market for those cards at school among friends. Same people having same duplicates and too many cards. In terms of trading the cards back and forward. It wasn’t like the perfect market because some cards were too many. So we tried to get rid of those cards. But there might have been some other people who wanted those cards. So what we did was that we started to create these packages. We had some wrapping papers, scissors and some tape and we created this new package of basketball cards in bundles. We put in some really nice good cards. And we put in some duplicates, of course. We completed the range of good cards with medium cards. And we started selling those at school and I think that cool thing was that people were buying. Fellow students were buying. When we first started we had me and my brother and then we had one good guy joining us, we had another good guy joining us. We were based in a basement which was our actual office. So we earned some money as well. It went pretty well. This was enough for our school management to call our parents that “your children can’t sell this stuff at the school, you know, because other parents are complaining”.
Because their kids always asked for more pocket money. So they didn’t understand what that pocket money is for. So this was a product in which fellow students wanted more cards. The product was actually interesting enough for them and there was a demand at school. So we went to off to buy cards, trade cards, build logistics but we had to stop because of the school management.
I, at that time, actually didn’t understand exactly why did we have to stop, because everyone was happy about it. It was a win-win situation. That thing was a nice experience in terms of business. Making it work, having happy customers. Yet the school, the system, the environment won’t allow me to do it.
So this thing was my lesson from this project. There is always some kind of resistance! You won’t always succeed for some reasons. I discovered more or less same experience afterwards that no one can recognize it. I am always interested in finding out why. In terms of startup and an ecosystem there is always this friction among your customers.
And I am trying to learn why.
That might be the reason I am interested in teaching entrepreneurship.
What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
When I was a student I started to study informatics and information science. I was really really caught up with this dot com thing. Reading the blogs, following the media, so I wanted to create my own internet product. At that point I went to study the informatics and information science, programming, web-programming etc. But I don’t have the patience actually for coding. So what I was more into was a system of methodologies and how do we maintain the projects and patterns we use.
The system theory part was really interesting. That led me to try to understand what makes a project more successful than the other. So I was all into this methodologies. I liked learning methodologies we didn’t actually use because we create this all cool software stuff like games, chess game, search engine, classifieds. But when I’ve had a chance, opportunity, the university never gave us the chance to put our stuff to market. So I was missing this part, the marketing part of it. Like you created a product and how do you fit the product into the market.
Then I discovered when I was watching the web that there were companies like Spotify which were using the invites as a way of testing the product. Also as a way of creating market demand. So by using the invites they not only get the feedback of the product, but also the curiosity that if one of the friends have got the invite, then all others started thinking when will they get a chance to test it. To me this was combining product development with market management. So I wanted more of the latter.
I started studying innovation entrepreneurship where I was able to probe this thinking about methodologies. There are many methodologies of creating a product, the engineering process of it. The managing of the engineering process. But there are no methodologies on how to start a company. There are no methodologies on how to do that entrepreneurial process well. So I started searching for this.
When I did my master thesis I came across the business model canvas. I used it and fell in love with it. I think this was a great model for thinking about business strategies and I added it to my toolbox. But it lacked the “how”, meaning like how do you process the business model canvas in the market with the clients. Not within the buildings and brainstorming sessions but how do you use it in the real life?
Actually the business model canvas is enough for brainstorming for new business models together with the team members but how do you process, how do you go to learn about the customers in the market? Is there any process to tell how do I get this box filled out? How do I put it to market?
The biggest challenge I faced I’d say is the founder and a co-founder relationship. How do you manage this relation? How do you get people to work with you together on the projects with not necessarily knowing and sharing relations in the background or journey? That’s the task which is, I think, a really important thing and a difficult thing in the same time.
What motivates you?
We are in the space where there are many solutions today. Many solutions to the business model issue. Many canvas tools of the business model which are really good. But to me and the feedback we get from other people is that those tools are not exactly what they are looking for. It’s either too much or too complex stuff. Our model is the simplest method of login and blogging your business model ideas with added structure. I want to help entrepreneurs going forward. That’s why the vision of the project is what it is. This is the very motivating part of it.
Where do you get your power from?
I guess my family, my parents and my girlfriend. They support whatever thing I do.
What are your goals in life?
As I said I think making people happy. Getting things better. It’s more important to have myself getting better at what I do. So I don’t know if you can achieve meaning for some people. But if a company using this tool happily achieved their goal, overcoming an obstacle, there is the fuel. That is what’s driving me forward. I mean I don’t have a big plan but of course I want to create my current company and have impact. Be whatever they want to be instead of just going to work.
What was your biggest failure until now?
I think it’s misjudging people. We started Lingo 2 and half years ago as a company in order to commercialize a project which was called ECPC. It was basically an operating system for notebooks. An internet enabled operating system for notebooks. At the time it looked pretty disruptive. We thought this would find a perfect place between the PC and the mobile phone.
So I got together with my then co-founder to commercialize this open source based on the Ubuntu operating system. At that time we hit 1 million downloads. We decided it takes too much time to do the community management and everything and we decided either we commercialize it or we put it aside and keep it as a hobby project. But keeping it just as a hobby project wouldn’t have had the usage it would have needed.
So we decided to create a company to commercialize it, we did very well. We were in talks with very big clients, we got funding and everything was good. I think competition was there were Nokia, Intel and Google. There were more startups in the UK they were moving pretty fast as well. So then there was another thing: the tablet came, the ipad. And we were in talks with a large telecom company about a big international deal. They said this is interesting but now we need it on tablet. So after this change in the market we started working on to porting the operating system from notebook to the tablet. Which was, technology wise, harder than we thought. So a lot of disruption occurred due to that and we discontinued that project. That caused a split within the team and within the company. So after that the same co-founder decided to split the company and we had to start a new company and started looking for a new idea.
So after getting hits of 1 million downloads and a lot of hard work it was really hard to cancel or quit the project. So from there we developed Lingo, and slowly turned into from a high tech firm to a consultancy business. That’s how we were operating this lab of ours. We have been trying to create new projects.
How would you summarize your business learnings?
First of all I never thought about big market behavior. I was like big markets exists but I was creating happy users. And we can sell a product without thinking about the big market because there are so many small startups as well. But at this point the big market hit us really hard. So I learnt that momentum is very important in a business.
What are your life principals?
The most important aspect for me is that if you are enjoying it, you are most likely to succeed. So instead of the other way around I could choose any project in terms of research, being analytical and all that. I would say this is just the right thing, this is going to be big. But I can’t imagine myself sitting 5 years 6 years working on the stuff. It won’t make me happy. So my goal is to you have to find what you are really interested in, your passion and try to work on that.
What is your recipe of success?
I don’t think I have any recipe for success. I have a recipe of failing faster. And more safely. I am obsessed with trying to push all that I have.
I would say try to fail as securely as possible.