After working for several years to help others build their dreams, Daniel Nilsson and Noel Braganza decided to start their own company. After months of agonising over it, they reckoned that if they could help others flourish, they should be able to grow their own business too.
While Daniel describes himself as a Growth, Sales, Marketing and Digitisation Strategist whose passion is to help organisations and people grow, Noel has over 13 years of creative experience that spans interaction design and music to digital copywriting and advertising. He enjoys problem solving and keeping the user at the core of his solutions
In September 2018, the Sweden-based entrepreneurs registered their company Up Strategy Lab. They signed on their first customer the very next month. As it happened, that customer reached them entirely by chance.
They talk about the chance that changed their lives.
What made you decide to start your own company?
Daniel: I have been helping others build their dreams for over 14 years. These people were entrepreneurs who had great ideas and a passion to build something of their own. I worked evenings, nights, weekends and travelled the entire world to make their dreams come true.I also had my own dream: of starting my own company. But like many others, I wasn’t sure about what I could do. I always felt that I needed a truly brilliant idea to branch out on my own as anything less wouldn’t be able to justify the risk of losing a regular income. I was also afraid of failure. Noel and I started seeing each other in January 2018 and we often discussed the idea of starting a company together. We eventually decided to register our company in case we came up with a brilliant business idea one day.
Noel: I come from a family that is quite risk averse. Having a regular job, with the security of a paycheck at the end of each month, was always something to aspire to. Starting a business with its associated risks was totally alien to me. I was, however, also keen on having the flexibility of working with clients who were on a similar wavelength: those who prefer a more collaborative way of working as opposed to the top-down method that is the norm worldwide. That is why when Daniel and I started talking about starting our own company, after being apprehensive initially, I was keen on giving it a shot.
Tell us about how you got your first client.
Daniel: One day, I got a call out of the blue from a man who had found my name on an Indian website. Yes, you read that right: An Indian website. I had written a reference for a company that had helped me build a homepage for the company I was then employed with. The caller was Eric Bengtson, a Swedish entrepreneur. He had a problem and was looking for a solution. I listened to him, gave him some advice and then hung up.
I told Noel about the call over dinner. I barely talked for a minute, when Noel told me that the caller could be our first customer and we had to take this chance. I almost choked. Noel was right. We had the exact set of skills and experience to fix his problem, but the thought had never even struck me. I contacted him the next day, and we set up a meeting.
Noel and I travelled to Stockholm a week later to meet Eric and his brother. We learnt that their company Sourcing Allies helps companies in West manufacture products in China. They were very keen on a digital transformation. After we discussed their requirements for about two hours, they asked us to create a business plan and send them a quote.
In one week, Noel and I built our entire website and brand strategy (we wanted to look at least a little established) and simultaneously created an offer presentation and a proposal for Sourcing Allies. I travelled to Stockholm again and presented it to them. Two hours after I delivered my pitch, they accepted and we had our first customer. It was a crazy feeling and so exciting.
Noel: I think we were very fortunate to sign on Sourcing Allies as our first clients. They had come to us with a very simple requirement. They wanted us to help them use the internet to generate new sales leads for their business. They had given up on traditional sales that was conducted over trade fairs, beer and chicken wings. They wanted a sales pipe that generated sales based on results, and wanted customer relationships to build on their ability to deliver quality results.
Their firm belief and desire to do something new, to look beyond what their industry colleagues are still practicing, inspired us to help them and make their business goal our personal motivation and goal. We were especially motivated to help them scale their business because they put an abnormal level of trust in our ability to deliver.
It must have been hard work.
Daniel (laughs): Yes, we both held full-time jobs at that time. So over the next five months, we worked evenings and weekends to create what we had promised. It was a big job that gave us the chance to see how it felt to work together as a couple and we learned a lot about ourselves and the business we were trying to create.
At the same time, we started to talk to other companies, and we signed contracts with several new customers in the spring. We redesigned our brand and then in May, Noel resigned and started to work for Up Strategy Lab full-time. I went full-time in July. We took the plunge by deciding to trust ourselves and our abilities. We did not have the amazing product I thought we needed. But we had something else: knowledge, experience and skills. We were also not afraid of hard work.
That hard work has been quite rewarding, in fact. It felt so great when Sourcing Allies decided to trust us again by renewing our contract earlier this year. It made us feel that we were on the right track, that we had created something valuable for them. It encouraged us to reach out to new customers confidently too.
Noel: It was hard work, but you know it was really fun too because our client was so enthusiastic about the whole process. In all the projects that we work on, we like our partners to introspect in order to guide us on the way forward. The people at Sourcing Allies were so excited about participating in our kick-off Value Proposition Canvas workshop. This was a session that forced them to look within and participate creatively, something that’s far off from their normal work processes, but they jumped in whole-heartedly. This made it easy for us to design and deliver their digital transformation.
You probably get chances every month, but you are just not aware of it. Make sure that when chances come to you, you take it and run.
Do you have any advice for people who have similar dreams but haven’t acted on it yet?
Daniel: I’d advise all RAHMers out there to never be blind to chances you get like I was. Don’t be afraid to kick-off your dream or idea. I think anyone who wants to branch out for themselves should just trust themselves and their abilities. You probably get chances every month, but you are just not aware of it. Make sure that when chances come to you, you take it and run.
Noel: Always be open to new possibilities. For instance, If we weren’t already in the process of starting our own company, the call that Daniel got might have been just any other call that would have ended with: “I’m always happy to help, and good luck with whatever it is that you are trying to do”. But because we had already started thinking of working independently, that call led us to our first customer.
What has changed for you since you started working for yourselves?
Daniel: The most interesting part is that one year after we started our business, we started to develop our own products and have also invested in two companies that have interesting products. One year ago, I could not even dream that this would be possible for us.
Noel: I think the ability to accept projects because we are now officially in business was an eye opener for me. When you’re working for someone else, you never really look at the opportunities you could engage in because you don’t have the mental bandwidth to do so. Now, I’m able to convert any conversation with someone interesting into a potential project. I’m able to do this because I’m mentally ready to see the opportunities out there.
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