One of the rising stars on the Swedish start up sky is the e-commerce platform Tictail.com. The company, founded in 2011 by the four friends Carl Waldekranz, Kaj Drobin, Birk Nilson and Siavash Ghorbani, aims to make selling products on the internet accessible for everyone.
Today the platform showcases more than 100,000 merchants of independent brands from 150 countries worldwide. But to the founders, the motivation lies with empowering a whole new generation of entrepreneurs.
“The reason we started Tictail and the purpose of the company was to enable self-made entrepreneurs to build global brands. I want Tictail to be the place where a new brand, a new entrepreneur, can go to manage ALL of their start up needs,” CEO and Co-founder Carl Waldekranz tells The LINK.
As the NY Times recently reported, the company last year succeeded in raising some $22 million in venture capital before the arrival of what now looks very much like the dreaded slowdown, predicted at length on both sides of the pond. And the key to Tictail’s success so far, according to its CEO, is a combination of incredible luck, great timing and dogged perseverance. He reckons that if one of these factors would have faltered, they may still have been successful, but if two – probably not.
“There is very little about the first two that you can actually influence, but hard work is one of the things you CAN control, so you better not fail on that one.”
Carl Waldekranz in the Stockholm office
The making of an entrepreneur
Waldekranz started his career straight out of high school. Together with his childhood friend Kaj Drobin he set up design agency Super Strikers in 2006 at the age of 18.
“We would do anything that anyone asked us to do. If that meant carrying boxes, helping someone to move, setting up a party – anything or everything – we would do it. But our passion was design and web development and that is what we ended up spending most of our evenings doing.”
The boys ended up having an office before they had a flat of their own. They stocked the premises with expensive design magazines and waited for business.
“It felt like a real office, we had business cards and stationary – but we had no clients. It was like two kids playing office, really. But with all that time to ourselves, we started spending a lot of time developing our own projects and thinking about our own ideas.”
The boys came up with a product called Keyflow; a digital guest list system. This being before the rise of the IPhone, they started with one of the very earliest touch screen devices available on the market, and together with some friends built some really simple cloud based software, which would enable night clubs to sync the guest list across multiple devices.
“The killer feature was that night club managers, and DJs specifically, could add names to the guest list via text message.”
Keyflow became a great success. The boys initially tested it on Berns Salonger, a nightclub in central Stockholm, and were then contacted by the event group Stureplansgruppen who asked for it to be installed in all their clubs. For a while, the guys were managing Keyflow AND Super Strikers at the same time.
“And then, as luck would have it, the only reason our agency became successful was that we found our first client through the success with Keyflow. We connected with this small start-up company in Stockholm, called Spotify.”
In 2006, Spotify was a year from launch and was looking for a small agency that could help them build their website, make a video and organise a launch event.
“Our ‘we will do anything and everything‘ approach and our backgrounds in both design and engineering meant we really fit the bill,“ says Waldekranz.
This put the agency on an upward trajectory and meant more clients, especially within up and coming tech. In 2009, they sold the agency to the larger Identity Works, where they stayed on for two years before taking the step to the other side of the table, leave consulting behind to build their own product.
This is where it begins
At Identity Works, Waldekranz and Drobin had worked a lot with e-commerce clients, an area that Waldekranz was getting very excited about.
“As a designer it is sometimes hard to know what the real value of what you create is. You might create a beautiful design, a logotype or a brand identity and it is nice but you end up asking yourself ‘does it actually matter?’”
Working with e-commerce they got a sense that it clearly DID matter, as they could see increased performance through instant feedback. Waldekranz liked this. And the emerging new zeitgeist was inspiring him to do more.
“A really creative community seemed to be growing among my friends. Sometimes it felt like just about everyone was running a label, setting up a store somewhere, being a DJ – it seemed as if there was a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. People were quitting their day jobs, working weekends to make ends meet but building their own brands on the side and I was really inspired by this movement, which is exactly what I think it is.”
However, what really pushed the guys to take the step toward building Tictail, was that Waldekranz’ mother, an established artist, had started her own company selling classic porcelain inspired by old-school sailor tattoos and was looking for a way to sell her products on the internet.
"By Mutti" was the first webshop on Tictail.
“I thought a lot about people who have really good products to sell, who have an interesting story and all the fundamentals there for a great business. But when it comes to the internet they may be complete novices. I wanted to create a platform that could support these self-made entrepreneurs and bridge their product, their story, their brand to the kind of global audience that they deserve.”
What Waldekranz found was that local brands, which is who Tictail aim to represent, often struggle to reach a client base beyond friends and family. Similarly, consumers didn’t have a premium platform to go to on the internet to find new up and coming design from small independent stores. And that was the start of Tictail, bridging the gap between the small store owner and the discerning consumer looking for something authentic.
However, once the idea is born, the trick is to put it into motion. And according to Waldekranz, it is crucial to just take the leap.
The guys, now joined by the two others, started meeting up every Friday night in Waldekranz’s kitchen. They would have dinner together and discuss what they wanted to achieve that weekend. This would be followed by some 48 hour sprints where they would design, prototyping what Tictail could become.
Every month for 6 months, the three of them would put half their salaries into a joint savings account, knowing that at some point they would want to transition the project into a full time occupation and wanting to be prepared. Six months after, they quit their jobs, knowing that they had another six months with half a salary to rely on, and later they raised venture capital and moved further.
For Waldekranz it was a crazy time, as he was working full time at a busy agency during the week and then the entire weekend on Tictail.
“But it was definitely worth it. My advice to anyone who has an idea would be to just start. An idea won’t build itself and the thing with ideas is that they change as soon as you start working on them. That is a really inspiring and cool process. Just break it down to ‘what is the first thing I have to do to make this happen’, do that thing and see where it takes you.”
Sweden as a start-up hub
That Sweden is fantastic to launch in can’t be ignored, according to Waldekranz.
“I think that it is one of the best places in the world to build a company and there is an incredible talent pool to tap into. Swedes also have a very international outlook and are generally quite good at English. When companies are launched elsewhere in Europe they are often domestically focused for a long time but Sweden tends to take a global approach early on, which I think is why we see such great success from tech companies especially.”
However, there are also challenges. According to Waldekranz, these relate mainly to the operational issues, for example are share options very hard to give out as incentives to employees and there is also a very tough housing situation, which is crucial to any company trying to attract talent.
“I am extremely grateful we started our business in Stockholm and I am not sure we would have done as well had we started it anywhere else but, I do hope and I think that these questions ought to be addressed within the next five years for us to be able to continue to remain competitive.”
In the future, Waldekranz hopes to be able to grow with Tictail and see where the journey takes the company.
“So much has happened since we were four people sitting around my kitchen table and yet it still feels like day one, as if we have merely scratched the surface of a huge global opportunity. We are creating much more than just a feature or a service - we are creating this movement or platform. I would love to experience first-hand where this movement goes,“ Waldekranz tells The LINK.
Tictail New York showroom