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Interview with Björn Almér

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I had the pleasure of being able to listen to Björn Almér and talk with him after about his startup experience with Barista Fair Trade Coffee, Sweden's 3rd largest coffee chain.

Bjorn AlmerFirst, a little bit of Bjorn's background. Bjorn was born in 1967 and studied at Lund University. He begun his career as a H&M trainee and soon transitioned to Oriflame where he worked as the controller for Germany, turning around the UK, starting up India, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Egypt before working on projects for the CEO and finally became the Marketing Manager for Western Europe. Bjorn then became the Managing Director for Espresso House, Sweden's largest coffee chain before starting his own company, Barista Fair Trade Coffee where he is now the Founder and Managing Director. He also has a wife, Christina, and three boys Simon (10), Erik (7) and Isak (4).

Since I cannot re-write the entire presentation here I will share some of what I thought were the most insightful quotes from the presentation regarding entrepreneurship.

"Listen to others, they usually know more than you, but if you're smart you may be the first one to assemble the facts in a new way."

"Don't be too sure you know what you're looking for and where to find it."

"Trust your gut feeling - it's usually right, no matter what others say."

"The larger a company gets, the more who says what becomes more important than what is said."

"Collect 'Good People' and stay in touch but be genuine."

"Always assume surveys have flaws. Use them to convince others, not yourself."

"Don't remote manage unless you have passionate staff."

"'Turnaround' doesn't mean change everything"

"Success and failure is not predictable, nor fair"

"It's better to be roughly right than exactly wrong."

"Brands matter mainly to business to consumer (products), b-to-b is only people."

"'Management by Love' - hire people you like to work with and they'll do the same. Copy+Paste. Culture will duplicate you."

"Don't start a business alone and don't be greedy about ownership."

KO: One of the first things that caught my attention was when you said 'use surveys to convince others not yourself.' I like the insight that offers a lot, but I guess the natural question becomes, how do you convince yourself?

BA: Not easy. But one must build on gut feeling and an open mind. It is very easy to get stuck on a mindset and at the same time one must be almost stupidly stubborn if hit by difficulties. Try to reflect internally but show a steady front outwards.

KO: You also brought up the 3F's (Friends, Family and Fools) for the source of your investment. This is the prototypical source for most startups to get their initial funding, but do you see any advantages in more institutionalized lending/equity (banks/angel investors/venture capital)?

BA: That money is more stable once they are aboard and will give you a much more professional direction. FFF money is too nice so to speak. However professional money is greedy and will dilute you more. Hard chioce. In the beginning professional money isn’t interested anyway.

KO: 'The larger a company gets the more who says what becomes more important than what is said.' This addresses the issue of managerial bureaucracy and the overhead of larger organizations. Some entrepreneurial academics argue the ability to manage this most efficiently is the limiting factor of the growth of a firm - making it one of the most important factors in running a company. Is this inevitable in your mind? What sorts of steps can be taken to avoid/minimize its effect?

BA: Yep. It is virtually impossible. Be it Google or Ikea or what have you. Larger groups of people tend to fall into political fractions under strong informal/formal “leaders” in middle management. Only way to avoid somewhat is to be careful in recruitment in order to manage a warm family culture and to organize in structures that don’t risk competing for power. Easy to say, not easy to act on. The most fun organizations are before you reach 500 employees…

KO: 'Collect good people and stay in touch' the value of a good network is not quantifiable. How do manage/maintain a good network while still getting things done? Do you try and figure out who is 'good' or do you just keep as many contacts as possible in the hopes that they may be helpful someday?

BA: One must follow one’s gut feeling. After say 5 years in working life one has been hit by most kind of people and you’ll know who are good for you. Never maximaze network just to have many, but keep an open mind that most people you meet can be different than your first impression and the world is small so even if not making friends – avoid making enemies. You may meet them again. Perhaps even in another company.

KO: 'Don't start a business alone and don't be greedy about ownership' - this is one of the most common problems for budding entrepreneurs. The idea of giving away some part of 'their' company. How do you know how much is the right amount to give away and for what? Any tips for evaluating the value of something?

BA: Figure out what drives you. For me I’m happy with a few percent for the upside and a fun job. Others can’t be motivated unless they have a majority. I think greed probably is the main cause for unhappiness.

KO: Lastly, you said 'Our USP but not in reality.' Could you clarify what you were talking about? I assumed it was in regards to being fair trade but I wanted to make sure. But the bigger question becomes - what is the role of unique selling points to a business in practice if it's not the 'reality?' Are there other USPs or are USPs just business-speak/marketing spin in your mind?

BA: Don’t recall exactly. I may have meant that the ethics are a stronger USP to investors and buisinesspartners as they have a more strategic view, while consumers so far don’t really act as opinion polls indicate. I.e. ethics are not a major USP yet commercially. It will be. So while I believe in it myself, I cannot earn money on it today but must convince investors I will. Mainly a time lag between market situation today and in a few years. I hope!

End of interview.

I would like to thank Bjorn for taking the time to interview with me and providing further insights into his entrepreneurial experiences.

Average: 4.3 (6 votes)

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