Daniel Solving: growing startup companies in a sustainable way

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Daniel Solving (former CEO of Humblebee) and his son at Fontin (Sweden).

I’m meeting Daniel at the Fontin park in Kungälv (Sweden). It’s his favorite running spot and I see why: there’s a small lake surrounded by hills and trees and beautiful tracks. Perfect for a hot summer day like today.
Daniel also brought his 10-year old son Nils, who joins us for the tour. For Daniel, spending time with his family is very important at this point in his life. He spent the last 9 years starting up and running different companies and now he has decided that it’s time for a change.
As soon as we start running I realize that his son is in pretty good shape and after the first hill he’s already well ahead of us. We start talking about Daniel’s experience as a founder and CEO.

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

I have a background in economics but I stopped studying for a while to give workshops on how to use the Internet. I was obviously an expert as I bought my first computer with Internet access just 2 days before 😉
After this first experience as a freelancer I co-founded and managed a number of companies: Adapted (2011-present), Dear Friends (2010-2012) and Humblebee (2012- 2016). The 3 companies are all very different. For example: Dear Friends (an advertising agency) and Humblebee (a creative digital studio) are both service companies, doing B2B while Adapted is purely a product company focused on B2C, so with a completely different business model. With Adapted, we created ‘About a Picture’, a mobile app for children with special needs to help them develop their speech using pictures and sounds.

What are the achievements you’re most proud of?

The award we won with the mobile app for disabled children, ‘About a Picture‘. It’s very important for me because Nils’ brother also needs some extra support for learning. Witnessing how he benefitted from it was actually the greatest gift and the award only intensified my proudness.

I am also really proud of the 3rd prize we won at Eurobest (the European championships in advertisement) with our campaign for Costa Boda. Not because of how we compared to the competition, but because I was really satisfied with the result and the team’s efforts.

Competitions are important for the image of your business but in general I have always competed more with myself than with others. Not only in the context of my company but in everything. For example, when I went running, I was always comparing my Strava results with my previous runs. Nowadays, I try to change that and run more based on feel. There are days that I go for a run and end up running 25 km. Some days I stop after 5K. I try to listen to my body and mind.

Nowadays, I run more based on feel, instead of (Strava) results. I would like to apply the same principle while running my business, but it’s often hard to let go.

You’re talking about teamwork. How did you grow a company from 2 to 22 employees in a sustainable way?

When we started, we were just the 2 of us (me and my first employee). Like many startups we had to go through a learning process. Every time the company grew, we had to adapt and make the necessary changes.
Some elements that helped us succeed:

  • We created an environment where it is allowed to ask questions and make mistakes. We never punished anyone for making a mistake. Instead, we tried to find a way to prevent similar problems.
  • We always tried to remember who we were, how it was when we just started and what our values were.
  • We never chased (financial) numbers. We chose quality over quantity and in the long term that pays off. It’s ok to grow slowly.
  • We tried to find the right size for our company. Every company has an optimal size. It’s a mistake to believe that every company has to keep growing indefinitely.
Strava

Daniel showed me these beautiful tracks around Fontin near Gothenburg.

When I look back, I’m really happy with what we achieved. Although, maybe I should have pushed harder in the beginning to put an organizational structure in place earlier on. It’s important that every single person in your company knows its responsibilities and reports to you (as CEO) if something goes wrong. As a CEO you cannot keep controlling everything on your own, certainly not when your company grows fast.

Maybe I should also have been less afraid of costs. Minimizing costs has always given me a feeling of ‘being in control’. Revenue, for example, is much harder to control than expenses. But making expenses typically helps to grow into a strong organization faster.

Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

  • Don’t be afraid of change. Try as many different things as possible, without loosing focus of course. In the startup phase, you have to constantly adapt.
  • A product is only as good as the company behind it. Make sure you have a strong organization and that your people believe in your product/service.

Last question: how do you foster entrepreneurship in your kids?

I don’t really do anything special because I don’t want to push them in a certain direction. I believe more in ‘follow by example’. As a father it’s my task to nourish and let go.
It’s similar with Humblebee. I started the company, nourished it and now it’s time to let go. I took it as far as I could. I’m now leaving the company and I’m sure the new CEO will do a great job.

Want to get in contact with Daniel Solving? Go to Linkedin


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