“I also prepared a challenge for you”, Natalie Robertsen says with a smile before we can even start the interview. I’m in Tromsø and my legs are still sore from the Midnight Sun Marathon I ran yesterday, so Natalie is taking me on a recovery run along the coastline. She just picked me up from the Skansen hotel, where I’m staying. Before she gives any further clues, she continues. “My first job, just after I got my bachelor’s degree was to be the manager of this hotel. The owner of the building asked me to turn it into a hotel and develop the concept around it. At that time, I was the youngest hotel manager of Tromsø.”
That’s a great entrepreneurial start! Can you tell us a bit more about your current company?
We’re a conference and business events company, called VICAN, and we organize conferences for the northern Norwegian market. We provide speakers, book hotels and manage participants. The idea for this company had been growing for more than 10 years. I’ve always loved to learn and in my previous job as CEO of an optician chain I was able to go to lots of conferences. I noticed that the quality of conferences in the rest of Europe was much higher than what was available in Norway at the time.
About four years ago, the optician chain I worked for was sold and I received a nice bonus. So I had the choice, fulfill the Norwegian dream and buy a nice hytte (cabin) or realize my own dream. The German family that had previously owned the optician chain recognized the sparkle in my eyes and decided to invest in me. And my own family said, “just go for it”.
How were the first years?
In the beginning I doubted myself every other week. I was taking this huge risk and didn’t know how it would turn out. I had this strong feeling of fear and couldn’t get rid of it. And since we had employees from the start, I not only had fear for myself, but also fear for how my decisions were going to affect colleagues, their partners and families. I realized that I needed to do something to maintain my mental health, so I took up running. Later, I realized that worrying is natural: you cannot eliminate it, but you can learn to master it. And running helps you practice that.
Something else that helped me to manage my fear was to answer the question “What is the worst that can happen?” This made me realize that I wasn’t so much afraid of losing money but more about losing my face. I had been a successful CEO and now I was afraid of what others would say if I failed. A friend gave me the following good advice: “You loose your face for a month and then it passes.” People forget very fast. Realizing this was a huge step forward.
“Speaking of fear”, Natalie said, “we have arrived at the place for our challenge I mentioned earlier.” Natalie had stopped at a small wooden pier. “Another way of learning to overcome your fears is to challenge yourself, to do things that lie outside of your comfort zone, like taking a plunge in the arctic water”, she winked. She picked up a bag that she had hidden beforehand and pulled out some swimming clothes and towels.
Another way of learning to overcome your fears is to challenge yourself, to do things that lie outside of your comfort zone, like taking a plunge in the arctic water.
“Since I suggested the challenge, I’ll lead by example and go first” she says. We swap our running gear for bathing suits and Natalie descends the stairs. Without much hesitation she dips up till her shoulders into the water. When she comes out of the water, she’s bleeding a bit from a cut in her hand, caused by sharp barnacles on the structure. “Type II fun”, she explains, “hard while you’re doing it, but you feel so proud and good afterwards when you’ve completed it”.
Now it was my turn.
How do you balance work and private life?
The answer is time management. I wake up every day at 5 and use the two hours before my family wakes up to make myself some coffee and plan my day. I work from 8h till 16h, so when you only have 8 hours each day to realize your dream you need to be very efficient.
Many entrepreneurs burn out because they work too much. It is not about doing the most, but about doing what really matters. Having a list of tasks also helps you to ask yourself the question: “Who can help me with this?” And if I don’t get every item checked of my list, I don’t go crazy about it. At least I had a plan.
I also don’t take my problems home. I only share the happy moments with my partner. Home is the place to do the things that don’t worry me. So time-management is very important, but also me-time: like running or reading.
In some ways, being an entrepreneur also allows me to spend more time with my family. For example, my mother lives in Spain and I visit her 5 times a year. It was one of my goals: to create a company where I was free to work where and when I wanted.
Where you always good at time management or is it something you had to learn?
I think I have always been rather good at it, but it’s really something you can learn. I learned a lot from these books about time management:
- Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done – Today!
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity
- The Magic of Thinking Big
- The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich
- Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management
- ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever
- Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action
On my bookshelf you’ll also find the following books that inspired me during my career:
- Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential
- Losing My Virginity
- Empty Mansions
- Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul
- Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel
- Delivering Happiness
- The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time
- The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
- In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders Of The Twentieth Century
- The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty
- Walt Disney : An American Original
- Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
- Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century
- Einstein: His Life and Universe
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- The Magic of Thinking Big
- Good To Great
To finalize, do you have anything to add?
- Learn to manage yourself, and then you can manage everything around you.
- Don’t look at the problems but face your fears and challenge yourself.
- Even if you don’t make it, you’ll get much stronger from the experience.