By Christer Windeløv-Lidzélius
Rebel Academy mentor Christer Windeløv-Lidzélius sums up how he went from being a high school kid without focus to becoming deeply involved with most aspects of entrepreneurship.
When thinking back I realize I’ve had small business owners and enterprising people surrounding me since I was a kid. Farmers, carpenters, shop owners etc. I wasn’t conscious of it though so entrepreneurship wasn’t an obvious career path for me. Looking back I can see that many of these people started a company out of necessity as opposed to fulfilling a dream. I doubt they have ever viewed themselves as entrepreneurs, rather they started businesses to make a living using whatever skills they had. To them this kind of work seemed more stable, more safe, socially acceptable. In many ways I think I was quite oblivious about the whole thing, even though I was very aware of both macro and micro economy through my studies and general interest in world affairs.
I have always been an enterprising person. In all projects, jobs or start-ups I have been keen on creating new things, seeing development through, building things, trying to see things differently. Following high school it came naturally for me to do a lot of things at the same time: study, work, play a lot of music etc. These different outputs were not connected but existed as separated entities. I had a need to keep my restless mind occupied more than to accomplish something. I had no real need to focus all of my energy and capabilities on one goal.
In 1996 and 1997 I lived in San Francisco as part of my studies at The KaosPilots. That was a very formative year in many ways. When we returned to Denmark we introduced entrepreneurship as a subject at the KaosPilots as an extra-curricular and student led subject: but still quite early to the Danish school system. In California, starting a company was considered normal, something positive. Even failures were viewed differently. I vividly remember a presentation by a man explaining how the financiers for his new venture reacted when he described his past failures: “Good, now you have learnt something. That will benefit us all”. They thought of failure as a source of learning, and a subsequent source for future success. Upon returning home I realized such innovative thinking had not yet reached Scandinavia.
It was also truly an interesting time due to the rise of the Internet with a bright new, digital future quickly approaching. Clearly, new industries were created, and old ones destroyed. In less than 20 years we have seen a new world emerge. Numerous people, ideas and companies have created this new world. Some haven’t made it while others have made it big time.
The story behind the juice company, Odwalla is one that has impressed me the most. In the early eighties three friends from Santa Cruz realized that they had no money and little prospect of obtaining any. A regular job wasn’t an enticing option. They had some oranges and instead of just eating them they decided to sell them. They soon learned that in reality their business plan was not going to get them anywhere. They knew that their neighbor had a juicer that they could borrow. Rather than selling fruit they began to sell juice. Freshly squeezed juice. Clearly there is more to the picture, such as creating a cool, authentic brand and being business savvy in terms of logistics etc., but it started with a very simple idea.
It is difficult to say why one becomes an entrepreneur. Is it in your genes? Is it your upbringing or perhaps your schooling? Is it because you want to obtain something or avoid something? Clearly for me there might have been an unconscious social modeling, but I doubt it. I am more inclined to believe that my background has nourished some aspects of me, qualities if you want, that have proven adequate for entrepreneurial work: creativity and analytical, and social skills for example. On the other hand I also understand that I have had a hard time focusing on “one” thing and this has been a challenge to build a successful company you need to focus, practice and build stone by stone to achieve this.
Great journeys often start where a clear idea meets a need and your passion. It can be harder than you think to recognize this intersection. I have met many people that have dismissed an idea because it seemed too banal or too complex. And I have met many people that have dismissed a need because it seemed too big or too small. Sometimes I have also met people that have dismissed a passion because they were not able to see how it could benefit other people. The true greatness of an idea lies in its realization and the true potential of a need lies in how it is met. The passion is the spark that makes you go on when you have obtained all what you initially dreamt of, as well as when the hardships and sacrifices are hurtful. It is in the intersection of the three concepts you can find a rewarding, sustainable career.