The young Swede who wants to transform e-commerce

By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

Image source, Tictail

While most of Carl Waldekranz's classmates went travelling when they graduated from their high school in Stockholm, he decided to set up an advertising agency instead.

Just 19 years old at the time, and with no experience in the advertising world, the Swede found a cheap office and launched his agency.

The young entrepreneur says it was more fun than partying on a beach in Thailand.

"It was like forming a really cool band," says Mr Waldekranz. "It felt like an amazing hobby."

With his equally inexperienced childhood friend Kaj Drobin also coming on board, they immediately realised what they would have to do to succeed.

Mr Waldekranz says: "We had a very simple business model - work twice as much for half the price as our competitors and it will equal success.

"We'd take any job we could, we had no pretensions, we'd help set up lighting [at shoots], carry seats, do whatever manual labour needed doing."

Such an approach proved successful, helped in turn by their self-taught skills as website designers at a time when clients wanted more online advertisements.

And so the agency - Super Strikes - grew quickly until Mr Waldekranz eventually sold up to a much larger rival in 2009, when he was 23.

Now 27, and the chief executive and co-founder of Tictail - an online platform which allows small retailers around the world to set up their own websites - Mr Waldekranz says his approach to business remains the same - just give things a go and work hard.

Big plans

Although still in its infancy, Tictail has ambitions to be as big as the likes of eBay and Rakuten.

Image source, Tictail
Image caption,
Tictail says it makes it easy for small firms to set up a web presence

Founded in 2011 by Mr Waldekranz and three friends, it claims to be so easy to use that small firms can build their own web page and start trading in just 10 minutes.

More than 35,000 businesses now use Tictail to trade online, and for the basic service they don't pay a penny.

Instead TicTail only starts charging retailers when they want to buy more advanced features, or apps, such as alerting customers when products are back in stock, or sending out discount vouchers.

Mr Waldekranz and Mr Drobin first started tinkering with the idea for Tictail when they were still ad men. After Super Strikes was bought out, they continued to work for the new parent company while thinking about what they could do as their next start-up venture.

With another friend coming on board with the computer programming expertise to complement Mr Waldekranz and Mr Drobin's website design skills, the three would work on the idea for Tictail every weekend.

Mr Waldekranz says: "Rather than quit the day jobs, we decided to meet up every Friday night in my kitchen, and we'd work until Sunday night.

Image source, Tictail's four founders
Image caption,
Mr Waldekranz (second left) founded Tictail with three friends

"We did that every weekend for six months until we had built the first version of Tictail. It was so intense but fun.

"We'd all put half our salaries away to invest in Tictail, and we'd take fake vacations - we'd say we are going away on holiday, but ultimately we'd go to my apartment and work on Tictail."

"Then eventually we decided to quit our jobs and work on Tictail full time."

Buddy system

With Stockholm-based Tictail opening for business in 2011, with a fourth co-founder on board, its first customer was Mr Waldekranz's mother, a designer of porcelain.

Mr Waldekranz says that as it was easy enough for his mum to use, he knew it would be popular with other traders who weren't used to using technology.

Image caption,
Tictail has decided to grow its workforce very slowly

High profile investors have also been quick to recognise Tictail's potential, with money coming into the business from senior figures at Swedish music streaming service Spotify, and German venture capitalist Klaus Hommels, who was an early investor in Facebook.

But still with just 14 members of staff, Mr Waldekranz says that while customer numbers are growing quickly, Tictail itself is only expanding very carefully.

"We have a buddy system, which means that if we take on a new member of staff, he or she has to have a buddy for six months. And that buddy must have worked for Tictail for at least the same amount of time.

"This approach prevents us from growing too quickly and losing our culture."

On a daily basis, Mr Waldekranz says his job as chief executive is about focusing on one task or hurdle at a time.

He says: "At the beginning it was my job to find an office, then to get our first staff, then the first round of investment, and so on.

"There is always one hurdle after another. The key is to focus on just one problem at a time. That way it never feels impossible."

For any would-be entrepreneurs thinking of setting up their own companies, Mr Waldekranz, the ad man turned internet boss, has three pieces of advice - do it with friends, make sure it is something you enjoy, and don't put it off because it is never the right time to start a business.

"The worst thing that can happen is that you eventually have to apply for another job after a cool experience."

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