Jana Cagin had never thought about running her own company until she and her fiancé had “one of those lightbulb moments” while out shopping for a new sofa at Ikea in a Stockholm suburb.
They felt that the range of legs available was too limited. After scouring the internet failing to find suitable alternatives, they came up with the concept of developing their own brand of replacement furniture parts, designed to help buyers put an artistic stamp on new flat-pack furniture purchases or ‘upcycle’ existing home staples.
“We were just struck by this idea and it really made us so passionate,” she explains.
The couple began by running the venture in their spare time. But according to Cagin, it was being able to take a leave of absence from her job as an organisational psychologist that really enabled things to get off the ground.
“We started finding suppliers, getting a lot of press, starting building the website,” she explains. The company was also accepted into an acceleration programme for startups, which offered coaching, workshops and mentoring. “If I were to work during that time I wouldn’t have been able to join, and it really helped us to believe in our idea.”
Meanwhile, knowing that she could return to her old role if things didn’t pan out alleviated some of the financial risk, especially since her partner was a freelancer in the creative industries.
“I’d never seen myself as an entrepreneur, so being able to have that kind of security and something to fall back on, I think that played a pretty big role.”
She didn’t go back to her old job. Six years after that “lightbulb moment”, which happened when Cagin was just 31, the couple’s e-commerce business now offers decorative door knobs and cupboard panels, as well as legs for a range of different furniture types. It operates in 30 countries and has six full-time employees.
A legally enshrined right
While not all new companies become so successful, Cagin’s experience taking time off from fixed employment is far from unique in Sweden.
For the last two decades, full-time workers with permanent jobs have had the right to take a six-month leave of absence to launch a company (or alternatively, to study or to look after a relative). Bosses can only say no if there are crucial operational reasons they can’t manage without a staff member, or if the new business is viewed as direct competition. Employees are expected to be able to return in the same position as previously.