My true entrepreneurial story – The start-up (part 1)
We were young and had the whole world in front of us. The year was 2003, life was a party and both of us had good jobs in the IT indistry.
But we wanted more…
I met my husband, business partner and best friend Fredrik when I went to the university in Kalmar, a small town in the south of Sweden. At that time, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, or my choice of career. I just knew that I wanted to be something, and I went to the university studying Business Engineering, just in order to do something.
Now that I look back at my younger years before university there were plenty of signs and things that I did that pointed in the entrepreneurial direction, I just didn’t see it then. As I can see it now, I did my first trial in my younger age trying to sell sandwiches at T-centralen in Stockholm city…
My family were nice and helped me to prepare. I made all the sandwiches and I put myself on the subway to Stockholm city. Alone. But when I finally got there, I was too afraid to do it and I didn’t dare to sell a single one of them.
I remember this as a total failure and something that my family and friends were laughing at.
Finally I was also laughing at myself, and that this was just something stupid that I did.
The years went by and didn’t think so much more of it…
But then I met Fredrik at the university, and it was then that everything changed. Or actually. I went to the university to study, while Fredrik only went to the university parties pretending to study, in order to meet some smart university girls .
Through the university years we started “off the record” a small party business, where we arranged university parties, that were quite popular. It wasn’t a lot of money but great fun and good extra cash for a poor student.
Our first business idea
We had talked a lot about that it would be fun to start up a skiing travel agency. The idea was to arrange a full-service all-inclusive skiing conference agency for companies. We had it all taught through and the plan was good. We had a name, and even a logo . The name was SkiTouring.
We had heard that it was possible to get investment support at “Arbetsfömedlingen” a Swedish institution for employment, and we went there and tried to get it.
They asked for a business plan, and we didn’t even know what it was. They were laughing at our naive little trial, and we knew by then which type of answer that we were going to get.
Not so unexpected, we didn’t get the investment, and the idea was put on hold…
But I know now that we would have succeeded if we had received the investment. The .com companies spent loads of money on these types of events in the end of the 90’s. I know that now because I have been working at three of these types of companies myself.
Instead some other opportunities came in our way…
Starting off in the IT industry in the late 90’s
We moved to Stockholm 1997 and Fredrik managed to get himself into the IT industry as an IT support engineer. I got my first job as an IT consultant, and we both started to make quite good money.
It was crazy times and most of the companies did both crazy things, good things and very stupid things. And we both taught.
How hard can it be to do this better?
Our first real business opportunity
In 2003, Fredrik got a new interesting job offer to start up a brand-new business area “IT-support” at an existing company in Stockholm that he took.
He was ready to go and stood there with a bunch of customers, and then he gets the surprising news. The business was about to be shut down.
What to do? He stood there with all the customers needing him, no employer, and a great opportunity.
The same day he came home and asked me the question. Shall I do it? Start up my own Business. I’m scared, I don’t know how it works, have no money, and no stable income.
Shall I do it?
And I said Yes. Of course, you shall do it.
I have money to support the both of us, we are a team you know.
Fredrik started up the company as an individual company and named it Atroxyear 2003. Atrox because it starts on an A that is the first letter in the phone catalogue, and the most important.
Atrox means Awesome in Latin.
The first-year turnover went ok, and the customers were happy with Fredrik’s IT services. Fredrik also noticed that the customers started to ask for web pages and a tool where they could update their web pages. And by coincidence web development were the business where I was working at that moment. On my spare time I started to work on a CMS tool former Atrox Web, that we sold to a few customers. At that time there were no such thing as WordPress and these types of tools were not for free and were not very common.
And we taught of the idea. Do we think that our customers want to buy both IT services and Web from Atrox?
And we came to the conclusion. Yes, they will.
We decided to go for it, and I contacted one of the best java developers from my previous employer and asked him if he wanted to be in, and he said yes. In the end of 2004 the three of us restarted Atrox as Atrox Development AB (limited company) as equals. Fredrik responsible for Atrox IT services and me and our third colleague responsible for Atrox Web agency.
I quit my job, and it was here where it all started…
It was scary and risky because we didn’t know how it would turn out, now when we didn’t have a stable income to rely on. But it was VERY exciting, lots of fun and we believed in ourselves and in Atrox.
I remember my family were so worried. Are you sure this is so wise? How are you going to support yourself? what about your apartment? It’s a big risk you know…
These were the types of comments that we got. But Fredrik and me we are entrepreneurs. That means that we are risktakers, and if you never risk, you will never gain.
In the start-up phase we worked very hard, had a lot of fun, and there was no such job that we didn’t do. We painted our own office, we cleaned the toilets, and we had sales meeting in a simple kitchen. Fredrik did the IT-support, I did the web development, the sales calls, project leading, and the accounting and our third man finally took over all the web programming of our CMS tool Atrox Web.
Our first Kick off
The great thing about running your own business is that you can decide everything yourself. The three of us taught it was time for a kick off, and we had a discussion where we wanted to go. All of us liked hard rock music at that time, so we decided to go to a hard rock festival in Göteborg called Metaltown.
We just had one problem to solve. We had some contracts with customers with one hour response time on IT-support, and we liked to be away both thursday and friday. We solved that problem by working remotely in the car. All the IT-support calls we had in the loudspeaker, and we got in some funny ones too.
Building up the team
Year two Fredrik managed to get owner number 4 onboard, to run the IT business with him. They had been working together before and we knew it was a great guy, both in IT skills and as a person.
That new partnership turned out to be one of our best moves so far that we done for all of us, and that guy has been there with us since then. Both in good times and in bad times. Like a rock and a stable and wise constant in the company.
We had a plan, real reoccurring customers and real salaries. Even though the salaries were quite low in the beginning. The business was up and running and our first office were already to small.
We worked hard, the energy was on top and life was good.
So far, I had not had any major setbacks in life. But that time would come …
Read more about the next phase in my blog in this series of blog posts.
My true entrepreneurial story – The building up phase (part 2)