SCAN Business talks to Vegard Jørmeland, alumni of Lancaster University and co-founder of numerous start-ups in India, Norway and the UK. Additionally, he is the organiser of Startup Weekend at Lancaster: an intensive 54-hour workshop which ‘creates communities and builds businesses in a weekend’. Jørmeland has two degrees, one in Computer Science, which he gained in his native country, Norway, as well as one in Psychology from Lancaster, which has informed his involvement in several of his start-ups. Here, Jørmeland gives his thoughts on what it takes to be an entrepreneur, the skills required to be successful and acquiring people who “get shit done”.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? You are involved in a lot of start-ups, so how did you get the idea of entering this field and starting companies?
Wow. Let’s see, the thing is, since I was born, I was always breaking toys and then building them again from scratch. As I got older, the way of doing this got a bit more sophisticated, for example, I built an iPad prototype, a couple of years before the original iPad had arrived. We spent the year doing that and soon after, we managed to sell two of these things. Then I figured out that I don’t know shit about selling stuff, or business. I know how to engineer stuff. Of course, the question is how do you improve on that? It is a journey, it’s a path, so with me it actually started at birth.
So how do you find the right people to bring to your organisation that have the same ambition and goals as you? That requires a kind of talent, or skill, to acquire the best people, doesn’t it?
I am highly selective. Essentially, what I do is I go and look for people who get shit done. That is a set of personal characteristics and the way that I go about finding those people is to find the people who are making a fuss in any given city. If I come to a new city, such as Lancaster, and go speak to people, some names tend to get mentioned over and over and over again, and those are typically the people that get shit done. Those are the kind of people you want on your team, the power players, anybody else, I don’t care about.
What kind of characteristics do you look for in the people you take on?
The characteristics I look for is for people who are able to communicate efficiently, who are able to have a clear vision, and to explain their vision to other people, to break this down to the concrete plans and then to act upon the plans, to get shit done. Get shit done is a pretty big Silicon Valley concept these days.
You graduated from Lancaster University. What advice would you give to students who enter a field like yours, or who want to be an entrepreneur?
Actually, the advice I would give is to everybody and not just to people who think they are an entrepreneur. Honestly, I believe that people don’t know if they want to be an entrepreneur before they actually try. I have met a lot of people who didn’t think they had it before they tried and then figured out that entrepreneurship is exactly what they are for. So, my advice, to anybody, is to try. You need to try to get some hands on experience. Do a product, do a start-up, do whatever. You can’t learn this stuff in a classroom, I believe. So I would definitely advise people to go to a Start-up Weekend; that is exactly what we do there.
Do you think people are ‘born as leaders’, or ‘born as entrepreneurs’?
See, I’m a psychologist, and I have some pretty strong opinions on that. I do believe that certain personality traits are useful for a leader and for an entrepreneur, of course you can be born with that. But, when that is said, I would argue that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the stuff in their brain; that is their experience and their mind-set. Mind-sets can be taught. You can learn a mind-set.
So you do feel that people can develop the skills to be an entrepreneur?
That’s brilliant. In regards to that, what would you say are the top three skills that you need to be an entrepreneur, or to be successful? You have previously mentioned that it is vital to try.
I would say, if you meet an entrepreneur, you will learn one thing pretty fast and that is that entrepreneurs are not the people with the answers to questions. Entrepreneurs are the people with the questions. I find that if I believe I have all the answers, I am going to have real difficulty when it comes to actually figuring out the problems and figuring out a way of doing stuff. The best way to do that is to go out and ask questions. ‘Why is that that way?’ Or ‘How can I do that?’, etc., and dare to be stupid. Of course, the next thing I would argue is that you really need to figure out how to set a goal, how to make a plan and how to act upon that plan, which is the hardest bit. If you don’t have a plan and you don’t execute, you aren’t going to get anywhere.
On a personal basis, what motivates you?
The process. I like the process of creating stuff, that is what motivates me, because you are kept in a constant challenge, and when you are always in that balance between skill and challenge, you are right at the top of what you are able to achieve. You go into a psychological state called “flow”, and that is the most intrinsically rewarding possible state.
We would like to know, how do you find new ideas for your companies?
That is interesting, that you brought ideas up. I think people think that you need an idea to be an entrepreneur; that is not true. You do not need to have an idea. The thing is that your success is a combination of how good your idea is and how good your execution is. Let me give a concrete example on that. Have you ever heard of a product called a Snuggie? In my subjective opinion, the Snuggie is the dumbest product that has ever been made. I’m thinking, who needs a blanket with arms? Who doesn’t have a sweater or a regular blanket? But it turns out that the Snuggie is so popular that now it comes in an edition for two people. So the idea doesn’t really matter, it’s the execution. If you have good execution, like the people behind the Snuggie do, you’re going to be successful.
So it is the execution that is more important?
That’s the key thing, yes. Don’t wait around for the right idea; you are going to wait forever.