Starting and Growing a Business from Sweden to $3,700/month

The Story of PinAround

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hello, my name is Erika Holm. I am 23 years old and I'm from Sweden. Since I was a kid, I dreamt about being a business owner. In February 2016, my dream came true and I launched PinAround.

We produce wall maps with pins in different designs and dimensions. This year we are going from only selling maps to adding a heap of new products to our assortment.

In 2017, we made $44,000 USD, with approximate 35% increase in every quarter.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I have known since I was a kid that I wanted to own my own business.

You know how adults or other kids asked you the question “what do you want to become when you grow up?”. The kids usually answered “policeman, popstar, zoo worker, model, Superman, etc.” But I always answered, “I want to have my own company.”

When I was 10, this buy-and-sell website blocket.se launched back in Sweden (similar to craigslist). People put ads up with their contact number and then buyers could call and make an offer/buy it. I saw this as an exceptional opportunity and asked my parents if we could sell items left in our garage. I ended up dealing with people coming over/buying and calling on these ads - as a 10 year old.

My mindset is that it's better to have something 'half-done' quickly than to spend ages on small details and delay the process. Patience has never been my strong suit.

I made cookies, soaps and painted pots to sell outside the local supermarket. I got my first job when I was 13 years old, in an ice cream bar way too young to deal with the till and hygiene rules etc. Money has always been a thing that has thrilled me to work hard. I guess my parents did an excellent job teaching my sister and me the value of money. I never just “got” anything by pointing at it, I had to earn it.

Another thing that has really thrilled me is traveling and exploring.

The quickest way to get out of Sweden (and my boring hometown) was to study abroad in Spain when I was 17 - that's when I caught the travel bug. This is also the time I came up with the idea of pinmaps.

After a couple of years of traveling, working on yachts, and living in Australia, I went back to Sweden in November 2015 to start the business. I turned into a cavewoman, it was tough.

Where I live, no one really does this kind of stuff, so I had zero support from anyone except my best friend and her mom. People thought that I’ve gone crazy after 2 years of “mucking around”. According to the Swedish “tradition” I should have gone back to university and start my “real life”.

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After four months of a lot of Googling, hard work and several tears I finally launched the webshop. It only contained one map - PinAround The World. Orders started to come in very quickly and I could notice a huge interest in the product.

To bump my savings account back up again, I went and did a second season on the yachts. I dealt with everything from my laptop and had my mum and dad to send of orders that came in.

I wasn’t mentally done with Australia so to get peace of mind I returned back to Byron Bay in October 2016 after finishing up the yachting season.

In November 2016 I took on two business partners (Sandi and Benjamin). These guys are very knowledgeable when it comes to business and structure and a perfect match for me.

I have a tendency to get something done right away rather than doing it the “right way”, whereas Sandi and Benjamin are extremely detailed and will calculate and measure every tiny detail of the business. Once they joined, we spent most of 2017 improving the business structure, webshop, marketing, etc. This year, we have new and exciting products coming, and we are working hard to improve our manufacturing process. I am moving back to Sweden in June to focus and work 100% with PinAround!

Describe the process of creating the initial product and launching.

I remember the trickiest part starting up was getting all of the pieces into place, while still keep the costs down. If I started with a lot of money, I could have just outsourced everything. I just didn't know anything at the time.

Some of the big questions that I had to solve on my own:

  • How could I create a webshop without knowing how to code?
  • How could I design a world map without any knowledge of Photoshop or other designer programs?
  • How would I be able to take professional product photos for the website, when not having a camera/backdrop/tripod?
  • What were the legal aspects?
  • How much should I charge for the product?

I bought a map in the local bookshop, scanned it in at a local copy shop and borrowed my friend's computer who had Photoshop installed. She taught me how to use the Clone Stamp tool in Photoshop, so I remember spending approximately 50 hours that week clone stamping the map and working on the PDF files.

Then I need to find a supplier - my first thought was China aka, "The Jungle". There was a never-ending list of possible manufacturers.

For a high-quality product like PinAround, it was not the best option to source from China. I got a few samples sent to me, but they were cheap and made of plastic. After constant searching, I realized China wasn’t my market, so I started to look into Europe and Sweden.

Out of nowhere - and after months of research - I came across a local factory in the south of Sweden. The price per unit ended up being slightly cheaper than if I would import from China (due to custom tax fees shipping etc.). Also, the factory in Sweden uses environmentally friendly materials, and using high-quality print! It was a win-win!

There are no obstacles such as lack of knowledge or experience. Google is our biggest learning resource - you have all the answers just one click away.

Starting PinAround was an endless list of question marks, but I really have a mindset that anything is possible. So by breaking everything down and by having a clear goal I got through it.

I googled so much, my dad helped me with the accounting side of it, and I went to a few free informative lectures on what to think of when starting a company. I never had a business plan or a set budget. My mindset is that it's better to have something 'half-done' quickly than to spend ages on small details and delay the process. Patience has never been my strong suit.

Later on, I realized that in order to grow the company, I would need to work with people who possessed different skill sets than my own. I invited Sandi & Benjamin into the business who are the complete opposite of myself. We balance each other out very well.

I launched the webshop after four months, it was made on a “drag and drop” online platform. Like I said - it's better to just get it done quickly than spending too much time.

Back then I thought four months was a long time. I remember estimating in my head that the whole start-up process would take around 3-4 weeks and after that time I would be ready to launch the webshop. That was how little I knew about building companies and how much is involved.

I also thought people would find my webshop straight away and orders would come flying in. This was not true at all! After not getting any orders the first day I was gutted.

But, the first random order actually happened on Day 2, which I'm still really proud of. Since then it has just gone up and up and up.

How have you attracted new customers and grown the business to where it is today?

In the beginning, when I still hadn’t teamed up with the boys yet, I spent hours and hours to send out emails to influencers, magazines, and online forums.

I mainly tried to sell myself and my passion for PinAround and how I combined it with my dream lifestyle. I managed to get into ELLE magazine and had few big Swedish influencers to write about it in exchange for a map!

When Sandi and Benjamin became a part of the team the marketing really took off. These guys are so knowledgeable when it comes to ads, retargeting ads, Facebook, Instagram algorithms, etc. We are lucky to have a product that has great word of mouth - that is the key to successful engagement.

Here are the three most effective marketing strategies for us:

1. Instagram:

I’m trying to create an account mixes up the interior side of PinAround, entrepreneurial quotes and of course product pictures from customers and us.

2. Facebook:

By using the Business Manager and Ads Manager we started out with some trial and error. We took a deep dive into how it worked and learned how to hit relevant target audiences.

Our current Facebook strategy is to have a couple of ads driving traffic to the website then running retargeting ads on Facebook and Instagram to those that have visited our website.

But I have to say, that this option is definitely not for everyone to do in-house, I strongly believe that if you don’t have the skills yourself or in your team that you should outsource this.

3. Influencers:

This is time-consuming but a very good marketing channel when it works.

If I contact 100 influencers, I might get only one that wants to collaborate with us in exchange for a map.

Unfortunately, we feel like influencers have been very spoiled the past years with companies showering them with merchandise and substantial payments, even small and up and coming accounts can demand ridiculous amounts for a post that will never bring in the sales needed even to break even.

Having said that, we have had success with influencers and the best advice we can give is to find influencers in your niche and try and work with them. And if you do pay them, make sure to have things in writing as they can often “forget” or delete posts. Remember, a lot of these influencers are everyday people and may not be totally on top of things.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently?

There are a few things that I could have done different and better.

I am not a strong negotiator and in my personal life, I am the “easy going with whatever-type” and hate conflicts. When setting up the production in Sweden, I was “too nice”. I was almost thanking the factory for having me as a customer.

Nowadays, I’ve learned how to be tougher in negotiations but in a kind way - although the boys still think I am too soft sometimes haha. My biggest fear is to come across rude and ruthless.

But if I could have had the first meeting with them today, I would have acted more strict and determined. That was especially important since I am a young woman with not much experience in the industry.

I have also learned the importance of looking things through before doing it.

For example, double checking designs before they go to print (yep, I’ve sent in wrong files a couple of times to our manufacturer). It's important to read an email twice before sending it or asking someone to proofread it. I suggest having another look around to see if there are any better alternatives before choosing a supplier as well. I believe it is a good mindset and attitude to “just do it”, but sometimes it is better to stop for a moment, think twice, and then do it properly. I learned this the hard way!

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous that you learned?

I have always believed that everything is possible and no dreams are too big. But during this journey (that just started), that has become even more clear to me.

Never ever doubt yourself. And it is the toughest problems that give you the biggest achievement when you solve them, so never forget that when you're in the middle of the storm.

Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?

Right now, there is a lot happening “behind the scenes”. We are getting all the pieces of the puzzle into place before I go back in the end of June.

We are changing production and our factory to improve our manufacturing process and improve the product even further be able to meet the requirements of retailers.

There are also big changes happening in distribution, packing, warehousing - we are working towards being able to send orders on a global scale.

New designs are on their way and we are expanding our range of products as well.

I am finishing up my time here in Australia and getting ready to go back to Europe to work with PinAround full time.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are using Shopify as our webshop and the Swedish accounting software program Fortnox.

We also Google Analytics on a rather in-depth level to track and monitor our sales.

Google Analytics can be a bit confusing how it shows information without the proper settings. With the default settings, it's difficult to know exactly where your sales are coming from - especially if you get a lot of sales from referrals like us. There are many useful guides online on how to set up Google Analytics.

Another thing we have used analytics for was to make calculated conclusions. Digital marketing is excellent with all its tracking but it is not 100% accurate. For example, when we were running a lot of paid advertising we saw an increase in sales but not only from the channels we were marketing on. When we stopped the marketing our sales went down. This is where you have to think outside the box, a Facebook ad seen and clicked on when someone is at work can lead to a direct visit and sale on your website once your customer is at home and on their personal computer or phone.

We used analytics to gain new sales channels when we noticed a certain type of referral website working we would reach out to similar ones and partner up with them.

Last but not least, make sure to have the correct currency settings in analytics. Do note that analytics will not convert old data into the new currency. This means that actual 1000 USD in sales will be shown as 1000 in the 'new currency' even if that would be 100,000 in local currency.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just do it. It is a cheesy line, but so true.

I know so many people with ideas, dreams, and goals who never do anything about them. They are too comfortable and scared. Ditch the “what if-" questions and stop thinking so much. I don't mean you should take a huge loan and put yourself in a financially risky position. But if you have some money to play with, you should give it a go.

There are no obstacles such as lack of knowledge or experience. Google is our biggest learning resource - you have all the answers just one click away. Who knows, you might fail but if you do at least you know. Otherwise, you will wonder your entire life what actually could have happened with that idea. The worst thing that will happen is that your idea or project failed, from all the successful people I speak to or read about they all say the same thing - failure is a part of the road to success.

Surround yourself with people who support your idea and cut out the naysayers - you don’t need the negativity. If you have friends who run businesses and are entrepreneurial, reach out to them!

Sandi, Benjamin, and I are all deeply passionate about startups and entrepreneurship. We have a constant dialogue with other people doing business, learning and motivating each other. And one important thing that I cannot stress enough is that business is business. We are all good friends, but we do not sugarcoat things just because we are friends. We tell it each other straight, and we regularly give positive and constructive feedback in every aspect of the business and the work we do.

Where can we go to learn more?

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

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- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story

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