When Kevin was 14 years old he started his first “business”, importing products from China and selling them online. Two years ago he started his own marketing company Visual World, and is currently also a part of a startup soon about to be launched. I met 21-year-old Kevin Östlin, currently studying his second year in Master of Science in Engineering, Industrial Engineering and Management at LTH. We sat down to talk about his journey towards running his own business while studying, the key to make a business succeed and how to reach your goals.
Everything started when Kevin was 14 years old, with the simple idea to import technology products from China and selling them online. Even if it wasn’t the most serious enterprise, it was the start of his interest and sense for business. An entrepreneur inside him was born. During upper secondary school he took a course in Business and Entrepreneurship, where he together with a group of friends created Vardagsköket.se – a niche webservice business with recipes consisting of maximum six ingredients, targeted towards students. Though a simple concept, the narrow focus bumped the company to the national finals young entrepreneurs. First after Vardagsköket, Kevin realized what entrepreneurship really was. He then started his very own marketing company Visual World, which was his first real own business. Earlier this year Kevin got hired to do a marketing job for a startup in the transport sector. And now, a couple of months later, he is a part of their board and the IT-manager of the company that soon will launch their service – Weekend Express.
Wow Kevin, you’ve already done a lot! What is your motivation?
- What I love the most about my job is meeting new interesting people and working with new types of industries. I’ve built a whole different kind of network than I’d ever imagine, when I took the leap to start up the business one year ago. That’s what I think is the biggest reward being an entrepreneur, and what motivates me to work harder.
What is the key to success?
- Just like with many other things, there’s never that one key to success. But there is one absolutely crucial key – taking your first step by simply writing your business idea down. To fulfill it on the other hand, it can take time, and you might even have to give up on some other things. For example, when I started my marketing business, I had to turn down a job opportunity during the summer. I did not earn a lot of revenue. None at all actually, but without that one terrible wage, I’d never still had a company today.. Other than “starting up”, I think it’s really important to have a good team. In my case the team often consists of my customers, since I’m a consultant. But if you’re working together with others within the business, relying on each other and a common vision, make sure you work well together! The team and your network is, again, what makes entrepreneurship to what it is.
Are there any challenges you have faced because you are studying while having your businesses?
- In my case, as in many others, the start up phase was the biggest challenge. What made it possible for me was the possibility to work “unconditionally” during the summer. So that when the fall came, the preparations, marketing and administrative obligations was all up and running, so I could focus on customers and the real work. That is one of my best recommendations to start up your business during a period where you can free up time, like the summer, and do a lot of all the work that has to be done in the beginning during this time. It makes the combination studying and running a business much easier.
Is there anything that has been tough or that you’ve been struggling with?
- The first step is always hard, making your first contact with customers or possible business partners. And it was tough for me as well. You may have the feeling that they don’t want to listen to you cause you’re young. It can be an uncomfortable and intimidating step, but really it shouldn’t. Older people who have been in the business world for a long time want to listen to us from the new younger generation. They know we are born digital, and that we have something to offer them even though we’re young, and that is important to remember. I see it as an advantage to be “young”.
What advice would you give to other students who want to start their own business?
- Have courage in that, if you have an idea, don’t be afraid to pursue it. You may have to give up some of that wage you were guaranteed for your other job, but maybe, it’s worth the shot? I was struggling after the finished project with my first customer in my marketing company. I got stuck and the only way forward was meeting new people and learning how to sell. Networking is the be-all and end-all here. That’s the single skill you develop the most starting a company, which is what made me grow into the role as an entrepreneur and helped me generate the required contacts to keep continuing moving forward.
What are your dreams and goals?
- For the last 2 years I’ve actually only had one mission with my company – to keep it at a profitable level, while at the same time free up enough time for managing my masters degree. Although right now, after almost 2,5 years with the marketing business, I’m getting ready to leave some of that behind, while instead taking the next step with the transport industry startup I boarded this September – Weekend Express. Supposing I can’t say too much, I can say that I’m very excited about 2019, and that my closure is: if you have an idea – blend some entrepreneurship into your student life. It can’t get worse than wrong!