|Meet our Alumni-Nicolas Waern|
Nicolas Waern, CEO of Go-IoT, graduated from JIBS International Management at 2013
What is your current position and which tasks do the position involve?
Starting February 2018 my role will be CEO of an IoT-focused company based on Iceland. The position involves everything from strategy, sales and recruitment, to marketing, support, budgeting, investor relations, team building and setting overall vision and mission. Basically everything that you need to do in order to scale up a company from scratch.
How did you get the job you have today?
By saying yes five times.
It is an interesting story that actually began at JIBS. I had just come home from back to back exchange studies in South Korea and Switzerland, and was happy to see some fellow JIBS class mates again. Two of them, Nathalie and Linda must have felt the same because they asked me if I wanted to help out reviewing business plans which was connected to their thesis work. The business plans were created by three people in Nairobi - Kenya, Jakarta - Indonesia and Lagos - Nigeria. Nathalie and Linda were part of the Kanthari Incubator based in Kerala, in the south of India, which helps people to empower social visionaries from all around the world. I accepted the offer to help, and that was the first Yes out of five.
The incubator’s business owner in Lagos, Olufunbi Falayi, thought I did a good job because he asked me to become an advisor at the incubator he had founded. This led to my second Yes. Before moving to Lagos, I had very limited knowledge of Africa. As a child I had learnt that I should finish my food because the children in Africa were starving, and that was basically it. For me, Lagos was like this old school clothing store in my hometown Norrköping and not so much the 25 million city in the south west of Nigeria. But I wanted to know more, and accepting the offer was a no brainer.
After having spent about a year in Nigeria, I had a pretty good understanding of the incubator’s businesses. One of the businesses focused on audio books. The Swedish company Storytel was popular those days, and I was thinking: “Why didn’t I start a similar business ten years ago?”. Luckily, I was offered the chance to do the same thing as Storytel does, but for a company located in an English speaking country with a 200 million population, where they were digitizing more and more every minute. The decision was, again, a no brainer, and I said Yes when I was offered to invest in the company.
At that point, I had never met either Olufunbi or any of the two founders, Kolapo Ogungbile and Damilola Aransiola. We have had Skype meetings many times and I really liked their attitude and drive, more than I liked the business’ financial plan and strategy. But, what the hell, no guts no glory.
Early on, we won awards for our entrepreneurial endeavors. One award was as one of the 1000 most promising start-ups in Africa by TEEP and the Tony Elumelu Foundation (Tony Elumelu is like Richard Branson in Nigeria). We got investors early on and the start-up was soon valued to approx. USD500 000. I had a 20% share in the company so I was pretty happy about the decisions I had made and the hard work I was putting in even though I knew the valuation meant nothing if we wouldn’t do an exit. We also got picked up at Slush’s Global Accelerator track in Finland, which was great for us. I finally got the opportunity to meet up with one of the founders of the audio book company, Kolapo whom I had spoken to on a daily basis for the past year via Skype, but never met in person. The fourth Yes was around the corner.
While waiting to meet Kolapo for the first time, I was standing in line to get some drinks and food from one of the award sponsors. After having picked up the food I looked around and saw a gentleman standing at one of the tables I asked him what he was doing at Slush and he explained that he was working with Powerline Communication. Soon I realized it had something to do with houses. Networking is the name of the game at Slush so I took his business card, wrote down some key points from our conversation and said goodbye after five minutes. I had a great time that evening and talked to a lot of people that I knew I would meet again in the future.
Once home, I started to email all of the 100+ people whose business cards I had collected during Slush. Most of them responded and I quickly connected with them on LinkedIn. The five people that I had hoped for the most did not lead to anything.
But, one of the connections that I did not think would lead to anything, led to everything. His name was Throstur, and he was the CTO/CEO at an Icelandic company called Rational Network, mainly developing software and hardware solutions. I could tell that he was a genius after a couple of Skype calls and I was very impressed by their solution and him as a person and we definitely bonded right away. It didn’t take long before he referred to me as the Kitchen Nightmare guy. I listened, explained, and set him to a path that he knew was better for him and his company. The truth is that it does not matter if you have the best product in the world if no one knows about it. This was something he needed help with and he soon asked me to become Rational Network’s advisor. This was what International Management was all about. Saying yes to becoming an advisor was the fourth Yes. Throstur and I had monthly Skype strategy sessions, which soon became bi-monthly and weekly sessions where we created a website with the help of the Web Agency I was running at the time, Laejon, and everything in between that was needed to scale up and grow as a company.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, a financial crisis emerged due to the decline of global oil prices. Money was running out fast from the start-up, investors were pulling out and we soon found ourselves in a coma that we had a tough time to get out of. I took a job as Management Consultant at Acando and combined the job with supporting Rational Network and other projects during weekends and late nights.
Everything was going in the right direction, Rational Network got recognition through the website although not a single dime had been spent on marketing, and only 400 EUR had been spent on website development. I had worked 60-80 hour weeks for the last 3-4 years, which took its toll of course. The work at the consultant firm was going well, Iceland was going well, I got new job offers every month, I got great support from my fantastic wife and extended family, but I was working a bit too much. Something had to be done, but it was difficult as the project I managed was in a similar line of business as the Icelandic company, and it was great for learning purposes. Transitioning to the Icelandic firm would not be a great financial move in the short run, and when you have a wife and two kids you need to think about that stuff too.
I had been in touch with a fantastic company for more than a year, Alten. They wanted me to work for them, but they did not seem to find the perfect fit for me. We maintained a relationship for 1,5 years, the people I met at Alten had been more than impressive. I got a great job offer as a Consultant Manager from them which would be a big step up from Management Consultant. Great co-workers, great pay, great car, great salary, great bonus, great everything. But I knew that I did not want to let go of the Icelandic firm. The problem then, was that I would have to continue working 60-80 hour weeks, which was not something I wanted to do. I wanted to bet on the Icelandic firm, but at the same time as I wanted to keep as many options open as possible open. Before talking to Alten, I was 90% sure that I was going to go for a job at the Rational Network which I at the time had invested two years in. After talking to my would be Manager, Simon Gelmanovski, I was 50/50 split between the decisions. Financial stability and everything that it entails, or, pursuing a big dream…
Throstur had prior to this asked if I wanted to onboard Go-IoT (formerly Rational Network) as the CEO, which had not really been an option before. When he asked the second time it was a different story. I knew which decision I had to make even if it was everything but a safe bet.
I said Yes for the fifth time. And that was how I became the CEO of Go-IoT.
What motivates you to perform at work?
The chance to be part of something that has a global potential motivates me. Talking to potential customers who do not believe that we can do what we say we do. To help a company see themselves perform as they should, and to bring out that diamond in the rough. To have a revolutionary product for all buildings of the past, present and future will help to fight climate change
What motivates me the most is that I get to do something I love while supporting my family. By performing well at work, I get to come home to my amazing wife, and my two beautiful kids, Isabeli and Maximus, with the feeling that I am giving it my all for them and for myself. Always work hard. The harder you work the easier it gets.
What is your next career goal?
Great question. Not so much a career goal as a life goal;
Which career advice would you like to share with JIBS alumni members?
Trust yourself, break some rules, do not be afraid to fail, ignore the naysayers, work like hell, and always give something back.
Can you name one great thing you remember from your studies at JIBS?
I can name five. Club Caj, kick-off week(s), when I was editor of the university newspaper, organization and leadership, and the greatest thing of all - meeting my future wife.
Company information Go–IoT
GO-IoT is a company containing hardware-, software- and cloud solutions for the horizontal IoT (Internet of Things) market with a focus on the building automation industry. With the offer to save money for real estate owners and solution providers by automating manual work, adding a digital backbone in a building and making different products talk to each other. This enables drastic cost savings and an ability to monitor and control everything that goes on inside a building which in turn can lead to further insights, value creation and new business models. The company partners with IBM Watson where available data is made for advanced analytics, machine learning and the creation of Cognitive Buildings of the future.