Take matters into your own hands:
Be an entrepreneur
Claus Nygaard Jensen has been an active entrepreneur since childhood, and today he advises more than 400 start-ups a year. This is the story about his career and the experience he has gained – converted into useful tips for you.
Eight-year-old Claus was tired of asking his parents for money when he wanted an ice cream. He took matters into his own hands and started a business with vegetables and strawberry plants from his kitchen garden. “Entrepreneurship excites me because you take responsibility for your own life and your own income – and other people's income if you have employees. Furthermore, your success is measurable. The bottom line shows very clearly whether you have done well or badly,” Claus enthuses.
A unique opportunity
Sparked by his entrepreneurial dreams, Claus decided to study Business Development Engineering at Aarhus University in Herning. The programme offered the possibility to do an internship in your own company, so after just one year of studying, Claus established Stepfo ApS with a classmate in 2006.
“Your time of study is a unique opportunity to test your business ideas. Your living expenses are low with no mortgage and children, and you are not obliged to apply for jobs in order to get your unemployment benefit,” he says.
The best way to set up a business
Claus had the idea for Stepfo after meeting the CEO of a clothes webshop who told him that more than 50 percent of the sold items were returned by the customers; consequently, the business was in the red. The CEO wanted to give the online customers the same experience, as they would get in a shop. Claus and his classmate invented and patented a technology for making 360-degree photos of products, so customers would be able to see the items from every angle. According to Claus, this is the best way to set up a business: “Some people say that you need a good idea, but that is not necessary. Instead, you should spot a need or a problem, the solution to which will create value. Afterwards, you can have the idea for solving the problem. In my experience, only 20 percent of start-ups that are established this way are closed down after two years. The number is 80 percent for companies that start with just an idea.”
Involving the customer from day one
Claus signed a deal with the webshop CEO; if Stepfo could come up with a solution that met his criteria, he would buy the product. “Unfortunately, I see many entrepreneurs who spend lots of time on developing mock-ups and prototypes, but forget to get proof of sale. The sooner you get it, the smaller your risk. The customer is involved in your business from day one and helps develop your idea. If he does not like it, and your business foundation is too weak, you can shut down your start-up before wasting too much time and money. In short: fail fast!” Claus emphasises.
The power of delegating
Stepfo taught Claus another important lesson: You cannot do everything yourself. He did not have the necessary programming skills, but his classmate did. It is important to delegate tasks, he points out: “If you spend your time on things that aren’t fun for you, it will sap your energy. Furthermore, you will limit the growth of the company if you insist on doing everything yourself. Do what you are passionate about, and let someone else do the rest.”
Clarification is key
In the end, the classmate bought Claus’s share of Stepfo. Claus, in turn, contacted an investment company and made an agreement to form a new company: 360 Development ApS. Whereas Stepfo produced 360-degree images, the new start-up sold the equipment enabling photographers to make the 3D images themselves. In 2014, 360 Development was acquired by a foreign company. “We had built thebusiness with an eye to selling it, so it was quite alright,” Claus says and continues:
“You should always make up your mind as to why you are setting up a business. You may not know in the beginning, but keep pursuing the answer. Do you want to make money? Do you want to make a difference? Or something else?”
Innovation in time
Before selling 360 Development, Claus had founded two other companies: Packshoot ApS and Robofit ApS, both of which still exist with Claus as the chairman of the board. Packshoot delivers product pictures of clothes, shoes, accessories etc., whereas Robofit develops robots for training patients with paralysis or disabilities in arms or legs. “Robofit has required a lot of engineering and borrowed capital, and I could never have established it as my first start-up. Many entrepreneurs want to be very innovative and save the world. However, it requires a lot of resources, making it difficult for them to succeed. It is better to begin with something simple and become more innovative as you build your business, get more customers and gain knowledge of the market,” Claus advises.
Knowing when to say stop
At the same time, Claus was also involved in a project where the goal was to establish the largest milk production in West Africa. He and his business partner were only able to raise two thirds of the required starting capital, so they never reached full scale. “We had no loss, but it wasn’t a success either. It is part of the game to dive into something that seems hopeless – we would have regretted it if we hadn’t tried,” Claus tells and elaborates: “We knew it would be difficult, so we set up a milestone: If we were not producing milk by a certain date, we would shut down the project. In that way, we limited our risks. When you establish a start-up, ask yourself how much you are willing to lose and set up milestones. Then it can’t go completely wrong.”
The trick to wearing several hats
Today, Claus’ CV is crammed with titles. He is a member of several boards of directors – and in some cases the chairman. He is CEO of StartupBoost A/S, a company that invests its knowledge, resources and capital in ambitious and promising entrepreneurs. He runs a farm with his wife. It seems superhuman,but there is a trick to it, Claus explains: “My companies make enough money for me to hire employees who handle the day-to-day operations, so I can focus on management and strategy. When you make yourself redundant, that is when you can expand your business and focus on the things that are most fun for you.”
Entrepreneurship is freedom and control
In Claus’ experience, people often assume that entrepreneurship is riskier than employment. He sees it differently: “If you run a business with 20 customers, they each pay one twentieth of your salary. If one of them disappears, you still have 19 twentieths left. Furthermore, you can influence the situation. As an employee, on the other hand, you lose everything if you are fired, and there is nothing you can do about it. So to me, entrepreneurship is freedom and control.”
1. Start as a student
2. Spot a need or a problem
3. Get proof of sale or fail fast
4. Do what you are passionate about
5. Find your why
6. Begin with something simple
7. Set up milestones and minimise your risk
8. Make yourself redundant
Name: Claus Nygaard Jensen
Education: Business Development Engineer from Aarhus University
- CEO of StartupBoost A/S
- Board member at Fonden for Entreprenørskab – Syddanmark
- Member of the business development board at FarmBackup
- Founder of Claus Nygaard Jensen Holding ApS
- Founder and chairman of the board at RoboFit Innovation ApS
- Founder and chairman of the board at Packshoot ApS
- Founder of Meng Agro