Entrepreneurial inspiration – Ingvar Kamprad and IKEA

In our last post, we talked about some of the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs. So what better follow-up post than the story of a business started by a young entrepreneur?

You may have heard of it – a little place called IKEA.

Operational in 37 countries and with a seemingly endless array of products from stuffed alligators to entire kitchen systems, IKEA is arguably the world’s most popular furniture store. Not bad for a company founded by a teenager.

Ingvar Kamprad was born in the Swedish province of Småland. At age five, his entrepreneurial spirit materialized when he began selling matches to neighbours. Sounds cute, right? Maybe, but this young entrepreneur made money! He realized he could obtain bulk matches very cheaply in Stockholm and then re-sell them individually at a low price – but high enough for him to make a profit. Over the years, his small business went beyond matches to include Christmas tree ornaments, fish, seeds, ballpoint pens and pencils. In 1943, Kamprad’s father gave the 17-year-old money as a reward for doing well in school. Kamprad’s entrepreneurial spirit was proved once again here – this money went into the creation of IKEA.

At first, IKEA sold a variety of personal and household objects, such as picture frames, wallets and nylon stockings, which he sold on individual sales calls. Soon enough, his business was growing so quickly that needed to switch to a rudimentary mail-order service, using a milk van to deliver orders to the local train station. In 1948, IKEA began selling its first items of furniture, which were then complete pieces made by manufacturers in nearby forests. The furniture was such a hit that Kamprad realized he needed to re-focus his business.

In 1951, the first edition of the iconic IKEA catalogue was published after Kamprad realized how much it could help sell more furniture to more people. Two years later, another IKEA mainstay was created – the showroom. IKEA’s very first furniture showroom was opened to differentiate the company from the competition. IKEA’s in-house design was also born as a response to the competition (who actually convinced suppliers to boycott IKEA). Left with no other choice, IKEA began designing its own furniture in-house. The flat-pack concept was created when an employee discovered that removing the legs of a table made it easier to load into a customer’s car. From then on, IKEA began to produce its furniture for flat-pack transportation and in-home assembly.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, IKEA kept on growing. It opened stores throughout Scandinavia, moving to the rest of Europe, Australia and Canada. Popular items that are seen as IKEA classics, such as the POÄNG chair and BILLY bookcases, were first introduced in the 1970s.

So, Kamprad displayed the innovation, forward-thinking and adaptability typical of young entrepreneurs. And look where it got him – from selling matches to creating one of the most recognizable and popular businesses in the world.

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The challenge for young entrepreneurs: proving yourself

Young Entrepreneurs in Canada

Recently, our GoForth Expert Dawn McCooey was asked the question, “How do I handle clients more concerned with my age than my experience?” It’s a question we get asked often by young entrepreneurs – who we consider to be small business owners under the age of 35.

As we’ve discussed before, young entrepreneurs bring a wealth of positives to the table – endless energy, fresh ideas and adaptability to new technologies. However, there will always be a few people who might cast a wary gaze upon you when you enter the boardroom. But fear not! There are several ways you, as a young entrepreneur, can impress even the most skeptical of prospective clients.

Model behaviours you want to receive

As Dawn says in her answer to the question above, “You’re going to be the one to dictate people’s impression of you.” It’s especially true for young entrepreneurs. Be impressive. Be professional. Be well-spoken. Be honest. Be courteous. Be confident. When your clients leave the meeting room, make sure they remember you as a capable and intelligent person they’d be happy to do business with, and your age won’t cross their minds.

Have confidence in your work

No entrepreneur is infallible or completely confident at all times. We all doubt certain aspects of our careers. But for young entrepreneurs, it can be a little easier to let doubt creep in when the very people you want to work with don’t seem to trust what you are. Here’s the upside: These people are few and far between. Most people care about the end result more than how many grey hairs you have (or don’t). So go forth with confidence and stand behind your business, your pricing, your method and your strategy. After all, it’s the result of hours of planning and research – why undermine it?

Get great experience, and show it off

Say you’re exchanging emails with a prospective client who is focusing less on your long list of completed projects and more on the fact that you graduated university last year. Ease his or her concerns – provide testimonials, give samples and show case studies to increase your credibility. If you’re the right person for the job, prove it – as early and as often as possible.

We should mention that experience doesn’t need to be of the paid variety. Of course, we want you to get paid, but look for other avenues to meet people in your industry, make a difference and also prove your credibility: advisory boards, committees and mentorships are great options.

Know when to back away

This last point might seem counterintuitive for an entrepreneur – I mean, you’re in this to feed yourself, right? But consider a scenario where all above options have failed despite your best efforts, and your prospective client is still not able to get past your age. Ask yourself honestly – is this a person you want to enter into a working relationship with and deal with on a regular basis? A healthy work/life state is a critical function of successful entrepreneurship; one not to be ignored. There is absolutely no shame in knowing when to cut your losses, and moving on to a client who will jump at the chance to work with you and respect you while doing so.

Do you have any other ways young entrepreneurs can prove that success isn’t just about age?

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