It seemed like yesterday when we had just started to make new plans and set clear directions for the new year. Before we knew it, we are already edging close to the end of January in 2018. Yet no one experiences the passing of time as fleeting as those graduating from academia. As these people move on to the next phase of their lives, what kind of career options will they choose?
Today at Swedish App Scene, we interviewed Hedvig Ahlgren, a brave graduate from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) who has chosen to open herself to the possibilities of what a start-up career can propel her to. She is now the co-founder of Stagecast, a Swedish application and web platform that aims to change the live concert experience by engaging the audience with their smartphones.
Hedvig, who had just graduated in June last year, has been working on Stagecast for more than 2 years now. Today’s interview strives to showcase the raw and authentic struggle behind the journey to be an entrepreneur.
Why did you choose to go on this path?
It is easy to go with the flow, find a job and have a steady pay cheque after graduation. However, I did not want to deny my desire and curiosity for something more. There are so many possibilities out there and I want to open myself to them.
Besides, it is much easier for us now because we do not have a family to provide for. Our current living expenses are also low. With all these factors in play, if not now- then when?
Do you have any struggles when you are choosing this path?
Definitely. Having just graduated in June, financial capital is the main uncertainty that I have. Our budget is not going to last us for years, but months. It is tough, but it keeps the team on its toes, and we managed to get a lot of things done because of this sense of urgency.
I am thankful to have a supportive family who helped me out with a portion of my rent, and other expenses. I also take on a small part-time job on the weekends for about five hours a week. This is a good balance for me because it supports me financially and gives me the time and energy to pursue my passions.
Inevitably, I do admit that insecurities will creep in at times, especially with the decisions that I have made, or failed to make. When I see my peers doing well financially in their jobs, there will be moments when I question myself if I have made a worthwhile decision. At the end of the day, I felt that it is really important to be clear on your mission. Focus on the positivity that is gathered from the majority of your work, and not harp on the setbacks.
What are some specific challenges that you faced?
The first challenge I faced involved dealing with criticisms from people who may not like the idea. There were a few people who were against the idea of using phones during concerts as they believe that phones will serve to distract the users rather than enhancing their experience. Well, initially it does hurt to have your baby bashed, but that is also where you learn the most. After talking to more users, we begin to get accustomed to criticisms, as they are opportunities for us to understand more from the users. With the feedback that we have obtained, we will make changes to the relevant portions that we feel are important for our users, while keeping in mind that we cannot satisfy every user’s needs and wants.
Another challenge I faced was the embarrassment during an incident when we tried our alpha prototype on potential users. It happened at a club with over 700-800 students and we were a team of 6-7 friends. As we were severely outnumbered, we were afraid to take charge. Nevertheless, I climbed on stage and attempted to manage the crowd with our application. We did not know if it was going to work, and it turned out to be a complete flop. Nobody cared, and I stood there like a crazy girl, getting rude stares for stopping the deejay’s music sequence.
Though this experience was esteem-crushing, we learnt that our main audience should be focused on the users at concerts, instead of those at the clubs or pubs. I am also thankful for my team for their encouragement and support on that day!
How do you cope with these challenges?
I will say we managed to tide through the darkest of times with the team. We strongly believe in a supportive and caring environment where we always have each other’s back. This is being incorporated and reflected in our company culture with a focus on regular team activities. We have ‘International Cook Days’ with cuisines from Turkey, Germany, Sweden, as well as ‘Cinema Nights’ in our cosy co-working space. It is crucial for the team to always have fun because we are paid the under-market rate. Therefore, we seek ways to compensate in other ways, such as having great working environments, flexibility, a fun culture as well as having ownership in what you do.
It is important to have a positive mindset as well. Back in the days when I was at the KTH Innovation pre-incubator, every company owns a little room with paintings of important quotes. “Your most unhappy customer is the best resource for you to learn.” This quote resonated deeply with me as it helped me to understand and appreciate the importance of finding out the motivation and ways to improve. This increased understanding will help us to improve ourselves.
Our main target audience, the artistes and users, all have high hopes for our idea. This is also what keeps us going.
The way the system worked vs The way you want to live
This is a real story of the journey to be an entrepreneur. A story on how to chase your dreams – to be really brave and just take the plunge, putting yourself through rounds of humiliation, desperation, and exasperation. While this career path might not be a fit for everyone, this does not mean that it is not one.
The way the education system works, we can just go with the flow- apply for interviews, have your pick, and start working. Sometimes, it can be this easy. I don’t mean that the work is easy, but the choices are. It’s one or the other, isn’t it? Or like how William Deresiewicz put it, “the choices sort of make themselves.”
From a tender age, we were enrolled in schools. We worked hard, paid attention, and tried our best. If we get good scores, we go to good schools. If we get better results, we go to the more prestigious, more recognised schools because that’s what smart kids do. Now that we are about to graduate, it is natural for us to think about our life in terms of “getting into” whatever’s next with our current score, placing, or certificate.
One step at a time, and then the next step is inevitable. Always forward, never backward.
Before we know it, time passes us in a blur and we realised that we have, yet again, subscribed mindlessly to the conventional criteria of success. Perhaps it is time to really take a moment to think about what we want out of our lives. We define our own success, not the society. We should not blindly choose certain options just because they seem more ‘right’ than the other. In fact, do we really need a clearly marked path?
For Deresiewicz once said, “Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control.” We’re not advocating everyone to be entrepreneurs, or to choose the off-beaten paths. What is noteworthy is to have a comprehensive understanding of the choices you are making instead of merely following the system. What is your passion, and what are you going to do with it?
A first step could be to attend more entrepreneurial events and meet like-minded people! Do check out Stagecast’s upcoming hackathon – ‘Live Hacks’, where Makers, Designers, and Coders come together to revolutionise the way we experience live entertainment events. Till then, remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates on other events.