FIVE YEARS OLD, AGAINST ALL ODDS

«BEHIND-THE-SCENES» LETTER #4 FROM FOUNDER JO EGIL TOBIASSON
WRITTEN 02.08.2019

Read the previous "behind-the-scenes" letters here.

Read in Norwegian here.

This summer Northern Playground turned five years old(!). On a rocky shore by the ocean a couple weeks ago I had some thoughts that I would like to share – unfiltered, as usual.
Since it’s our anniversary it’s tempting to focus on all of the amazing things we’ve accomplished. Instead, I’m going to do the opposite. Here are my thoughts on why we never should have made it to our fifth birthday.

1. Naïve idiots
Maybe a tad tabloid, but the fact is that Magnus and I had no idea of what we were doing when we started Northern Playground. A historian and a political scientist that were completely lacking knowledge and experience. We didn’t have much of a network either. We had nothing, except for an idea and a lot of energy.

2. No money
When we started out we didn’t even have $100. With absolutely nothing to start off with we had to hustle hard from day one.
3. No celebrity
Apparently this is the recipe for success for sportswear companies today: use some ex-Olympic type and smother that name everywhere. We just had ourselves. And some friends.
4. Competition
I don't know how many wool underwear brands there are on the market in Norway. There must be at least 30, all of them fighting to stay alive. And we thought there would be room for us...
5. No team
As planned, Magnus left Northern Playground after some time. Just as we were starting to grow, running the company alone made the situation very vulnerable. First of all, I lost control and made a lot of mistakes. Especially mistakes with products and production. This kept me awake many a night and could have easily been the last drop. Second of all, loneliness is an ongoing battle for an entrepreneur. You go through a lot of hard thoughts, and throwing in the towel is a constant temptation. At one point or another it just doesn’t work anymore.
6. Small margins

As planned, Magnus left Northern Playground after some time. Just as we were starting to grow, running the company alone made the situation very vulnerable. First of all, I lost control and made a lot of mistakes. Especially mistakes with products and production. This kept me awake many a night and could have easily been the last drop. Second of all, loneliness is an ongoing battle for an entrepreneur. You go through a lot of hard thoughts, and throwing in the towel is a constant temptation. At one point or another it just doesn’t work anymore.

7. Money, money - liquidity
Along with relatively large growth, all of this has made us have to constantly get our finances in order to continue growing. This takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. We have ended up with substantial deficits every year, and without positive investors, banks and Innovation Norway we would have never made it this far.

Phew!
These seven points are enough themselves to throw in the towel. Many people do. If I had met myself five years ago, I would have said, “Forget it, it won’t work!”. But we’re still here, and I can’t be anything else than proud of our endurance.

Darn, I would really like to leave this list uncommented. Everything that’s here is completely real, but these points need to be nuanced with some thoughts from 2019.

1. Naïve idiots
This is probably the reason that we even dared to think of products like Ziplongs®, Zipbody™ and Zipbra™ – not to mention production in Oslo. As history shows, innovation often comes from outsiders. Our plan is to keep being naïve idiots.
2. No money
Of course we have a little more to go on today, but we still have to make good use of every single penny. That means that we have to get creative with how we spend our money. That’s where some of the best ideas come from. We plan to keep doing that as well.

3. No celebrity
So what? We exist because we’ve developed something genuine. That’s our hero and that’s what we’re going to roll with. We’re proud of developing concepts that the market both wants and needs – without following the “recipe”.
4. Competition
This makes for a bigger challenge and pushes us to work even harder. We’ve made it to where we are today, and are finally in a position where we can say no to the stores we don’t want to be associated with.
5. No team
Well, that doesn’t work for very long. You need a dream team. And the fact is, today I am surrounded by rock stars at the office. This summer we’ve for example hired a new CFO and this fall we’re hiring again.
6. Small margins
Instead of having good margins, we make do with being proud of the quality we choose. That’s actually the only option for us. Cheap solutions, or productions where we have no control, are out of the question. We’ll have to make do with waiting another couple of years before we make a profit.
7. Money, money - liquidity
This is something that just has to be done, and is a job that won’t go away anytime soon. But we just might make a profit this year. And we’re extremely happy that we dared to go with crowdfunding. Today we have 50 shareholders that are gung-ho about Northern Playground. That’s both valuable and fun.

As you can tell, we haven’t exactly chosen the easiest path, and I have no idea if we’re “over the hump”. But it feels like we are. We will continue to challenge the industry and ourselves. We’re just getting started! I can’t wait for our 10 year anniversary. For that one I’m counting on inviting you to the celebration 🙂 Will you be there?

We’re more than happy to receive a “congratulations” or your thoughts on what you want us to fill the next five years with.

Peace and love,
Jo

BB20190520_NP_Svalbard_A7R04651-min

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