Founders of the personal savings app Dreams know what it means to risk it all – and how starting up can make dreams come true.
At first, they hated each other, Johan Hemminger and Henrik Rosvall. Well, maybe not that dramatic. It was only Johan who hated Henrik, not the other way around.
— I got to know Henric while he was National Manager at EF travel where my girlfriend at the time was working. I really couldn’t see what she saw in him as a boss. She was always working, all breaks and holidays, but still thought he was the best. So yeah, at the time, I kind of hated him.
Or maybe it’s perfect. Such a frail foundation actually requires you to be able to rethink your views, to face that you’re not always right. That maybe, the Henrik guy isn’t that bad after all. He might actually be quite nice. Smart. Even fun to be around. Your differences might complement each other. And you together, not on your own, make up something even better. Something to build upon.
If you’re open to it and have the ability to reconsider your stance you probably have a pretty good shot at making it. To start something good – and to make it last.
— That’s definitely true. One of the reasons we made it this far is that we’re both quite freed from prestige, says Henrik.
Henrik and Johan started the fintech company Dreams in 2014.
It’s an application that offers a new way of saving money by appealing to your emotional, instead of your rational, side. They describe their business idea as not helping their customers saving money, but to realise their dreams. An idea based on behavioural economics over traditional economics.
— We only have one person with a financial background in the team. The rest are psychologists, sociologists and scientists.
When we meet for this interview, they can both laugh off their icy start to their relationship. Ironically, it was on a ski trip to the alps, arranged by Henrik, that the ice melted and their shared interest in skiing grew into a friendship.
But the leap from ski buddies to business partners was still a ways away.
— I’m a fundamentally emotional human being and had promised myself to never enter the financial sector, says Johan.
Looking back we all know how that played out. But as we previously stated: the ability to reconsider seems to be vital in the world of startups.
Maybe it was the fact that Johan and Henrik were so different that eventually united them. Because even though they both had a penchant for business their individual motivation looks quite different.
— That’s probably right. We come from opposite directions into this and do have different views on banking and money, says Johan.
He describes himself as a lust driven and project oriented skier who has done what it takes to live as freely as possible. With a lot of skiing included. With that as a starting point he has been a nightclub manager, event co-ordinator, ski school instructor and landed a sponsorship for free ski equipment. Lust was also what drove him to start the digital agency Monterosa, which later was sold to BBH.
— I haven’t seen myself as an entrepreneur in the past, just driven by lust.
Henrik on the other hand has been interested in business since his early teens. It all started when he, at the age of 13, started selling bread to his neighbours. Since then, he has worked in all sorts of industries. He started up and sold three different restaurants in Umeå, Malmö and Helsingborg, he has been the Chief Executive Sweden at EF Language Travel, as well as a Marketing Manager at Avanza Bank.
— I like to do business and that is what drives me, he says.
So when Henrik came up with the idea behind Dreams, it maybe wasn’t so strange that they finally found each other.
— It was hard to find the right people for this business idea, but when I sat down with Johan to talk about it, everything just clicked.
Johan says that he didn’t even hesitate for a second when the questions was finally popped.
— Even with the promise of staying away from this industry I just went with this ‘from the get-go’. Because I don’t consider us to be in the financial industry, I see us in the experience industry. What we do is make dreams come true. That gets me going.
Turns out, pretty much everything.
Let’s put it like this: we’re lucky being as naive as we are, otherwise we would’ve closed shop a long time ago. To start a company, especially in this industry, is a lot harder than one might think.
The first year and a half Henrik spent day and night just with permits and partnerships with the banks, something that he describes as taking a psychological toll on him.
— To be inside big, big processes and getting turned down was very wearing. But Johan, who was still consulting a bit on the side at the time, would call me every day to check up on me and to keep the positive energy going. If it would’ve been just me, I wouldn’t have pulled it off.
Eventually when the market matured and the banks were lining up for partnership, the next big challenge hit.
— Raising capital is a huge deal to all startups, including us. It’s just not about finding the right investors, it’s about finding the right investors who believe in the idea AND like where it’s headed. On top of this, they need to contribute with competence and knowledge to push you forward.
Johan and Henrik share stories of how negotiations were breaking down and that they’ve had to start over from square one more than once.
— Going from meeting to meeting about investment that can span six months per investor, and then having it all collapsed. It’s not easy. It really takes a lot to dust yourself off and go again.
They both bear witness about the risks they had to take, financially and socially.
— Taking this chance, putting your own money behind it, kissing your salary and pension goodbye, you don’t just put yourself and your credit score at risk, but also your family’s financial security. It takes great sacrifice.
Add late nights and unpredictable mood swings to the mix and one really starts to see the cost of starting a business.
— This is the reality for a number of startups, even though the image of entrepreneur life is cool and flair. Truth be told, the cool part probably amounts to about 5% and the other 95% is pure hard work. Don’t forget that.
Despite all of this, they both agree it was worth it.
— Absolutely. When you believe in something as much as we do, it’s not just about here and now, it’s such a strong vision for things to come. This is exactly what we want to be doing, nothing else, Henrik says.
— Every week there’s a new setback. Every stage presents a new challenge. Either it breaks you or you grow from it.
They both come back to dropping prestige.
— Prestige is your biggest enemy! The ability to see your own strengths and quickly ask for help by people who can do the other thing is vital. It might sound cliché but it all comes down to teamwork. A lot of our employees bought into the vision and even agreed to come down in salary to get on board.
They also cite experience as a key factor to success. They have both run businesses with varying outcomes in the past.
— Let’s say that all projects haven’t been success stories. But, they all give you experience.
The last advice they give is persistence.
— After four years we still run a business that’s not making a whole lot of money. So yeah, persistence and a long-term business plan are good things to have.
For Dreams that plan is based on net interest. Meaning the money they get from interest for loaning money to the bank minus the interest they pay the 10 customer.
One might also think that data about dreams could be a valuable asset that other companies could be interested in…
— The data our customers provide us with is not used on an individual level.
Your dream is your dream. We do use aggregated data to deliver anonymised statistics on what people in general are saving up to at the moment.
— 80% have an experience based dream, like a trip or a wedding. Many are saving for a new home and some are saving to get out of debt. There are tons of wonderful gripping stories tied to this service. And that’s what makes it so rewarding.
Today Dreams have 52 employees and over 300 000 users in Sweden and Norway and their next goal is to conquer Europe. Paris-headquartered Axa Investment Managers has acquired a 10% stake in Dreams to help it target a younger cohort of European investors.
— Our customers do an average of 22 transactions a month on our service. That’s far beyond all the banks. That number is very important to us. It shows engagement around savings. We change people’s savings behaviour and in turn, we realise their dreams. And that vision is what keeps us going.
Text: Malin Letser
Photo: Christian Gustavsson
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