“Going viral? You can’t plan for it…”

He may have helped launch Twisted Jeans (remember them?), but Fredrik Carling’s latest venture could be even more of a game-changer. His business secret? Just keep going.

As ceo of Hövding, the world’s first maker of airbags for cyclists, Fredrik Carling is used to creating a buzz online. Videos featuring the company’s lifesaver have been viewed millions of times and with good reason: it’s a game-changer. In the event of an accident, the discreet collar inflates to create a hood-shaped airbag and has been found to provide eight times better protection than a regular bicycle helmet. The company has sold thousands of units, but as Carling explains here, it’s a product that’s hard to get your head around…

It’s not where you come from… “I don’t have a formal education and when I started out in work, it was with Levi Strauss in the local warehouse. Back then, the fact that they were willing to pay for a forklift certificate for me was a big deal. I went on from there to sales and marketing, and then retail in the largest department store in Denmark. I’ve done a lot of things, but I really feel it’s about the here and now. If I deal with someone in business, all I need to know is if they can do their job – not what they did to get there.”

I’ve made a contribution “In my career, I’ve had the chance to work on projects that have challenged long-standing truths. Back in 1998, I was picked to lead a global think tank at Levi’s that eventually created a whole new form of jeanswear – the Twisted Jeans. It was revolutionary, it reinvented the market and influenced how they [jeans] are manufactured. Today, you can still see traces of what we achieved.”

To change a mindset takes time “What I’m working on now ranks even higher than the Twisted Jeans. If you think about it, we’ve been putting something on our heads for protection for thousands of years, going back to Roman times. But it’s no longer necessary, as our airbags will protect you. The challenge comes in shifting the mindset that is almost ingrained in us. In 30 years’ time, I’m confident that helmets as we knew them won’t exist.”

Just keep going “We were recently listed on the Nasdaq Nordic [stock market] in Sweden. It was a huge learning experience. The workload was incredible, but because our company was then only 23-people strong, we couldn’t let it affect the rest of the workforce. The CFO and I had to absorb the burden and protect everyone else from any stress, so that they could continue to do their jobs and keep us going.“

It gets emotional sometimes “Our product has been in over 700 accidents and it has always done its job. It might not have made the critical difference every single time, but we do get a user every now and then who gets in touch and says, ‘You saved my life’. It always has a deep impact on us.”

I have no idea how to ‘go viral’… “In September, there was a one-minute film that was released by someone using some of our video content. Within five or six days, 180 million people had seen it and two million had seen fit to share it – 180 million! I guess we have an engaging story to tell, but I still don’t know what makes one thing go viral over another.”

…and it doesn’t mean more sales “It’s partly true that people ring up and place orders when something like that happens, but it’s more of a long-term sales process. That video has placed a seed in 180 million people’s heads.”

Don’t let the occasion get to you “We’re a small company in our sector: the airbag industry is dominated by five companies worth billions. However, we were able to sit down with three of those five and negotiate for a partnership and you know what? They were high-level discussions, but the people were just… people. We now have an enduring partnership with a Japanese company and it’s working out very nicely.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight