“Run your business like a heavy metal band”

So says this month’s CEO insider, Pär-Jörgen Pärson, aka the man who discovered Spotify

Pär-jörgen parson is a partner at venture capitalists Northzone. Over the past decade or so, the firm has invested in countless bright ideas – although none perhaps as shiny as his finest discovery, Spotify. He remains on the Spotify board and, with 20 years of venture-capital experience, PJ has worked through boom and bust, fostering a clutch of now world famous Nordic entrepreneurs. Oh, and did we mention that he’s also frontman of a heavy-metal covers band?

Challenge decisions “I was hired fresh out of business school by McKinsey & Company for a super high profile engagement with an industrial conglomerate. The project didn’t go well and I was singled out as the nonperforming member of the team. I wasn’t, but they needed someone to blame and I was the new kid. The boss said I was probably the wrong hire and that it would be best all round if I walked. I wasn’t having any of it and told him no way was I leaving. He wasn’t expecting that at all and ended up putting me on a different project, where I performed really well.”

Accept the inevitable “Four and a half years later, McKinsey fi red me for real. It was the right decision and I was happy to have survived that long. I think one of the lessons I learned at that place was to take things as slowly as you can, take it all in, learn what you can and then move on gracefully.”

Keep an eye out for opportunities “I was then headhunted for what turned out to be a boring private equity company, where I was put on bean-counting duties – not my cup of tea at all. However, I was parachuted in to help save a fish business. Long story short: my boss thought selling it would be the best course of action and I was able to buy it for a dollar. The bad news? It cost me about a million dollars to run it. However, I did hustle up the money and we worked hard to save it.”

Embrace failure “The step from fishing net to internet was short. I created the fi rst European internet incubator in 1997 and we built companies such as PriceRunner and Tradera (an eBay equivalent). However, we had a portfolio of companies that didn’t fare so well and no matter how much hard work we put in, we didn’t quite make it. Sometimes failure is a step on your way to reaching success.“

Time wasting is a virtue “In my current role as a venture capitalist, around 95% of the work I do is wasted time. I only invest in 1% of the businesses I look at – and of those businesses, around half of them are successful and even those that are successful don’t need me. At the end of the day, they’re so good, they can run themselves. In conclusion: I am doing a good job when I am wasting most of my day.”

The harder you practise, the luckier you get “In the incubator business, we were fortunate several times in terms of timing. This is a big thing in business. We sold one company on 6 March 2000 – two days before the peak [of Internet investments]. That was for $200m and while you might say that was lucky, we were in the game much earlier than everyone else and we took rational, informed decisions to get in that position.”

Embrace serendipity “Recently, I bumped into the founder of a company in New York City. It was quite by chance and I kind of knew him, so we got talking right there in the street. Next thing you know, we [the business] ended up becoming the lead investor in his business. It was serendipity, but I have put in the hours networking and meeting people over the years. The more people you put yourself in front of, the more opportunities present themselves to you.”

Opportunities can come knocking “I had a company working out of my office in Sweden that was having problems finding an employee. They finally took on a part-time guy called Daniel Ek. Meanwhile, there was another company working out of my office called Tradedoubler, run by Martin Lorentzon. They joined forces and created another firm you might have heard of: Spotify.”

Sometimes you win when you lose “Daniel and Martin invited us to invest in their business. After much discussion, we negotiated a significant amount. The day before the deal was due to be done, Martin called me. He said that we’d agreed on the figure in dollars, but that we were looking at it in euros now. Fine, I say, what’s the equivalent? But he wasn’t talking about the equivalent: he was talking about the same figure in euros – an increase of 35%. I couldn’t believe it. Are you kidding me? I have to find 35% more money in 24 hours? Nevertheless, I said yes – with smoke pouring out my ears and a great deal of heated discussion among the partners. In hindsight, I’m so grateful I accepted.”

A sense of humour helps “My colleagues at Northzone are a good source of fun. One time, I was meeting entrepreneurs and a guy walked in to present a mind-reading device. He showed me a board with light bulbs on and asked me to answer a few questions, which he second-guessed me on and got 100% right. I was amazed. Then he started explaining that the invention was driven by hydrogen and he just needed to adjust it a little… BOOM – the room seemed to burst into flames! It was at this stage that my colleagues ran in, laughing. The guy was actually a magician, but I was totally convinced.”

It’s about passion and commitment “I co-wrote a book called Heavy Metal Management, in which we p***ed on quite a few traditional management titles, because they just don’t get it. The theory behind our book is that, when it comes to a business, nothing is a substitute for passion, commitment and your work ethic. Knowing your stuff and doing your homework reduces your chance of making a mistake, but it’s not analysis and education that make a difference: your instincts should fuel your actions.”

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: https://ink-global.com/our-clients/portfolio/easyjet-traveller/