Shaper: Erik Biorklund

Show aired on 25th October 2014

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
What a big way to start the programme this morning; You Touch My Brain, Al Jarreau and Dr John. If that hasn’t woken you up nothing will. Good morning I am Elliot Moss and this is Jazz Shapers on Jazz FM. The place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a business shaper. Erik Biorklund is my business shaper today. He is the co-founder, COO, CFO and lots of other titles I am sure too of The Yacht Week, a sailing business and you will be hearing exactly what it is and what makes him and his business so special. Lots coming up from him shortly. In addition to hearing from Erik, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that of course a more brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Robert Glasper, Laura Mvula and this from the iconic Aretha Franklin.

The delicious Aretha Franklin with Chain of Fools, a lovely and a brilliant song to. This is Jazz Shapers as I said and I promised you earlier here on Jazz FM that you would be meeting Erik Biorklund, he is the co-founder, COO and CFO, only two titles really of the business called The Yacht Week and he is Swedish as well so he will have a lovely accent. Just about to come up on Jazz FM right here. Thank you very much for joining me Erik. What is Yacht Week; tell me what Yacht Week is?

Erik Biorklund
Well thanks for allowing me to join. Yacht Week is a group sailing experience that we do in different and the best sailing waters around the world for people between say twenty and thirty five.

Elliot Moss
Okay and only twenty to thirty five year olds can take part?

Erik Biorklund
Anyone is welcome but that is the majority of the people.

Elliot Moss
That is where you target it?

Erik Biorklund
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And just explain a little bit more about how you came to create this business because as I understand it essentially people get to borrow, if that’s probably not the expression, but to use a yacht for a period of time and enjoy the delights of this wonderfully expensive lifestyle that they can’t normally afford.

Erik Biorklund
Yes so we sort of want to bring sailing to a new audience that are not usually sailors necessarily and we worked as skippers, me and my business partners when we were studying at University and we decided to bring friends because the demographic was very eschewed towards families and corporates and so on. So it was the best job in the world hands down and the only thing we were missing was a good crowd to go with so we invited people and we said, okay let’s bring a hundred and two hundred and fifty joined and yeah, I mean every day you go to a new island, you have a new adventure. It’s quite an adventure and then it became really popular so eventually we did it another year and twice as many people showed up and then we thought if we could bring like five, six hundred people from Sweden at the time then there is a big chance we can bring a lot more people from a lot more countries.

Elliot Moss
And is this year round or is it a specific week or is the point about the week can be whenever you want it to be?

Erik Biorklund
No it is like, we do it both in the summer and the winter so in the summer we do it in the Mediterranean for three or four different locations and in the winter we do it in the Caribbean and in Thailand.

Elliot Moss
And basically at the beginning of 2008 after you dabbled a bit and had your friends come along and I guess indulged your passion you realised that this was going to actually or potentially be a business for you rather than just something that you did with your friends?

Erik Biorklund
Yes so then we set up a company in Sweden. My business partner dropped out of University, I stayed on and we started developing the business and getting people engaged in different countries and then at some point I think in 2009/2010 we moved over the business to London. I moved over in 2011 and now we are running the company most of the employees are here in London.

Elliot Moss
Find out why Erik moved to London town. Lots more coming up from him. Time for some more music and this is aptly London Town from the New Century Jazz Quintet.

That was the rather jazzy London Town from the New Century Jazz Quintet. Erik Biorklund is my business shaper, he is the CFO and COO and co-founder, what a mouthful, of The Yacht Week. A clever idea based on a passion, the sailor turned into a businessman. I imagine you still sail Erik? Do you still get the chance?

Erik Biorklund
Yes, less and less but hopefully it will become more and more over time.

Elliot Moss
As you get wealthier and wealthier. Tell me, we were talking before that beautiful track about moving to London. What made you move to London? Why did that become the centre of the operation?

Erik Biorklund
London is a good city for us to operate from. We want to build a company that embraces a multi-cultural skill set and people from all over the world so we have an international client base, or base of guests and that makes London a really good city in Europe to be based in.

Elliot Moss
Now your web, obviously it is a relatively web driven business this or is it something else? I mean you obviously grew and we will talk about your growth in a moment but you grew at the same time that Facebook and other big businesses were starting to essentially become proper footholds in the digital world. Is that how people find out about you?

Erik Biorklund
True. Yeah so it is totally relying on friend to friend or word of mouth marketing but we give good tools. We are allowed to produce good promotion videos, we have professional photographers. I mean today a lot of people do that but we used the window in 2008/2009 when not a lot of people did and got like a big leverage on word to mouth but by Facebook and YouTube.

Elliot Moss
And how did you know without sort of sounding idiotic. How did you know what to do? Young guy, fresh out of University, your partner who dropped out of University and I hear both sides of those stories from the different people I meet to different and fantastic ends. How did you kind of put that first business plan together?

Erik Biorklund
Based on what we have done in Sweden it is just extrapolate. I mean how much demand we have on this population, what’s a reasonable amount of demand in other populations. We know the product is really good because it is so unique to be in these waters and you have like ocean view all the time and it is quite affordable.

Elliot Moss
And where will people be able to go sailing so I understand. Is it all over or certain parts of the world?

Erik Biorklund
We do like, we do Croatia a lot; Greece, Italy, British Virgin Island and Thailand.

Elliot Moss
But when you set the business up back in ’08 to go to some of those gorgeous places and then more I guess you have added. You just mentioned various different social media sites, you said obviously as a digital native, do you think if someone had been twenty years older than you they would have struggled creating this business that you have created or do you think it is just about an attitude towards understanding the power of new technology?

Erik Biorklund
I think we took a different approach on how to attract people into sailing. It was driven because we had a passion for the product and we believed the product was really good but yes we come from that age so we understand it better. I mean the charter companies, the sailing charter companies they market towards sailors and well now they are a little bit better but back then we were the only, we were the only pretty much the only way you could purchase a sailing charter on line, fully transactional process on line in 2008/2009. No one else really did that. You did wire transfers and calling people and so yeah of course other people can do that but I think we were a bit lucky.

Elliot Moss
And being humble now. He’s a bit lucky, bit lucky he’s got a few million pound turnover business. Stay with me for much more from my business shaper, Erik Biorklund. In the meantime though latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of wisdom for your burgeoning business from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM. If you don’t catch me at that time you can always go into iTunes, you will find over a hundred and twenty or thirty or even a hundred and forty programmes on iTunes all safely locked away for your delight. Erik Biorklund is my business shaper today and he is the CFO, the COO; I just like saying it and the co-founder of The Yacht Week and if you were listening earlier and I hope you were, you would have heard how the passionate salesman, sailor has become a businessman and someone also actually who created a business based on the back of what was going on in terms of an enormous growth moment in the world of the web. 2008/2009 those first couple of years when you are running your own business and you’ve kind of move from the passion thing to the business thing. Were there times when you thought, you know what I don’t want to do it anymore and I just want to get off the ride or were you committed to being the business guy at that point?

Erik Biorklund
I think yeah there’re are moments when you doubt, like what am I doing, where is this going and are we crazy, dealing with Croatian politics can be quite tricky.

Elliot Moss
How do you navigate all those waters though Erik? You are a young guy still you know, you seem pretty mature. Did you have to grow up fast when things hit you? One thing and then another or…

Erik Biorklund
No I think, I think just like being a tour guide, being a skipper is a lot like being a tour guide but you deal with like a ship with more than your worth at the same time so it is a lot of chaos involved and then you had the flotilla aspect so yes there is a – I think we have a very high tolerance for stress, every skipper do, it is not unique for me and especially when you do it, people are maximising their week, they are drunk and you need to sort of like make sure they have a good time but focus on safety.

Elliot Moss
But you are in your element there, I mean as a skipper you’ve trained and you I believe sail with your partner, your co-founder since you were kids. Business is a bit different isn’t it? Or is it actually not as different as that?

Erik Biorklund
No but there are elements that are similar and I think so you need to have patience and if we can, if we can endure in an environment that can be difficult at times like in Croatia. We also realise that it is barriers of entries for other people to do the same thing because it takes time to build relationships and to gain trust.

Elliot Moss
And all the way through those early years, did you ever have to borrow money? Or was this; did the cash flow kind of work pretty straight, you know, pretty immediately?

Erik Biorklund
Yeah it was equity so we just worked hours and pull in work so we haven’t, it is not funded by anything than ourselves.

Elliot Moss
Wow and is this true, you are around nine million dollars in sales, give or take? Is that about right? Is it getting bigger now?

Erik Biorklund
Yeah, yeah, it’s growing healthy and we are adding. So we started off doing Yacht Week so that’s like a sailing group experience. Ninety percent have never been on the ocean before or are non-sailors and now we are doing the ski week. So now we are doing the same thing but on a mountain and then we train because if ninety percent of all our clients have skippers, we have more connection with more skippers than any other company in the world. So now we are starting like a nautical training and consultancy company.

Elliot Moss
Wow.

Erik Biorklund
So we do other things and then for, for I guess a lot of these listeners we do sailing for non-sailors for a slightly older demographic.

Elliot Moss
He’s plugging now I can’t believe it. Shameless. Stay with me for even more semi-plugs from Erik Biorklund, my business shaper. Time for some music though this is the phenomenal Robert Glasper Experiment with one of my favourites, I Stand Alone.

I promised it would be brilliant and it was the Robert Glasper Experiment and I Stand Alone. Erik Biorklund has been with me for a bit and we have been talking about the ups and downs and the chaos and in fact he is still smiling over here and he is looking back with relish on what has been, as you called it, the rollercoaster. When did you know the business was actually going to work? When did you go, you know what, I can stay on the ship, I am steady and then you thought, hold on a minute we are going to hopefully do really well here? Was there a turning point do you think?

Erik Biorklund
I don’t think we have hit that yet. I think every year we are launching next year’s working in a month and it is still kind of like, it’s getting a little bit better every year. We work on compliance to minimise all risks but there are natural risks in any business and I think in this business there are a lot of risks so we know that there is a demand but you know, who knows – like we try to make the product continuously better but maybe people won’t appreciate that some point, maybe they will want to do something else, maybe there are catastrophes happening, I don’t know so there is no definite thing like this will go on forever. We think we have longevity and we have come up with something good.

Elliot Moss
Well you have mentioned all the other things, the expansions if you like of the proposition into these other worlds. I imagine that you look like you would be the kind of guy that goes, if it doesn’t work I will just stop and we will try another thing as in the big products are going to work but you are going to play a bit at the edges? Is that a fair thing to say? That you will be able to be resilient enough just to stop if one business isn’t working and carry on with something else?

Erik Biorklund
Yeah we should. To this date I think what we have done has worked although we used to only do one thing and now we do like five things. We took over the concession which my business partner is running, the concession of an old fort.

Elliot Moss
And where is that?

Erik Biorklund
In Croatia.

Elliot Moss
In Croatia.

Erik Biorklund
It is a pristine island, it’s called Veece that was closed for all foreigners until the beginning of the nineties and it is a two hundred year old fort with British Heritage that we have restored into a museum and a cultural events venue where we do weddings and where we have also do concerts.

Elliot Moss
So it is really becoming an experiential business. Essentially you are going, I can sell you this beautiful experience that you can’t get anywhere else, a real sense of adventure.

Erik Biorklund
Yeah I like to call it a dream factory. If we can create really good experiences that people tap into then we can be pretty versatile with what it could be but sailing has been and is like a core area right now but also group experiences are just really awesome.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant stuff. Stay with me for my final chat with Erik today plus you will be hearing a brilliant track from Laura Mvula; that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

The beautiful voice of Laura Mvula with Green Garden, you should be clicking your fingers if you are as old as me as well. Just for a few more precious minutes here on Jazz Shapers, Erik Biorklund as my business shaper; he is the co-founder of The Yacht Week and an expanding business of dreams as he said earlier across all sorts of different things from the fort in Croatia to skiing and other things as well. You were talking earlier about you know, how you got inspired by the can do attitude that you probably felt in San Diego and the States. As you look forward now, what’s going to be the next dream for Erik and the business? Where are you taking it beyond the specific – I am going to be doing this, I am going to be doing that. Where are you going to be in ten, fifteen years? Do you still want to be running businesses? Are you still going to be creating stuff or are you going to be feet up on the boat somewhere?

Erik Biorklund
Yeah I have no idea but I am curious by nature and think we are on to something really good. I think the next thing is now to try to expand the demographic and introduce sailing to more people and this is what we work on with some friends and so maybe just map down all the good sailing areas and deliver good experiences on those sailing areas for a broader audience not just people who are buying into an intensive group experience. So in ten, fifteen years hopefully we can either just continue on what we are doing now or expand into new areas.

Elliot Moss
Now you are quite a young guy, I daren’t ask how old you are but you don’t look very old to me.

Erik Biorklund
Thirty three.

Elliot Moss
Thirty three, okay, good – he looks younger. He’s got a few years on him. What would you recommend to someone, your younger self, six, seven years ago? What would you have said, listen Erik this is what you should know about the next six or seven years? Because people listening will be those twenty five, twenty six year olds some thinking you know what, I wonder what I should do to get going.

Erik Biorklund
When I look around myself and I see people who I look up to I think a lot of them they dare to be hustlers. They worked their way around, they are street smart and they dared to take risks in different contexts and do things in an unconventional way and so if you want something then figure out a way that may not be by the book way and then just try and do it and then if it works, I think eventually you will make it work in a more long-term sense.

Elliot Moss
Very simple. What great advice. Just before I let you go, I would love to ask you what is your song choice Erik and why have you chosen it?

Erik Biorklund
It’s Take Five and it’s just one of my good friends recommended it maybe a year ago and it has been sticking with me and I just think it is probably in a Jazz context it is probably a pretty main stream track but it has something, I listen to it a lot when I work and it sort of gets me focussed.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant, this is the fantastic Dave Brubeck, in fact one of my father’s first vinyl records apparently he tells me and it is Take Five and thank you very much for being my business shaper today.

Erik Biorklund
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was the seminal Take Five from Dave Brubeck, the song choice of my business shaper today, Erik Biorklund. An intelligent guy, someone who is happy to navigate those choppy waters that are presenting themselves in creating your own business and someone who is carrying on to invent the future for his business and future clients as well. Do join me again, same time, same place – that’s 9.00am next Saturday morning for another edition of Jazz Shapers where I will be interviewing someone brilliant again. In the meantime though stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Erik Biorklund is the co-founder of European Travel Ventures with William Wenkel. European Travel Adventures is the parent company of the internationally acclaimed The Yacht Week, one of the only companies bringing a sailing, regattas and entertainment experience. The company has gone from strength to strength with the launches of The Skipper Academy, Fort George Croatia and now Yachts and Friends and The Ski Week.

Erik and William, both Swedish, developed a love for sailing from a young age when working on boats as skippers with friends over summers in Croatia.  From there, William and Erik saw a gap in the market and set up The Yacht Week, flotilla sailing with events every evening on a different island.  Yachts and Friends, which is the hotels.com of the sailing world, offers guests the opportunity to completely tailor their sailing holiday from a skipper to hostess to routes. They are also restoring Fort George in Croatia to its former glory to contain a restaurant, museum, event space and music venue.

Follow The Yacht Week on Twitter @theyachtweek

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

My business partners and I worked as skippers when we were at university and we decided to bring friends because sailing was eschewed towards families and corporates. We wanted to bring sailing to a new audience.

We operate in London because we want to build a company that embraces a multi-cultural skill set and we have an international client base.

We know the product is good: it is unique to be in these waters and it is quite affordable.

Every day you go to a new island, you have a new adventure.

I think the mind-set is long-term, but I deliberately chose a rollercoaster kind of work lifestyle.

We have a very high tolerance of stress – every skipper does. You need to make sure people have a good time but stay focused on safety.

It’s getting a little bit better every year. We used to only do one thing and now we do five things.

I like it to be a dream factory. If we can create great experiences that people tap into then we can be versatile about what those experiences could be.

When I look around and see people I look up to, I think a lot of them dare to be hustlers. They worked their way around, they are street smart and they are unconventional.

If you want something, figure out a way that may not be by the book and just try it.