Pragmatic anarchist surfs the waves of impact

May 24, 2020

Richard Georg Engström – TALKS WITH PETRI

Richard Georg Engström talks about how to make films in Scandinavia, navigate unknown and uncultivated opportunities, what is impact and what it means to be happy.

Pragmatic anarchist surfs the waves of impact

Bio

Richard Georg Engström has been building several companies and organisations during the last 20 years as an entrepreneur in technology, media & entertainment, and in the sustainable, political and civil society sectors. He loves to show leadership at unknown and uncultivated markets.

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Richard in the bar playing records, from the feature film “Black Coffee & Vinyl”, which he produced and got an Danish Film Academy Award for in 2013.

Transcript

(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)

Petri: Hello Richard, how are you doing? How was the seafaring yesterday, close to Copenhagen?

Richard: Hi Petri, I’m fine. I was out sailing yesterday and it was pretty windy. I was about 16 meters per second. We were sailing with my friend’s Phantom42 which is a Danish design sailing boat from the eighties. We were four people and had a blast up in the Bay north from Copenhagen.

Petri: Are you an experienced sailor or this was your first time in a sailing boat?

Richard: I grew up by the Swedish west coast in the seventies and I started windsurfing. I started sailing a dinghy when I was seven for some years, but I got a little bit tired of that. It probably wasn’t too exciting to sit in the dinghy so my father got hold of one of the first windsurfers that came to Sweden in 1980.

I started to windsurf in Varberg where I grew up, which became a metropole for windsurfing. All the 80’s it was one of the hottest spots in the Nordics. So I grew up there, 10 minutes with a bike from the seaside. I did windsurfing from April through November, and also sometimes in the Christmas from when I was 12 years old until I was 20.

I’ve been windsurfing very much all around the year for many years in the eighties. We didn’t have a sailing boat ourselves, but a lot of my friends had sailing boats. I did a lot of sailing with them. Primarily along the Swedish coast, but also some strips to Denmark and around Denmark.

So, I’m pretty experienced. My friend, he’s a very experienced sailor and his kids are grown-ups now and his wife, unfortunately, died some years ago of cancer. So he’s planning for a global sailing trip. We are training together. Maybe I can join him, not two years around the globe, but a few months in some distant future when he’s sailing around the globe. It’s pretty fun, I like it a lot.

Petri: You mentioned you were also as a student in San Francisco. Now I’m just wondering whether it was the surfing which made you decide to go there?

Richard: No, I always dreamt about coming to California surfing in the eighties when I grew up, but then I went to Denmark in 1993. I started an education called the Kaospilot with what kind of a project management education, and it was very open to your own forces and your own ideas on what to do. I started to interest myself very early on for the Internet.

Back in the summer of 1994, I was on the Internet first time, and it was before the web was even present. I used a bulletin board system, which was a Unix based system. And I came across a global community, it’s in San Francisco, called The WELL, which was the hottest online community ever. I had been reading a lot of books about The WELL, and I got in touch with them.

My first email address was [email protected] and I got in contact with some people there through their bulletin boards and did a lot of discussions with them on topics like music, tech gear and other stuff. And then in the spring of 1995, I had a possibility to do a four months international internship at my studies, and I could pick and choose and try to find an internship myself.

I contacted The WELL and I got through to their management, and they were one of the first ISP an internet service providers in San Francisco. So they did the internet service providers and some web publishing and so on. I got an internship there and stayed in San Francisco from April to July 1995 and I learned a lot. I came across some of the coolest people in San Francisco.

There were some people that did virtual on the web. They wrote a new language called the virtual reality market language VRML, and they did the first virtual reality activities over the web. We’re talking back when we used Netscape. I learned so much. When I came home in the late summer of ’95 I started actually to do web publishing myself.

Even before my friends had an email address, I was up there doing web publishing for one of the largest banks in Denmark. I did their first website. I did Renault, the car manufacturer’s Danish website together with some other people. I was studying, so I did the product management and communication, and I found some people at the university that wrote some CGI and HTML and some designers who could do graphics.

When I came out of the year ’95 I had already published three commercial websites for clients. I was very early on. When I was in San Francisco, I also did some surfing. I took a 10 day drive down Highway One at some point. A lot around the coast and went to some of the surf spots between San Francisco and LA. There are some great surf spots there. 

I remember me and my friend Jakob we found a surf town. It was very small. They had this classic boardwalk pointing out from the beach, and in that small town along the coast, I think there were two bars, but there were 10 surf shops. It was crazy.

It was all about surfing. I did some surfing in California as well, but what took me to San Francisco was my early on interest in the Internet.

Petri: While surfing and doing websites, did you also play or make some music?

Richard: I didn’t do it at that time. I grew up playing the piano from when I was six and played the piano with an old lady. I remember riding the bike from home 10 minutes down to an old lady. She had a big house and a big piano and we studied piano there, and I had some kind of talent for that. But when I came out of the sixth grade, I was a little bit annoyed about just playing Chopin and Beethoven stuff.

I founded a band with some of my friends and we started to do pop music from the seventh grade, and I played with them for about 10 years. I played a lot of music then and also wrote some music. And then I had a long break from mid-twenties until the early thirties. When I had been in Denmark for some years and I found some seniors like myself.

We started a band there and played 3-4 years and also did some music. And then I’ve also been doing some music on computers and keyboards. My instrument is piano keyboards, but also play some guitar. I still play once in a while. And then mostly just trying to dream away with the piano. I’m not so much into play notes and other stuff, I play what comes to mind. My youngest son is 14-year-old and I play with him sometimes. Music is a good thing and an inspiring thing. And it’s also a little bit of meditation when you live a hectic day from early morning till late at night.

Petri: Did you publish your music? Is there any place we can find your albums?

Richard: I have not published my music. What was fun was in the late nineties when I did a lot of computers, internet, all that stuff. And I also started to play with some studio software early on, Cubase, and did some instrumental electronica for myself.

When I was about to get married, my friends caught me one day for doing a bachelor party for me. They’ve got some of those digital files from my soon-to-be wife. They had rented a real studio. One of the big producers in Denmark who has produced Gasolin’ and other stuff, he had taken some of my music at one of my numbers and put it into his studio set up and beat it a little bit up with some extra beats. And then we made a new number together there where I was the lead singer and I helped him to create the rest of the songs and my friends did the choir and so on.

And that was put out on the internet on that day. I must tell you this, it was a fantastic bachelor party. Think of you’re sitting at the job. We had my first startup at that point, this is 2000. We had my first startup in Copenhagen. We did image software for the Internet, for photo albums etc.

I sat and then my business friend was also my best friend Anders. He said there’s coming an investor on visit today from Holland. I got him through our lawyer. And he wanted us to come by accidental and see what we do.

We were always looking for money, so he said, let’s do it. Then I said, fine enough. And he came and he was kind of talking with a Dutch English accent. We talked about that sometime and I was the managing director and Anders was our CTO.

I presented our business what we were up to or when we were about to go for fundraising again. He listened to us and asked some pretty serious questions on all that kind of stuff. And suddenly, he took me and grabbed me out of the office and I didn’t understand what happened.

So I was so stunned, so I didn’t really resist. And outside of the office, there was a big Dodge van with a bar inside and sofas. That Dodge had been used for New Kids on the Block the week before when they were in Copenhagen playing.

They brought me into that Dodge and there sat five or six of my best friends with a drink in their hand. This was around lunch, so they drove me, we had a drink in that Dodge, with a chauffeur, and we drove to the studio and we made that song for one and a half hours with the choir.

I sang vocals, and then we drove further on. And one of my other friends, he was the communications director for the Metro, which was about to be built in Copenhagen at that point. He had fixed that we could come 20 meters underground and do a music video. We went 20 meters underground with a video crew.

There were people filming and I got some new dresses on. They filmed and after that, we had another drink and then we took to the studio where they did a photoshooting of me. And then we went out dining and had some wine. And then some of my other friends, they had one of the hippest bars in Copenhagen at that point, and they made a release party.

I was taken through studio recording, video recording, photoshoot, dinner, and to a bar where there was a release of the CD. In the meantime, they have printed a CD with a photo on it, put the music in a CD. And at the bar, there were like 200 people and there were big video screens on the walls.

I was a rockstar for a day. It was fantastic. So fantastic. And that song called Oy! With DJ Rick Hard, what was the name they gave me, and that was published online at that point. You could find that on iTunes at that point, this is back in 2000.

That’s the only time I have been published as a musician online. But it was a great experience and it’s really fun telling about that. I have not been publishing anything else, even if I think that I do some pretty interesting music. That was fun.

Petri: How did you get into politics? 

Richard: At this school, Kaospilot, which was a pretty interesting school, started out in ’91 with a Danish class that I came down for the studies in ’93 as the first international class for that is like a Bachelor in product management. Uffe Elbæk founded the school and became the headmaster, and he managed that school for many years.

I think there are like 25 teams that have examined the Kaospilot, but he left the school after maybe 15 years. This was on Aarhus, Jutland, Denmark, but he moved to Copenhagen as many others of us, and he went into politics for a central liberal part for some years. He became the Minister of Culture for a year or so, but he left that party and founded a new party called The Alternative, and this was in fall 2013. 

He founded that. Then they released that party there with a press meeting on the 27th November 2013. I knew him very well and I knew some of the other people who founded the party and were part of the board for the party. Uffe asked me if I wanted to join and build their web and social media appearance and activities. 

Everyone was volunteering and we all had jobs and our other businesses or whatever we do. I gathered a bunch of central people around all that with website, membership application, eCommerce site, social media etc.

And then we got volunteers on board and the whole party got about 2-300 volunteers aboard that winter 2013/2014 and then we really hit it. There was an election coming up in June 2015 and we succeeded very well. This was new, and it’s still a party in the parliament, and it’s the new green modern party.

We worked hard for one and a half years, and we entered the parliament in the election in June 2015 with 4.8 per cent of the votes. We got nine mandates. That was such a journey that one and a half years. I never experienced anything like that. It was crazy really to see how people… it must have been like Greta Thunberg experience when so many people just mobilized around some of your own values and ideas and activities for a better society. I think that’s one of my most thrilling experiences ever. 

Petri: Then you’ve been also doing quite a bit of a production and entertainment, mainly in the movies?

 Richard: I started alone with the Internet in the mid-’90s and I built a few companies and some did well and some didn’t do so well in that dotcom era. But I succeeded with a few of my projects there. And then around 2002 I felt that I’d been working very hard for all these 10 years around the Internet.

And I thought that everything became very much commercialized and very technology-driven. That’s what happens when technology comes around and people are commercializing it. I was more into the Internet because of the community and communication possibilities.

I’ve always been interested in films. I came across a lady in Denmark who just was about to found a film festival, and we didn’t really have an international film festival in Copenhagen at that point. She had the plan to found the Copenhagen International Film Festival, and we talked about that then.

And she saw that I had all those commercial aspects in my career that could help with the fundraising and build sponsor activities and tickets sales. I jumped into her project. We launched the first film festival in Copenhagen in 2003 called Copenhagen International Film Festival.

And it still exists today. It’s pretty acknowledged internationally. It’s called CPH PIX at the moment. I worked with that for five years and built that festival from scratch up to around 40 000 visitors each year primarily from Denmark. But we also had a Golden Swan prize.

We also had a lot of international directors and film people that came to Copenhagen for our prize award. And I got very hooked on the film business. I thought it was very inspiring in many ways. Also crazy in many ways, but I’m also a little bit crazy myself. So that fit well.

I wanted to continue, go on and see if I could jump into production and financing. So in 2007, I founded a financing company for myself, and I started to work with some of the main production companies like Zentropa, Nimbus Film, and a few others. I also worked with SF in Sweden for the big templar knight film, based on Jan Guillou’s books, Arn.

He came out with two big films in 2007 or 2008, which were the largest films ever produced in the Nordics. I think the budget was around 30 or 40 million euros. That’s like 10 times the size of a normal feature film from the Nordics. And I did some financing for them, some creative financing. So I worked there quite some years with the financing of films then I started to kick some of my own projects.

One of the first projects is a small feature film called Black Coffee and Vinyl. It is a black and white film from Copenhagen and also with some animation mixed into it. It got a Danish Academy Award in 2013. We didn’t make any money exactly out of the film because you never do in Scandinavia.

We got an award and I got out on international platforms. I spent some years in Cannes and Berlin and the American film market and the other film markets trying to finance some of my other products. We were very far with a Nordic science-fiction feature film where we had one of the main stars in the film…what is his name?

Kristofer Hivju, the Nordic and Norwegian guy with the red beard, he’s part of Game of Thrones. You know him when you see him. He has a big red hair and big red beard. We got him as a lead role.

We did a 17-minute pilot for a sci-fi produced in Scandinavia. I went around with that in my bag for a year and tried to find financing. We didn’t succeed to finance it. It’s hard to finance a film. I’ve been working very much with films, both film festivals but also film financing and some production.

I left the film business in 2013 because if I wanted to continue, I should go international but I had my family in Denmark. I’m not into doing commercial films like kids films, family films and stuff. I like to do some certain stories and really put effort to that.

Then if you want to finance that, you have to be out on those platforms internationally all the time with three to five projects in your bag trying to finance them. It’s hard work and you have to travel a lot. It’s very risky. Startup technology is also risky about the film is it’s one of the riskiest venture activities you could ever get into. It was hard. I did six years working very much and didn’t make so much money. It was hard, but it was fun and exciting. It was fun times. And also we got acknowledged for some of our films.

Petri: There was also this sci-fi action-adventure called Proto?

Richard: Yeah, exactly. It was one of the short films. That was the first international financing I did outside of the Nordics. I got some funds from a film fund in Denmark and from a film fund in London. We did a co-production between Denmark and England. We shot the film in Denmark for five days.

We did a 12-minute film with very high technology. We filmed five days in Denmark with some green screen. And then we had a team in Edinburgh, Scotland and London, who did some robots that were playing towards real actors, live actors. That became a very good film.

Took a year to do that, but it became good. And we had it released at the London Film Festival. We had our launch in January 2013. I’m very proud of that film. People should see that. It was very well done also by the sci-fi people. We did all the technology in Denmark and the robots and had them very well playing with live actors on screen. You cannot see that these are not real robots. It was a very fun project really.

Petri: What was the movie about? 

Richard: There is a robot living in a robotic laboratory and there is a professor who doesn’t want the robots to have their own life. He wants to steer them to do what he wants. He trains them in table tennis and other sports because, in the end, he wants to sell those robots to a military company.

But the two of the robots are falling in love. One of the professor’s assistants understand that those two robots have a soul of their own, so he teaches the robot to play the violin instead, and it’s a very skilled robot. So obviously it plays the violin very well, but the professor is not so happy about that because he wants to manage that robot and don’t have that robot to do what it likes itself. So, it’s a conflict between having a technology have a soul and, and its own ideas and needs in life. 

Petri: How many startups you’ve been founding, and like we already heard, you’ve been doing many things at the same time, but I think one of the consistent themes is that you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always building new things. You always curious, you always looking for new and exciting things.

Is there something you have done for a very long time? Like one of the themes is websites, building websites and being with the Internet wave if you will. Are there any other themes which are following you in your entrepreneurial career?

Richard: I did the Internet for 10 years. The Internet has always been part of what I do because I like technology. When we came around 2005, everything was technology. Whatever you did in business, even when we did film financing, we use the Internet for distributing our films and selling our films. I didn’t work so much with publishing. I did that in ’95 when I came back because that’s what people started out with. Already soon in ’96, I founded the company within the Egmont corporate.

We built the company to 40 people in two years from early ’97 to the end of ’99. We built the company for the Egmont corporate to do filming kids and game entertainment on the Internet. We built a lot of products in the Egmont corporate and build the kind of a portal to those products for them.

That’s one. And then they sold that company to an American publisher because Egmont had a hard time to really get that Internet business going. This is back in 2000. One of the products I built and was managing is called Gamereactor.

We launched the first game media in the Nordics back in ’98 and that was sold in 2000 to another publishing company. It’s today the largest gaming media in the Nordics called Gamereactor. I built the first version of that like 22 years ago.

I didn’t do so much web publishing, but more built companies. After that, we build one other Internet venture doing image technology. Then I went into the film, then I launched the festival, and then film financing and production company and so on. Maybe ten companies in the last 25 years. 

Then I went into an area of business development and financing of startups and scaleups that do green technology and other sustainable solutions. I have two companies now where we primarily help entrepreneurs early on with financing of green technology and sustainable solutions.

We have investigated around 7 000 Nordic impact companies and looked at their impact. How do they reduce CO2 emissions? How do they reduce food waste? How do they clean acres of soil? How do they include the vulnerable people in the job market, et cetera? We have a platform and made a lot of different market analyzes on that market.

We help investors like business angels and venture capital and soft money bodies, and other family offices to find the most promising Nordic impact startups that have sustainable solutions. That do good and make a great business at the same time. We have a company called Impact X where we have all our data.

And then we have another initiative called the One Initiative where we, this year for the second time, do the Nordic Impact Business Summit on the 17th of September. And we also do a Nordic Impact Investing Report this spring and summer, and write that, and launch that in September. The last five years I’ve been working with business development and financing in the impact business.

Petri: How do you define impact and what is a good impact?

Richard: You could say that it’s a personal view at the same time as it is an objective view. The impact is something that you do to have a positive effect on people and society and the environment and the planet as such. But, an impact is good if you really know what kind of impact you do.

You have to be professional and serious about that. We have developed a system we call the impact business modelling system. We look at three things. We look at their impact mapping, the impact tracking, and the impact scaling. And if you do impact mapping, you have to have a theory of change.

You have to understand that what are you putting in as resources like capital, competence and people to solve a problem. And what is the impact of that in the end? To give you a simple example: you could say that if you have people drinking too much alcohol and abuse that you can put in some competence and people and some capital to start a company that helps alcoholics.

You’re putting in those resources and then you get the output, which is maybe a course that those people take, and what is the outcome? Then the outcome is that those people, or some of them, get out of alcohol and can live a normal life again. Then the impact, in the end, is that society gets better economically and socially. 

That’s a theory of change. I have some competence that I can help people that have a problem. What is the output if I put in that competence and some money. I make an application or a course or something else. And what’s the outcome? The people with the problem have the solution and the impact, in the end, is larger than that for society.

That is how you map impact. If you don’t have a theory of change, then you can track it. Ask yourself how you can set up some targets or keep an eye for that impact? If I have a course for people with alcohol abuse, I can see I want to have 10 people through my course each season.

I want to have eight of them to get out of alcohol, so that’s my target or my KPI. If you have a target KPI, then you can start to measure that and then you can report that back to your investors or to the customers, the one who will take your course or back to the society. So that is first mapping your impact, then tracking your impact, and then obviously you can scale that impact along your business model.

If you start to teach others that also can train those people with alcohol abuse you can suddenly scale that effect because then you have more trainers. If you do a business model where you are not doing all the teaching yourself, but you are teaching teachers, then you can scale your course and business.

That’s the way we approach companies, whether they have an app for food waste or renewable technology, for energy or social inclusion or whatever. We help them to look at their mapping, their tracking and their scaling of their impact. That’s also a way for us to understand those companies when we select the most promising companies and present them to investors.

I think that that’s a serious way to work with impact.

Petri: You’ve been screening quite a bit of impact companies, at least in the Nordics. Can you say that there’s some kind of clusters or some countries have a more like a higher density of certain types of impact companies, or are there any differences between them?

Richard: There are a few differences. If you look at Finland, where you from, you have a lot of impact startups in health and helping out with mental health and health platforms. You’re pretty far in that area. If you look at Denmark, Denmark is better at equality and in social inclusion.

We have a lot of impact startups and companies that include people with autism or other problems, former prisoners and people with different abuse and get them replaced in the job market. If you look at Sweden, they have more companies into renewable energy or energy storage like batteries.

Norway has a marine focus. They are trying to change their society from an economy built on fossil fuels and now building their economy on solutions for a better ocean. We are pretty much the same in the Nordics. If you read our reports, it’s not that big of a difference.

But if you should say social inclusion and equality is strong in Denmark. Mental health and wellbeing in Finland, energy in Sweden, and the ocean tech in Norway.

Petri: What about the investors? What are you seeing in the last years in regards to investors are there more people coming into the field? Are there more institutional investors getting involved? What’s the trend and what do you think is going to happen in the near future?

Richard: There are more investors coming into this. It’s quite simply because we can see from our last report we did last year, which is called Impact Report Nordic Investors, where Nordic investors participated in an online survey. We asked them about their approach and activities in impact investing. If they do, if they don’t, how they do, how they don’t, et cetera. Why are more getting into this, it’s quite simply because 83% of the participants in our survey last year of Nordic investors in general, they expect their impact investing to deliver a financial return above or at market rates. So 83% think this is a good business opportunity. And in the long term, when you look at investments for more than seven years, 40 per cent of the Nordic investors, they expect their impact investments to be better financial investments than their conventional investments.

It’s about the money. There are so many consultants running around with this 17 colours badge on their jackets. All these batches people run around with it and they talk so much about it when it comes to all this sustainability. For investors that don’t matter in the long run. If it’s a good business opportunity, they invest in impact.

If it’s not, they don’t invest in impact. They are in it for the money and that’s the mandate they have when they help other LPs to invest through their fund. So it’s about money. That’s why they do it. And we can see that it’s a good expectation and result when it comes to delivering a financial return also on impact.

And we can furthermore see that 76% of them invest in renewable energy and 47% in health and 46% in education. It is also interesting to see that in Nordic, we have had this 100 year of social democratic tradition. We know how to combine social development with financial development.

That’s how our societies are based. And you know, the welfare system is the fundament for that. And obviously, health and education are big parts of that, that everyone should have access to health. Everyone should have access to education. And we also have been good at renewable energy sources, with hydro energy in Norway and Sweden and wind energy in Denmark, for instance.

Impact investors look very much still into renewables and health and education.

Petri: Can you say that impact investing is actually value investing? So you just choose the values and then you look for those companies who are aligned with your view of the world?

Richard: Yeah, sure. You’re totally right. We do the impact report this year again. We just launched a new survey, and one of those questions is how do you align your values with your investments?

If you’re an investor going for impact seriously, you should think through what values do you want to bring to the world and how can you then invest in solutions so that those values are implemented along with your capital? If you are a serious investor, you do some strategic work and think about what values. Is an inequality a big value for you? That you like to have a more equal world in between people, then you should look for companies that work with reducing inequality.

If sound health is something that is a big value for you, then you should look for those Finnish companies that do mental health platforms for kids, bullying or for instance ADHD. You should obviously look very strongly on what is valuable for you and then do a strategy on that and then you can get our help. We can research for companies that have solutions that implement that value in society and the world.

Petri: What makes you happy?

Richard: It makes me happy to have a day like today when I can get up at six and it’s a little quiet. I can have a cup of tea, I can take a run and I can sense the nature and I can sense the world and I can come home and have a shower and a good breakfast. And also have some opportunity to read something interesting.

So, to have that opportunity to be fit, be aligned with nature and your body, and at the same time have intellectual inspiration, intellectual work. But I also like a lot to have a dialogue with people. I really love to sit around tables with people and talk broadly in different areas.

The areas that I like the most are history, politics, and technology. I think those areas are interesting to have people in cross-disciplinary discussions. That makes me very much happy.

Petri: What are the books and themes you’re currently reading or interested in?

Richard: I hadn’t read philosophy for quite some years. Then I was very inspired this fall. I took a few weeks off and read a lot of books and I read the three books by Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 lessons for the 21st Century.

I read all his books this fall, and they are thick. It took me a few weeks. I read them and I did some thinking there. I’m also very inspired now by thinking in new ways of economics and new ways of our economic systems in the worlds.

At the moment, I’m reading Piketty and his book the Capital in the 21st Century. I didn’t read that when it came out in 2013. I’m reading that now and I will also read his next book that just came out at least in Danish a few weeks ago. Global economics is very hard to read in English, so I waited for the Danish translation. The new book is called Capital and Ideology. That’s on my shelf at the moment, economics philosophy.

Petri: How do you define success?

Richard: I think success is to be satisfied with yourself. It’s nothing to do with reaching certain targets or goals. Success is to be satisfied and it doesn’t have anything to do with venturing or entrepreneurship at all. If you’re a person that is satisfied with yourself, you feel that you’re grounded in your own life and that you’re very happy with where you are and the people you have around you and the life you live, no matter what it is actually.

I don’t have morals in that way that people should live a certain way. I like that people think about their life and how they can do good for others not doing good for themselves only. But I think success is if you’re satisfied with yourself. Firstly, have a good self-esteem and then you also are satisfied with the life you have around you.

I think that is success.

Petri: What drives you? What makes you wake up in the morning and go running and discover these new things and eventually come up with the new business plan and a company out of at the other end?

Richard: If I look at myself and I think and understand what I’m doing, I’m 51 years and have lived half my life somehow. I can see it. I’m searching for meaning. I think that what drives me is searching for meaning. Meaning in my own life and meaning for life and people in general.

So to really see what is meaning and how could meaning achieved for all of us. That drives me very much, and I’m very sensitive to what’s coming next. As you have heard a little bit about myself. At several occasions, I have shown some kind of leadership at unknown and uncultivated markets.

I started with the Internet very early on in ’94 I tried to do with the first science fiction production in the Nordics. I’ve been building impact business ecosystem for five years before even the sustainable development goals were there, and no one talked about impact. I think that I’m very sensitive to what’s coming next.

I think that to be able to understand what’s going on, to be able to talk with people on the evolution back in history and for what that makes me happy. But I’m also very happy to be in nature. I love using a wave as a power to transport me in a sailing ship or on a surfboard or run in nature or hike on a mountain.

That makes me also very happy to be part of nature and feel that I’m a small brick in the bigger picture. Also, in the forces of nature.

Petri: What do you think about the post-corona wave? What’s going to happen in the near future and how our lives are going to be changing and looking into the next 10 years?

Richard: We are all already getting back to normal. We’re opening up already. Even Italy, who has been so affected by corona, they are opening up now and they even say that mid-June you could come travelling to Italy again because we need you as a tourist.

I think that in the short term we will go back to normal. That’s how we are. But I think that some people working on another level with economics and politics and policies and security and environment and climate, they will hang on to this as an opportunity to kickstart a new way of seeing our global system of economics where growth might not be the holy grail. But something else will define what is a good economy for the world, but also on security and migration and other policies. 

I think that on a long-term, on a 10-year perspective, I think that we will change towards a world where we will follow values in all parts, not only politics but also in economics and so on, which are about a better climate, higher equality and higher certainty for life somehow.

Petri: What are the aspects of Copenhagen you enjoy very much?

Richard: What do you mean?

Petri: You are a Swede living in Denmark and in Copenhagen and obviously it’s a very wonderful place. So I’m just asking any tips you have for anyone when the borders are opening up again and you can do some travelling. What is fun to do? What do you really love about Denmark in overall, and in Copenhagen particularly? 

Richard: There are many things to Copenhagen. I’ve been to Helsinki a few times, so there are many things to Helsinki as well, or Stockholm or Oslo. But I think Copenhagen, it’s interesting when you come here, you should bike. You should rent a good bike, a really good bike and bike around Copenhagen because it’s one of the most bikeable cities in the world.

You approach the city in a different way when you go biking. I also do sightseeing buses, sitting on the roof and so on. When I go to all capitals, I always do two hours of sightseeing because then you get a fast and speedy introduction to a city from a good guide.

But then I rent a bike. Or I go with a cycle where you can sit in front of a biker. And because I think that is a very nice way to approach the city and see a city from that level and you argue are very easy coming around. So I think that you should bike in Copenhagen.

So that is a very interesting thing. I think they should spend time in the harbour. We have the harbour close in the city and we have clean waters. If you come in the summer, you can jump into the water. Everywhere around the harbours. That is a nice thing that I like very much. If you come in the winter, you can use one of the sauna clubs, which I also do, and you can jump into the water after a hot sauna.

You should obviously visit Christiania. Which is that military area that was occupied in the seventies and now it is its own society in the city owned by the people who live there, and that’s a beautiful area. It’s a spectacular place because there is a lot of different people there.

Obviously, there is also a lot of drug dealing, but there is a lot of interesting people and they have built some very peculiar houses and stuff that you see from the Hobbit films and so on. People are living in a very different way. They’re still integrated into a cosmopolitan city like Copenhagen.

The Last thing, I think you should go up to Louisiana, which is a fantastic art museum. We have a membership there, me and my wife. So we go there probably once a month, and they have a good collection of art, very contemporary, but also great older art. And they have always good exhibitions. They also have a great area for kids where they can draw and paint for yourself. If you like to place your kids for an hour in a creative studio, you can do that and then you can just stroll around and see all this great area, and it’s a nice area by the sea. In the summer, you can sit outside and have lunch. Luciana is like 30 minutes north from Copenhagen. It’s a great art museum. I think you should see that. 

Then maybe the last thing, I haven’t tried it myself, but this year we opened up an outdoor ski hill in Copenhagen called Copenhagen Hill, and it’s built on an energy plant.

They are burning waste there to produce energy. And they built a ski hill on that and they have a climbing site, maybe the highest artificial climbing area in the Nordics. It is like a hundred meters high climbing. And then you can go downhill on this kind of grass, plastic kind of material.

And in the winter, there might be some snow, but I think that is a pretty interesting fun thing. It’s very Danish somehow to build a ski downhill track on top of a new energy plant.

Petri: What is your favorite word?

Richard: My favorite word is actually two words. If it’s only one word, it would be anarchy. But I think that if you put pragmatic before it I think it fits very well. I’m a little bit anarchistic, but I’m also very pragmatic to achieve something with that chaos.

I try jumping into or deconstruction or disrupt old things to see it in a new way. I think that pragmatic anarchy is my favorite word.

Petri: What is your least favorite word?

Richard: That’s conservative. I cannot stand conservatism.

Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Richard: I think I’ve answered it already, but it turns me on to try to understand what’s coming next, what’s up. And understand how things are interconnected into the interdisciplinary between politics, economic, technology, history, nature, ideas and so on. That turns me very much on it.

Petri: What turns you off?

Richard: What really turns me off is people that don’t want to change themselves to improve life for others, but rather keep things as they are. If you don’t want to change yourself a little bit so you can improve life for others that really turns me off. I get really angry on such people.

Petri: What is your favorite curse word?

Richard: It’s in Danish actually, so it’s shit in Danish: lort.

Petri: What sound or noise do you love?

Richard: There’s one sound and that has to do with how I grew up. I told you about my surfing. I think the sound of waves in the beach. It’s an astonishing sound and it carries so much life and energy and power. The sound of waves entering the beach, I could fall asleep to that. I could wake up to that. I could live with that sound whenever. It would never terror me to have that sound around me.

Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?

Richard: I think cars in the street is pretty annoying. I hate cars in the street. I’m looking forward to these electric evolution of cars, so we can have as much silence as possible in the streets so we can hear the birds when we are biking aside the cars and we can hear people talking and crying and laughing.

Cars in the streets is very annoying.

Petri: What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt?

Richard: It would be interesting to be scientist to study astronomy or geology or something like that with nature. But it doesn’t fit so well to me. It might take too much time and be a little bit too slow for me to do all that research and very long sprints. I’m a little bit faster than that, so I’m very happy in the way I work today as a creator and builder. But if it’s something else that I like to work with I’d like to be a musician or a fiction writer for books and films, that would be nice if I can totally spend my time on creating music or fiction for books and film that could be fun.

Petri: What profession would you not like to do?

Richard: Well, back to the cars. I hate driving cars. We have an old Volvo and we only use it to go to our summer house. In Copenhagen we only bike, so we have an old Volvo V70 from 2002. And it’s almost not sticking together no more. And when this car dies, we will not buy a car anymore. I think that driving a cab in the city or driving trucks along the autobahn I would die. I would die doing that.

Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup at any era, which one would you choose?

Richard: I love the Renaissance, especially the Italian Renaissance. da Vinci, he’s my biggest hero and idol and inspiration. And some of the other people living in that time, and I think it was so interesting how they mix the technology. Obviously it wasn’t a digital technology. it was mechanic technology, but they did windmills,the first submarines and aircraft and the did clock mechanics and all kind of mechanics. They also did a lot of art, and there was a lot of philosophies. I loved that era. And I know that one technology that came around at the first time in the Renaissance was actually the flush toilet.

I would have loved to be the first startup for flush toilets technology in the Renaissance Italy in the 16th century. Think of that to be the first flush toilet technology startup in the 1600 in Florence or Rome. That would be fantastic to have on your CV.