Nov 20, 201811 min read

”It’s easy to be hard on yourself as an entrepreneur”


It’s smoooth to talk about the ups and downs of e-commerce life, being open about the real, fun and not so fun experiences. Meet Eleonora Cantera, who left her full-time job at Acne Studios to start a business selling customised curtains online and quickly got publicity in interior design magazines. She shares how being an entrepreneur has changed her as a person, why the startup phase is so exciting and what job offers she got as a result of her business.

two years Eleonora was committed to starting her own business without having the slightest idea of what to sell. “I just felt this passion for running my own business growing inside me,” she explains.

She was working in the finance department at Acne Studios as Global Credit Manager at the time, but felt this urge to leave her specialized role in an established organization to become an entrepreneur.

“My desire was to experience and learn everything from A to Z in business. While I still had my job I began asking people around me about it. When my managers came out of meetings, I would ask ‘What did you talk about during your meeting? Why?’ or ‘Why did you end up making this strategic decision this way?’” The hunger was there, but what she still needed was her Big Idea.

“I considered everything from starting a ski clothing business to a store specializing in printing pictures. But I dismissed all those ideas; they required too much starting capital, I felt”.

How did you end up with this business, selling customized curtains?
“I wanted to buy curtains myself, for my own home. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find anything I liked. Nothing felt modern, and I didn’t like the way the curtains were sold either. The prices were high, there were lots of complicated terms, it felt difficult and there was nothing inspirational about it. My frustration grew. Why don’t you have pictures from customers? Why can’t I get samples sent to my home? I looked at 36 different places and finally realized… this is it, I can do this much better myself! So I started Gotain.

“For a few months, I continued my ordinary job while starting up the business in my spare time. I worked around the clock, and one of my best friends Jacob Klerfelt quickly helped me build a homepage with WordPress. He has been my business partner since day one. Once the business got some PR and brought in some customers I decided to quit my job and go full-time as an entrepreneur.”
So how is business now, after one year?
(This question, it turns out, is one that triggers mixed emotions in Eleonora… more about that in a minute.)

“We were break-even after half a year, and I am working with a business mentor who helps me set goals. I have high ambitions for the company, but we are still in a laboratory phase where we have to be very responsive to what customers are saying if we want to grow this business on a strong foundation. Just because we have a belief about what our USP is, we can’t assume our customers feel the same way. What do they care about the most? Is it the quality? The price? We are still exploring.”
How do you explore different ideas?
“For example, one thing we have learned is how to work with pictures. At first, we only used pictures from super exclusive apartments on our website. We got good PR and publicity form them, but we started to question whether six-metre-high ceilings in 100-year-old apartments would really help us connect with “real” customers. After all, we want our curtains to be used in normal homes. After some consideration, we still have professional pictures taken in aspirational settings, for example in a dreamy apartment or a countryside villa, but we also have an image bank where people can explore pictures taken in the homes of our customers. A lot of customers happily send us pictures to show the end results, and we share these on our website.”

“The price point is also a reflection of our mission to make customized, modern curtains available to anyone. No curtains in our store cost more than 1449 SEK (around 140 euros), and most are less than that, with everything included.”
What’s the best and worst part of being in a startup phase?
“The best part is definitely the pace of personal growth. I learn so, so, so much; it’s so different to when I was employed and had a normal job. Here I need to dive into different worlds, and I love it. I meet with all kinds of people and learn about various aspects of sewing, shipping and packaging, but also how to make a business grow, how to look at prices and margins, or analyze different markets. I get genuinely interested in what people do and what they know. Even with friends, I have become so much more interested in what they do at their jobs since I started Gotain. Everyone has something to share that is applicable to my business on some level. I have been proud of my friends before, but now I’m amazed at how much expertise they have as well. As a new entrepreneur, I think it’s a great idea to ask for help in your social circle.”

“As for the worst part, it must be how my performance is exposed to everyone. As soon as I go out to dinner, I always get the question, ‘How is business going?’ or ‘How much are you selling?’. Those kinds of evaluations you don’t get in a normal job, except from your manager and closest colleagues. On a bad day, that kind of open-air assessment of my ability to perform can knock me hard.”
Are you hard on yourself?
“It’s so easy to be hard on yourself as an entrepreneur. Sometimes I need to go back and ask myself ‘What was the reason I started Gotain?’ For me it was about learning; an advanced course in personal development or a master’s degree in entrepreneurship. I didn’t go into this to compete with others when it comes to revenue.”
How do you handle tough days?
“When many challenging things happen simultaneously – when I get a sour email from a supplier, and a few minutes later make the mistake of paying the incorrect amount on an invoice, and then some other things get out of control – I want to drop everything and go home. But the truth is, if I go home and do nothing, all the work will still be piled up when I return. So instead I take a break from what I had planned and do something easier, but still productive. I might take my mind off things by spending a few hours cutting samples of fabric or distributing flyers. It’s important to do something that leads to a tangible result – those 500 samples done and ready or the flyers all gone.”
How do you celebrate good days?
“I’m quite bad when it comes to celebrating. Many times my business partner and I say that we will celebrate when we achieve a certain goal, but then we don’t. My business mentor and my business partner Jacob both need to say: ‘Stop Eleonora!! This is good.’ I’ve already moved on to the next thing.”
You’ve also had job offers, right?
“Yes, a few offers I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t started Gotain. I find it fascinating. One as sales manager, one as CEO for a company in retail/clothing, and one board position that would be combined with operational work for retail in interior design. I’m not ruling out the idea of being CEO of another company one day, but I’m not ready yet. I’m on this journey now.”
What makes you most happy in your business?
“When we get responses from super-satisfied customers, for example when they make comments about the quality of the fabric that I spent four months sourcing. Before getting that response, there’s always uncertainty about how well a new fabric will be received.”
Have you changed as a person since you became an entrepreneur?
“Yes, I believe so. In the beginning, my best friend told me I had become harsh. I was working so much, and I didn’t have time to sugar-coat anything, so when she would ask me if I wanted to play tennis with her, I would say just ‘When?’ whereas before I would have said something like ‘Oh god, yes, what a great idea. Let’s do it. When?’. I also began leaving social dinners when I became frustrated with mundane conversations, and instead would go home to sleep. At other events I might start to feel ‘This is not a priority; I should be with my friends, with my family or at my office.’ I’ve become more selective with my time.”

“My friend no longer says I’m harsh. She says I’ve become braver. And I agree. I wouldn’t have said this two years ago, but now I do. Nobody remembers a coward.”
What do you do to make the most of your days?
“One thing I learned from a management consultant is the blocking system. I block time for doing errands so that I have one day for that kind of thing and my other days aren’t interrupted. I also block time to spend a whole day working from the tennis club. The changing environment makes me very productive, and I get that nice ‘I can do whatever I want’ feeling – and sometimes I spend an hour playing too.”

“I’m also learning to adjust my days depending on how I’m feeling. I’m sensitive to my emotions. When I feel inspired, ideas come easy and things get done fast. Other days not so much. If I have been too social I may feel drained of energy, and in that case I reschedule everything I have planned except for meetings and email processing, and instead I spend time with tasks that are more mechanical, like accounting work.

“I also call Jacob when I get stuck. His enthusiasm for our business is very fruitful; he is great to bounce ideas off. Sometimes I need to say things in ten different ways to clarify what I’m thinking the next step should be. I don’t think I would have lasted so long without the support of Jacob as my co-founder and business partner. Being alone is hard”.
In 2-3 years, where do you see your business?
“I want Gotain to be a synonymous term for curtains, a big player within curtain e-commerce. I see us having a team of people with different skills wanting to move together towards a greater vision. A few small physical stores is a plus, but not a must. Customers are getting more used to e-commerce.”