Peter Lilja had been working for telecommunications company Ericsson for almost 25 years when he started his Lego store Ebrix. He would probably still be working for the big corporation if it weren’t for a poignant comment his 6-year-old son made during a family vacation at the beach.
“He suddenly said, ‘Dad, I really enjoy spending time with you’. That was sweet, but then he continued with the tragic reality: ‘The rest of the year you are never home.’”
“‘What are you saying?’ I asked, bringing up how we spent time together in the evenings, watching TV on the sofa. He looked up at me and said ‘No dad, your laptop is always on your knees.’”
That was Peter’s wake up call.
“I asked myself, ‘How am I living my life?’”
At that point, he had already felt a strong pull towards entrepreneurship for years, but had suppressed that longing. His career was going too well, and he was complacent. He had spent more than 20 (!) years with the same employer. He had a high-status role as quality manager, and his employer trusted him and gave him lots of freedom. The office was close to home, and yes, he had a nice steady paycheck coming in every month. But… as his son had observed, the job was consuming his life and sapping his energy.
He remembers asking his son:
“‘What job do you think I should have?”
His son’s face lit up:
“Dad, we can open a Lego store!”
“Hey, come on!” he responded. “I can’t resign from my job to sell Lego”.
Starting from the bedroom
Peter knew nothing about lego at that point, nothing about running a small business, nothing about how to list and sell products online.
But his son’s enthusiasm, combined with his own irrepressible desire to do something creative, sparked an enormous energy.
Three months later he had a webstore up and running.
During his first quarter in business, 371 orders came in. His bedroom and garage served as storage.
He still worked at Ericsson in the daytime, but evenings and weekends turned into a time where his creative drive could be expressed. It would take a while for him to make a significant income from the Lego store, and all earnings went straight back into development.
“We built up a customer base locally. I remember driving around the neighbourhood with my son in the passenger seat placing flyers in people’s mailboxes,” recalls Peter.
He let his nearby customers come to pick up their orders from his home if they so preferred. Why? To get to know them better. Call it market research.
“I wanted to talk to customers in person to better understand what they wanted and needed from this business. I allowed my business to grow slowly, 25 percent per quarter. I wanted to build a business that felt right for me and my customers. I strongly believe you must only grow at a pace that lets you still be true to your soul. I have never been in it for the money, even now.”
“The margin for each product was based on how easy it was to handle logistically. It could be 50 cents for small items and 20 euro for bigger ones.”
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The decision to resign from work
He decided to resign way before the business was able to provide him with a salary.
“Once again I needed a trigger to push me to make the decision. It wasn’t my son this time, but the situation at work. The company had decided to lay off lots of employees. It didn’t feel right to stay while all these people in my department had to go, not when I knew deep inside I would leave sooner or later anyway. It was at that moment I decided to go all in with my business, even if the revenue wasn’t there yet to support it.”
It was a leap of faith, and he has no regrets.
“I only wish I had left to do my own thing ten years earlier. It’s too bad I needed those triggers to prompt me to take action.”
“We decided to be more cost-aware in my family while the business continued to develop. I didn’t think so much about the money. Even if there comes a day when I need to quit this business, at least I have a much better career resume under my belt. My market value has increased thanks to all these experiences.”
Now, it doesn’t look like Ebrix is going to go down the drain anytime soon. This year – five years after Peter left his career behind – the Lego business is expected to make 3 million euros in revenue.
The decision to go all in with the business has had many nice side effects too.
“As soon as I was able to express my creativity this way, I became a more engaged, present and happy dad and partner. Before I was like a hamster running mindlessly round a wheel; so cut off from my family emotionally. We couldn’t exactly discuss my work-related global challenges around the dinner table. But now we have vivid, fun and interesting discussions, where everyone can be involved. My son, now 14, as well as my 7-year-old twin sons, have a lot of influence over which product lines to invest in. Honestly, I don’t know if I would still have a family if I hadn’t made the leap.”