Pernilla Nyrensten is one of the most powerful and influential people in the Nordic e-commerce industry.
In only five years she has taken her and her husband’s garage business Revolution Race to the skies, bringing in 25 million euro in revenue 2018, with a profit margin of 26 percent.
What does her powerful talent look like day-to-day? She paints this picture:
“Partners and employees are often surprised. They haven’t seen that many women who are so straight-talking. I don’t sugar-coat. It’s not like I’m a bully who attacks everything, because I do pick my fights, but when someone doesn’t deliver what I expect – a supplier for example – then I’m very clear about what I think.”
Reflecting on equality in the e-commerce industry
Pernilla Nyrensten celebrates all the women out there who are creating profitable, growing e-commerce businesses.
“I see more of them now, and that means a lot. Many younger women are inspired when they see other women make it in this industry. If you have a great idea today, it’s easier than ever to make it happen. It’s good for society that more women come forward.”
However, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, the type of women who are the most successful in growing businesses are almost always bold, assertive women like herself.
“To me, it seems that men can be successful regardless of their personality. Not so with women. I’m stretching this a bit now, but a man can be softer and gentler and still rock big companies. I doubt a woman of that personality would be given the opportunity. I hope that will change, so that all kinds of women can come forward and be successful in the years to come. That’s a shift I really want to see.”
Equality imbalance was also very apparent to her when Revolution Race brought in its first investment capital, in 2017:
“I met 4 women and 96 men during that process.”
So even if equality has begun to improve, there’s still a long way to go.
How Pernilla is pushing her business forward
She applied different strategies, tactics and mindsets to get to a point in 2017 where she and her husband could pick and choose from 18 different venture capital offers (ending up with venture capital company Altor investing a considerable amount of money for a 45 percent stake in Revolution Race).
One secret is that Pernilla Nyrensten never takes her foot off the business growth pedal. For example, when their company was about to enter the German market, she was told it would take six more weeks to get all the site texts (product descriptions, etc.) ready in German, and besides, the domain revolutionrace.de wasn’t even close to ready for launch. But in Pernilla’s eyes, it would be a waste of time to wait around for these things.
“I decided we would launch anyway, even if the store looked terrible. We brought in 1.6 million euro with the wrong language for the market, and even the wrong brand. We used the domain Fritidsfabriken.de as a temporary solution – the brand we have used in Sweden since we started five years ago.”
That story highlights one of her business mantras: always aim to make your money back quickly.
“Get the money back quick, re-invest it in products and marketing, and repeat that cycle again and again. That’s how our starting capital of 30,000 euro grew to 0.5 million, to 1.8 million, to 4.3 million, to 12 million, to 26 million.”
Does she ever experience self-doubt?
While her husband and co-founder Niclas is focused on product development and tech, she never takes her attention away from business growth. If they have different opinions about what’s the best course moving forward, she has the final say. That’s the agreement between the two of them.
“That’s because it’s my responsibility to view the business as a whole, from a wider perspective. He is more deep-diving, extremely thorough by nature. Decisions can be about anything from entering a new market to dates for a marketing campaign. Things like that.”
Does she ever have self-doubt, second-guessing herself? Yes, she answers.
“Whenever it’s not going well – and that happens sometimes – the doubt kicks in. I often question marketing decisions, uncertain about whether we have chosen the right track. There are so many alternative ways you can go, and the more our business grows, the more complex it gets. But you can’t reach the skies without temporary disruption in the curve.”
How do you deal with that uncertainty?
“I’ve learned a lot from Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos and what he says about decisions; that it’s always the right decision, even if it turns out wrong. Because when you make the wrong decision, you can usually correct it. Making a decision is always better than not making any decision at all.”
Her profitable to-do list strategy
Pernilla Nyrensten prides herself in rolling up her sleeves and crossing as many items as possible off her to-do list during the day, making lots of decisions along the way.
“If I cross off 100 items, we earn much more money than if I cross off just a few.”
One item that will be crossed off pretty soon is her desire to start mentoring other entrepreneurs who are also reaching for the stars with their businesses. Through this, she will share experience, insights and learnings with younger entrepreneurs. But what can she share with us today?
What’s your biggest insight so far?
“The most important decision for us was to sell our own brand of outdoor clothing directly to consumers. Our whole business model is about listening to customers and helping them get what they need. I was only seven years old when I sold my first piece of clothing, helping my dad who travelled around selling in local markets. I remember how important it was for me that people found the right product, and it still is. It’s only through selling directly to consumers that we have been able to develop such a deep understanding of their needs.”
That ambition – to help their customers find exactly what they need – led them to integrate searchable product-level reviews in their online stores.
“We have a ‘help another customer’ focus for the reviews, and it works really well. In fact, at an e-commerce event recently, McKinsey featured us as a great example.”
Who is your greatest inspiration?
“Our 11-year-old son keeps reminding us that he is the one who inspired our online business. And yes, he sure was. Neither my husband or I wanted to spend time travelling to different marketplaces, staying away from home for nights on end, when he was younger. We wanted more flexibility. During the first two years of our online business, we worked from home on our laptops.”
Which businesswomen inspire you the most today?
“There are many. Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah Winfrey, Gunilla von Platen, Lena Apler. They are all so genuine and brave at the same time. They have built up great businesses with skills and a lot of hard work. But at the same time, they all seem like good people.”
This interview is a part of the series “Behind the Business”. Read more about it here.