Johan Staël von Holstein (56) is a Swedish serial entrepreneur, author, speaker and venture capitalist who has founded and co-founded several dot-com companies. We met him in June and was impressed by his positive visions of the past and the future. Meet an Ever-Optimistic Swedish Serial Entrepreneur.
“Since the Industrial Revolution the world has only been a better place to live,” von Holstein claims. “People live longer, have better health, better living conditions and multiple choices. In the 1970s, nuclear power was said to be the world’s doomsday and all trees in Germany were predicted to die. However, human beings have always been able to solve problems.”
“I do not deny the word’s climate challenges, but I am convinced that something drastically is going to happen. We need entrepreneurship more than political campaigns. Or better, more cooperation,” he says.
Doomsday prophets have always existed
He realizes of course that there are people in the world who still suffers, but in general new inventions have made a different and more exciting world. Doomsday prophets have always tried to make people’s life miserable and created feelings of guilt. He admits that he is lucky to have been born as a man in this part of the world. “It’s like winning the lottery,” he adds.
Johan was born in the university and industrial city of Halmstad on the west-coast of Sweden. After his Gymnasium exams and military duty, he traveled Europe for four years, studying languages and doing what he liked the most, downhill skiing in Switzerland.
After a car accident he started to study information technology at the Lund University. As a dyslectic and in a wheelchair, it was hard work. Later he has earned several degrees from among others Stockholm School of Business and Harvard Business School.
Johan Stäel von Holstein meets Jan Hugo Stenbeck
In 1992, when he was 29 years old, he was on board a hotel ship during the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. There he met the Swedish businessman and media pioneer Jan Hugo Stenbeck. Stenbeck was one of the lecturers there and was fascinated by Johan’s creativity and contagious energy. He was offered the position as entertainment officer on the ship.
Later, Johan was offered other positions by Stenbeck and worked his way up to marketing director of Z-TV, the flagship TV channel for young people in the Stenbeck’s Kinnevik Group, and later to his first CEO position at start up ITV (interactive television). ITV became the largest teletext company in Europe with offices in six countries.
Jan Hugo Stenbeck and Johan Stäel von Holstein worked together for several years and Johan went on to become responsible for Banque Invik’s sales and credit card operations. It was fun for a while but the dream of becoming an entrepreneur became too strong. He wanted to create his own company Medialab together with three colleagues. The company ended up having 3,500 employees in 32 offices in 21 countries. The company was listed on the Stockholm and New York stock exchanges.
In 1998, he founded the world’s first co-shopping company, listed on the stock exchange in Frankfurt. “The timeline of a typical start-up company is 5 – 6 years,” says von Holstein.
Global leader of tomorrow
Stäel von Hoistein was recognised as the Global Leader of Tomorrow by Chief Executive Magazine and technology, Global Media innovator by Forbes and Advertizing Age and awarded Technology Pioneer by World Economic Forum.
Then came the historical speculative dot-bomb bubble. “The burst of the bubble was not an IT-bubble,” explains von Stäel Holstein. “It was a financial bubble within the IT sector, created by the banks. We got beaten, but we learned a lot!”
Board member on Swedish Government’s Cultural Board
Living abroad for a couple of years and then moving back to Stockholm in 2004, he established IQUBE, which in a few years grew into the largest private incubators in Europe with a portfolio of more than 40 companies. His articles enhancing entrepreneurship, his battle for better atmosphere for entrepreneurs and his role in the Swedish version of The Apprentice (Rivalerna) made him elected as one of ten board members on the Swedish Government’s Cultural Board, a government agency with the task of implementing national cultural policy.
Looking back, von Holstein says Sweden was a terrible country in the 1960s to 80s. There was no entrepreneurial spirit, everything was forbidden and the suicide rate was the highest in Europe. Since then, von Holstein started breaking Swedish monopolies, one after another, first the country’s radio and television consortiums. Johan acted as the voice for entrepreneurs aiming to create a different world view. But the fight against the established society was a long and exhausting one.
Related: Doing Business in Sweden
An ever-optimistic Swedish serial entrepreneur
Did he succeed? Well, he has established 45 companies and have had extraordinary exits. In 2008 he moved to Singapore and founded a digital life management tool for sharing and selling content, MyCube in 2009. It was a competitor to Facebook, but contrary to Facebook it was prioritizing privacy.
“It’s forbidden to keep slaves and companies should not be allowed to be the sole owners of other people’s digital identities,” says Stäel von Holstein. “Authors should be paid for their valuable content and remain private individuals” he adds. MyCube could have been the most important company in the world. But he lost the company in ways he does not want to discuss, and left the company in 2011.
Related: Listen to the Future
Today, the Swedish serial entrepreneur is optimistically looking for new tasks. Maybe it’s time to establish an entrepreneurial academy in Scandinavia, teaching entrepreneurs how to realize their dreams in the future world?
“The younger generation is a different breed and the answer to most of our challenges,” concludes Johan Stäel von Holstein.
Meet an Ever-Optimistic Swedish Serial Entrepreneur: Johan Stäel von Holstein was interviewed by Tor Kjolberg when he visited Oslo to do a presentation at a Dutch Norwegian Business Network event.
All photos, except when noted, Tor Kjolberg