In an era marked by rapid digital transformation and increasing awareness of sustainability, understanding the intersection of technology and eco-consciousness is paramount. Enter inriver, the leading product information management company which looks beyond just commerce, and into the broader landscape of informed purchasing decisions.
At the helm is Niels Stenfeldt, a seasoned entrepreneur with a tapestry of experiences that underpins his leadership. Recently, I sat down with Niels for The Bright Founders Talk at Temy to delve into inriver’s evolution and his personal journey from an auditor to CEO. With the picturesque backdrop of Malmo’s autumn sky, Niels shed light on the importance of transparent product information in today’s market and the company’s mission to empower consumers to make environmentally informed choices.
This interview offers a candid exploration into the heart of a technology company that, in Niels’ words, “makes the world a better place.” Dive in as we unpack the narrative of a CEO dedicated to global betterment and the innovations powering it.
Niels Stenfeldt: Merging Technology and Sustainability for a Better Tomorrow
With a vivid appreciation for the autumn colors painting his home city of Malmo, Niels Stenfeldt, the dynamic CEO of inriver, paints an even more captivating picture of his company’s mission. The evolving landscape of product information, from mere e-commerce data to the broader, more essential context of buyers’ sustainability agendas and the circularity of manufacturing companies, is at the core of inriver’s vision. But Niels sees beyond just a tech company; he perceives inriver as a beacon of change, not just offering solutions but actively making the world a better place.
Taking a trip down memory lane, Niels candidly shared his non-linear journey to the top. From mastering auditing – a field that gave him the unique perspective to never let perfection hinder progress – to exploring the realms of banking, blue-chip companies, and then venturing into the volatile world of startups. The fluctuations of successes and setbacks on Mondays and Tuesdays taught him a thing or two about resilience and adaptability. But perhaps the most important takeaway was the significance of surrounding oneself with a team that complements, challenges, and propels you forward.
Niels emphasizes a foundational approach to any business: identifying valuable problems that can be solved for a broad group of similar prospects. The key lies in articulating a story that resonates with the decision-makers, ensuring that they see clear, tangible benefits in what you offer. In an era where scalability is paramount, especially in software solutions, Niels believes that if you can’t scale the number of customers, then focus on magnifying the value you provide to each one.
Niels on Entrepreneurship: The Joys of the Journey and Finding Balance
A gentle reminder weaves through Niels’ narrative – businesses are not overnight successes, and getting there is rarely straightforward. He recalls moments in his startups, “we were certain when we started, this is going to fly through the roof.” Yet, there’s always more to the story. Niels emphasizes the importance of not just having a compelling product or story, but also a compelling event that creates urgency. “Without a compelling event, well, I can wait to buy it tomorrow. And if that’s the case, you won’t win.”
Niels sees entrepreneurship not just as a route to wealth, but a profound experience – a race where the joy isn’t just in crossing the finish line but in every step taken. He shares a candid insight about starting a business, stressing that if the only motivation is wealth, then “the day when you sell it, many businesses don’t get that far.” And he’s right. It’s the passion and dedication, the daily grind and challenges, that make the journey worthwhile.
Finding balance in this whirlwind becomes crucial. Niels redefines the well-touted phrase ‘work-life balance’ into a broader perspective. For him, it’s not about juxtaposing work against life but finding equilibrium in life as a whole. This includes devising actionable daily goals, celebrating those achievements, and ensuring mental wellness. And the future? Niels believes in having lighthouses, not fixed destinations. The end goal can evolve, but it’s essential always to have a direction in mind. Especially as the business grows, “you can’t tell everybody, everything,” but you can surely show them where to head.
Navigating Leadership: The Three Horizons with Niels
“Letting go” is an art few master, especially when climbing the ladder of leadership. But Niels believes the essence of a good leader is not in the continuous control, but in presenting a compass for his team. A direction they can look towards, even without explicit instructions. He illustrates, “When your associates and the teams surrounding you begin to make decisions on their own, in line with the goals you’ve established, that’s when you’ve truly scaled yourself as a leader.” It’s about setting the stage for autonomy, trust, and alignment.
Niels breaks down the rhythm of leadership into three horizons. The first horizon deals with the immediate challenges, the “streets we are fighting right now.” The second horizon is pivotal as it bridges the present with the future, ensuring everyone turns “right around the next corner.” Niels asserts, “The bigger your company grows, the more time you as a leader should invest in this horizon. It’s damn crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page; otherwise, it can get messy.” The final horizon is the dream, the guiding star, where, even if time is limited, a leader must often escape to ponder, even if it’s just during a drive.
While juggling the many roles of leadership, Niels has his eyes set on a bigger picture – sustainability. He passionately discusses the concept of a “digital product passport,” an initiative set to revolutionize consumer awareness. “By 2030, your shirt will have a QR code, revealing its environmental footprint, where the fabric’s from, how to care for it, and more,” Niels explains. The goal is not to dictate choices but to empower consumers with factual data. He emphasizes, “What we aim for is a world where consumers aren’t swayed by unfounded stories, but by real, verifiable facts. That’s the definition of a better world.”
Navigating Green Business: Niels’ Vision for a Sustainable Future
The importance of conscious consumerism has never been more evident, as Niels pointed out, citing how products produced thousands of miles away get transported to us, thereby increasing our carbon footprint. Yet, he also touched on the potential controversy. “Is this a concern for you, or you’re not too bothered about those guys?” the interviewer inquired. Niels’ response delved deep into the European Green Deal and the smart move to harmonize product information across the continent. While his task is not to design these attributes, Niels finds himself aiding businesses in sourcing the data that goes into them.
Niels doesn’t shy away from the hard facts. By 2040, we’re projected to utilize resources at a staggering rate of 2.4 times what our planet produces. The math, as Niels suggests, simply doesn’t add up. Yet, hope lingers. As new generations become increasingly aware of our global trajectory, Niels believes more people will understand the pressing need for change. Despite the debate on climate change and its causes, Niels is optimistic that a balance can be found where politicians, consumers, and the planet’s needs converge.
At the core of his vision, Niels embraces an intrinsic optimism. When probed for a personal slogan, his choice was refreshingly uplifting: “Today is going to be an amazing day.” This outlook, combined with his relentless focus on the consumer, underscores the essence of his approach to business and sustainability. As our conversation wrapped up, the future looked promising. With visionaries like Niels leading the charge, a sustainable and informed future seems not only possible but imminent.