Welcome to another insightful edition of Bright Founders Talk podcast by Temy, a software engineering service company located in Ukraine. In this edition, our host, Chris delves deep into the entrepreneurial journey of Birkir Veigarsson, Co-Founder and CEO of Focalpay.
Veigarsson is not just a leader in his field but a versatile thinker who has traversed various domains of knowledge, from a fascination with medicine in his early days to exploring the stratosphere with a high-altitude balloon during his university years.
Beyond the business, Veigarsson showcases a profound interest in societal well-being, especially the mental health of children. As you journey through this conversation, discover how Birkir’s insatiable curiosity, passion for science, and unique projects have shaped his path in the world of startups.
Birkir: The Icelandic Innovator Exploring New Horizons
Birkir’s journey is as diverse as the landscapes of his native Iceland. From engineering to film-making, he’s worn multiple hats. But what stands out in this interview is not just his professional versatility, but his approach to life. When asked about his most and least productive times of the day, Birkir offers a refreshingly candid perspective, “It’s not about time. For me, it’s about being in flow.”
Growing up without a fixed dream might sound uncertain to many, but for Birkir, it meant chasing what intrigued him the most. Medicine, engineering, and various fields of science have all been stops on his journey. But perhaps the most heartwarming revelation was his aspiration to delve into an industry centered around helping others. He shares, “I really, really enjoy working with other people, helping other people.” With a young daughter in tow, his interest has gravitated towards exploring the mental health of children.
Birkir’s passion for building and innovation led him and his peers to an intriguing project during university – a high-altitude balloon. Intending to measure radiation over Iceland, the group not only crafted the balloon but constructed their own antenna and programmed the GPS. It was an endeavor that unexpectedly took a cinematic turn when a director friend proposed making a short film about it. The result? A magical day of zero wind in Iceland, a rarity in itself, and a successful data collection. Birkir humorously contrasts this with the interviewer’s personal helium balloon story, proving that whether in science or life, the “same principles apply.”
From Fluid Dynamics to Hardware Startups: Birkir’s Fascinating Journey Through Science and Entrepreneurship
Tucked away in a cozy cafe in the heart of Stockholm, Birkir sat with a glint in his eye as he recollected his academic sojourn. Starting with a master’s in sustainable energy in Copenhagen, his journey delved into the intricacies of fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. “I was always deep into mathematical modeling. Energy? It’s been a fascination of mine,” he mentioned, taking a sip of his coffee. Despite his academic pursuits, Birkir expressed that hands-on work in the field can sometimes be a whole different ball game.
But it wasn’t just about academia and work for Birkir. The lure of studying in Denmark wasn’t just about the high-quality education but the broader experiences that come with studying abroad. “Your horizon becomes so much wider,” he said, advocating for the life-changing experience. “Picking up another language, understanding a different perspective — it’s not easy, but worth every struggle.” At the Technical University of Denmark, while many were engrossed in their textbooks, Birkir found himself more business-oriented, often being the one to initiate brainstorming sessions on new ideas with his adventurous peers.
As Birkir delved into his professional experiences post-graduation, his narrative took an exciting turn. From consulting on plate freezers in Iceland to risk assessment for nuclear power plants in the Nordics, his career journey was nothing short of eclectic. “Working in nuclear energy was fascinating; it’s where math meets real-world challenges. Different branches, different people, different cultures. But in science, it’s a universal language,” he expressed, emphasizing the seamlessness of working with a diverse team from various nationalities. This path eventually led him to a pivotal opportunity with Blue Access, a startup focused on innovative technology for mobile devices. A venture that taught him the critical lesson of the importance of adaptability in the face of rapid technological changes.
Birkir’s Blueprint: Navigating the Intricacies of Tech Entrepreneurship
Birkir’s journey from his days at Blue Access to the conception of EFF and its subsequent ventures offers an insightful roadmap into the twists and turns of building and managing tech businesses. His narrative is no ordinary chronicle of entrepreneurial milestones but is instead marked by resolute decisions and invaluable learning experiences. “You need to panic about the right things,” he casually remarks, underscoring a nuanced approach to facing challenges head-on.
At the heart of Birkir’s successful ventures lies a unique blend of tech love, a keen business mindset, and an undying spirit of collaboration. The formation of Stack, he recounts, was more an organic evolution than a calculated move, rooted in a need to offer his Icelandic engineers a comfortable working base. Birkir’s genuine admiration for his team and partners shines through. He notes, “Business knowledge is all about network and domain competence within HR,” highlighting the importance of relying on domain expertise and fostering symbiotic professional relationships.
Delving deeper into the future of the tech landscape, Birkir sheds light on the importance of adaptability and foresight. He’s acutely aware of the rapid shifts in technology but remains unfazed. Instead of obsessively chasing trends, he leans into the strength of his network and domain expertise to stay informed. It’s not about knowing everything, he contends. Instead, it’s about understanding market fit, recognizing business dynamics, and sprinting, with determination, toward clear goals.
Birkir’s Focal Point: Innovating the Retail Payment Landscape
If there’s one thing to know about Birkir, it’s that he isn’t one to shy away from challenges. Reflecting on his decade-long experience in the FinTech and retail sectors, Birkir recalls a specific hiccup back in 2017. He was working on promoting the adoption of Swiss, a prevalent payment method in Sweden, in-store. To his surprise, despite the clear consumer demand, merchants resisted integration. “I started to kind of look only into that problem,” he mused, “and was just wondering, why is this such a talent?”
Diving deep into the problem, Birkir discovered a slew of issues that hindered merchant adoption. From high investment costs to the lack of a concrete business case, everything seemed to work against the innovation. Yet, the public demand was undeniable. Thus, Focalpay was born, a platform engineered to introduce new technologies to retailers without interfering with existing infrastructures. “It’s a revolution for payments when it comes to in-store checkout,” Birkir expressed, drawing parallels between his venture and the highly successful Shopify. “It’s like recreating the revolution we’ve had in online payments for merchants.”
Birkir’s journey with Focalpay has been nothing short of enlightening, and when asked about the advice he’d give to those aspiring to tread a similar path, he emphasized the importance of embracing one’s uniqueness and understanding personal drive. “You need to find what drives you,” he asserted, highlighting the crucial balance between passion and pragmatism. To Birkir, the road to success isn’t without its bumps, but it’s those very challenges that pave the way for growth. As he wisely puts it, “Go out, try, fail miserably. And try again.”