“If you combine service and delivery, the brand name and the feeling that goes with it, you have that thing that makes Rapunzel special,” says Ida Backlund, founder of Rapunzel of Sweden. “My mother always told me the story of Rapunzel when I was a little girl and that’s where I came up with the idea for the name – yes, that’s it! And when I found that the name was not taken, I knew it was going to be big! The name is very important.”
Rapunzel of Sweden is an online sales outlet for hair extensions, and an example, according to Backlund, of how easy it can be to start a company. “You don’t need a lot of money, you don’t have to come up with something totally new, but you might have to market it in a different way. If you are going to grow and become a big company, then it’s going to take a lot of work, of course.”
Backlund believes that it takes a certain kind of character and talent to become an entrepreneur, in the same way that a successful sportsman or sportswoman has something that the rest of us maybe don’t. Hard work, self-belief and focused determination are the most crucial attributes.
“My success and creation have happened by working really, really hard. You need a great team and to surround yourself with people who believe in you and you need to believe in yourself. I started on my own and not many people believed in my plan to conquer the world by selling hair extensions!
“I used extensions since the age of 12. I wanted thicker and longer hair but I couldn’t find the right supplier. Then when I was 22, a revelation came to me: this is what I should do. I’ve been using these products my whole life but there is no one who has made a great product and done it worldwide. It was my calling. Even at school I thought, yes, this is what I want to do. Many people might have an idea about what they want to create, but only a few people actually do it.”
Her failed attempt to secure a bank loan of 100,000 Swedish crowns (around USD 11,000) to launch the business is the stuff of an entrepreneurial legend that no doubt gives an ex-bank manager somewhere in Sweden sleepless nights.
“The bank didn’t believe in hair extensions as an online product. The manager said that, because she hadn’t heard of such a business before, she couldn’t lend me the money. But that didn’t stop me.”
Backlund exudes an intriguing blend of confidence and a down to earth connection with her roots. Members of her family, from her parents to her sister, nieces and nephews have been involved in the business, her young daughter travels with her on international business trips, and she based Rapunzel in her small northern Baltic town of Uleå. “Many people think you have to be in a big city but you can sell good hair extensions online from Uleå or anywhere else. The rent is cheaper and the connections are just as good. Rapunzel has a nice house overlooking the sea. We kept costs down by staying there.”
Having sold part of the company to ease her workload “from 300% to about 100%”, she started her own investment company, helping others fulfill dreams similar to her own when she was starting out. So what is her advice to young aspiring entrepreneurs?
“I would want to give people the ability to think outside the box and listen to their hearts. But they shouldn’t wait for me to tell them what to do. It’s up to them to do it. And it’s OK to make mistakes.”