#36 Charlotte Ekelund: Workplace Happiness

published on 06 September 2021

I believe in a world where people work from anywhere connected by an online workplace. 

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Charlotte is the kind of person you want to have on your team. She has the natural ability to make people feel part of something beyond themselves. Her energy is contagious, and we left the conversation feeling like we had taken a cold swim in a natural lake in the forests of Sweden. What a refreshing and inspiring way to start the day. 

Charlotte is someone who strives and pushes beyond the defined boundaries. Having spent 17 years abroad living in countries such as Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United States, and Switzerland, it is safe to say that the globe is her workplace. After spending a couple of years at big corporations, she decided to take a leap of faith and start her entrepreneurial journey. She joined Antler and, after a couple of intense months, she founded Teemyco (raised €2.6M earlier this year) together with Oleg. Their vision: creating everyday work happiness, anywhere. 

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What did you dream of when you were a kid?

I dreamed of being married, having three kids, and a nice house in the countryside. I wanted to become a TV show hostess, and my idol was Linda De Mol. 

How was your upbringing? 

I was born in Germany, in an idyllic place called Heppenheim. Unless you are really into wine or Formula One, you have probably never heard about it. At age 15, I moved to Sweden for boarding school. I used to speak Swedish at home in Germany, but despite that, things felt foreign to me. I didn't know the slang, and I dressed differently from the other kids. I had an identity crisis and felt different. 

Charlotte and her housemates.
Charlotte and her housemates.

Boarding school forced me to grow up quickly, and I became interested in the topic of inclusion. I founded the first anti-bullying society in school. I was not bullied, but I saw people who struggled and didn't have anyone to talk to. This experience made me interested in the field of psychology. I always wanted to understand why people behave in the way they do.

What happened after boarding school?

After boarding school, I travelled for one year all over the world. Then, I moved back to Sweden to start my studies at the Stockholm School of Economics. I continued striving for inclusion, this time in the student association, and received a scholarship to study at Harvard University for a term. I had an amazing time in Boston. 

 Charlotte during her time at Harvard University
 Charlotte during her time at Harvard University

I always wanted to pursue an international career so I enrolled in a double degree program for my graduate studies. I spent a semester in St.Gallen, Switzerland and Rotterdam, the Netherlands. During this time, I fell in love with a Dutchman, so after my studies, I also lived in Amsterdam for a while.

Charlotte’s graduating class of 2009, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. 
Charlotte’s graduating class of 2009, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. 

Entering the corporate world and working in strategy and marketing. What is your main takeaway from that period? 

I began my career at Diageo in strategy and marketing, which is the world’s biggest spirit supplier, and consequently joining Coca-Cola’s strategy department. I spent seven years at corporations and learned a lot about brand positioning and office politics. I also worked remotely for a while, which was a terrible experience. Clearly, working in another location than my team was not something for me, and my motivation and performance went down significantly. I still vividly remember thinking that someone would one day create a solution for this problem.

When did you realize that you had to do something else? 

After about seven and a half years, I had a bit of a life crisis. My Dutch boyfriend and I had broken up after a long relationship. I wanted to minimize my regrets in life, and have a positive impact on people's lives. I needed to work on something that I was truly passionate about and it was time for a drastic career move. I left FMCG and started helping people get happier at work by providing them with new jobs. Looking back, I know that I made the right decision, and changing my career path once before becoming an entrepreneur probably made that change feel less scary once it was time to join Antler.

Teemyco. Can you provide us with the aha moment and how everything started?

I had lunch with a friend of mine who previously ran Uber Sweden. He told me that his team was in multiple locations, operating in a remote-first way. He struggled to create a winning one-office-company culture where people had fun and were connected. He also said: “I wish we had an online office”. I was “omg, why don’t we have that?”. I was the right person to make such an idea come to life as I had worked remotely alongside 10-15 offices during my time in the corporate world. I decided to take this idea back to Antler, and there I met my co-founder Oleg who decided to join me in forming this new mission. 

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What is the vision of the company? 

The whole purpose of the company is to create everyday work happiness anywhere. We want to make sure that people can work from where they desire without compromising on how they feel at work, Teemyco users should smile more. 

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What excites you about the future of work? 

I am not going to lie, I would love to have my whole team physically at the office every day. I would love to hug them all. However, I know that is not the way work will be. Employees desire flexibility and talent is everywhere. I believe the future of work is that people need an online platform where everyone is always together, allowing anyone to work from anywhere in the world.

The combination of being part of a co-working hub and having an online workspace to be with my distributed team is the ultimate way to enhance my productivity and workplace happiness. For others, it might be the flexibility to pick up kids a few days a week or live in the countryside with a virtual office.

Founding your own company. How was that different from anything else? 

No one was telling me what to do, I had to trust my gut. I also didn’t know anything about tech. I barely knew the differences between frontend and backend. I was 32, had no kids, was a complete rookie, and knew since I was in university that I wanted to start something. It was the perfect timing. 

What do you love the most and the least about being a startup founder? 

The thing I love the most is being able to move fast. If I have an idea, it won’t take long before it turns into reality. On the other hand, I would love not to work on Sundays (laughs). I do it with love, but I am a bit more tired than I used to be. 

Charlotte pitching her ideas at Antler, Stockholm. 
Charlotte pitching her ideas at Antler, Stockholm. 

You also invest in early-stage companies. What is the main thing you are looking for before investing? 

Let’s keep it real. I invest small sums in people that I really believe in, most of whom I have known for a long time. I am mostly looking for extraordinary individuals that are meant to solve a particular problem which I believe are the right people to solve. My role as an “investor” is more of a friend they can talk to and ask all the “stupid” questions. I believe just being there for the founders is already of value. 

If you could change one thing in your journey, what would it be? 

I think every founder wishes they could go back in time and fix all their beginners’ mistakes. However, these mistakes made me wiser and were necessary to understand the dos and don’ts. From a personal standpoint, I should probably have safeguarded my spare time better. Getting time to date again is my goal for the next few years (laughs). 

When was the time you felt the most vulnerable?

It was quite challenging to start a tech company as a non-technical founder. I didn’t understand the language, and I had my ups and downs. I particularly remember the moment I realized how time-intensive it was to create good software. 

There were many times where I doubted my capabilities and continuously asked myself if I were capable of starting a company in the tech world. Then again, I think all founders doubt themselves, it is part of the deal.

What would you do if you only had 30 days to live?

I love this question (laughs). I would take all the money from my savings account and fly in all my whole team for a couple of days. Then, I would sit down with everyone and make sure that the mission of the company will be executed upon. Of course, I would also throw a kick-ass party with all my friends and loved ones. It would be like a celebrating life party, lasting multiple days. 

Do you have an inspiring figure? 

My dear friend Peter. We’ve known each other for 12 years. He is like a brother to me and helps me find confidence in myself when in doubt. It’s great that we both share the founder’s journey together if yet in different startups. He is really a supportive friend, and it helps to sometimes be able to laugh at all the craziness founding a startup can imply, together.

The winning friends
The winning friends

One book? 

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Podcast?

Y-Combinator

If you were to start another company today, what would be your one-billion-dollar idea?

Please, someone just fix the dating app mayhem, I don’t have enough time for swiping and writing. It’d be much more efficient if my friends who are in relationships and who love to swipe for me can find me a date. I would love to see a dating app where your close friends and family members find date candidates and you. Please make it happen! 

Inspiring story Charlotte, thank you very much.

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