#17 Peter Beckman: The Man Who Fell from the Sky

updated on 22 January 2021

When the doctors broke the news that I was not going to walk again, the feeling was much worse than the actual crash.

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For the first time, we spoke with someone who loves to fly. After just a couple of minutes, it was evident that the lines between normality and supernatural were blurred. Peter’s adventurous character reminded us of one of our favorite childhood movies and heroes, Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. Similarly to Buzz, Peter is not afraid of pushing the boundaries, and he takes the phrase to infinity and beyond to the next level, and quite literally! At times, we couldn’t believe our ears and had to pinch our arms to make sure we were not dreaming. What a conversation!

Peter is the CEO and Co-Founder of Treyd, and together with Sameh, they aim to revolutionize international trade. Peter spent his better days juggling between a full-time job as a consultant, developing a startup (which later failed), and doing research in corporate strategy at the University of St.Gallen as a Ph.D. candidate. Yes, you read it right, he did all that simultaneously. We couldn’t believe it either. But that is only the starter. Peter is also an extreme sports enthusiast, and the word persistence is engrained in his mind. Mamma mia, what an inspiration he is!

But that is only one part of the story.

At Venture Insider, we strive to undress the ups-and-down, the late nights, the early mornings, the failures and the victories.

In a few words; we want to share the real stories.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Everything in Italic symbolizes the voice of the writer, aka, us at Venture Insider.

Introduce yourself — tell us a little bit about your journey?

My journey has certainly not been a straight line. I grew up on a farm in the west of Sweden. I hated school, and the only thing I wanted to do was to become a soldier. But, ironically, I ended up with a PhD in corporate strategy and got involved in business transactions across all corners of the world. This was just the beginning of a multitude of adventures, which later led me to start extreme sports and entrepreneurship… yes both at the same time!

What did you always dream of when you were a kid?

I played a lot of handball and worked on the farm. Handball was almost like a religion where I grew up, and all the kids dreamed of becoming a professional player, but I guess I wasn’t as good as my friends who actually did.

Why did you decide to leave the military for a business career?

I joined the military after high school. I was a part of the rangers and submarine forces for a couple of years. It was intense, and I felt at home in this crazy and challenging environment. I was confident that I’d found my calling, and I aspired to become an officer. But a budget cut destroyed my hopes.

All of a sudden, I had to find something else to do. The world of finance and business was never on my agenda. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot. I began studying in Gothenburg, but it wasn’t before a German friend advised me to move to Switzerland to accelerate my life. I enrolled at the University of St. Gallen, and it was an eye-opening experience.

What fascinated you about your experience in Switzerland?

Studying in Switzerland was like playing in the champions league. I still remember my first class vividly in corporate strategy. At the time, Lufthansa had acquired Swiss Airline, and the hype around the deal was real. Right in front of me, I had a team of bankers from Lehman Brothers responsible for the transaction. They were telling us exactly what happened behind the curtains, and all the ins and outs. It was magical.

I was blown away by this secretive world, and I felt the urge of one day being part of such an enormous deal. For the first time in my life, I studied with an intense focus to make it happen. My hard work paid off, and at one point, a professor invited me to do a PhD under his supervision. I laughed in disbelief when receiving the offer, as seeing myself as a researcher seemed absurd and very dull.

I politely refused the offer and instead started to work as a consultant in Stockholm. However, I realized that I would never close the next “Lufthansa monster deal”. In reality, I spent all day creating nice-looking slide decks in PowerPoint and outsourcing jobs in India.

I called my professor asking if the offer was still on the table. He said yes, and after a couple of months, I was back in Switzerland, starting a new experience that would later bite me in the foot.

Why a PhD?

I believed a Ph.D. would help me get closer to the monster deals and thus change the world. I was overly confident and thought it would be a walk in the park. How hard can it be to read a bunch of research papers, and maybe write a book?

I couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, my professor told me to spend a year reading up on the subject before even discussing the plan to start. This felt like a shock. Academia is all about deep, reflective thinking and intellectual discipline, not about finishing as fast as possible. And honestly, it was far removed from the “real world”.

Then?

I was too impatient to spend a year only reading research papers, so in parallel, I did strategy work for a Swiss company in the middle of a turnaround. After a year and a half, I received an unusual call. It was a specialized consulting company called Actagon, asking me to join the team.

Little did I know that I was entering five years of pain, juggling between a full-time job and my PhD. I loved the job, but trust me, you don’t want to write your PhD during the weekends, especially with that kind of job.

What was the biggest lesson from this uncommon experience?

The human intellect peaks at 25, and I firmly believe that people should spend their best years seeking to achieve something significant, a mark in the universe. Now, I wonder if I should have spent my time more wisely.

What about entrepreneurship?

As a kid, I was constantly dreaming up inventions and wanted to create businesses out of them. I registered three companies during my youth, but that only led to a lot of paperwork. I lacked the skills and knowledge of an entrepreneur. I was a dreamer, and my ideas were electric aircraft, flying cars and new communication systems. My ideas were far outside of my range of competence.

My first real startup experience was after I finished this very slow PhD. The goal was to evaluate political risk around the world using text and satellite data. Technically, we were doing great, with a global scale AI model that worked beautifully. Once again, I buried myself under the launch of a startup and my full-time job. However, time isn’t what stopped me. Two significant extreme sports accidents did. A hard Norwegian mountain stopped both my startup and the dreams that came along!

Accidents?

Yes, and they changed my life’s trajectory.

The first one was relatively common. I injured my back during a ski trip. I managed to recover after spending a couple of months rehabilitating. I wanted to celebrate that I could normally live again. Together with a couple of friends of mine, we traveled to Norway to speedfly. I told the doctors about my plan, and they thought I had lost my mind. Peter, you clearly lost your mind the day you started thinking about speedflying.

I made a mistake during my first jump, and I ended up flying myself hard into a mountain. This time, the damage was severe. After surgery, I ended up in a wheelchair and was told by the doctors that I might never walk again.

Being told that I would never walk again was very tough. All I wanted was to go out there and do the craziest stunts I could think of.

Staying positive, I bought an off-road wheelchair and spent a lot of time hunting in Sweden's remote forests.

Incredibly, I managed once again to rehabilitate, and as soon as I took my first steps, Antler came knocking on my door. It was the perfect timing, as the two accidents made me realize that it was time for the next chapter in life. And while the previous startup failed, I knew that I definitely wasn’t finished with that calling.

How did you come up with the idea behind Treyd, and what is the company's mission?

During my consulting years, I worked with international trade. I realized that trade would experience tremendous disruption and that automation would allow small enterprises to scale at speed never seen before.

We began talking to countless customers and found that most of them had the same problem: many small companies do not have the money to pay their suppliers up-front, and this bottleneck prevents the company from growing.

At one point, one of the companies we interviewed said they would become our customer if we were able to make this idea work. Little did they know that we had nothing to showcase. However, this challenge gave us the necessary fuel to persist, and after countless sleepless nights, we managed to create a platform that worked and made our first transaction. It was terrific!

Our mission is to help small businesses act as global businesses and hardware businesses grow as if they were software businesses.

Why Antler and how was your experience there?

Antler helped me to focus on what matters. It is also there that I met my co-founder, Sameh. I couldn’t have done anything without him. He is a serial entrepreneur and a super-smart tech wizard with a Ph.D., but in a real subject that matters, unlike me (laughing). I am grateful for this opportunity to meet fabulous people.

If you could change one thing in your journey, something you now have regret for, what would it be?

It is hard to hold regrets since everything that I’ve done until now led to where I am today. However, the one thing that I struggle to justify is the five years doing my PhD. I should have spent that time more wisely and adapted faster to the changing circumstances.

I also lost several friends over the last years doing extreme sports activities. It happens too frequently, and we are all well-aware of the risks. As irrational as it may seem, I don’t regret going on that crazy speedflying trip to Norway, even if it almost cost my life.

When was the time you felt the most vulnerable?

There are two moments In my life that I will never forget.

The first was when the doctors broke the news that I was not going to walk again. That feeling was much worse than the actual crash.

The second was after submitting my first Ph.D. research draft, on which I had spent hundreds of hours. I was told it was not good enough.

I’ve never been closer to giving up than after these two moments, but somehow, I managed to keep moving forward without looking back.

Is giving up, a good or bad thing?

For me, giving up has always seemed like the worst of all options. First, during the military, giving up meant that you were out of the group for good. Second, living on a farm, animals, and agriculture depend on your persistence. You can’t call in sick or ask headquarters for more time.

All these experiences contributed to who I am today. Giving up is not necessarily a good or bad thing per se, but if you ended up in a similar situation, quit the Ph.D. if it starts to get too long! (laughing). It is better to change the trajectory instead of continuing without any purpose.

If you only had 30 days to live, what would you do?

Easy!

Not long ago, I experienced what I consider a perfect day. I was in the north of Sweden with a couple of friends. We started the day skiing in the mountains in fresh powder, followed by speedflying and heliskiing in the afternoon. Kudos to anyone who knows what those sports actually embody.

During sunset, we skydived from a helicopter. Lastly, the cherry on the cake was drinking whisky by the fireplace and having long conversations. I would like to have 30 of those days!

  Peter in his natural habitat<br>
  Peter in his natural habitat

Do you have an inspiring figure?

Winston Churchill. His whole journey is incredibly inspiring. He was a war hero, flew aircraft and participated in more than 50 combats. He was also a very stubborn person who refused to give up even during periods of crazy pressure. I strongly relate to his personality and life story.

One book?

Incerto Series by Nassim Taleb.

The one Billion Dollar Question: If you were to write your autobiography, what story or learning would you include making the book an instant bestseller?

Very tough question, but it is an interesting thought experiment. I think the appropriate title would be something like “crashes: hard-learned lessons of a stubborn man”, as I have spent much of my life seeking the extremes and dealing with the consequences. However, to make it into a bestseller, I might hire two hungry writers like you guys. How does that sound? Sounds like a plan to us, Peter!

Main takeaways

  • Persistence is a double-edged sword: it allowed Peter to walk again but led him to spend years doing something he didn’t truly want.
  • Aiming for the impossible might sometimes be overwhelming and discouraging. Peter experienced this first hand, and it required him a lot of will to stand up and start all over again.
  • Being raised in a certain environment should not define the boundaries of what is achievable. Peter left his farm to become a soldier and later quit everything to be an entrepreneur.

Inspiring story Peter, thank you very much.

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