Forget a Business Plan. Here's All You Really Need to Launch, According to This Art Book Entrepreneur.
Designer, musician, author, and founder Kim Bjørn shares lessons he's learned launching his company Bjooks.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what's your business?
My name is Kim Bjørn, designer, musician, author, and CEO and founder of Bjooks, a Danish boutique publishing company, operating worldwide creating hardcover books on music technology, artists, and makers. Since 2017 we've published only seven titles, but have sold tens of thousands of them all over the world, to world-known recording artists as well as hobby musicians, students, and nerdy tech people admiring a good old physical book. We're known for packing inspiration and information into beautifully designed books that no one saw coming.
What inspired you to create this business?
After years of teaching interface design, and also playing music, I started asking myself "Why do these electronic instruments and interfaces look the way they do?". There has been very little tradition and a lot of invention in this area of electronic instruments (unlike acoustic instruments like the violin for instance, which has looked and worked pretty much the same for centuries). So I started "collecting" images of instruments and interfaces, driven by my curiosity and the fact that I couldn't find any literature about this. I guess that was my aha moment: No one had created what I wanted to have, so I had to create it myself; a book about interface design in electronic music.
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What has been your biggest challenge and how did you pivot to overcome it?
My biggest challenge was that I didn't believe enough in myself. It took years with sketches in the drawer until finally there was a window of opportunity when the legendary electronic artist Jean-Michel Jarre came to Copenhagen. A friend of mine had a connection, so I would be able to meet with him for 15 minutes. I decided that that was my moment: I wanted Jarre (my childhood hero) to write the foreword, and I wanted to know what he thought of the idea. But I only had a week to create a mockup of the book cover, sample pages, and a description of the project.
After working around the clock, when we finally met, he loved the idea and there was an instant connection. As soon as he was onboard, the rest was much easier. I had belief in myself and the project became all fired up. I kind of started out in blue ocean, as it was the first well-illustrated book on this topic, and no one had ever seen this kind of book for a worldwide community coming. However, there was a worldwide niche. I never thought I'd make old-school hardcover books for a living, but even in these hi-tech times, I believe people treasure physical objects even more — especially when they're well-made and when a lot of passion has been poured into them.
When it comes to tapping into creativity, do you have any methods that work for you to break through writer's block?
Yes! I have to say, I blocked several times during the creation of my first international book — what if it was a crazy bad idea?! However, at some point, I said to myself: "You know what? I will regret it to the end of my days if I don't give this a shot." So I made a yellow note and stuck it to the top of my computer screen with this sentence: "Just write it badly!" I realized I just had to write something, and that I could always correct it, delete it, write something else, and so on. This way, at least I got something down, and many times it didn't read that bad after all.
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What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Regarding where to look, I'd recommend crowdfunding as you get instant validation of your idea. However, create a community first, then launch the campaign. When you have social proof you can always go to investors for your next product. Remember, this doesn't necessarily need to be "that" million-dollar idea - it may very well come after you get some experience under your skin. I've never had red numbers, never owed anything in the company. I also created a concept of working with brands that then funded part of the books.
In terms of preparing for your pitch, know your numbers inside out. Check the competition and be thorough in your research — you want to be sure you've not missed something obvious. Be humble (I know; it's a Scandinavian thing). I've often seen people believing that they've created something the world has never seen before, being cocky about it, only to lose all credibility because they hadn't done their work properly. Part of that is researching and knowing who you're talking to. Always be grateful for the time people spend listening to you and your crazy dream — especially when they start actually buying your products!
What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?
Hard-working, self-made, creative, and innovative spirit — with a burning desire to make the world a better place no matter how small or big your idea or world.
What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don't?
Honestly? Investors and a plan. I see way too many people who think that this is the only way to get something started, to grow, or to reach the dream. What you really need is discipline, resilience, and an honest, objective look at yourself and your idea. Then you have to be flexible and willing to reach your goals in other ways than you first imagined. Things seldom happen the way you plan them to happen.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
"Just do it!" We all know where this comes from, and I've always loved that quote. It doesn't get any simpler than that: Not in the mood? Just do it. No money or education? Don't let that stop you. Not sure if you're gonna make it? Just. Do. It. It's the only way to learn what not to do. It's the only way to get closer to your dream. Just take one step at a time, and one day you're there - even if you've walked backward a few times, stepped on something, or walked down wrong paths. Just write one word, one sentence, one page, and suddenly one day there's a whole book, maybe even a whole life. It's really that simple.