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From Soldier in Afghanistan to Running the Leading First Aid Company in Scandinavia

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Mark Nilsson First-8

We talked to Mark Nilsson, co-found of First-8, specialists in first aid and defibrillators and here is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?

Mark Nilsson: Thank you for asking – we are doing very well and have been looking forward to when society is opening up for some time now. I tend to don’t spend that much time thinking and talking about the pandemic because it limits your vision and innovation.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded First-8.

Mark Nilsson: I come from a 9-year long background serving as a sergeant in the Danish army infantry unit and have done deployments in both Kosovo and Afghanistan.

First aid has always had a large place in my heart as a soldier, and this has meant that I have trained Danish soldiers, Special Forces, and Afghan combat troops in first aid.

I really needed my skills and capabilities as we patrolled Afghanistan, and a roadside bomb wounded two soldiers in my group.

Having first aid inside the spine is crucial in emergencies, which meant we got to save both soldiers. 

Therefore, I know that skills are the crucial difference between life and death when you are in an emergency.

During Anders and my years in the armed forces, we trained others and saved lives. But when we decided to leave the service, they quickly realized it wasn’t going to be easy to transfer those skills to civilian life. So we decided to set up First-8, a company that delivers first aid training to businesses and individuals and recruits ex-army personnel as instructors.

Now we are 50 instructors working all over Denmark, and we are 8 people working full-time in our two offices in Aarhus and Copenhagen.

How does First-8 innovate? 

Mark Nilsson: We come from a high pace and high innovative background where everything needs to be fast and precise with no errors, and this is the mindset that we have in First-8.

In the army, we have a way of dealing with errors saying – what was the plan, what did we do wrong, and what can we learn from this? And be applying this to the first aid and defibrillator business, we could see a lot of innovations need to be done.

So within the last 365 days, we have built an online learning platform so we can combine physical training with online learning. We have built and launched a Virtual reality application where our students can train first aid and basic life support in their homes and offices around the world. We have also launched e-commerce business in two other countries besides Denmark.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Mark Nilsson: When the Covid pandemic was starting, we had to make a lot of calls to cancel physical training with our customers. Almost 100 courses need to be rescheduled, and this was a really hard time for us. But we decided early on that this year should be a developing year where we could learn from all of the feedback we have received from customers and improve our business in many aspects.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Mark Nilsson: I highly recommend understanding that everything can and should be improved if possible, and think digitally from the beginning is crucial. I think in the beginning, we build systems around how our business is at that moment, but with the pace that we are scaling, we soon hit that point of no return. So all of our newly built systems, platforms, and services are built to scale, so it really doesn’t make any difference if we have 250.000 users on the platform or 2.5 million users.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Mark Nilsson: It would be too easy to say teams, zoom and meet – but I really feel that this way of doing things improves speed and efficiency. Before Covid, there was a standard meeting time of 60 minutes and transportation for each meeting, so on a typical day, I would be able to have 4-5 meetings. But now, with removing transportation and shortening the meeting to 25-30 minutes, I could easily have 10-12 meetings on a normal day and still be productive.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Mark Nilsson: We can see a lot of our competitors are having a real hard time working with this new “playground” that covid-19 has given us. So I feel that they are standing still and don’t innovate with the same skill set and budget as we did. 

Your final thoughts?

Mark Nilsson: It must be easy to learn first aid, and everyone must feel safe and secure in providing first aid on the day the situation arises. My final thought is that if you don’t know CPR and don’t know where the nearest AED is, you have a task for the rest of today.

Your website?

https://first-8.dk/

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