Michael Sundquist, founder of Cool Company tells us about growing freelance businesses.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Michael Sundquist: My family and I are doing well, following the Public Health Authority restrictions, and are isolated from relatives and friends in risk groups. Our two children are fortunately still going to school and get to keep the social interaction there, which we are happy for.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined Cool Company.
Michael Sundquist: I’m born and raised in Stockholm, but I went to the University of Hull in London, UK, where I got my bachelor’s degree in business management. Which lead me to 10 years in management consultancy, followed by another 10 years in leading and developing sales forces. I was approached by Cool Company in 2017 and was sincerely impressed with the concept to enable freelancers to grow their business without having to start their own company. I first joined the company as a sales manager but took over as CEO at the beginning of 2019.
How does Cool Company innovate?
Michael Sundquist: We are one of the forerunners in enabling the freelance and consultancy market for those that do not wish to have their own company but still want to freelance. We also help the company side work with flexible staff by removing the many administrative burdens it entails. It is really about making the labour market available to more people and fulfilling more needs. This can only be done by constantly developing our offering and following the development of the labour market. By doing this, we create the most sustainable and secure solution possible – for both freelancers and companies.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Michael Sundquist: Our business consists of 70 percent of B2C freelancing without starting your own company. Since the pandemic has affected a lot of freelancers due to them having a harder time finding assignments, it has also affected us. But both are freelancers, and we are lucky. The majority of our users are white-collar professionals working in industries such as marketing and IT. These areas weren’t as affected by the pandemic as, for example, the travel or event industry. We see the same trend in our B2B business, but here we also have some companies within e-commerce and distribution which have even been able to grow during the pandemic. Some of our clients have even taken steps outside Sweden together with us. To summarise, the pandemic has obviously affected us. Still, we are happy to have innovators and entrepreneurs as customers, and together we have managed the situation in the best way we can.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Michael Sundquist: At the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know how it would affect us, for how long and what to expect. We acted fairly quickly and made a couple of tough decisions to make cost savings which proved to be wise since it’s been a long year, and we still know very little about how and when we will see the end of it. The lesson learned, I would say, is to act quickly, take any unknown situation very seriously and rather let go of restrictions and ease up afterwards. We are responsible for many people and jobs. Therefore we need to act responsibly. We do not want to gamble and take chances and be left blindsided.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Michael Sundquist: I would like to turn the question around and state that Cool Company has always worked digitally, and we are built with digital tools. If you want to simplify it, you can say that we are a small organization with customer acquisition, and automated backend, and customer support. It wasn’t really a big change for the business to go 100% digital. The main change that came with the pandemic was that we had to pack up the office and continue to operate from home with Slack as a substitute for office noise and Microsoft Teams for our meetings, daily stand-ups, and of course, the important Swedish “Fika” breaks.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Michael Sundquist: The interest in the self-employment industry is definitely growing, and several small and low-price competitors are popping up. But with our long experience in the business, we are firm believers that quality, sustainability, and safety will be necessary for companies and freelancers that want to remain safely in the business. It is important to read the fine print about what is included and what is not included.
What also sets us apart from the competition is our offer and a complete solution because we both work with B2C, B2B, have a matching service to help freelancers find assignments, and have a framework around freelance benefits. Nevertheless, we are expanding across more markets geographically and making the freelance world smaller and more accessible to more people.
Your final thoughts?
Michael Sundquist: The movement towards a modern way of working was already in motion before the pandemic. This being said, it might have gotten speeded up when almost the whole world learned to go digital and learned that what is geographically close is of less significance. This creates new possibilities for people. 9 to 5 and working for the same company for 30 years belongs to the analogue world. This digitalization opens up a new labour market and a new way of living where you can adapt working life to your life – instead of the other way around.
If you are thinking about working for you and starting your own business but want to dip your toes into the water first and try it out, you’re always welcome to join Cool Company and get the freedom to work as If you had your own company, but the safety as if you were employed.