Rune Sovndahl: You can’t go big if you always stay in your comfort zone
Interview with Rune Sovndahl
Success. The fabulous final result of years of effort and work is visible to everyone. But what is behind the success, what is behind the scenes? StorsenDigital tries to answer these and similar questions in the new section “BTS- Behind the scene / Behind the success.” Successful entrepreneurs answer these questions by leading people from different companies worldwide and taking us all to the world behind the scenes, where we can see the very first steps of succession.
The Fantastic Services Family started its journey back in 2009. It all began with a meeting of two like-minded individuals, company founders Rune Sovndahl and Anton Skarlatov. Rune needed a cleaner and Anton ran a cleaning business. Very quickly they both realised that they shared a vision and could deliver home services in a much better way by working together. And this is the story BTS with Rune Sovndahl for StorsenDigital.
1. From the problem of cleaning your carpet to today’s first million. How did you come up with the idea for the Fantastic Services?
It all happened quite unexpectedly. In 2009 there was a severe problem with the whole home service industry. Finding a quality service that was easy to book, trustworthy, and almost no one accepted card payments was quite hard. I was talking about the topic at a party when my friend and current business partner Anton Skarlatov was introduced to me. He was managing a friend’s cleaning business and took on the job. However, talking to him, we both quickly realised that this booming sector was a gold mine, and we had the chance to make something big. So Anton and I took £30,000 each from our savings and started what would a decade later become the fastest growing home service franchise in the UK with over 530 partners across three continents. We offer over 100 domestic and commercial services and are one of the most tech-savvy companies on the market. Can you believe that just 13 years ago, we had one sofa, one phone, two laptops and one goal in mind – to transform the home service industry and push it into the 21st century?
2. What is the most fantastic about these services, and how do you see their future?
The whole idea behind the company was to create a service platform where people could choose different services and book them through a single company with just a few clicks on their phone. Our services are fantastic because they are designed to cover people’s needs entirely. For example, during the pandemic, we introduced our new sanitisation and disinfection services, along with vehicle sanitisation against Covid and a new method of work that keeps both our clients and our partners safe. Most importantly, all our services are 100% eco-friendly. We don’t use toxic chemicals or cleaners. All products that we use are child-friendly, pet-friendly and eco-friendly. That’s one thing we never compromise on. Sustainability is the future of our company, services and our business model as a whole. I genuinely like the phrase “There is no Plan(et) B”, and it perfectly describes how I feel, how Anton feels and generally how our partners, employees and most of our clients feel.
3. When we talk about success, we often see this one side of the medal; golden and shining. But tell us, what is BTS (behind the success/ behind the scene)?
Behind our success story, there are over 530 other success stories – those of our franchisees. We often say that Fantastic Services can only succeed when our partners do, and we firmly stay behind this belief. To be able to help our partners become successful, though, we needed to have some infrastructure. So over the years, we invested over £20 million in technological solutions. On the one hand, our tech solutions allow customers to book their services quickly and easily, without having to call a dozen people. With our handy GoFantastic they can literally book over 100 domestic and commercial services through several clicks on their phone.
On the other hand, we have the BFantastic app, which allows our Operation Owner Franchisees to fill their schedule and effortlessly deal with the bookings without using a dispatcher or any other bureaucracy. Furthermore, we developed our own custom CRM system, which allows the automatisation of all tedious, repetitive tasks, which take time but don’t contribute to our business’s growth. And while we would surely be nothing without our fantastic employees, who work tirelessly for our success and that of our partners, I think that what really gave us the edge back when we started was our vision that the home service industry can be one truly tech-savvy sector.
4. What is the price of success in today’s world, and have you paid it?
To start a successful business, one needs to be prepared to work hard. By working hard, I don’t mean staying late in the office or spending your weekends working. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Overworking yourself is the first step toward failure. Only a well-rested and highly-motivated individual can achieve success. So, this being said, hard work is essential during working hours, same as having fun, spending time with your loved ones, friends and family is important during your free time. Our success is built on this perfect work-life balance, where you get to enjoy your hobbies without hindering your business growth. Naturally, this won’t be possible without our tech solutions, so as I already told you, technology is what made us successful. So if you ask me what the price of success is, it’s hard work, dedication and the ability to adapt to new realities, and we’ve done our fair share of all.
5. Stuffing, prices, global economic situations, and the pandemic of coronavirus. What was the biggest challenge for you, and how did you manage those?
Fantastic Services was established right at the end of the 2008 global financial crisis, and over the years, we had our fair shares of turmoils. As you might have guessed, the last two years were hard for everyone, and many businesses in our niche closed for good. Fantastic Services, however, was always an agile organisation, following the need and demand. A few weeks after the general lockdown was announced because of the COVID pandemic, we gathered and created a plan of action. We introduced several new business lines and services to cover the new demand. Sanitisation, antiviral cleaning and others were implemented just a few weeks after the pandemic boomed. That helped us keep our business afloat. We trained all our providers to be extra careful and always follow protocol. People were understandably scared and weren’t too eager to let others into their homes. That’s why we implemented strict procedures to assure our clients that no corners are being cut. That allowed us to keep afloat and, more importantly, let our franchisees keep their business open.
Moreover, during that period, we managed to sign with a lot more franchisees, which was great. So many service workers, who lost their jobs, were now ready to start a business of their own, and we were happy to help them take this first step.
6. Can you remember the feeling when you earned your first million, and what was your first thought then?
It was overwhelming, but at the same time, it was almost unreal. I was sitting there, looking at the bank balance and couldn’t believe how many numbers there were. It was amazing, although it was just a few pounds over £1 million. Up until then, we’d come close to the million-pound mark a few times, but we always reinvested it in Fantastic Services. It was a very long journey until we managed to get to the seven figures. Of course, after the initial thrill, I realised that this money is only valuable if used to generate more, so they got back into the business.
7. How did you choose people with whom you would like to work? Is it crucial to have a strong team, or do you believe in new people’s power to come often?
We have one core value at Fantastic Services: the 360-degree circle of happiness. This is a philosophy where we strive to make everyone around us happy – from our employees to our franchisees and customers. Naturally, that’s not a one-person job. This should be the goal of everyone in our company, and so far, we have managed to create one significant team that has the same values and goals as us. I know there is no such thing as perfect, and that’s why we are not looking for perfect partners but for ones who strive to become better. That’s the main characteristic I want to see in people around me – the desire to learn, to grow first as people and then as entrepreneurs and business owners.
8. Where did you expand your business, and did the need for your services increase over time?
Our services were always subservient to people’s demands, so we had several expansions. We started as a small cleaning company, and now we offer over 100 domestic and commercial services such as cleaning, gardening, pest control, handyman services, removals and everything in between. Moreover, we are constantly evolving and addressing new needs for our customers.
More importantly, we are expanding geographically as well. Currently, we are in 5 countries: the UK, Ireland, Hungary, Australia and Bulgaria. We are already in the US market and looking for franchisees there. Very soon, we will touch down in Africa as well. So not only our services have increased over the past decade, but our network. From a small company in central London, today we are on three continents, soon to be four.
9. What was your primary education and professional background before you decided to start something of your own?
I can attribute my entrepreneurial spirit way back to my childhood. My father was a great man who taught me to think freely, so building a business of my own and becoming my own boss was something that was embedded into my mind way back when I was still being raised in Copenhagen. The path was always there, so when I attended Copenhagen Business School and received a degree in innovation and entrepreneurship and, later on, got my bachelor’s degree in business information systems design and development from the London South Bank University it was all steps to that end. However, before I was ready, I needed some experience, so I started work for BT mobile as a product manager, after which I went on to become Managing director of Victor Connect Ltd. Right before I met Anton, I was working with lastminute.com.
To be honest over the years after we started with Fantastic, I received several very lucrative propositions to manage various companies. They offered me financial security and stability. But if I had accepted their offers now, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be having this pleasant conversation.
10. Is there success without the risk, and what was your most significant risk during this work time?
You can’t go big if you always stay in your comfort zone. You need to get out there and face the challenges if you want to succeed. I gave up a secure career for a business endeavour where while we knew that it was a good one, there were always uncertainties. For example, who could have thought that the world would close down because of a Pandemic? That was probably one of the toughest challenges we faced during our Fantastic years. However, that’s when we took our biggest risk so far – while other businesses were downsizing and even closing, we decided to extend our portfolio and face the storm rather than hide. That’s the secret of success – resilience and flexibility to face all challenges and always emerge on top.