Selling ice-cream at the age of 14 helped me sell my company for millions of dollars at age 36

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I’ve always loved to identify an issue and solve problems. I like to spot the business opportunity and I like to make money in doing so! But, that’s the magic combination. Find the problem, solve it and make money out of it. This is what I did when I was 14 years old. 

I grew up on an island which is a very popular summer holiday destination in Norway. It’s a place where many people have cabins that they go and stay in during the summertime. The population of the island fluctuates from around 5,000 to 70,000 residents every summer. 

Norwegians love ice cream

Norwegians are officially the largest consumers, per capita, of ice-cream in the world. I didn’t know that officially back then but I knew from experience that people here love ice-cream – especially in summer. I had this crazy idea that people holidaying on the island wanted to eat ice-cream while they were enjoying time on the water. So, I decided I should sell ice cream from a boat.

This idea came from the fact that if there’s one thing you do in Norway over the two weeks where we actually have a decent temperature and sun is that you enjoy summer. And you eat plenty of ice cream. But I knew ice cream was hard to come by outside the home. It’s a small island with a couple of stores and the stores weren’t typically right by the ocean. So my idea was: “let’s bring the ice cream to the people on the water.” 

I did just that at the age of 14 and I made a lot of money at the time. It was bananas. It was my first business. I employed my friends, we went directly to the ice-cream factory and it was a lot of fun.  

Flash forward to when I was starting on the mobile payments journey that’s led me to where I am now. In 2010 when I was researching and beginning to create a mobile payments company, I had a whole summer where I had to entertain my kids. They were on eight weeks’ summer vacation and my wife had to work.

For anyone who knows me, you know I like to keep busy and always have several projects on the go. I then had to entertain two kids who are very much like me and like to be kept busy. So, I had a decision to make: either spend a lot of money and lose a lot of effective-working time… Or, we could all do something together that we would enjoy and that they could learn from at the same time. 

Then it hit me. 

Why don’t we do the same thing I did when I was 14? The same basic problem still existed – people in Norway still vacation in the summer at this island and they still love ice cream. Why don’t we just go on the water and sell ice cream again? I’d get to help teach them where money comes from and the value of hard work.

We got up early in the morning and visited the suppliers. We drove to the ice cream manufacturer and I was able to show them how different components of a business can come together. And, crucially, we were also able to spend quality time together and have fun.

So we did that. The kids and I left the house at six o’clock every morning. We packed the boat and brought everything from ice cream to sodas to newspapers to everything you might want and need in your recreation time on a boat on the fjord in the Norwegian summer. 

The Kiosk Boat – all ready to go!

What happened next

It was a fantastic time. The interesting segue between these two stories is what happened next. A few years down the track in (2015) when my technology for mobile payments had become successful, I ended up selling the rights to my technology in Norway for a very decent amount of money. When I was in the contract meeting for the deal there was a whole gallery of suited up people like bankers, lawyers and investors. We were in the final contract meeting. I’m sitting there signing a massive transfer contract and amongst all the people in the room, there was a guy I recognised – I knew I’d seen his face before. During lunch I started to talk with him and we figured out that he had a cabin at the same island I grew up on. I had sold ice cream to him during my most recent ice cream venture with my sons.

In 2010, I was formalising the company and creating an extremely complex payments system that didn’t exist at the time. I had a dream to become an innovator in the payments field. But during this time, I’d also brought my kids out on a boat and was serving people ice cream.

In late 2015 I was sitting there in this meeting, then selling that same technology that had since become a national scheme a large chunk of the population was using a lot. There’s only five years between those two events. I said to the guy I recognised, “you know, five years ago I served you ice cream from a boat while you were on holiday and today you’re buying my technology for millions” 

This was a really fun and key moment for me and really put things into perspective: never be shy or embarrassed about doing good old fashioned groundwork – it’s the foundation of all great things.