The business of problem solving
Young entrepreneur Andreas Schollin-Borg is making a career of turning obstacles into opportunity. He started with home-cleaning, moved on to co-working, co-living, gastronomy and then electric vehicles. Oh, he’s also a Batman fanatic.
Beard? Check. Casual dress? Check. Polyglot? Of course. Digital native? Checkeroo. Hey, he even gets around the office by scooter. You couldn’t get any more millennial than Andreas Schollin-Borg does, and neither could his approach to making a living. The Lausanne-based citizen-of-the-world applies a new-fashioned method to an old-fashioned principle: problems are possible businesses.
Problem one – Cleaning your house
Who has time to dust, vacuum and scrub the sink? Then again, who has time to find a maid, coordinate her schedule, organise payments, then fill out her employment and tax declarations? Schollin-Borg’s online agency has the time. Called Batmaid (yes, he’s a Batman fanatic), users can run the gauntlet in a matter of mouse clicks. In late 2014, the business took off like wildfire and after two years his employees had taken over his Lausanne flat. “We were full of people. We couldn’t move. I couldn’t live.” The problem led to his next business…
Problem two – Finding community at work
Before moving to Schollin-Borg’s flat, Batmaid had briefly operated from a serviced office – and hated it. “There was no flexibility in the contract. If we needed less or more space, we couldn’t have it. Plus it was expensive.” And most of all: “It was sterile, there was no community.” So when a business partner stumbled across a 2,300-square-meter, available workspace near Lausanne’s central station, Schollin-Borg booked part of it for Batmaid and turned the rest into a co-working space.
Called Gotham (yup, Batman’s home city), it’s meant to be a serviced office with a soul: youthful, entrepreneurial, playful. “We give people more than a desk, a Wi-Fi connection and great cup of coffee,” he says. “We give them community.” This clearly hit a nerve: a month after officially opening in September 2017, Gotham was fully booked with a waiting list of 100, and Schollin-Borg was regularly being asked when he would open more co-working spaces. So he decided to branch out. In early 2019, new Gothams will open in Lausanne’s Flon district, in Martigny and Geneva, and another 12 will open in locations around Switzerland. But with all this came another problem…
Problem three – Finding community at home
Employees at Batmaid and Gotham – most of them non-locals – needed somewhere to live. The solution: add co-living to the co-working spaces. Pioneered in New York City by WeLive, the idea is a ready-made community of friends, activities and services – similar to a university dormitory. Gotham’s co-living will open in 2019 at two buildings, combined with co-working and co-eating: each will have a café called Alfred (after Batman’s long-suffering valet) that doubles as an event and conference space. Live, eat, play and work without ever leaving the premises. “There is always somebody working or partying or exercising or doing something,” says Schollin-Borg. “It’s a building that never sleeps.”
Problem four – Cleaning the streets and the air
Schollin-Borg’s latest problem didn’t stem from the previous, but instead from a ski holiday: Why not decongest the town centres of winter resorts such as St Moritz and Verbier and, for that matter, summer resorts like Portofino or St Tropez? Sky Blue (sorry, no Batman theme) aims to supply electric vehicles that emit no exhaust and – through sharing and renting – reduce traffic volumes. It’s still a work in concept, with pitches going out to potential resorts and investors alike.
Problem five – Giving back
In due course Schollin-Borg wants to return some of his wealth to society. But in his problem-solving way, rather than just sending money, his hope is to start a company that would employ underprivileged people, probably in an underprivileged country. “I’d like to give them an income and a purpose, a way that they can get ahead,” he says. “And when the company really reaches success, I’d then turn the entire ownership over to them.” Learning and earning by doing – another way to solve the problem of poverty.
Problem six – How to manage millennials
All this, and he just turned 30! Which gives Schollin-Borg extra insight into leading his own generation. In his opinion it boils down to this: People over 40 are more mercenary, people under 40 are more missionary. Of course he’s generalising, but olders are working to live: they’ll suffer an unpleasant job to make the money they want. Youngers are living to work: they’ll suffer an unpleasant income to make the difference they want. “Young people want their work to be their passion,” he says. “If they don’t see an impact in what they’re doing, then they don’t want to do it.” All ages have great skills to contribute, he concludes, but to get the most out of those, managers must recognise that motivations differ. New fashioned and old-fashioned need to meet in the middle.
This article is a part of the 'Millennial CEOs' series in which we zoom into Millennials’ lives and ask 'What drives the next generation of business leaders?'