Exclusive interview with Nellie Wartoft, Co-Founder and COO at Sapio. Nellie shared what inspired her to start her own business and her early challenges.
Tell us about yourself?
My obsession with the power of knowledge began when I started my first business at age 17. My first business was about educating senior citizen on digital literacy – everything from how to double click to how to create a Facebook account – back in my native Sweden. Seeing how seniors struggled with their lack of know-how on the digital world and how this impacted their ability to connect with their grandchildren and people around them, really made me see how much non-academic knowledge matters for improving quality of life.
Years later, when I was working as a corporate recruiter in Singapore, this hit me again as I met candidates every day who struggled to find a job, get a promotion or switch industries. This made me start Sapio.
I have lived in Sweden, South Korea, and the UK, but have made Singapore my home since 2011.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business (Sapio)?
Some of the most common questions I got as a corporate recruiter included “I’ve studied engineering but I want to work in marketing, how?”, “I would actually love to be a digital nomad on a beach but I don’t know where to start?”, “how can I increase my salary?” and even “how do I get into Google?”.
Every day, in every interview, I asked my candidates about their life goals and what they wanted to achieve – and while all of them had goals and dreams, very few had an idea of how to get there.
This made me think of all of the people who have actually achieved these goals before – the ones who have gotten that promotion, started that location independent business or made a career switch from being a nurse to being a Head of Marketing (yes, I know a guy who has!). I thought – why isn’t there a platform for these people to share their knowledge with the ones who want to learn how to do it? Now there is – Sapio!
As a business leader, How would you convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do?
With the risk of sounding like Simon Sinek, I think in many cases it all boils down to the ‘why’. Explaining why you do something or why something needs to get done is very important. When people see the bigger picture it’s easier for them to connect the dots and understand the reasoning behind as well as what the action will eventually lead to.
When it comes to actions where fear plays a big part, I usually focus the conversation on “what’s the worst that can happen?” and then discovering together that hey, that ain’t too bad! It’s also about putting things in a much bigger perspective, as the Stephen Hawking quote goes; “We’re just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.”
How do you market your business? How are people aware of your business?
Aside from the standard online and social channels, we love being on the ground talking to people! Offline marketing works very well for us and we do weekly guerrilla campaigns and pop-ups around Singapore. It’s great to get out and listen to people’s pain points and share with them how Sapio can help them reach their life goals.
We also work with wonderful strategic partners who bring us into their communities as a self-improvement or professional development partner, complementing their current content offering and adding more value to their network.
How often you travel for business and challenges you face?
We’re currently focused on Singapore only so I get to stay on the ground here most of the time!
What made you choose this type of business?
The long-term impact it has. Give a man a fish and he survives for a day, teach a man how to fish and he can feed generations. Through Sapio people not only learn how to fish, but they also learn where the biggest fish are, how to make your fishing more productive and even how to set up your own fishery!
I love it when people come back to me with comments like “after that resume session, I’m getting so much more responses on my job applications!” or “that Sapio Expert taught me how to start a side hustle, and now it’s already profitable!”. When you really see the needle move and lives changing, you know you’re doing something useful.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
It depends on what kind of business you’re starting (investor backed startup vs small organic business for example) and the reasons why you’re starting it. Overall across all categories of businesses and reasons though, I would give three pieces of advice:
1) There are many hidden and sudden expenses when starting a business and your money will run out at twice the speed you’re planning for it to do. Make sure to start with twice as much cash as you think you will need. If you plan to have resources of 60k to run for 12 months, then either make it 120k or plan for a runway of 6 months.
2) Be disciplined. One of my favorite mottos in life is “Motivation comes and goes, discipline is what will get you through the lows”. Do not rely on your motivation to get things done – you need to be disciplined about it and get things done even when you don’t feel motivated to do it.
3) Do not forego your friends. Starting a business is all-consuming and you will feel like you have no time to do anything else. But however limited your time is and no matter how successful you are, make sure to make time for your good friends. They will be there for you when you fail and celebrate with you when you succeed.
Why do your customers select you over your competitors?
We don’t really have any direct competition in the sense of other companies doing what we do. Our biggest competitor is inertia – people complaining but doing nothing to improve their life situation. The reason they select Sapio instead of doing nothing is precisely because doing nothing leads to nothing…
Our other “competition” would be searching on Google, books, articles and YouTube videos. The reason our Learners select Sapio over these alternatives is because it’s in-person, it’s live, it’s happening and you get to meet with the Expert face-to-face with plenty of time for Q&A and building real relationships! Paper and screens don’t do that for you.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have learnt Mandarin earlier. I’ve studied for six years and I’m still just a 6 out of 10 at best. The biggest language in the world! A must have!
How people can connect with you?
At email@example.com or live at any of our upcoming Sapio sessions – you’ll find them in the app!