20 Questions With Nikolaj Astrup Madsen, Founder of Refuga
Nikolaj is a passionate entrepreneur with a background in online marketing. He has worked with many aspects of the online world in small startup projects with a focus on eCommerce, social and search. He is always on the lookout for ambitious projects to be a part of.
Refuga's mission is to create the world's best networking experiences by getting ambitious people together for workcations and expeditions across the globe. They're ambitious and truly international. Their goal is to do 200 yearly trips by 2018 with over 100 nationalities as participants.
Who are your ideal clients?: We are open and like the diversity. We had people from almost 35 countries, aged 17-63 and in many different industries. Our typical participant is a busy entrepreneur.
Is this your first business?: No.
What is the biggest reason for your success so far?: Define success :-) For me, things work pretty well when I just arrange trips that I want to do myself and just focus on my style and try not to concentrate too much on what others are doing.
What were the earliest indications that this business could be successful?: When we figured out how to market with a positive ROI. We could do as many trips as we want right now, so it's more a matter of motivation and other projects.
What position did you hire first?: We had a marketing assistant first and then a program manager. But the business needs very, very few people. Most expenses are during the trips.
What is working best for your marketing right now?: Always a combination. It's not just one channel, but how they interact.
What is your biggest differentiator?: It's a combination of things I guess. The combination of really, really great locations (we have checked out over 200 houses per location we use - We are REALLY picky). A lot of people think the location is easy, but it's not. Other concepts choose resorts or villas in cities etc., but ours are always incredible, authentic villas that are remote. But that's not a real differentiator in itself, but in a combination with great groups you have something that works. We have some really great groups that have good diversity, but they are always super ambitious.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly and that's actually a challenge for us (explaining the benefits on the website), but when you have been on a trip, you would know.
What is the toughest decision you've had to make in the last few months?: Which city to go to next. It's a tough life.
If it was possible, what advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?: In 10 years you would regret it if you don't focus.
How did you meet your co-founders or business partners?: No co-founders.
What is your favorite thing about coworking?: Flexibility. The possibility of getting an office for anywhere between 1 day and multiple years with no long contracts.
What book are you most likely to give as a gift?: Really depends on the person. In general, it would probably be Sapiens.
Favorite place to travel to?: I love a lot of different places. If I should choose a place to go for a few days I would almost always choose Morocco and fly into Marrakech and spend a few days in the city and a few days hiking in the Atlas Mountains.
What is the best small business in your neighborhood?: I don't really have a home (our apartment is rented out long term), but back in Copenhagen, Denmark, it's a small bakery near our apartment. They have their own style and great bread and coffee.
Do you have a favorite freelancer you have worked with?: Yes, I have one Kenyan woman, who is a great assistant. She also helped us plan a trip there and we hang out with her last time we were in Kenya. She is really awesome and gets things done. For Jackiya's Upwork profile click here.
What is your favorite app or online tool?: Trello is the one I use the most. I organize everything here.
What was the best event that you recently attended?: I don't go to a lot of events. The latest was our own trip to Thailand, where we had people from 8-9 different countries join. That was a great experience and I have planned visits in some of the participants countries to meet them over the summer.
How did you finance your business?: It didn't really cost anything to start. I have a big focus on positive cash flow, so that wasn't a problem.
What business would you love for someone else to start?: I would love to see some kind of software engaging students more in their curriculum, so they played an active role in shaping their studies. Taking the best from self-study and normal education and combining them. At the same time the software could give data to the teacher about what works best, could share knowledge across schools etc.
What advice do you have for new founders?: I think there are enough people giving startup advice out there. My only advice would be to remember that there are 1000 ways to succeed in business, life and everything else, so don't listen too much to people who say that they found the one model that works.