Sweden is the ideal breeding ground for a direct-to-consumer unicorn

Sweden is the ideal breeding ground for a direct-to-consumer unicorn

In an era when people want personalization, digitization and trust from the brands they use, a direct-to-consumer (D2C) proposition makes perfect sense. And for Swedish tech companies, these three traits may be three of their most valuable assets.

The rise of D2C over the past two years is no secret. As consumers lived almost exclusively online during the pandemic, they were forced to forge new relationships with brands that could guarantee product or service availability, a personalized offer behind any purchase and subscription, and more variety in delivery and fulfillment.

In this regard, D2C is now a preferred method for building relationships for both providers and customers. And relationships are built on trust – trust in what is being offered, trust that shared data will be used for good, and that loyalty will continue to be rewarded.

This is where Sweden’s e-commerce offering strikes a chord as an inherently socially-leaning country with a strong emphasis on democratization, accessibility, equality, health and innovation. The result is that many tech startups in the country are adopting the D2C model to better engage with consumers and meet their current needs.

With this perfect blend of industry trends and ecosystem offerings, Sweden has every chance of being responsible for the D2C unicorn of the future.

Integrating physical and digital

Health and fitness may not be the first sector to consider when considering e-commerce opportunities, but this is where Sweden has been able to flex its social muscle and its inclination towards technology.

for Boxbolen, the offering initially appears in the simple form of a ball at the end of a string that users attach to themselves before seeing how many times they can pat or punch the ball before it “falls”. It’s a concept that has captured the imagination of the Swedes, as well as in the UK and Germany, and a US takeover is now imminent.

“For us, our primary drivers were fitness and fun, creating a piece of hardware that could be used by absolutely everyone in a gamified way,” said co-founder Jacob Erickson.

Jacob and his brother, Viktor, both came from a sporting background, and the hardware alone gained initial traction at home in Sweden.

Victor recalls: “About 3,000 units were sold after the first Christmas. The number rose to 6,000 the following Christmas. And then, the next year, we sold 40,000 units – a number that reached 200,000 last Christmas.”

The reason for the sudden jump? Technology. As a D2C offering with only hardware components, it’s a fun, fitness-oriented entity that can compete with similar entertainment in the market. But the subsequent unveiling of a free Boxbolen app completely transformed the proposition, facilitating community, competition, accessibility, monitoring and sharing aspects.

“It’s still just a ball on a string, but it’s the engagement that consumers crave,” Jacob said. “We’re getting feedback on how the product is aiding almost-meditative activities with friendly competition and a sense of community, as well as physical and mental health.”

Boxbollen’s D2C success is evidenced by the company’s numerous Boxball Open competitions, which have attracted Thousands of contestants At national, continental and global events. People of all ages, genders and backgrounds participated, proving that Boxbolen caught the trend with the right product, at the right time.

Of course, not all e-commerce services are geared toward the core goal of creating fun. The concept of a direct line between buyer and provider holds huge potential for delivering more intimate or sensitive services in a discreet, digitized way.

for mojo, the company is doing just that with its at-home fertility kits for men Again, founder and CEO Mohammad Taha sought to complement a much-needed physical product with a promise of advanced technology to ensure the success of the overall solution.

Taha said: “What we provide is the home sperm test kit, which is completely novel in the field of healthcare which almost exclusively targets female fertility in the form of IVF.

“We did this for two reasons. First, simply because there is a massive need to make such a solution available, given how little the male side of the equation has been explored. But secondly, we also knew that a D2C approach to this problem would help ensure that more men could get ahead of the curve and assess their fertility much earlier in the family planning process.”

The physical kits are supported by Mojo’s team of fertility experts based in its Stockholm and London labs, where patient samples are analyzed and then digitally fed to the user.

“Not only have health institutions traditionally left male fertility out of the testing process, but there’s also a serious problem of men feeling insensitive or vulnerable about getting tested,” Taha says. “Being able to communicate and work through the entire process with a dedicated team of both health and technology professionals, in a way that avoids awkward or scary trips to the doctor’s office, is very attractive to many men.

“With the product we’ve built we can improve the level of accuracy, while also offering a personalized and nuanced service that can only come from more direct, one-on-one customer interaction. In that regard, D2C was our best way to address this important medical challenge.

The next unicorn

Reaching unicorn status is a work in progress for companies like Mojo and Boxbolen, but there’s no shortage of evidence in Sweden that a mix of digital intelligence, trend timeliness and social leanings can lead to global prominence. You only have to look at the Klarna, Skype and Spotify of this world to see what can happen when these stars align.

Both Taha and the Eriksson brothers have leaned on the expertise and enthusiasm that exists throughout Sweden’s tech ecosystem and investment community to get to where they are today. And there is every reason to believe that these platforms will generate more success in the coming years through the sought-after D2C model.

For Boxbolen, marketing partnerships with global celebrities and sports stars are already gaining momentum. But internally, the Focus is very technology-driven.

“We know how important the app was to ensure traction, and 80% of our product development now goes to that technology,” says Jacob Erickson. “It’s an app that unlocks the social and community aspects that people now look for from online brands, and that’s what will help drive our company forward in the future.”

For Mojo, the technology and medical capabilities are already market-leading, but it’s again the way the company communicates and reaches people that has driven its success.

Taha said: “It’s a mix of technology, entrepreneurship and social problem solving that fits very well with today’s world, and it really fits the Swedish style.

“If I wanted to start a company anywhere in the world, I would always do it in Sweden – the investors have been there before, the talent outside the universities is amazing, and there is a constant effort to do things right the first time.

“Therefore, our D2C offering, with this set of features, does not stop at sperm. Soon, our unique and secure AI technology will also be used to analyze the health of all types of biological material, enabling us to create the world’s first “bio bank” for human cell and health data.

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