‘Create something you love’: liquorice king

In our new feature series, The Local looks into a successful entrepreneur's life - the story behind their successes, their major challenges and how being an entrepreneur changed them forever. This week, Sparsh Sharma talks to Johan Bülow, the founder and namesake of the successful Lakrids by Johan Bülow brand.

'Create something you love': liquorice king
Johan Bülow, the 30-year-old owner of Lakrids. Photo: Submitted
Johan Bülow dreamt of elevating liquorice to the level of a gourmet experience. The 30-year-old native of Svaneke, a town on the island of Bornholm, loved liquorice and was convinced that a whole new world of pleasure lay hidden inside the crude and fibrous liquorice root. Bülow wanted to see licorice incorporated into sweets, savoury dishes, baked goods, beer, etc.
The Local caught up with Bülow to discuss his interesting journey from cooking in his mother's kitchen to having a state of the art factory, from selling in a shop to exporting to 15 markets globally. 
How did you come up with this idea? 
My vision was to share the magical qualities of the mighty liquorice root and combine it with carefully selected ingredients to create this natural delight for everyone to indulge in. I had long wondered why no one else had yet become aware of the magical properties of the liquorice root. The reason became clear in 2007 when my girlfriend Sarah and I did a lot of online research, borrowed some space in my mother’s kitchen and threw ourselves into a number of experiments. 
The taste of recipes proposed by online search engines had little to do with fine liquorice. We found interesting, expensive candy books from England, which were not successful either. We then made calls to all of the major manufacturers of liquorice and requested assistance but were turned down. 
After facing several ups and downs over 14 months, we opened our shop to tourists in 2007. We have not looked back since then. 
Lakrids by Johan Bülow offers a variety of liquorice-based products
Lakrids by Johan Bülow offers a variety of liquorice-based products. Photo: Lakrids by Johan Bülow
What were the initial challenges? How did you overcome them?
Recipes for liquorice seem to be among the world’s best kept secrets. In the beginning, Sarah managed to get what appeared to be a recipe from a product manager but the proportions were not suitable for preparing it in a simple kitchen pot on a stove. We had worked for twelve hours every day for several months together. 
At times, it was difficult to keep up the faith and positive spirit. We had to open our liquorice shop in time for the tourist season on Bornholm. The logo 'Lakrids by Johan Bülow', the bags and the description of the gourmet experience were all ready, but the liquorice was still far from ready to present to the public. Time was running out.
At one point, our faith in the magic of liquorice had faded so much that we began to cook traditional candy. Then my older brother talked sense into me. Further research led us to a liquorice factory in Sydney. The owner agreed to travel to Bornholm to serve as a mentor. He did his part but there were still more challenges. That's when Tage Kusk, who had worked with liquorice in the past and had heard about us, came into the picture. Tage is a master of ingredients, and his colleague Wolf Kusk is an expert in cooking techniques. For three weekends in a row, the four of us worked very hard. We finally succeeded with the first recipe, which was made with gluten-free rice flour. Shortly afterwards, three other varieties were ready: sweet liquorice, liquorice with ginger and liquorice with chilli.
The company now serves 15 markets globally.
The company now serves 15 markets globally. Photo: Lakrids by Johan Bülow
How has been the journey so far?
The journey has been hectic and full of fun and has brought a whole new level of knowledge every year. We are able to build on the foundation of previous years. We still make plenty of mistakes, but also learn from pushing the boundaries.
We had our first employees in the summer of 2008 and went from being a small, handmade production to a factory. In the fall of 2009, we went from one summer store to our first real retail store and expansion abroad. In 2011, we expanded the number of employees and went from serving two or three markets to 15. A new state of the art factory started in 2013. The first flagship store outside Denmark, in Oslo, Norway, was opened this autumn.
How has becoming an entrepreneur changed you, personally?
I believe in my intuition and gut feelings. Having a team of close to 100 people at the age of 30 means I have to take my work very seriously and lead from the front. Becoming a father in 2012 changed me equally.
Going into unknown territory blindfolded will always bring a lot of challenges but if the spirit is high and you aim to win, almost any challenge can be overcome. When you taste success and get a good response, you raise the bar and are willing to go the extra mile again.
Any other personal reflections and/ or message to budding entrepreneurs? 
You face challenges with paperwork and administration, which limits your focus a lot. Many startups are seldom run by administrators, which was also the case with me. Having a good network to handle these things helped us not get in deep trouble with our work. Overcome challenges with hard work and a good network. Don't forget to ask for help.
Meet your customers and try to promote/sell your own products. Create something you love – it will make the journey much more fun. Have fun while you do it, hard work that is fun is easier as you push for the summit.

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Ten ways to improve your chances of finding a job in Denmark

Job searching in Denmark can be a daunting and lengthy process with many hurdles to overcome. The Local spoke to Kay Xander Mellish, author of 'How to Work in Denmark', for her tips on submitting a successful CV and application.

Ten ways to improve your chances of finding a job in Denmark

CVs in Denmark often have certain aspects of layout, presentation and content in common. By writing a CV that sticks to some of these recognisable customs, you may improve your chances of catching the eye of a potential employer.

1. Length

“Keep it to one excellent page, or two if you’re more senior. I’d say if you’re aged 30 and under, one page will be enough. Only add the jobs that are relevant. Employers don’t want to hear about that restaurant server or babysitting job if it’s not relevant to the role,” Mellish said.

2. Format

At the top of your CV, a paragraph describing your experience, skills, education and character is a common way to lead into a CV. This text can be adapted depending on the job you’re applying for and how you want to present your skills.

“Add three adjectives about yourself that you can support with an example, rather than ten adjectives with no story. For example, say you are innovative for this reason. People don’t like hot air in Denmark,” Mellish said.

Aside from the profile text, chronological lists of qualifications, relevant employment history and other relevant experience should be kept brief enough to fit the one to two pages.

3. Show your personal side and a photo

It is expected that applicants include a section about their hobbies, even family situation on their CV in Denmark, as well as a photo, to give a sense of who they are as a person.

“Danish employers are interested in you as a human, more so than employers in other countries so include information about yourself, including your age and your hobbies.

“Choose a good quality photo that is not too serious but shows you looking friendly and approachable,” Mellish said.

4. Story telling

“Think in terms of story telling”, Mellish advised. “Pure letters and numbers don’t mean a lot to employers in Denmark, they need to know what projects you’ve done, what role you played and what kind of person you are through your CV.

“So rather than writing ‘I have these grades’, it’s better to say ‘I worked on this project, it took this long, I achieved this'”, Mellish said.

5. Hit the ground running

Mellish called this “plug and play”, where you show you will slot right into the company and get going with the role.

“When employers are reading your CV, they want to know what you can do on day one of the job. Sell your ability to solve someone’s problem. You need to give the impression you can add value straight away.

“In Denmark the average length of time in a job is two and a half years, because you can take your pension when you move, so employers don’t want someone they need to spend time training,” Mellish told The Local.

READ ALSO: Five tips for writing an effective Danish CV

6. Teamwork

“Group work is very important in Denmark, more than individual achievements. So talk about your teamwork and how you worked with a group to produce a good business result. It shouldn’t be ‘me, me, me’ – that’s a turn off,” Mellish said.

7. LinkedIn

“People in Denmark love LinkedIn so you need a fabulous LinkedIn profile with a good picture. Before anyone calls you for an interview they’ll have looked at your LinkedIn profile.

“In your profile, include the storytelling, explaining the projects you’ve worked on. If your job involves a uniform, I recommend wearing it in your LinkedIn photo so people get that impression of you right away. Your background photo should also be work-related, not rainbows or puppies. Use it to tell the story of who you are,” Mellish advised.

8. Unsolicited application

This is when you approach a company or department you would like to work for, without a job being advertised. The Danish term for it is uopfordret ansøgning. 

“Many people make contact on LinkedIn and ask to meet for a coffee, where they chat and rather than pitch for a job, they ask if the person knows anyone looking for someone like them. Danish employers welcome this and many people are hired this way,” Mellish said.

Another way to network is to join a union, Mellish advised. They often have career events but can also help read your contract when you get a job offer, or help with any problems in the workplace. 

9. Ring the recruiter

The phone number of the hiring manager will often be in the job advert. Mellish advised finding a quiet place to ring them from and spending ten to fifteen minutes asking some good business questions.

“This also helps you work out if you might want to work for this person,” Mellish said.

“Send your CV within 24 hours of the phone call and mention you spoke to them in your application,” she added.

10. Patience

“On average it can take six months to find a job in Denmark. If it’s under this, you’re lucky. If it takes a year, it’s not you, it just takes a long time because employers are looking for someone to fit into their team.

“I wrote 100 letters, I got ten responses, three interviews and one job which I had for eight years,” Mellish told The Local.

“Danish employers are not always good at getting back to you. If you don’t hear anything, just keep applying for other jobs. If you sent an application on June 1st, you could send a follow-up email on June 15th, then you’ll have to leave it and move on,” she advised. 

Kay Xander Mellish’s book ‘How to Work in Denmark’ offers both job-searching advice and tips on how to succeed in the Danish workplace.