Nicolai Birch & Benjamin Rasmussen from Fauna
November 2, 2021
BY PATRICK VESTER ENGEL
Meet Nicolai & Benjamin:
Master’s degree students in ITKO (IT, Communication and Organization) at Aarhus BSS
Co-founders of Fauna Aps where they are developing a digital platform for veterinary clinics and their customers. The goal is to digitize the many administrative and communicative dynamics within the sector
Met each other during their years of studying their bachelor’s degree and founded Fauna in 2020
Benjamin works with business development and customer relations, and Nicolai is a data analyst responsible for website development
How did the idea of becoming an entrepreneur arise?
Before we got together to make Fauna, we both had our own webshops and had both worked as entrepreneurs beforehand. This was before our master’s degree studies where Benjamin had studied innovation and entrepreneurship and Nicolai E-commerce. Nicolai comes from a family where his father worked as a veterinarian, so he had some insight into that world. We eventually crossed paths during our studies, and we figured out that we could combine our profiles and backgrounds to take up our project with Fauna.
We had a few ideas, separately and together, before we eventually settled on Fauna, which means “The animal kingdom”. Our brand and mission are higher quality experiences for pets and pet-owners alike. We were clear on wanting to become entrepreneurs, as it just sounded like a more appealing option for us given our profiles. For Fauna specifically, Nicolai’s background gave him knowledge on how there is a lot of complications and stagnation in the veterinary industry, especially a lot of mess with non-digital communication and paperwork for things like vaccines. We hope that our project will create value for stakeholders beyond our immediate customers. There is a lot of environmental thinking in our project as well, because we hope to reduce the mountains of physical paper that comes with veterinary services, if we can digitize it. We also hope to affect the illegal animal-trade, which is currently the third-largest illegal market in Europe, after drugs and guns. We can have some impact here with our service, which will reduce miscommunication and forgery of papers.
How did you get started with your entrepreneurial journey?
We met each other while studying at Business Academy Aarhus, where we began defining the project. Here we eventually got in touch with “GROW” which is the school’s startup incubator. There, we got a taste of the whole startup world and the community you get to know, which is very similar to what you encounter here in The Kitchen. Being in a community for startups really inspired us to pursue our entrepreneurial dream, and we actively began combining our study life with our entrepreneurial ambitions.
We eventually heard about The Kitchen, and as we had to depart from GROW when our bachelor’s studies ended, we quickly signed up for the Founder’s Gate-program before we enrolled in our master’s degrees. Now we have been here a little more than a year, working on our startup. Our next goal is to improve our infrastructure and customer relations with clinics across Denmark. We are right now getting ready to test our product in several clinics, so we have a better idea of what we need to develop or improve further, before we start expanding.
What has been the biggest challenge in the process?
When we got together and shaped our business concept, we had a lot of broad ideas, and we then had to find the right team, who we could work with to get our idea up and running. As the two of us are still students, there is also a lot of coordination between that and work in the startup. As a result, we are an organization where we communicate virtually with each other quite often. It takes some time to coordinate everything correctly, but we are managing. And our team has many different competences that make us able to solve different problems as we go along.
A positive challenge that we have had to deal with is that we have big ambitions, and as a startup you work with limited resources, so we constantly need to think in creative ways in deciding what the most important issues are and how to best beat them. Since we are developing a new product, we are also often working in unknown territories, and it makes it more difficult to predict what the next challenge will be. You need to test out lots of things yourself, like figuring out prizes or deducing the value your customers need. And we have to be open to feedback, so we can rethink our product as we go. But that’s part of the process for entrepreneurs to make mistakes, and you learn from them. What’s important is that you don´t let it get to you, and plan to move on.
What does a typical workweek look like in relation to combining your startup with your studies?
The workweeks can look completely different, depending on the period of the year you are in. We feel very lucky with already having an office for the startup, so we have a base to work from. There is a lot of moving back and forward between here and our school, but having our studies at the same time as our work with Fauna has been helpful to us, because the two often flow together. We sometimes have a class, where we can take our learning directly from the classroom into the work. And it flows the other way as well, such as when we have a class on business, and we can see that we already tried the theory in practice.
Our workweek is split between our studies and Fauna. Then, when we have breaks or holidays from university, we devote our full time to it. Depending on how you look at your studies – as a full-time thing or not – working on a startup can be a bit stressful. The clear relation between our studies and our work with Fauna help us keep our motivation strong. We learn things that help us be entrepreneurs, and our daily work on Fauna makes studying what we do feel more fulfilling.
How do you use your academic skills as an entrepreneur?
There hasn’t been a single class we have taken during our master’s studies that we couldn’t bring directly into Fauna afterwards. This was also why we picked the study that we are in, as we wanted the digital edge to the business perspective. One good example of this is learning about software development, which for instance let us understand what our technical lead does and how we can best support him. So we obtain a holistic view on how digital businesses work, and we can apply it or seek out the support we need to move forward. We often sit in a lecture and can draw direct parallels to what we do in Fauna, or what we can try out and improve. We have technical classes on business-development, and we learn project management. All things we can use in our startup work. Project management has been an especially helpful tool for us because it helps us frame and direct the work. It is also a winning experience when we have a lecture where we learn something in theory, and realize that we already tried it out in practice in the startup.
A challenge in the way we bring our knowledge into the business can be that we run everything ourselves. So there is no boss or teacher who knows the lay of the land that can guide us in deciding the next goals or figuring out how to accomplish them. Here, it is nice to get a frame of how to do things, which our studies sometimes provide us. Even if you occasionally disagree with the textbooks on how to best do things.
Where is your startup today, and what are your dreams for the future?
We feel that we have entered a really exciting phase. We have gone from having just a concept to nearly having real businesses, if we complete certain work soon. In two months, we have a product we can start to sell, market and improve upon. We know this, because we have already found the first veterinary clinics that want to try our service, so we know we have hit something right in terms of what value we can give our potential customers. There have been many instances in the past where we THOUGHT our product was ready, only to have to take a few steps back and polish our product further. But we have done this so many times now, we feel good about the next attempt.
Our next goal is to get our service into clinics, and then have them try to have their clients use our app. However, we have a lot of insight into the veterinary industry and know how dynamic it can be, and we are prepared to move back again, if it is necessary. But we think we have hit the right spot this time.
Our dream is to expand from our current group of clinics, to over 50 in 2022, and hopefully, even be able to go international by adding clinics in other parts of Scandinavia. We know that those are some big ambitions, but they are goals that we are confident in reaching.
Your best advice for other students who are considering becoming entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea, and it relates to a burning passion of yours, give it a go. There are few times you have both the time and economic security for trying out entrepreneurship, as while you are studying. And you additionally have lots of helpful resources and tools, like an environment for trying new things and options for finding a network and consultation to get started.
Try not to consider all the negative sides of entrepreneurship or let them scare you. You can leave it just as quickly as you enter, and no work is wasted work. Doing entrepreneurship can shape what you get out of your studies, and even shape how you plan your time as student, as it did for us. There is never a “good time” to start being an entrepreneur, but while you are studying, the insecurities are a smaller problem than they will be if you try it later in life. So don’t think too much about it, try to get a feeling of how hard you are willing to work and just do it, because you will grow from the experience no matter the outcome.