Arvid Friberg, IE Business School student, started his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 16. Founding and co-founding two different companies before coming to IE University, Arvid continues to seek ways to stand out from the rest.

We sat down with him to talk business and about his plans for the future. He told us how socks, bamboo and the meaning of a billion-dollar idea drive him to continue creating.

Tell us about yourself and why you chose to study at IE University. 

Arvid Friberg, CEO of Pambu AB

I’m from Stockholm, Sweden. I’m a first-year Bachelor in Business Administration student at IE University. Ever since I was little, entrepreneurship was something I wanted to pursue. Obviously, I didn’t know the specifics behind entrepreneurship, but I knew the very basics of creating value in something and upcharging for it. When I was eight and living in Luxembourg, I sold Swedish candy to friends at school—a very simple operation. Soon after, I started importing American candy, which let me upcharge even more. I would say this was my first real attempt at entrepreneurship, and I remember loving it. I find always having some sort of side-hustle super beneficial—not only for the money, but also for the experience. Studying business was an obvious choice for me, and being the big Real Madrid fan that I am, I couldn’t resist moving to Spain. As of now, I have established two companies; I am the founder of BambooBear and the co-founder and CEO of Pambu AB.

How and when did BambooBear begin?

BambooBear was my first company and I founded it in 2018 when I was 16 years old. BambooBear is the first brand in Sweden to market colorful and vibrant socks made from bamboo—yes, the plant. I had actually worked as a door-to-door salesman on commission for a company that sold solid-colored bamboo socks in 2018. It’s funny, while I was going door to door I always wore Happy Socks because of their vibrant and fun designs. One customer actually called me out and said, “Hey, if the socks you’re selling are so great, why don’t you wear them?” I simply answered, “Well the bamboo socks are more comfortable and eco-friendly, but Happy Socks’ designs are just too good not to wear.” His reply essentially established BambooBear: “So, why don’t you just sell bamboo socks with the Happy Socks style?” So, what did I do? Exactly that. I combined the value of bamboo and the successful marketing approach of Happy Socks, contacted suppliers in China, and a month later I had 1,000 pairs of socks to sell. I sold them all in one month. As of today, BambooBear has sold over 4,000 pairs of socks, only via door-to-door sales.

As I was moving to Spain, I knew that I needed to change the business model as I could no longer work weekends to sell socks. In Sweden, if a school class wants to go on a school trip, it is forbidden for parents to give their kids money as everyone should have the same resources to be able to go. So, each class sells products to family, friends and neighbors via a company and then we receive a commission. Being a high-school student, I knew a lot of people who needed money for graduation. I gave each member of my graduating class socks to sell. They would receive 30% of what they sold, meaning if they sold €1,000 worth of socks, they would keep €300. Surprisingly, it worked really well, even better than my previous model. Since moving to Spain, seven graduating classes from my school have used BambooBear’s services, and I have two friends who are currently working part-time in sales. 

What is the story behind Pambu AB?

It’s my second company, co-founded with two friends and incorporated in 2020. Pambu is the first eco-friendly and reusable paper towel roll available in Scandinavia. Made from bamboo, Pambu is seven times more absorbent than traditional paper towels and reusable up to 100 times. It started as a project in the entrepreneurship course I did in my final year of high school. As COVID-19 was spreading through Europe and the US, there was huge hype around buying paper towel rolls and toilet paper in bulk. We specifically looked at paper towel rolls and their environmental consequences. Think about it—you spill water on the table and you grab a paper towel to clean it up, and when you’re done, you just throw it away. Households are using a ridiculous amount of paper towels, so, what if each individual towel were reusable? 

A company based out of the US pitched their bamboo mops and towels on Shark Tank—a must-watch series. After seeing this, and with the connections I made via BambooBear in China, I asked if they knew if someone could supply a paper-towel roll made from bamboo viscose. Two weeks later, I found the same supplier used by the company in the US and ordered 50 rolls to try. The response was great and Pambu—paper and bamboo combined—was born. Currently, Pambu is selling in more than 20 major supermarket stores across Stockholm. In 2021, we are expected to have a website serviceable to the European market, and a subscription-based model to increase repeat consumption. Personally, I really want to create a positive impact, so Pambu has incorporated a “you buy one, we plant one” program. Through this, we have planted over 500 trees in Australia, and expect to have planted 2,000 by the start of 2021. 

What is your next big plan?

Sara Blakely, the CEO and founder of Spanx, is the youngest self-made female billionaire. I listened to her on a podcast and she said, “Everyone in this world has a billion-dollar idea, you just don’t know which one.” People say that many successful entrepreneurs are lucky, but then you look at all their “failed” businesses and that’s where they stand out. I’m not sure what the next big thing will be, but I do have some ideas in mind. At the moment, I want to create as much as possible and learn from it so, when something blows up, I’ll be ready to take the ride. I think that I’ve had a billion-dollar idea—I think everyone at IE University has—but we just haven’t seen it as a business. When I realize what my big idea is, I’ll jump in without hesitation.

Sweden, along with the rest of Europe, was hit hard by COVID-19 last summer. Fika—having a coffee and a pastry with family and friends—is a big thing in Sweden, especially in summer. Due to COVID-19, many fika places were closed in Stockholm, and I noticed a gap in supply and demand. I woke up early every day for four weeks to bake simple, traditional Swedish pastries and bread and then took my speedboat out and sold them for €2.50 each to people on their boats or relaxing by the dock. It was honestly the best summer job I’ve ever had. After the first two weeks, people were sending me messages asking me if they could pre-order. On average, I sold around 150 pastries a day. It was one of those side-hustle jobs—incredibly redeeming and fun.

Are you part of the Venture Lab? 

I will join the Venture Lab in March 2021 and I can’t wait. IE University offers a lot of incredible opportunities for its students and this is one of them. I had a successful meeting with Professor Paris del’Etraz—head of IE Venture Labs—and for every day I spend at IE University, I feel more and more convinced that they really try to assist me in translating my drive, energy and passion for entrepreneurship into something really exciting and productive. 

What do you think is the key to success?

I don’t know—but what I do know is that you shouldn’t doubt yourself. Try out different ideas, what is the worst thing that can happen? The risk to reward for pursuing an idea is just way too good. Find something you feel passionate about and try it. I had no idea what I was actually doing when I was buying socks in units of thousands, but I gave it a shot without looking back, and I am so happy that I did.

Arvid’s success thus far is a strong indication of his future. His entrepreneurial spirit is exactly what the IE community is all about, and we’re excited to see what he comes up with in the Venture Lab.