Welcome back to Million Dollar Listing New York! I like this episode on 250 Bowery because it reminds me why I got into real estate to begin with -– to set records, create the records, and have people talking. So this week I thought I would tell you who I really am. I mean, where I come from. You might have asked yourself while watching the show -- how did I get here? What did I do before I got into real estate? And where is my drive coming from? I think it's more interesting to use this forum to tell different stories than just to commenting on what you just saw in the episode… Anyway, here it is:
OK, you know I grew up in Sweeeeden, between Norway and Finland in Northern Europe, which is far away from the big and glitzy Manhattan –- and, yes, it’s very cold and dark during the winters. It is not Switzerland (some Americans confuse the two). And there are no ice bears walking around on the streets -- just a bunch of tall, blond people with blue eyes who love vodka, dance the frog dance on Midsummer Eve (intoxicated by the former), build safe cars, design inexpensive furniture you put together yourself, roll out stores with inexpensive clothes all over the world, and write catchy pop-music you love to hate.
I have a three year older brother, Sigge, who is a bestselling writer of books, plays, and films. He is married to Malin and together they have three beautiful kids. They live in central Stockholm and every time I’m with them (it’s never too often), time stops and I’m in bliss. Like this past week out in Fire Island where Derek and I, again, discussed having kids of our own. More on that later.
We travelled a lot when I was young. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I was fortunate enough to see so much at a young age and call myself a citizen of the world. I actually never really felt Swedish, and in fact, could not wait to get out of Sweden as a teenager. It was much later when I longed to be back, and when I started Eklund Stockholm New York, my own brokerage there.
The most important trip of my childhood was when my father exchanged his business class ticket that his job had purchased him for three coach tickets, and took me and my brother to New York City, 8 and 11 years old. I was instantly hooked by the city’s energy, neon, and vertical living. There was a dark side to Gotham that I just loved. I could smell the danger, the poor, the rich, and the gaps in between. I believe there are certain impressions in life, so strong that they are etched into your neurons in your brain forever and actually change that chemical soup permanently. This was one of those. The first commission check another. And then finally falling in love a third.
We climbed the Statue of Liberty when it started to rain very hard and we had to run without cover from the boat in the Financial District just south of the Twin Towers to hide in a steak house with red leather seats and cigarette smoke. Just like the movies, I thought. I have to come back! Live here one day! Make this my own success, create it and grab it. I decided I would not sit around and wait for success to just happen: I had to go far away to actually get it. You know, the best way to predict the future is to create it.
In school I was a social kid. Involved in theater early on –- can you tell? -- partly because it runs in the family (my grandfather was in several of Ingmar Bergman’s movies and my grandmother was an actress back home, and the Swedish tabloids followed their every step in the 1950s and '60s). Popular wasn’t a word that was really used in socialist Sweden, but by American measures I was popular and had lots of friends. When my parents got a divorce (I was 12) and we moved into the city of Stockholm from the suburbs, something changed: I started to become very competitive in school. I had a need to be number one in everything and studied hard to impress the teachers.
I can now recognize the shame I felt for knowing, without ever acting on it, that I also liked boys. And to hide that shame I overcompensated in popularity and excellence in school. But when the popularity isn’t genuine, because it’s an act, it gets cold quickly; and I knew I had a lot of searching ahead of me.
After high-school, I applied to Stockholm School of Economics, the best school in Sweden and one of the premier business schools in Europe. Only 300 students each year are accepted and I was one of them. But I still didn’t feel accomplished. Stockholm School of Economics was young men and women at dinner parties, dressed up, most from good families and most certainly destined to be bankers. JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley brought sandwiches in the auditorium and presented a future I wasn’t really interested in. It was 1999 and I was about to throw everything everyone around me wanted away and start over. At least that’s how it felt.
18 years old at the time, I was dating my beautiful girlfriend Simone and got my own apartment. By coincidence, I happened to meet Maria, who had an idea to build an Internet start-up with a customer relationship management software. She needed a go-getter with contacts to help her find seed money. That summer Maria and I wrote the business plan in the computer room at my school and went looking for a seed angel, whom we found and to whom we sold 50% of the company before it really existed. Two years later, we had over 40 employees. I was 22 years old and the CEO, also the youngest person in the company. And I had succeeded to gather the former Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, my father, and several other high-profile and wealthy business men on the board. We got the front page of most Swedish magazines, and even a write-up in The Financial Times.
Working that hard, night and day, kept my emotional inner life in control. I was the perfect entrepreneur, they said. A risk-taker, an aggressive salesman, and a tough negotiator -- with a strong sense of intuition. At first I had to sell only an idea, then a company that didn’t exist and finally a software still being programmed that when finished later, had flaws. The Internet was suddenly on everyone’s agenda. The New Economy was everywhere and Swedish media made me the IT-wiz kid, placing me smiling in a Hawaiian shirt in front of the former -- and not smiling -- Prime Minister. But as the stint Internet bubble eventually started to burst, everything that I had worked so hard for was falling apart, as were a lot of start-ups around me.
It was the year of 2000, I was 23 years old, and it was still many years before Facebook and Twitter were founded.
Things in the Internet bubble had to happen so quickly; the pressure to grow AND be profitable at the same time was contradictory, and the investors and media pushed us to chase more money -– or go bankrupt. I remember taking a cab home to my monster loft, and I cried. Cried because I was so tired and had all these people’s futures (and their families) in my hands and I didn't have enough real experience in a world that seemed to be falling apart all around as the Internet bubble burst.
I also had to tell my father, my brother, my mother, and my friends that I started to be interested in boys, too. My family was supportive and told me they loved me regardless. More on all of that in a later blog. I sold my shares of the Internet company I had started just two years earlier and got out.
Instead I got involved in the music business by founding my own music publishing business. I managed eight song writers, built a studio and started pitching songs to major artists. Once again I had to sell something that really didn’t exist –- a hit demo song. I traveled to New York and London, trying to chase down the executives at the record labels and their A&Rs. Eventually we got a #1 hit on the Billboard Latino, in Japan, Sweden, and Germany with different acts.
ADD? Maybe. I do have a hard time sitting still. Finally I decided to leave Sweden for New York by myself.
New York was magical to me and it still is. Just walking Fifth Avenue down in the heat of the summer made my heart beat. I felt at home, instantly. Everything was possible. After a few weeks in the city, I applied to NYU’s real estate salesperson class, the two week accelerated class. I passed the school test, and then the Department of State test, and searched Craigslist.com for anyone who would hire me. I found a small boutique firm in Chelsea that did. That firm was JC DeNiro, founded by Robert DeNiro’s uncle. I sold $50M worth of real estate and was nominated by Rookie of The Year by the Real Estate Board of New York in my first year.
Fast forward 10 years to me pitching 250 Bowery with all that experience, I still feel like I am that young kid from Sweden. That same kid who wanted to move to New York. And get into real estate. To decide to be #1. To start my own company back home. And film a television show on Bravo. To get dogs. To buy a summer house. To go find love and get married, and film the wedding for you to see. To have kids. To expand the business, again. To travel the world. To live with no regrets.
Thanks for watching, reading, and being so loving. Your love on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and in your e-mails is incredible. I never expected so much love from so many people. It's crazy, I think the love I get from people is magnified because I have found love myself. The best way to predict the future is to create it; but this I neither predicted nor created.
See you next week, with only three episodes left -– and my wedding. I hope you enjoy the end of this season.