Michael Bodekaer on technology, start-ups, and Bali


Rohan: I’ve been on an interviewing hiatus the past few months and I am excited to be back! I am sure you will notice the shift from interviewing leaders in the arts arena to technology entrepreneurs and venture capitalists (haha).

Today’s interview is someone I’ve known for a few years now. I met Michael Bodekaer in a RealAcad camp in Singapore. Michael is a very successful entrepreneur who IPO’d a successful company in his mid 20’s. He is an entrepreneur at heart and is currently in Bali working on a technology start-up incubator and creating many ventures along the way. I hope you enjoy the interview..

About Michael Bodekaer

Michael Bodekaer is an extremely passionate tech entrepreneur, focused especially on highly interactive online services and top-notch Mac-like Windows client-server application development using WPF, WCF, Silverlight and C#. He co-founded several tech startups over past 12 years, 2 exited successfully with a nice bonus attached to it. His core skill is rapid execution and product development, as well as a burning desire to develop world-class startups. He loves to enjoy life, travel the world and do extreme sports, as well as read books and attend seminars on NLP and personal development.

Interview Transcript

Rohan: Can you tell us your story, Michael?

Michael: I am from Denmark. I have always been a techie, playing around with computers since I was very young. When I was 16, I started my first software company that would develop management software for clients. I did not know who my clients were exactly but I was just developing the software. I thought it would be great to control computers in internet cafés or restaurants. I was working part time in one of those places and that’s how the idea came about. That company (Smartlaunch) turned out to be quite successful and our product is used all over the world today in thousands of places and by millions of people, which is of course a great adventure!

I was always driven by the concept of creating something new. I would always have three or four different projects going on at the same time. Most of them would fail while some of them would work out! I created a bunch of different companies following the years I started out. My studies were in Mathematics, Finance and Strategic Management.

However at the same time I was always building start-ups. I once did a food delivery system in Copenhagen. I later worked with mobile apps on advertisements – basically a bunch of weird things that did not turn out to be anything big. I failed a lot, I can’t even remember some of them. Essentially I loved spotting out the problems in the world and trying to solve them. Being a techie turned out to be a great skill to have. It allowed me to sit down and code a solution. A couple of days later I would have a prototype of what I wanted to do. I went on exchange to the US as well and lived in Boston, New York and Chicago during my university days. I moved to Zurich to work as a management consultant in McKinsey after that.

I felt like I needed to do something more though! At that time our company was 8 or 9 years old. Suddenly one day, I decided to sell all my companies. I missed the feeling of creating something, the feeling of building something for users. Whenever you put a 100 hours into something you know that would come back to you in a different form. When you are consulting you talk about the strategies and you make slides – at some point I said I want to do all this stuff I am talking so much about.

A while later I decided to move to Bali and I played adventure sports here. And my urge to create companies came back. That’s what I have been doing for a couple of years now. I am working with a tech incubator here in Bali. We have a couple of villas here. A bunch of people have come down and we have built start-ups.


Rohan: What is your current start-up about?

Michael: We are working on 6 different start-ups right now. One of them is really exciting; it’s an e-mail application. It’s trying to enter the windows e-mail market by creating great looking themes, more friendly and intuitive design. I think that is missing from Windows. Somehow, the Mac/Apple market has won app makers who focus on the quality and design whereas the Windows apps makers focus on features and not on so much on design and quality. So we want to try and innovate that!

I think we have the right skill set to do that in our team. MailBird is our first app. It’s super simple and is very intuitive. It’s focused on you seeing your emails and keeping track of your social activities with the best experience. It was very much inspired by sparrow who did a great job on the Mac market. It was taken over by Google later for about 25 million dollars, I think. The Windows market in nine times as big as the apple market. So we aim for a huge opportunity there! We finally launched.

(Kickstarter link for Mailbird is here)


Rohan: What’s the plan? Is Bali long term?

Michael: Yes definitely. Every year I am here I start to love it more and more! It is a super nice environment here and the cost of living is also very low. It creates a whole room for other opportunities and it helps my productivity tremendously. I personally don’t enjoy laundry, grocery shopping or cooking and we have managed to automate that process here. So it works really well!

So yes I will definitely stay here on the long-term. That does not mean I would not travel. I enjoy travelling and there are so many more places to explore. For a lot of projects that we are working on, we are building up the teams from Indonesia itself. Collaborating with the locals is a great approach. They are focused and artistic and great to work with.

We are working on a project similar to Mailbird. Then there’s Project Getaway where once a year, lots of entrepreneurs from all over the world come together, and live together for a month and work on their own companies. We are also working on a very exciting project called Start-up city.

We have a really cool concept of a start-up community here. We want to make that available to thousands of people. We are currently working on creating a huge locality, probably two or three soccer fields sized. We are building a small city there. People would be living and focusing on building companies. Primarily tech start-ups but any kind of start-up combined with access to local resources. We are also working on some entertainment games. We want to make education fun and engaging. It’s hard to compete with games like Warcraft. So what we do is bringing university and high school education to life. We have a bunch of high level universities partnering with us on this.

We are working on a lot of exciting projects. And I guess the main aim for us is to make it available to as many people as we can.


Rohan: What have been some of the defining moments here?

Michael: There have been many of them. I think having the experience of creating a start-up where you get users that appreciate your work is the best you can get. It’s amazing when you can see how the stuff you create make other users happy and makes them more productive or profitable. That experience in itself makes me focus my efforts on being an entrepreneur. That was one of the most defining moments. It keeps coming back to me whenever we built something and we talk to our users. Especially with Mailbird – they get their arms down and they go ‘its so cool’. I am not trying to sell it, it’s just a very cool experience. We obviously put tons and tons of hours into creating it. Getting the reward back is worth all of the effort. Even the money at that point is not the most important thing.

I started listening to audio books at a very early stage. I like to listen to them when I am driving or just instead of music. That is something I still do a lot around personal development. And it has changed my life in many ways. The personal development coaches have definitely helped a lot. I have a personal development coach and a business coach as well. I find them very useful.

I would try and connect with people who have done things in their life and that helps me improve mine. To this day I focus on learning new things and trying to develop my skills in any area. After a while it gave me a belief that there is nothing that we cant do. It opens up the whole world to you. If this is what I want to do, then I’ll figure out a way to do it. That really changes your whole perspective on life.

Consulting was a big defining moment. It was my first real job. It was a huge eye-opener. It helped to confirm that I needed to create something.

The last one has been coming here to Bali. The culture of the Balinese people especially – the way you can enjoy anything. It’s not about getting the biggest car and the biggest house. The way people live their life here, the way everything is simple and how everyone is friendly and smiling. That changes your perspective on life.

One more thing I would encourage people to do is to try and throw themselves into situations where they would be most uncomfortable. Whenever I get into an uncomfortable place, I go I shouldn’t do this – but that’s when I switch over and say I should do this. It has such a huge impact on you!


Rohan: What are some productivity hacks that you use?

Michael: The concept of productivity is huge for me. I studied math and optimization in School. So I am tuned to tweaking everything to the optimum. In general I read a lot about productivity and it is about finding the best thing that works for you. It’s very individual oriented. Do you talk with people or work on your own to focus? All those things define productivity. I spend 10-15 minutes every morning planning my day and deciding the items to work on for the day. I consider the purpose of those tasks. Not just what I am going to do but WHY I am doing it as well. Usually what I realized was that when I find the answer to why I do something, I find a much faster way to do it or an alternative way of doing it.

I believe in the 2-minute rule. Whenever I can solve a task (especially emails) that should take 2 minutes I do it immediately. By now there are so many things I just do automatically. I work in pomodoros. You decide what the goal at the end of 25 minutes is and work towards it. In the 5-10 minute break I usually think of what I did in the past 20-25 minutes and wonder what I could have done better.

Exercise helps me a lot. Just 5-10 minutes in the morning. We also train here with the others a couple of times week and that’s fun as well. Eating habits, reducing the amount of unhealthy food everything helps. We have staff here that serve us food 5 times day. I think that helps a lot too. It does not directly affect productivity but helps keep your mind fresh.


Rohan: What is your advice to different people who lead? What are thoughts on leadership that you would like to share?

Michael: When I started reading audio books I realized there was a lot about me me and me. At some point I decided to switch my goal from improving myself to helping others improve their lives. My mission became to inspire others. Obviously, I still wanted to get better but this expansion of circle helped me a lot. It helped me thinking about how other people work and learn. I put my emphasis on helping people if they want to of course. That ties to caring a lot about other people.

A favourite book, talks about 6 different styles of leadership styles. It’s not about one particular style. It’s more about being capable and adjusting to the right situations. It’s not about being that one person, its always about trying to fit into the problem and then capturing the situation. It’s about being in the moment, looking out for people and looking for the hidden signals. That ties with empathy as well. Emotional intelligence helps you get far!

That interview was a lot of fun, Michael. Thanks so much for taking the time!

Real Leaders Team