When Dan Paech looks back at how he went from enjoying a well-paid, comfortable job in Britain to running his own startups in Stockholm, the Australian seems as surprised as anyone.
“I was living in London and had been working as a health economist for almost a year and a half. I think I always had that itch to try something else, but I was worn down by the grind of working in a stressful job and the long commute,” he says.
The 31-year-old was no stranger to adventure, having previously moved from his native Perth to South America and eventually the British capital – after going there mostly on a whim to surprise his sister on her birthday. And so, he persuaded his company to let him transfer to Stockholm.
“It was supposed to be only for a few months, but I think they were worried that I would not be coming back,” he says. “And I think deep down I knew I wouldn't.”
This is where it all started.
Beating Stockholm's notoriously tricky rental market (if you want to score a first-hand lease, you had better be prepared to wait around for, on average, eight years), Paech moved into Hus24, which advertises itself as Sweden's first co-living space for global entrepreneurs.
“A friend of a friend who was working for Spotify was going back to Australia and let me rent his room there. It was an amazing place to move into. I immediately found a network of like-minded people and I knew within the first few weeks that I wasn't going to leave,” he says.
Hus24 was set up by Swede Lisa Renander to help young startup workers find a place to live in the city. By its very nature, it also functions as a co-working space, where residents are actively encouraged to pitch ideas to each other and help one another out on that first, rocky stage of setting up a business.
“It gave me so much. There were so many smart people who I could bounce ideas off. Without that I probably wouldn't have taken the path I have,” says Paech.
It was here he found the inspiration, courage and encouragement to first test one of his business ideas. Combining his passions for travelling and running, he set up what would later grow into Run With Me Stockholm, a company focused on guided running tours, helping tourists experience the capital while staying fit.
“To me it seemed like a good idea that people travelling might want to meet a local and go for a run, but one of my housemates suggested I should first test the concept by creating a Facebook group, and see if anyone was interested. It didn't work as I'd intended it to at all at first, but started becoming a place for local people to meet up instead.”
“Revisiting the initial idea some months later, I created a downloadable audio tour which would guide runners through Stockholm, but realized that you lost out on the human interaction.”
Around this time Paech, who had also become involved in a separate project with a friend tapping into Sweden's fashion scene by creating designer leather accessories (called A/S Collective), decided to quit his full-time day job.
“It was hard, but made easier by the people in the house supporting it. I had a comfortable job, so it wasn't an easy decision, but it seemed like good timing – I didn't have kids or someone relying on my income, so it felt like the moment was right,” he says.
Reflecting on the experience, he adds: “I think it was a combination of the house I moved into, but also the supportive wider environment of the city. Sweden encourages people to try new things and take risks. (…) I felt supported to take the risk. Everyone has ideas but the hardest part is to actually try.”
Paech in his Run With Me Stockholm t-shirt. Photo: Private
In May last year, the new and improved version of Run With Me Stockholm launched its first paid tour, this time with a live tour guide – Paech himself, showing two Swiss tourists around his adopted city.
Five months later he was up to half a dozen tours a week. This summer, with the help of another five guides, he is able to offer running tours in English, Swedish, German, Spanish and French.
“I think it's getting more common not to consider a holiday a holiday from your daily exercise routine. And I enjoy showing people around because I love the city. You forget how beautiful it is – the Stockholm effect wears off a bit over time – but tourists are blown away.”
Paech is currently in the process of launching his next venture: The 100-Point Challenge, a combined quiz game and walking tour of Stockholm, still in its early stages. The premise is simple: participants get given a set of questions and challenges that step by step take them through the city.
“I thought it would be nice to do something else for local people and I realized that a lot of my friends don't know a lot about the city they live in. This game tests your knowledge, but it's also fun. We've got a lot of questions where you go 'argh, I should really know this',” he laughs.
For Paech, the game is partly the thrill of trying something new, partly a way of giving something back to Stockholm, the capital that changed his life and helped him find his entrepreneurial gene.
Juggling several projects at once, and still doing freelance health economics consulting on the side to keep the money coming in during those first startup years, the busy Australian is currently working more than 60 hours a week. But he's enjoying the ride for now.
“Stockholm is such a contrast to London. Even though the climate is different, the Swedish mentality feels quite close to the Australian mentality. I feel like I fit in with Swedes,” he says, when asked about his long-term plans. “But I miss my family and friends in Australia. I usually go back at Christmas – it's the ideal time to leave the cold and go chase the sun.”
But, having moved out of Hus24 and into an apartment in the suburbs with his girlfriend, is he staying for good? Nothing is set in stone, but yes, it is looking increasingly likely, he admits.
“Just don't tell my parents.”