One day in history: Isabella Löwengrip
Guest editor Petter Stordalen about Isabella Löwengrip:
‘When I first met her, I was struck by her enormous drive and energy and since then I have been impressed by how Isabella constantly reinvents herself and how she is happy to engage in the wider debate on society as a whole’
On 7 March 2018, Swedish entrepreneur Isabella Löwengrip was named the “Most powerful
businesswoman of the year” by influential Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärer. While for some this may be seen as a high, Löwengrip’s career, which began 12 years ago when she was just 15 years old, is still very much on the rise.
“Receiving that award felt like a validation, not just of myself, but of the strategy I’ve used to build my companies and brands,” Löwengrip says. “It was big for me to hear ‘you’re doing the right thing.’ They’ve followed my journey as an entrepreneur, seeing me start 12 companies in 12 years, seeing my failures, trying new things and never giving up, which has always been important to me. I guess I’m seen as ‘powerful’ because I’m reaching out to so many people with all my media channels.”
The self-made entrepreneur is now 27 years old. At the age of 14 she used her alter ego Blondinbella, during the nascent days of blogging, as a launch pad for a career that she hopes will eventually lead to her becoming the next Estée Lauder.
It’s a lofty ambition! But the signs so far look promising. Her company posted a turnover in excess of SKr70m last year from an organization that has branched out into areas such as investment, shoes, champagne and a much-lauded cosmetics brand. But in everything Löwengrip does, the same core target group is always prioritized.
“Our primary focus group is women,” she says. “Typical venture capital funds don’t tend to target women in the same way, so perhaps as a woman, I can see potential opportunities before men do. We try to form our own ecosystem and use all of our channels to help each other. For example, if we launch a new beauty brand, we can call on our own tech and online teams to help grow the brand and increase marketing and distribution. Our other main strategy is that it is vital for all our companies or brands to be globally scalable.”
Löwengrip’s global ambition has led to her blog being translated into several languages. It also inevitably means that she’s often on a plane.
‘I guess I’m seen as powerful because I’m reaching out to so many people with all my media channels’
“I spent 150 days traveling last year. I love to go to Marbella in my spare time, as well as New York and the French Riviera. I can work in most of the cities I travel to, so it’s hard to relax. But I did actually have my first proper vacation in many years recently, six days in the Maldives without email!”
Listening to her describe her daily schedule, it’s hard to imagine Löwengrip being so switched off, although she says she’s comfortable with the choices she makes in that never-ending search for the perfect life balance.
“I always like to go fast, to build an organization that can grow fast,” she says. “There’s something changing every week here. Traditional companies often regard change as a bad thing. But for me, it’s important to embrace it. It’s always better to run fast, make a mistake then go back and then continue.”
Delegating is also a large part of Löwengrip’s philosophy. “I like to create ‘intrapreneurs,’” she says. “Employees who feel they own their own projects and make their own decisions. When it comes to delegating, I’m the best ever.”
This is probably vital if she is to achieve her ultimate ambition of emulating Estée Lauder’s prominence in half the 35 years it took the American cosmetics icon.
Löwengrip in part attributes her extraordinary drive to a difficult and unconventional childhood. “My parents had me when they were 20. I could relate to Pippi Longstocking in many ways – there was never anyone there for me, so I could do what I wanted. By the age of 12, I realized that I needed to come up with a plan for the future. In that situation, 99% of kids would misbehave. But I was already old in my soul, taking care of my four siblings. You have to grow up fast.”
And grow up fast she did. Löwengrip left home at 14 and started working in a café after school. As well as the stress of working hard, she was dealing with being bullied at school. By way of escape, she created Blondinbella, a fictional blog character who led the kind of exciting life the real Löwengrip could only dream of.
As the blog grew, she recognized the need to create a network. And at the age of 15, she began spending her monthly student grant on buying lunch for a stream of successful and influential people such as politicians and journalists. She offered them advice on building their channels in what was a fast-developing media landscape.
At 16, Löwengrip decided to turn the blog into a business and started employing someone to look after her online life while she continued to study.
As Blondinbella grew as a brand, though, Löwengrip was changing as a person. And the more the media became interested in her, the more she realized it was the “real” person behind the mask that people wanted to get to know. Ironically, she needed to be more transparent and write about her own life and experiences.
Löwengrip’s own personal journey engaged her existing audience who came along with her. She also picked up more followers along the way. Today, she can reach over 1.5 million well-targeted readers who have followed her busy career blossom, the birth of two children (now two and four) and marriage and divorce. In short, she has gone through many things that her readers have too.
‘It’s my mission to inspire and empower other women, especially in places where it’s not so straightforward’
“There are still people who think all I do is post selfies and pictures of my lunch, but most of my readers can relate to me,” Löwengrip says. “They’re often a similar age and have the same issues – the same problems with sick kids and issues with balancing their jobs with life at home. In me, they see a mom and a friend, a young woman who has built things from scratch. Hopefully I can help empower them.”
“Empower” is a word Löwengrip uses frequently, and it is an idea that forms, above all others, her personal and professional drive.
“I will hold a lecture for 44,000 women in October in Saudi Arabia who are planning to start businesses of their own,” she says. “In Sweden we’re very equal, but that’s not the case everywhere. So it’s my mission to inspire and empower other women, especially in places where it’s not so straightforward. I’m in a fortunate position with my channels to be able to reach out to many women and really make a difference – that’s when I love my life the most.”
Published: April 6, 2018