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Developing Successful Brands: Finding the Why
In this interview we talk to Victor Thoft about his job at Stæhr, his biggest challenges developing brands, his past work at renowned companies, the impact of the current pandemic on communication, and the way Mailbutler helps him increase his productivity.
Victor Thoft is the Creative Director at Henning Stæhr A/S, a danish wristwatch distributor which also produces its own watch brands. Today he will talk to us about his job at Stæhr, his biggest challenges developing brands, his past work at renowned companies, the impact of the current pandemic on communication, and the way Mailbutler helps him increase his productivity.
Victor, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview today! We’re eager to find out more about you and your work life. Let’s start talking about Stæhr.
Could you tell us a little bit about Stæhr, the company you’re working at?
Yes, sure! Henning Stæhr A/S is a third-generation family-owned wristwatch distributor. We are located on the outskirts of Copenhagen and have been here since 1949. It’s a small company with 32 employees, no glass ceilings and it’s a joy to come in every day. We distribute a variety of watch brands such as Casio, G-Shock, and Oris to name a few in the Nordics. We also have a small selection of our own watch brands the oldest dating back to 1952.
Sounds great! And what is your job at Stæhr? What are you responsible for?
I joined the company roughly a year ago in a role to lead the contentious growth of our in-house brands and the development of brands and products. Last December we launched our latest brand “ODE” and our first collection of watches “The Statesman”. ODE draws inspiration from the best from our past to create graceful and versatile everyday watches for the present.
The Statesman collection is definitely stunning. What’s the biggest challenge when developing a brand?
I believe it’s finding the why of the brand. What’s the reason to exist, what do you bring to the table, how are you different from your competitors. From my previous experiences, I worked within brands that already had established this, so it provided a firm ground to build on top of. With ODE we started from scratch, it was a long process that involved our external partners, a lot of thought and I believe the outcome is great.
With ODE we believe in the power of time. Because the truth of the matter is that as time is passing, we have a choice; to simply watch the minutes tick by or be aware of their meaning. Because the things we spend our time on shape us into the people that we are. In other words, we hope our watches will help people make the most of their time. I also think the pandemic helped a lot of people realize humans aren’t build to set at a desk 8 hours a day and binge a new show on Netflix every week.
Absolutely. We are definitely not wired to sit at a desk all day, so why is this a job you’re enjoying?
It’s a job that provides a lot of creative freedom, we have so many ideas, some good, some bad, mostly good ones, and the process from initial conceptualization to having that first sample in your hands is quite long, but it is so fulfilling having that first golden master and reviewing what ultimately will be the final product.
Also the team I work with. Everything we do is a team effort, and our way of working would properly drive most managers in large corporations crazy, as it’s quite unstructured we have a rough timeline and know which boxes to tick and when to do it in order to keep things rolling and keep timelines on track but our overall approach is to just create and discover the best possible outcome during the process. It is a highly stimulating way of working, discovering what’s possible and what’s not, what works and what doesn’t.
Of course, creative freedom and teamwork are key for productivity. You also worked at Bang&Olufsen, another Danish company, and Apple before. I am sure there are some valuable experiences you made, working in those well-known and recognized companies. Could you tell us about them?
Sure! I worked as an external consultant with Apple early on in Denmark and when my co-workers from Apple made the switch to Bang & Olufsen they asked If I would like to join them I didn’t hesitate. They have been the company a year before I made the shift and we all worked within the B&O PLAY business unit of the company, at the time it was a small company of maybe 10-15 people. After stints in the various departments, I ended up in the Product & Design team working with the VP of Product and Design on Product Collaborations within the art and fashion segments.
It was a wild ride and I learned a lot. I think what I benefitted most from, was learning how a corporate organization works, not necessarily something I prefer, I am a dreamer and a corporate environment is hard to dream in, especially within a company that was having a hard time financially. I also got to learn how internal politics affect the business and the decisions being made.
I believe if you ask some of my old colleagues they will properly tell you I am quite blunt, not the best quality to have in a corporate environment, but then again I believed some of my comments in meetings throughout my time there, sparked conversation and I believe that certain fights I choose to pick maybe affected the overall idea of where we should be heading.
I also learned how important it is to be aligned. I believe we in the design team had a very different perspective of what was possible and why we engaged with collaborations, while the executive team had other ambitions. We saw it as a way to introduce the brand to new consumers and they maybe saw it as a sales activity.
A big part of my job revolved around kicking down doors to other brands and artists, and when you suddenly find yourself in a position where a lot of hours have gone into meetings, ideas, and mood boards and you have to pull the plug because a minor thing in a business case doesn’t make sense, doesn’t feel good. So my most valuable learnings must be to not waste somebody else’s time.
It looks like it was a very enriching experience for you. In general, what is work-life in Denmark like? Do you think it’s different from other European countries?
From what I have been told we are quite lucky in Denmark. We have a lot of regulations in place to make sure that people’s work-life balance is fair. But I think it’s about which company you work for. I have some friends who are working as consultants and they make a lifestyle out of it. I am not sure how efficient they are, but they work long hours and love to talk about how long days they have, and how much it sucks.
Here where I work, the team is small, so it is super easy for us to adapt if one of our co-worker’s situations changes so it doesn’t inflict too much disruption to others calendars, etc, and we are generally very good at planning, something mail butler helps us out with.
You’re clearly lucky in Denmark! Is there another country that you, as a brand and product developer would be interested in working in and why?
Honestly, I don’t see myself outside Copenhagen. The quality of life here is so high and while there might be interesting opportunities outside Denmark, I got what I need here. If I had to choose, I believe it would be a tie between either Paris or London. I have a bunch of friends in both places. I love Paris for the beauty and the food, but I have deeper ties with London as my girlfriend spend the better part of 2018 there as an exchange student. I visited frequently, so even though it sounds super cheesy, her small room in a shared townhouse next to Kings Cross Station quickly became “our” second home.
That’s true, there is no place like home. Now let’s talk about communicating. In your current job, how is the internal and external communication organized? Has it changed during the pandemic?
It changed a lot during the pandemic. As I mentioned earlier we are a small team, decision-making was just asking the guy or girl on the opposite side of the table. Obviously with working remotely, this has changed a bit, it’s still just asking but my co-workers and our external stakeholders have all increased their digital communications, meaning we have to schedule our calls and emails. Especially with the recent lockdown and shutdown of schools, it’s been a challenge for some, but I think it is manageable. But like everyone else, I can’t wait until things go back to normal, and I really hope they will.
I hope they will too! You use Mailbutler to increase your productivity. How does Mailbutler help you to deal with a lot of emails?
A lot of my emails are with external people, designers, manufactures, and other stakeholders. Some in Copenhagen others on the other side of the world. I am a heavy user of scheduling emails so I know when to reach them, and mitigate the risk of ending at the bottom of their inbox. I also really enjoy having an insight into the people with whom I e-mail a lot with. I plan my emails, it might sound like a waste of time to some, but it helps me with being super-efficient. I hate when people ‘forget’ to reply to an e-mail, I used to do this as well, but honestly, I just get shit done with Mailbutler.
I’m glad to hear that! And is there one Mailbutler feature you’re enjoying the most?
I briefly touched upon it above, but two things I am stunned by how much I enjoy are the attachment reminder and the message and contacts table. I create tasks and notes to emails and most of my work I get done from Apple Mail. I don’t understand why Apple hasn’t acquired you guys yet, your extension is what makes Apple Mail great, keep doing what you doing!
Thank you so much for the interview, Victor! All the best to you!
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