This young jetsetter has done more since graduating from college than most of us do in a lifetime: Founded two companies, lived on three continents and mastered the art of productivity (hint: sometimes it involves playing hooky in a cafė).
Photography by Julianne Yang
Hey Gregor. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m one of the founders and a developer at Pixelcabin, a web-application engineering company. I spend a lot of my time in Oslo, Norway. And I also spend a few months of the year in Hong Kong. I grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland.
What does your company do, and what’s your role, exactly?
We create apps and e-commerce sites, mostly for fashion companies. My role is part developer, part designer, part project manager. More and more stores are selling online now—our team designs and builds solutions for every part of that process.
Which neighborhoods do you live in when you're in Oslo and Hong Kong?
In Oslo, I live in Tøyen, which is close to downtown and an up-and-coming area. In HK, I stay in Sheung Wan or Happy Valley. Sheung Wan was traditionally a trading area, but now there's a mix of old shops and cafes, restaurants and galleries. Happy Valley is a little more out of the way, but it's a friendly neighborhood and nearby, you have a sports complex inside a horse-racing course.
What brought you to Hong Kong?
I'd always had a feeling that I wanted to live in Hong Kong. I’d visited only once, but it seemed like a pretty special place. I visited again in early 2014 to check out how it would be from a business perspective. After that trip I was set, and moved there shortly after.
I feel like some people don't fully get what a "developer" does. How would you explain it to somebody outside the tech world?
Even some of my family members think I work for the CIA or something [laughs], since they don't fully understand it. A potential client will come to us wanting to create a new platform or app for their company or brand. They tell us what they need it to do, and we then figure out how that can be achieved, and how long and how much it will cost. If the client is happy with the proposed plan, I work with the team in designing layouts and coding the site. I'm "front-end," which means I write the code for things you see on the page.
What sets you guys apart from similar companies?
Our thinking is that the classic “creative agency” model—with multiple layers of management—doesn't really work that well nowadays. Especially not for us, given that our team works remotely and doesn't have one central office. We have really strong communication between the team with apps like Sqwiggle and Slack, and consequently find it easy to work remotely with clients, regardless of where everyone is based.
Even some of my family members think I work for the CIA or something, since they don't fully understand [what a developer does].
How did you learn how to code?
When I was 12, I bought a book and made some pretty terrible websites. I kept it going on and off, picked up some freelance clients at university, and then did some work for a startup before I moved to New York. I did some coding in the evenings in NY and realized I should really be doing that as my day to day work.
What's one of the favorite projects you guys have done?
We recently re-launched the Man of the World site, which was a really fun project. We really like the mix of editorial and vintage products they’re showcasing. It's cool when people mention a brand or site out of the blue, and you can say “Oh, we did that!”—this has happened quite a few times with MOTW.
Seems like there’s great creative energy in Scandinavia right now… What's Oslo like?
The region has a strong design industry, which, I guess, invariably leads to it having a “cool” image. But I’ve learned that good design is about so much more than just how something looks. It’s also about solving a problem—while also being nice to look at. Now that there’s more interest from around the world in sustainable and minimalist design, I think Scandinavia is getting more attention….
What’s your favorite cultural place in the city?
The Oslo Opera House. It was built in 2007 and is very special—over 38,000 square meters. It's great to visit and walk on top of the modern slanted roof, and watching opera there can be surprisingly affordable.
Favorite day trip?
Either a hike to one of the lakes in the area, or to a nearby island, like Hovedøya, to relax on the rocks and swim in the (cold!) sea. It really feels like you've left the city, but it only takes half an hour to get there.
As a young founder, you've been able maintain a lot of freedom and flexibility. How did that evolve?
When I was studying at university, I had a small clothing label, which I eventually sold and went to work for one of the people who'd bought the company. He had only ever worked for himself, and had a flexible work schedule. I found that very inspirational and motivating.
What's one of the best things about running your own company?
The travel! I think people associate traveling for work with larger companies, but in those cases you'd often fly into a city for maybe only two days and then out again. I feel lucky to be able to actually live in different cities, and find my own ways of thinking being challenged regularly.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
I remember an old-hat Scottish entrepreneur coming to speak at my high school back in Edinburgh. His one piece of advice to a room full of restless teenagers was, “Grasp every opportunity.” (Imagine it in a strong Scottish accent, it's pretty powerful!) I do think back to that. Opportunities have been offered to me, and I think I'd be in a very different situation if I hadn't acted on them.
What advice would you give young people looking to build a flexible balance between work and life?
The main thing is to understand your most productive environments and working hours and capitalize on those. Taking an hour during the day to go out and read a book in a café or exercising can sometimes be a way better use of time than "organizing your inbox." For me, exercise is so important for my productivity—during the week days it might just be 30 minutes in the gym, and then on weekends zoning-out on a long bike ride
What's next? Besides Pixelcabin, what other goals are you working toward?
I see Pixelcabin lasting a long time, but I would also like to have a hand in other companies / projects in the future. If a company has someone that works in different disciplines for different companies, everybody benefits. I have some side projects with a couple of creative friends in Hong Kong, so maybe one of those will develop into something more! It would be great to have a company based in Hong Kong since I'm very fond of the city and culture there.
Which shirt did you wear in the photo shoot for Wool & Prince? What did you think of it?
I wore the Navy Gingham and Blue Gingham wool shirts, which are pretty perfect for Oslo. They keep me at a good temperature during the dry, warm summers, and then they're also great under a down jacket in the winter for meetings. I was also in New York recently, running around the city meeting clients in the sweltering heat and the Navy Gingham was my go-to shirt. It didn't let me down! I like wearing it with navy slim chinos or black skinny jeans. It looks great under a jacket with no sweatshirt, too.
Gregor is 5'10", 150 lbs, and wears a size S.
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