Tiny Island Maps | Serial Entrepreneurship x Local Craftsmanship

Alexis is a Swedish serial entrepreneur based in Hong Kong. He’s the business whiz and the creative mind behind Squarestreet, Squarestreet KAFFE, and most recently, Tiny Island Maps

We caught up with him about his latest venture, Tiny Island Maps, and picked his brain on entrepreneurship

Hey Alexis, thanks for catching up with us. Can you tell us what Tiny Island Maps is about?

Hong Kong, Community, Craftsmanship and... maps

How did you get started with Tiny Island Maps ?

Like anyone would. I wanted to do something related to my new home (since 11 years) and suddenly it struck me that I could take something utterly practical and often overlooked, and turn it into something beautiful and at the same time meaningful. After all, we may live in Hong Kong, but it is our neighbourhood that we call home.

What let you know that you were on the right track?

Feedback. Interest. The usual stuff. I also felt it myself before I even sold the first one. I just made sure that not only would the artwork speak to the customer, but the product itself had to be perfect as well. It’s easy to print digital on cheap paper, but I decided to go in the opposite direction, and make it hard and costly. But I think people can feel it.

Did you face any setbacks? What were they?

None. Apart from never having enough time to make the maps I want. I’m lucky to be surrounded by very talented artisans that have helped me bring this project to life.

How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

No idea. I’ll let you know once I get a chance to sell without COVID-19. It may have had an impact, but with little comparison it’s hard to know.

What do you wish someone told you before you started Tiny Island Maps?

That grey maps don’t sell?

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

  1. Just Do It.
  2. Don’t think you need a 27” super MacPro, copyright on all your products, a flashy office, 5 staff and VC funding… you don't. You just need a half decent laptop, a phone, a credit card and a camera… and some skills.
  3. Stop listening to people who aren’t encouraging you, they are speaking from their own fears (and are already jealous that you’re even considering following your dreams).
  4. HK is the ultimate entrepreneur paradise.
  5. Remember, when you listen to other peoples advice, and read books about how to get started, and how to do everything, they all leave out the most important thing, your product. If your product sucks, rethink it.
  6. Making shit is easy. Selling is hard.
  7. You don’t know everything. Get help. (But do as much as possible yourself.)
  8. Be wary of gaps in the market, they might be there for a reason. Meaning, if no one is doing it, then maybe you shouldn't either.

From what I’ve seen, it looks like Tiny Island Maps is truly Hong Kong based operation – from working with local cardboard suppliers to calligraphers. Tell us more about that.

It’s just amazing isn’t it, the amount of artisans that we have in this city. When the west has basically sold out and moved everything to cheap labour countries, Hong Kong retains so much craft knowledge, even with such close proximity to one of the worlds largest producers of cheap stuff. It’s an honour to work with these people, they make it happen more than me, I just do my part.

What skills or mindset do you feel has contributed to your success?

For the record, success for some people is a Ferrari, and for some it’s being able to do what you love. In my mind I’m successful, but it won’t seem so to everyone. 

  1. Supreme confidence in my own ability, for better or worse.
  2. To see behind. Once you know how everything is made and how everything works there are no longer any boundaries, nothing holding you back. Ordinary people look at products like they come from some magical place, once you know they don’t then you can make your own magic.

If you had the time to start another business? What would it be?

Don’t get me started. I want a bigger Swedish cafe, and I’d love to do kids toys, and maybe an electric motorcycle and … yeah, whatever.

What is your favourite thing about living in Hong Kong? 

Everything is possible in Hong Kong. There’s no mould. No standard. There’s only failure or success. There’s only try or don’t try. Eat or starve. Make money or go home. It feels closer to human nature.

What part of Swedish culture do you wish you could import to Hong Kong?

Critical thinking. Logical assumptions. A Do-it-yourself sensibility perhaps. Swedish people are really quite creative and extremely good at just doing stuff themselves. Hong Kong is catching up and young people are getting better, actually much better than when I first came here over a decade ago.

Are there any local businesses you would like to shout out?

Broken Fingers - Amazing hand-made leather goods

Shady Acres - Swedish owned bar

Squarestreet KAFFE - My cafe

Tiny - For their excellent HK miniatures

Conspiracy Chocolate - Pure dedication to chocolate

Alexis has generously shared an exclusive discount code with us. Use code TINY852 for 10% off site-wide! Code is valid until June 15, 2020.