From smoker to corporate gazelle in the 1TP8 world

It took a few years to go from working in a Netto store to leading an award-winning company in the e-cigarette and harm reduction industry. But Michael Fredén has managed to combine a passion for business with his interest in vejpning - and now he's hit a home run.

Michael Fredén is not alone in running, one of Sweden's largest vejp companies. He has two partners in the form of a cousin and an old friend - Rasmus Björk and Daniel Leis. But he is still the one who laid the foundation for the company and has become the face of the company in the form of the CEO. 

In a way, it all started at my grandfather's bakery in Lidköping. 

- I've always been interested in entrepreneurship because my grandfather had a home bakery in the city that sold bread to various shops. I spent summers there practising and other things and thought it seemed cool to run something of my own," says Michael on a visit to the Vape store in Gothenburg. 

Wanted to find alternatives to cigarettes

Michael himself made the relatively common journey from cigarette smoker to vejp user quite early on. He was also into flavoured hookah, so when he came across e-cigarettes, it was a perfect substitute. But it didn't happen right away. 

- I wanted to find a healthier alternative and ordered e-cigarettes online. I don't quite remember what year it was - but it was before you could find pod systems and bigger machines. But back then I didn't think they worked very well or satisfied the need," says Michael.

This is where his friend and one of the other co-owners of Vapes, Rasmus, comes in. 

- He came to my house and showed me an e-apparatus and e-juice that he had and I just felt: wow!

The entrepreneurial spirit took over

The story could have ended there. No more cigarette smoke and a healthier alternative found. But Michael, with his entrepreneurial spirit, saw a bigger opportunity than that. 

- It felt like something new, and if it can work for me, it can work for others. So I asked Rasmus if he wanted to help start a business and we also called my cousin Daniel Leis who just said "hell yes!", Michael laughs.

The trio has stayed together ever since, and according to Michael, the specific mix of people is a major contributor to the success of the project.

- We synchronise so incredibly well. We have different ideas, but together it's so damn good. I'm probably the one who takes the lead in running projects and looking at future developments. Rasmus keeps track of finances and personnel, and Daniel is a fantastic programmer and designer and is the brain behind the website," he says.

Early adopters of e-cigarettes

Vapes was registered as a company in 2014 and launched in 2015 when Michael was 24 years old. 

- We did what you do when you start a company. Checked out the market and tried and tested until we found a range that was appealing to both ourselves and our customers.

There were a few other players in Sweden, but not so many compared to today. Vapes was early on the scene and was able to sow in new soil. 

- We didn't know how big it would be, but we wanted to do it our way and as well as we could. We still felt that we could be one of the leading companies and that it would work to run it," says Michael.

The importance of a good working environment

Vapes does not produce its own materials such as juices or machines, as some other players in the industry do, but has focused entirely on distribution and sales. Michael says the recipe for success is instead about putting customers first.

- To have the world's best customer support and to listen and care about the customers, to be there if they have questions. In the company in general, we are very concerned about each other, the staff and having a good working environment. And that also spreads to the customers.

From e-commerce to physical stores

Vapes started with e-commerce, but today has a physical store at home in Lidköping and one in the centre of Gothenburg. 

- It was the classic case of starting in the closet of an apartment. Then we got our first small premises in a basement when we were still running entirely online," says Michael Fredén.

The reason they took that extra step to the first physical store is because customers seemed to expect it. 

- People started to find us there in our basement and came and wanted to shop. "Oh ... we only have an online shop" was the answer, but yes - then we got a premises in Lidköping and opened our first shop.

"Scary to leave the small town"

Gradually, everything went on. Stock and the number of customers grew and in 2019 it was time to open the store in Gothenburg. 

- It was cool but also a bit scary to leave the small town and go to a bigger one. But it turned out well and feels great.

In addition to its two stores and e-commerce, Vapes also wholesales and sells to other stores. 

Awarded by Dagens Industri

"DI Gazelle" is an annual prize awarded by the magazine Dagens Industri to Sweden's fastest growing companies that fulfil certain criteria. Among them are a net turnover exceeding SEK 10 million and at least ten employees, according to the latest annual report. The company must have at least doubled its turnover over a four-year period and increased its turnover every year for the last three years. Vapes met all of these requirements and became one of the 2023 winners. 

From secondary school directly to work

For Michael Fredén himself, all this means that he has gone from being an ordinary wage labourer to a successful business leader.

- I went to high school and then I started working straight away, as I'm a more practical person. But it has been cleaning, newspaper delivery and the first permanent job after that was working at Netto. I thought that was really fun - meeting customers and providing service. 

Double job as an entrepreneur

He later moved into industry, as a press brake operator in sheet metal followed by the insulation industry. 

- But at the end I only worked weekends, and Monday to Thursday I worked on building Vapes. In the beginning it was a side project for all the partners, then it became a double job. But it was possible in those days," Michael laughs.

- Then came the big day when you had to leave your secure employment and throw yourself out there. It was really scary in the beginning, but at the same time it was a big deal," he continues.

"Feels natural"

Going from a fairly standard 'grind' to an award-winning CEO may seem like a big step to outsiders, but Michael himself is comfortable with the progression.

- It feels quite natural. But you learn things all the time and are never fully trained. For example, I found it quite difficult at school, but when I take an interest in something I learn quite easily.

More order without a ban on flavours

What's around the next corner for both Vapes and the industry is hard to predict. 

- It is not an easy industry in that way. When there was a vote in parliament on a possible flavour ban, it was probably tough for everyone. You don't know what the future will look like. I spoke to a colleague in Denmark, where they have introduced a flavour ban, and the problem that arises is that you open up a black market. So I think it's very positive that, at least for now, we allow flavours in Sweden. There will be more order and clarity that way.

Make the most of the situation

But Michael and the rest of the Vapes team don't go around worrying about the future. 

- No, you don't know anything. It's fun while it lasts and you have to make the best of the situation that arises. There will probably be changes, but that always happens.

Facts: Michael Fredén and Vapes

Michael Fredén

  • Born: 1990 
  • Family: One son 
  • Lives: In Lidköping 
  • Does: CEO of Vapes 
  • Unexpected info about Michael: "I helped Coca Cola report bugs in their flash games as a 10-year-old, on the web. Or I was probably 13, come to think of it..."

Vapes(.se) - Vapes International

  • Vapes is run by three friends, Michael Fredén, Rasmus Björk and Daniel Leis.
  • Has Sweden's largest range of e-cigarettes, e-juice and accessories.
  • Registered as a company in 2014 and launched in 2015, initially only as an e-commerce site.
  • Currently has two physical stores. One in my home town Lidköping and one in Gothenburg.
  • Awarded the DI Gazelle prize in 2023 by Dagens Industri magazine.

Do you know someone who has a story to tell? Someone who quit smoking with the help of snus, nicotine pouches or e-cigs? Someone who has turned their passion for harm minimisation into a business idea, inspired others or is just someone you want to highlight? Do not hesitate to contact the editorial team!

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