Meet our alumni, Henrik Thorsnes

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An example of how to set up business in Hungary as a foreigner 

You are from Norway, you have already completed your studies at IBS and you are still in Hungary? How did you choose to come to Hungary in the first place? How did all these happen?

I had some friends who were studying medicine in Budapest, and I had one other friend, also from Bergen who had investigated IBS, so I just thought why not try it. I did not know much about IBS at that time.
I finished IBS in 2013. My major was business studies, a bit of everything. I really liked change management studies and marketing these were my favourite fields. In 2013 I went back to my home country, I wanted to work and collect experience.

You set up some businesses after you returned to Hungary in 2014.

Yes, my first business was connected to Christmas. It was at the Christmas market in downtown, in Kalvin tér.

Where did the idea come from?

Well, I just talked to a friend who organized Christmas market, and he could get me a place for a good price. I was selling waffels, roasted almonds, things that I missed form home and that might not be so usual for people here. To be honest this was not the greatest success of my life. I invested a lot of work and did not get too much pay-off. But it was a good experience. It warned me the factors that you should pay attention to. It was seasonal, it worked just for a short period of time. I learnt how to pay attention to all details, like decoration, the payment system, the goods themselves. There were plenty of small details that made my stand different from the other ones. One-by-one the details were not important, but together they changed the total picture, and made my stand less desirable than the others, and this proved to be crucial. I learnt from my own experiences, and now I know how important the small details are and this is what makes a difference.

How did you continue?

My next idea was to set up a fitness centre. During my IBS years in Hungary it was always difficult to find a good fitness centre in Budapest, both my friends and me, we all experienced this, especially in the city centre. You either go to very expensive fitness places to have a decent place to work out or you go down to a basement gym with no air, dirty and 30 year old equipment if you want to pay a normal price for fitness. I saw some possibilities in this field. I started it with a friend of mine one and a half year ago. We carefully studied how we would like to do it and then we started. We also had to find the money to start the business with.

I guess the equipment are rather expensive. How did you raise the money?

Yes, this type of business requires a very high investment up-front. I do this business with my friend who is from my hometown. We were trying to collect the money in the course of half a year. We just went to everybody whom we could imagine could and would be willing to invest in our business. People were rather sceptical, we had a lot of “no”-s. It was also difficult that we wanted to set up this business outside of Norway, in another country. We tried to get money here in Hungary but it was very hard because we do not have a record here. So the banks in Hungary were not an option for us. Neither did we have that many connections in Hungary. It was easier to go to Norway. After a long journey to raise money we found some guys that wanted to invest in us. They helped us not only with their investments but also to find the right equipment among other things, so with a lot of know-how, which make it easier to start the centre near to Oktogon square, in Aradi street.

    

What do you think the strongest features of your Number 1 Fitness? What can you offer to your customers?

Nr1 Fitness is a completely new centre, freshly renovated in a top class office building in the middle of the city. I don’t think there is many other gyms in Budapest with this much natural light and view from all parts of the gym, the whole gym is also at the street level without any galleries.
Another strong feature is that we are open 24/7, our members can easily buy their memberships online and then they get a personal code which is giving them access to the gym as much as they possibly want, all day, every day. Our equipment is brand new, and our prices are the lowest in the city centre, despite our high quality.
I am confident that we are delivering the highest value for the price our members pay, and to be able to keep the quality this high in the future too, we have decided to put a membership roof so it won’t ever be too crowded in our gym.

Who are your customers?

They are not those hard-core bodybuilders. They are more those who want to stay healthy and fit, but might have other more important priorities in life, however they see that staying healthy is a big part of living a good life. At this moment its mostly students and the corporate workers in the neighbourhood, and a good 50-50 % mixture of Hungarians and internationals.

I assume you like it here. Do you have plans here?

Well, yes I really like the city. I have good friends, quite a few from IBS. Of course, I do have plans. My big ambition is to have a big fitness chain in Budapest.  I see much potentials in Hungary especially in the health sector. Also, I think more and more people in Hungary pay attention to fitness and staying healthy, more and more care about their health.

How do you and your parents, loved ones feel about your being away?

Well, actually I can go home more often now than at the beginning when a new business requires a lot of work, a lot of time to invest.

Are you yourself into fitness and working out?

Of course I am! That was the trigger to open this business. To be honest, since I launched Nr1 Fitness, I have worked out less... which of course is a bad thing, working out gives you more energy even for work. This will change now!