Meet Fabian Bolin – Founder and CEO of WarOnCancer. Fabian sat down with and told us about his journey; going from investment banking, to becoming a rising movie star, to being diagnosed with leukaemia, to being where he is today. Read the full interview to hear his thoughts on career clichés, how he turned a cancer diagnosis into social entrepreneurship, and why future-fearing 20-year-olds should take advice Steven Spielberg. And much more!
Occupation: CEO of WarOnCancer
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
How did you end up where you are today?
I started with a BSc from Stockholm School of Economics, after which I moved to London and started working as an investment banker at Citigroup. However, I always had another dream – to work within film and acting. I had previously taken a short film course in LA, but chose business as a kind of backup. I initially followed by backup plan, but in February 2014 I quit my banking job to follow my dream. I took a one year acting course and then started working with acting in London. I did 30-40 different productions, ranging from small commercial gigs to larger parts. In the spring of 2015 I was casted in two American film projects, which enabled my to apply for an American work visa. Unfortunately I never got to record those films…
At that time I started to feel increasingly tired, exhausted and weak. One month later I received the news; I had been diagnosed with cancer. I moved home to Sweden. The questions were many: How will my life look? What will happen to my job? Food? Exercise? Many questions were unanswered and the ones I got from the Swedish health care services were really bad. I wanted to come into contact with people going through the same thing as I was, so I started a blog; “Fabian Bolin’s War on Cancer”. The blog got an amazing response and quickly received a lot of attention from people around the world, and I began to understand the value in storytelling for something like cancer. Through this, the idea for “waroncancer.com” was born. To build a social platform for patients, close-ones, and survivors with focus on mental health empowerment and storytelling. A Facebook for cancer.
Have you always known what you wanted to become professionally?
I have always wanted to become an entrepreneur and during my student years I co-founded an events business where I had several employees hired full-time whilst attending courses at the same time – a chaotic time to say the least. The acting was rather something that I’ve, in hindsight, realised was an outlet for my need of attention. A need and strong urge to be seen. I think the same need came into play in my decision to become an investment banker. I wanted to be highly successful.
Why? We grow up in a society where we’re pushed onto a type of ”career highway”. We see what everyone else is doing, what society expects us to do and what others think is cool, rather than taking our own path. You need a real strong sense of self and self-perception to resist this. Society is going off track, mainly owing it to social media and individualism. But I’m sure we’ll be back on track soon.
What’s the biggest cliché you’ve encountered in your career?
In my case, it’s rather the other way around. I’ve realised that most of the things I thought were bullshit were actually true.
Take start-ups, there are millions of handbooks addressing how to found a company, and the first step always tends to be ”decide on your company mission and vision” as well as to ”set your core values, what you stand for and what your goals are”. Initially, we ignored most of the above, but we’ve realised, after having done these things two years too late, that it really helps to be able to clearly articulate what we stand for and what we do right from the beginning.
The second cliché that turned out to be absolutely true was the fact that it does take far more time and effort to build a business than you can ever imagine. It’s hard, hard work. I can tell you that. Hence, you really, really need to believe in your idea.
As an entrepreneur, what’s your take on work-life balance?
Well, I exercise every day. But that’s pretty much it, haha. I don’t have much work-life balance at the moment. We work all the time and I check my email like 40 times a day. My weekends though, they are pretty sacred to me. And I’ve recently started seeing someone, which really helps me putting away work during evenings, so that’s a tip!
Describe Fabian in three words.
Visionary, impatient, determined.
Do you have any role models?
Elon Musk, definitely.
What’s to like about him?
He’s a disruptive force for change who doesn’t follow the conventional rules within the marketplace. I mean, he’s even created a whole new market which is aerospace flights. I love that about him and wish to follow in his footsteps.
What are the most important factors when choosing a job?
The career ladder. The opportunity to rise in the corporate hierarchy, get more challenging responsibilities and grow with the role.You also want ensure that your employer acknowledges your individual competence, and rewards it. Last but not least, you need to be passionate about what you’re taking on. You might not land your dream job straight away, but you need some type of positive feeling for what you do.
If you would change career path in the future, what profession would you like to try out?
Something related to social psychology. I love reading about behaviour psychology and to challenge people’s idea of a free will. Personally, I believe free will is very limited. Most of our actions are already decided by past events, hence what is it left for us to control? I would love to research this, but I doubt I would fit well into a science lab. They would probably throw me out.
What’s your best piece of life advice for a confused 20 year-old?
Don’t stress about your future. Unsure what you want to do? More or less everyone feels that way and you will figure it out with time. Also, there’s a big difference between being 20 and 30, something you’ll learn along the way.
My next advice is to ”listen to the whispers”. It’s the title to a talk by Steven Spielberg which really speaks to me. He talks about people constantly worrying about dream jobs, career, and happiness. But with all of today’s noise you’re easily misled. I was, repeatedly. Spielberg claims that if you really listens to the whispers within yourself, you will eventually be able to crystallise what you want to do with your life. When I was younger I felt strongly for entrepreneurship. But then there was noise that came in the way. And studies. And investment banking. And more noise. Listen to the whispers.
Finally, you are the product of all your previous experiences, so just because you’ve changed career paths doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake. The reason I got a role in the famous Swedish movie ”Snabba Cash” was because I set them up to shoot it at Stockholm School of Economics where I studied. The reason it went well within acting was because I had studied business, which rewarded me with understanding how I could work with myself as a brand.
Fabian’s top five…
- Series? The Office (Note: The British version). I love David Brent.
- Destination? That I’ve been to: Berlin. That I dream of: Rio.
- Podcast? P3 Documentaries where I learn about historical events. Preferably true crime events. It’s been less of this lately though, I try to listen to guided meditations on my spare time to keep my mind clear.
- Phone app? Citymapper
- Spotify playlist? My own playlist, EMPR. I mainly listen to indie pop and synth.
Photo credit Erik Lindvall / sapir.se