Panion is a keyword-searchable social app that connects like-minded people through common interests, goals, values, and experiences. The idea for Panion was conceived in 2015 but became an official Swedish company at the beginning of 2018. The company was founded by former New Yorker, Melanie Aronson, who previously worked as a filmmaker, artist, anthropologist, and designer in NYC before moving to Sweden on a Fulbright scholarship.
Throughout my life, my mother has always reminded me that I am complicated. “Nothing’s ever simple with you,” she would exclaim, when I would share the complications of a new relationship or how I have fallen through the cracks of yet another bureaucratic system, when trying to move to a new city or country. And she is right! Somehow I have always attracted complexity, but in doing so, I have honed my skills on how to solve or wiggle my way out of it as well.
Looking back I wonder if being faced with out-of-the-box scenarios for much of my life, has somehow prepared me for my accidental journey to becoming a start-up founder, because, as you know, running a business is far from simple.
In the last year and a half of running Panion full-time, I have stepped outside of my comfort zone more times than I can remember ever having done so in the past. This is coming from someone who has lived in 7 countries, traveled to almost 45, most often by myself, and who has worked as a freelancer for almost 10 years. In fact, since Panion became a real company, I have had to perpetually live on the edge of my comfort zone, to transition from artist to businesswoman, from freelancer to CEO and manager, learning to do it all in an entirely different country and even language.
Sometimes you do not choose to start a startup, it chooses you. That was the case for me, when I moved from NYC to Sweden in 2014 on a Fulbright grant to research integration at the height of the migration influx into Europe, for a documentary I was working on.
During my research I encountered so many people who were struggling to integrate, suffering from loneliness, and unsure how to start their social lives again from scratch. I had moved to Sweden with a partner, and despite having each other, we too struggled to make friends in our new home. So my brain involuntarily started to devise a solution, as it always does –you should see my endless list of problem-solving inventions and tech ideas, but this time I actually started to talk about it.
The more I talked about my idea for Panion, the more people held me to it. People started to call asking when Panion would be finished, because they were in desperate need of the app I had planned to create. What I realised was that talking about my idea also allowed my idea to evolve, with every new conversation, Panion became less of an idea and more of an actual plan. While people had warned me about the risk of sharing my idea, and actually one startup did, in fact, steal part of my idea to integrate it into their app after our meeting, sharing my idea with others still felt worth it. I wanted to build a community-sourced interest-sharing app, so what better way to plan for that than ask my actual community? There were so many elements of the idea that needed to be thrashed out and with each new perspective, the idea soon became a prototype and the prototype became an MVP, and today it is a product on the market, with over 900 new users per day.
Stepping back to 2017, I somehow managed to pitch my way into the Fast Track Malmö accelerator, as the only solo female founder in the batch. From that point on, things became more serious. I had truly become a ‘Founder.’ A founder who had to learn how to pitch despite my stage fright, a founder who had to speak to investors despite not knowing the business lingo, a founder who had to negotiate a valuation for my company without even really understanding how it worked at first. But each time I failed, or embarrassed myself, I stood up and added something new to my toolbox.
Despite now having secured some pre-seed investors, proved some traction, built out a team and developed a brand, I know it is still just the beginning. Yet, for some reason, I keep finding myself imagining the end point, being interviewed on one of those startup podcasts like How I Built This, where I am asked to recall the struggle. However, I quickly regroup. I remind myself that I should not be gauging my success in the context of others’. While it always feels like there is this endless hurdle I need to surpass, to suddenly arrive at another point of supposed success, I often stop and ask myself, why can I not have my own journey to success, at my own pace, with my own definitions, where I am not compared to all the others?
Well, here is my attempt to embrace my own journey, to forge a new path and let others see yet another way to do things. I want to share my struggles and successes, so more people understand what goes on behind and between the headlines. So I am putting it all on the table; my thoughts, feelings, concerns, frustrations, failures, successes, etc. in hopes that it will give perspective to founders, investors, business advisors, employees, interns, those considering starting a new business, and anyone else who just wants to listen.
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