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Prison Block CEO: Kasper Pihl of Swipes on the Book That Turned His Life Around

Behind every great innovator is a great book
by Caitlin Schiller | Jun 18 2015
Behind every great innovator is a great book. In our contributor series, The Spark, we ask founders and leaders in their fields to share one outstanding read that inspired them on their journey.

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Meet Kasper Pihl, co-founder and CEO of productivity company Swipes, and you’ll see a bright, enthusiastic 25-year-old with a whole lot to be excited about.

Kasper’s current product—a handy little tool that syncs with your apps from Google Calendar to Mailbox to Dropbox and back—helps easily organize your day so you can focus on building your brightest future.

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The Next Web loves Swipes. In 2015, it was nominated for a Webby, and Evernote named it 2014’s Best New Startup of the Year. As of now, the app’s been downloaded 350,000 times, and by all accounts the future for Kasper and for Swipes looks pretty sunny. Had you met him in 2010, however, things would’ve looked quite different.

For starters, you’d be meeting him in jail.

Inside cell 118

Kasper Pihl grew up in a small village in Denmark. As in many small villages in many corners of the world, there wasn’t a lot to keep a busy mind engaged. The teenage Kasper found adventure in drugs, and when he was 20, he ended up in prison for possessing cocaine.

“I was on a bad path,” Kasper recalls. “I had dropped out of university after only 3 months to pursue my first business, which had failed badly, and had lost my girlfriend. I wondered if I would ever see my parents or my brother again. I figured I wouldn’t get out for years! And right there at rock bottom I realized I needed to take responsibility for my actions. I swore I was going to change my life.”

This is where the book Kasper chose for The Spark comes in.

Rebuilding with a book

Kasper credits Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People not only with being foundational to how he runs Swipes, but for helping him turn his life around.

“This book helped me quit making excuses for my situation. It wasn’t bad friends or peer pressure or someone else’s fault I was there. It was my own bad choices,” Kasper affirms. “Covey’s book made me aware that I was the only one who could change those.”

One of the key principles in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is guiding your own fate by being proactive. When you’re proactive, you are propelled by inner values and assume responsibility for your own life. Rather than becoming reactive to any sudden plot twist, when you’re proactive, you reflect, decide, and act.

According to Covey, reflection and decision is what distinguishes humans from animals. An animal simply acts according to the way it is programmed—an external stimulus triggers a particular response. Humans, however, can “program” themselves. We are able to reflect in the time between receiving a stimulus and reacting. The ability to “externally” observe ourselves and our actions allows us to actively decide how we react to outside influences.

During his time in jail, Kasper had a lot of time to reflect and determine his next action. What he ended up deciding was that it was time he took control.

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“Your brain will constantly try to justify and excuse your behaviour, but if you break this pattern people will see you differently and you will think differently,” Kasper says. And so, armed with this new outlook, Kasper got to work.

When he was let out of jail he wasted no time in making amends. He worked towards healing his relationships and rebuilding the trust he’d lost with the people most important to him. He apologized to his girlfriend and to her parents and swore he’d show them he could change. Kasper was determined to take responsibility for himself, his actions, and his future.

The road to responsibility

Eventually, all of Kasper’s will and determination—not to mention having read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—paid off. He got back together with his girlfriend, slowly rebuilt trust with his family and hers, and started honing his business skills. In only five years, he’s turned his world around completely, but he’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t an easy slog—nor is Seven Habits easy to assimilate.

“This book is not something you read and then magically get seven great new habits,” Kasper explains. “It requires an enormous amount of effort and willpower to change.”

Making an effort to change for good requires a commitment to more than just sharpening skills, or making declarations. It involves committing to evolving one’s character—another point that Covey addresses in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

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The book teaches that real personal growth cannot be reached via shortcuts, and this is as true for accomplishments like playing tennis or the piano as it is for emotional or character development. True growth requires working from the inside out, Covey says, and only once you’ve drastically changed yourself can you start to change the world around you.

“Taking responsibility is hard and uncomfortable ,  but the effect is tremendous,” Kasper says. “It gives you a special kind of determination to fix and improve things. This determination has helped me tremendously with growing as an entrepreneur and CEO, but you can apply it to any area.”

Life at Swipes

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Today, Swipes has 300,000 downloads and is flourishing. For his part, Kasper is thriving—he ditched drugs and negative relationships cold turkey when he got out of jail five years back. Taking responsibility has paid off, and he’s brought what he’s learned from life—and his favorite book—to work.

“Covey’s Habits has shaped the way I’m running Swipes. We’re building a culture where people admit their mistakes, never excuse their actions, and are always to be counted on,” Kasper says. “That’s the most inspiring place to be.”

You can check out Swipes here, or read about it on The Next Web.

Kasper’s The Spark pick, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, can be purchased here, or you can read the 10 most powerful key messages from the book here.


Previously in Spark: Alex Turnbull, Founder of Groove, on the One Marketing Book Every Founder Must Read

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