My life story

Hi there! So you're interested in my life story?  I'm honored.  Here's quick presentation to begin with.

My name is Henrik Kniberg, I live just outside of Stockholm at an estate called Lövhagens Gård, in a yellow house together with a lovely gal and wife named Sophia (check out our wedding page!). I grew up in Japan, and a large part of my life I've been separated from my family by 8200 km, but now we all live within 100 meters of each other here at Lövhagens Gård!

Quite cute actually, one house for my parents, one for Sophia and I, one for my older sister Karin, and a tiny one for my younger sister Anette (here's a fun picture of both of them. hope they never see that I put that picture here....). We've lived here since august 1998 and haven't started fighting yet (not with me anyway) so I believe there is hope!

I work at  Epicent, a small Swedish company that provides a new type of mobile service, founded by me and Anders in 2002. Really exciting, but if you want to know more about that kind of stuff then go to the professional pages. Outside of work ("what is that?" I hear my coleagues saying...) I'm mostly into music.  I play several instruments, mostly electric bass now a days, in several bands. More on that in the hobbies section.

Now how did this all come to be? Well, my friend, it is time for some history.  Where do we start?  How about chronologically....

Are you still here?

The little brat in Tokyo

I was born 1973 near Stockholm but moved off to Tokyo when I was about 7 months old (no, it wasn't my decision, my Dad's work brought us out there). There I grew up, in the middle of Roppongi, one of the major party zones in Tokyo, full of sleezy bars and night clubs. Of course as a little kid I never noticed any of that - I just thought some grown-ups acted a bit strange...

I attended ASIJ (American School in Japan), a large international school just outside Tokyo.  After 9th grade I moved back to Sweden alone and attended SSHL (Sigtuna Skolan Humanistiska Läroverket), a boarding school near Stockholm. I had a great time there!  If it wasn't for the fact that I'm having a pretty good time now as well I'd say those were the "good ol' days".  Unfortunately the school seems to have gained an undeserved bad reputation lately. Nevertheless, most of my closest friends today are the ones I lived and studied with at SSHL.

After taking my IB diploma I moved back to my family in Japan and took it easy for a bit less than a year, studied some Japanese, played in some bands, sat around in the garden reading books, just generally living a relaxed life after all the highschool and exam stress.  Then I moved back to Sweden again and did my military service for 10 months (aug '92 - may '93).  After a brief hop back to Japan to work for a couple of months I moved to Stockholm and started studying computer science at KTH ("Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan", or "Royal Institute of Technology" in English).

Before we move on to that, however, let's talk about music.

The musician

My bass, a 5-string Neuser Cloudburst
When I was still a tiny little brat my Mom forced me (no offense, Mom, most of my friends have been subjected to the same thing) to take piano lessons. I didn't enjoy it, my teacher was an old #%!@ who slapped my fingers when I made mistakes and would only let me play boring classical music, but I guess I did learn some basics and a bit about hand-eye-brain coordination. Anyway I quit after a few years, when I was 10 or so I think.

At age 13 or so I started playing drums at school. That was very fun, probably because I realized I had a talent for it. I took drum lessons for about a year and even had my own Pearl drumset to the horror of my family. However when I moved to Sweden at age 15 I sold them, realizing that a drum set would not be very practical at a boarding school... (later on I was given a drumset as wedding present though!)

At SSHL (the boarding school) I got back into piano playing again, since there was a piano in my dorm. I would do blues jams together with Christian Rezende, a half Brazilian classmate and friend who was great at blues-guitar. Inspiration is the best teacher - by the end of the first year I had made myself a reputation as a good pianist. I bought a little electronic synthesizer and started jamming with myself as well - yes, it was one of those with built in drum grooves and a simple sequencer.  Very fun and educational.

By the next year (11th grade) I had upgraded to a Korg M1 keyboard and was now making some (to my ears) quite cool music!  Go to the homemade music page if you want to hear some. I had now started experimenting with blues guitar as well, together with my old friend Mattias - we had a lot of fun sitting up at late hours bluesing away on two guitars.

Upon hearing the Japanese fusion band Casiopea one day (purely coincidental) I discovered a cool, new instrument that I had never noticed before - electric bass. A friend at the dorm had a bass which he never used, so I would sit in his room and play around with his bass from time to time trying to learn the slap technique (Tetsuo Sakurai in Casiopea uses the slap technique almost all the time). After a few months I was doing quite well, except that I could only slap on the damn thing - I wasn't able to play using normal fingering technique. Quite funny, usually people start with fingering and then learn slap later. Here's a little slap groove(240k) for you.

Of course, back then I didn't have any idea that electric bass would become one of my main instruments years later, today I play bass in several bands and orchestras. Right now I would say I have two "main" instruments - piano and bass.

Interestingly enough the one instrument that I longed to play at that time was the one instrument I had never touched - saxophone. In 12th grade I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow someone's sax and thereby start teaching myself.  It didn't work very well - the fingering was no problem, but it sounded like crap because I didn't know how to blow correctly to produce a nice sound... so I started taking lessons. On my first lesson I was shocked to learn that Alto Saxophone is an Eb instrument. I had learned to play songs by listening to the piano and finding the corresponding note on the saxophone, and now this teacher was telling me that it was wrong! It was extremly frustrating to find out that my perfectly logical approach to the instrument was incorrect and that I had to learn the illogical fact that a single note has different names depending on which instrument you play it on.... grumble gripe.

Anyway after learning the basics I stopped taking lessons, because I realized that I learn best playing around myself. I just needed to learn how to make it sound good.  I never really got too good at sax - good enough to play in student orchestras, but not good enough to jam with the big fellas...

Unfortunately (?) I graduated that year (1991) and moved off to Japan, and thereby left the jamming environment and my jamming friends behind. Of course I played a bit in Japan but it wasn't quite the same intensity, at SSHL I could grab a friend and spontaneously run down to the music room and we would jam all evening, switching instruments from time to time.  I did however make some music in Japan with a good friend named Yumi, I also did a short but extremely fun project at a local school where I tought middle-school classes how to jam and play jazz.

After my military service in Sweden the time came to decide what to do with my life. My mind was pretty much set - "I wanna be a musician!". But somehow, just as I was about to apply to various music universities around Sweden, I changed my mind and decided to study Computer Science at the Royal Institute of Technology instead. I'm still not quite sure why I changed my mind so suddenly, but I think it was a combination of two facts.  First of all I was a bit afraid of having to make a living off of music, I was afraid losing inspiration or getting a boring job that would destroy the magic and wonder of music.  Second of all I felt that programming and system design was something that I was good at in school.  I concluded that if I study Computer Science I could have a fun, maybe even well payed job and still be free to play music whenever and with whomever I like.

Today I'm very happy about that decision! I guess teenagers don't only do dumb things.

The soldier

I did my 10-month military service at S1, Enköping. I'm not going to describe exactly what I was doing there because, hey, I would have to shoot you afterwards!  Haha.  No, seriously, it wasn't that exciting.  I drove around in a huge truck towing around a folded up portable radio-link communication tower. When an important communications link somewhere in Sweden was "destroyed" (not for real of course) we would go off deep into the forest and build up our 35-meter tower with a parabola on top, and try to establish an alternate route for the radio-link traffic.

I wouldn't say military service was fun. Frankly, it was a terrible. The worst part of it was the lack of freedom, I felt like a slave.

However, although I'm reluctant to admit it, it was educational. Physically speaking I had a been a lazy bum all my life (and still am, pretty much) but during military service I was forced to walk long distances with heavy equipment, perform extremely strenuous activities (at least for me), and spend cold winter nights sleeping under soggy tree branches in snow-blanketed forests. Looking back at old photographs it almost looks exciting, but I remember very clearly what I thought back then - here is an excerpt from my diary (yes, I wrote my diary in english):
 

"AAaaaaargh, I want OUT of here!  I want a PIZZA!  A big, sloppy, cheesy, PIZZA with onions and salami!".  Shivering in a hole somewhere in a dark forest staring into the inky black night I would sometimes see the headlights of a car far off on some road and think "Hey you, lucky bastard!  On your way home to eat a warm dinner in front of the warm fire place with your warm wife, huh?  Well, think about me, just for a second, sitting here in a damp hole in the forest!".  I promised myself I would remember that next time I come driving on a dark forest road.
And indeed, sometimes when I am out driving home in the middle of the night I do imagine some poor sucker sitting out in the dark watching my headlights enviously...

The student

Have you really read this far?  I'm impressed!

Anyway autumn 1993 I started studying at KTH (or Royal Institute of Technology), hoping to receive a Master's Degree in Computer Science 4.5 years later.  Of course that didn't happen - but there is still hope! As it looks now I'll get my degree in 2002 or early 2003.

I found KTH quite difficult, especially the first year, but I managed to get by with reasonable grades. After finishing my second year my friend Anders phoned me and asked me "are you good at programming?".  I said something like "uh... well, yeah, I guess so".  "Do you do want to take a year off and work as a programmer with me?" he asked hopefully.  I thought about it for a few days and phoned back - "sure, why not!".  And that was that - however I made a holy promise to my family and friends to go back to KTH after a year.  I even kept the promise :o)

So autumn 1996 I was back at school again. Of course, I didn't let go of work completely - instead Anders and I started a small consulting company called Andrik HB and kept working as programmers on a part-time basis. Now that company has grown into two shiny new companies called Goyada AB and Netbreeze AB. During this period I started gaining an interest in the (at that time) new Java programming language and ran some quite ambitious software projects on the side, most notably White Orb and Bean Bowl, which tought me very much about system design and programming - more then any KTH course at least...

The combination of being a student and being a software consultant served me quite well. I found the studies a lot more interesting when I could apply the knowledge directly. Of course, after yet another year I started to get tired of all the quasiprojects at school, where you work hard to create something which is then graded and discarded.

The software engineer

The business side of my life started pretty much around autumn 1995 when Anders and I worked as VB-programmers at a company called Domino Datapartner AB (not counting two summers of programming in Japan earlier on). I normally don't short-talk people or companies on the net, but that really was a corrupt, miserable little company. Of course, it took us a few months to realize that and admit it to ourselves. We learnt alot about programming and system design at that company, mainly because of a totally inadequate project leader, but we also learnt alot about how not to run a business. The company regularly tried to fool suppliers, customers, and employees! The funny thing is, they probably would have made more money being an honest company, considering the business they were in.

Very educational, but on the whole I'm glad we managed to get out of that company without being skinned.

In addition to learning a lot about the software business we also gained a few useful contacts and skills, so after quitting that company we started our own consulting firm Andrik HB which, on the whole, has been a very successful company.  It never grew into a billion-dollar consortium, but that wasn't our goal either - we just wanted to run a flexible, fun, and profitable business on the side of our studes, and that is exactly what it has been.

Later Andrik HB turned into Netbreeze AB, still run by Anders and I but now with a network of contacts with which we shared business. We had also started outsourcing programming work to Poland. All this happened in 1998. At the same time, Anders started a new company based on the idea of creating cool mobile IT services. I stayed with Netbreeze, since I was involved in some large projects that were too profitable to ditch. It was a pretty good division, Anders could concentrate on his new business idea while I could concentrate on bringing the money in through the Netbreeze consulting.

So he managed milliWeb together with a few other friends while I managed Netbreeze and (for a while) travelled around in the US.  After a few months I was able to outsource enough of Netbreeze's work to be able to join milliWeb on a half-time basis and in late 1998 we officially founded milliWeb AB. My job was to design and build the technical platform for our mobile services. For a while I was working at both Netbreeze and milliWeb and studying and playing in several bands at the same time! I guess I was overdoing things a bit...

In august 1999, in conjunction with our first round of financing, I joined milliWeb AB fulltime as CTO and paused Netbreeze and my studies. At that time the company had 6 employees. In february 2000 we renamed the company to Goyada AB and by august 2000 we were over 50 employees! And then came the dot com death in 2001 and we got slapped back down to 11. Sometimes things happen so fast you hardly have time to react...

To read more about my work and skills and other unsexy stuff see the professional page.