– interviewed conducted by Kaia Gil
It’s autumn. It rains and there is a little boy dragging his parents along in the forest to pick mushrooms. Gourmet mushrooms. Chanterelle and boletus. This is Silver Laus’s first memory of mushrooms. Mushrooms have always had a place of honor in the family and still do. “I’ve been in the forest in such a way that mushrooms were gathered using a tractor,” says Silver about the large mushroom harvests of his childhood. Today, Silver manages Shroomwell, a green company. A company that gives mushrooms a completely new meaning
Mushrooms are changing the world
Silver is convinced that the shroomwell sector is the next big success story in the world. Just like Shroomwell as a company. “It’s going to be massive and extraordinary what people will discover about mushrooms and medicinal mushrooms in the years to come. I happened to see a documentary about Alice Cooper’s agent who said it was going to be something really big that people would fight at first. That’s just the way it is with mushrooms right now. There is some disbelief, but I am dead certain that in the coming years we will see how mushrooms, medicinal mushrooms and green innovation will change the world and human history,” says Silver.
Silver vividly remembers a conversation that took place in 2018 with his colleagues from Boost Yourself. “Even then, I was following US trends and saw how mushrooms would become the next big topic. Mushrooms also started to be talked about more and more in the UK. Cordyceps and chaga were better known, reishi and lion’s mane were still a little overshadowed, but mushrooms were here to stay. We discussed what will be the next disruptive trend at the board meeting. I said mushrooms. We ignored it then. Today, mushroom science has gained such momentum that it is impossible not to notice it. Shroomwell and our team are the leaders in mushroom innovation not only in Estonia, but we also take the know-how of Estonian scientists further away from home.”
Let’s go back in time. Silver comes from Tallinn, but he spent a lot of his childhood in the countryside. Since Silver’s uncle started farming after the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia, being today the largest grower of potato seeds in Estonia, this meant work in the field and on the farm for the whole family.
Silver himself laughs that his childhood was spent as his uncle’s servant: “When school ended, the child was taken to the countryside and brought back to the city in the fall. At that time I thought that I would like to play more, but in fact this kind of rhythm taught me a lot of life values that are still valid today. In other words, my childhood was shaped a lot by rural life.”
After high school, Silver had two big goals. One was to go to university and the other was to not have to go to the countryside on weekends. Both meant for the young man that he was responsible for his own life.
The First Pain of Loss
“Logistics seemed like a cool thing and I went to TalTech to study logistics. I also went to work from the first year of university. I was surprisingly serious about my studies, but I still went to work, parties and was chronically short of time. I communicated a lot with student organizations and foreign students, which gave me a very good experience, but I would have needed more time,” recalls the leader of the Estonian mushroom innovation.
Silver’s first real job was as an assistant property manager. “And I didn’t really understand what I was supposed to do,” Silver laughs and goes on to tell how the company was bought out and a lot of people had to leave their jobs. Silver among them.
“It’s funny to think about it today, but at that moment it was a great worry and depression for a young, 19-year-old person. I realized that I needed to gain more control for my future success. I started to take university more seriously and decided that I would focus on gaining experience. My goal was to get as many job interviews as possible, so I numbly started sending out resumes. I thought I’d go see what employers expect. Soon something very interesting started to happen, because I often found myself in situations where I thought to myself, how did I get here. At one point, I was among the two strongest candidates in a competition for the position of the sales manager of a well-known company. When I saw that my competitor was twenty years older and a person with a lot of experience, I naturally got stuck and didn’t get the job. But the experience gained outweighed the pain of loss.”
Silver’s first experience with business was as a one-man army, where the young man went to become a salesman. After a while, the team grew to more than 10 people under his leadership, and Silver became a partner. Although the joint path ended due to a difference in vision, Silver is still on good terms with his former business partner.
If we take this as Silver’s first real insight into the world of entrepreneurship, then the next job already gave him the opportunity to experience the coveted exit of today’s start-up world up close.
One of Silver’s friends came up with an idea to develop a vehicle tracking solution. While a GPS device today is a small chip, at that time it used to be the size of a brick, according to Silver: “We were light years ahead of all the competition. The problem was that we were 22 years old. The sea was knee-deep. We always paid more than we earned. We had to come up with ways to increase revenue, not decrease costs. We made fantastic sums, but could not control the costs and sold the company to a competitor. It was my first exit.”
7 Years of Canada
After the successful departure, Silver and his bride thought of what it would be like to leave Estonia for a year. They didn’t want to go to Australia as everyone else, and Silver threw Canada in the air as an option. In two weeks, the work & holiday visa was in hand. They bought their tickets to Toronto, this flight being the cheapest. Canada is the Babel of nations, so the young adventurers were in the very right place.
Silver’s bride was hired in just a few weeks, but only three of Silver’s 200 resumes received a response. All were related to door to door sales. The young man had no expectations, as this type of work is completely unknown in Estonian culture. Nonetheless, he became a team leader and managed 3 offices in Toronto with 60 people very soon. This meant managing 60 people with their concerns on a daily basis.
“Our work culture in Estonia, the understanding of things as well as what is actually happening is still science fiction. In the Western world, the social system captures a person. You don’t have to work, you just need to show up. It was very difficult to motivate people with this mindset. You only have a few bright stars, but have to drag most of the team or just keep replacing people,” says Silver about his experience in Canada.
“Here at Shroomwell, we have an absolute A-team to make history with. Our people are fantastic, they are fans of our brand and their profession. I enjoy working with them and promoting the green innovation together,” Silver is grateful.
How did Silver discover biohacking and started believing in the uniqueness of the mushroom world? The premise is simple. “When I was younger, I used to smoke and my life was affected by social alcoholism. We attended parties on weekends. At one point, when I was waiting for my sixth coffee at Starbucks, I suddenly realized that life could be easier and I could do without a constant brainfog. Literally, I then started to chase the brain power that would make the day clearer. I decided to quit smoking and dived into a clear sleep rhythm because until then I was a total nocturnal animal. Sometimes staying up until three in the morning, waking up late.”
That’s how Silver came across the first podcasts with biohackers as well as superfoods and vitamins and products to alkalize the body. Silver knows that when the diet is off, the body becomes very acidic and the immune system weakens. “At one point, the amount of vitamins and minerals I was consuming was massive. If you put more gasoline in the car, it won’t go faster. In fact, different pillars of life are important – lifestyle, sleep, nutrition, exercise. The thing that affected me the most was getting my sleep rhythm right. It had an extraordinary effect on how I felt. Thinking became faster, brainfog disappeared. Biohacking means that you start experimenting with different things that ordinary people don’t try. Important vitamins for me are, for example, vitamin C, K2, vitamin D, vitamin D3, magnesium, vitamin E, zinc and copper. But it’s all individual. You have to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Also, at what time, which vitamin or food supplement to take.”
Chaga as the Leader of the Mushroom World
Silver followed the health sector even before Shroomwell came into existence as a company and continues to do so today. “I had visited the Shroomwell team, which at that time was Chaga, and had myself grow chaga in the forest in Raplamaa. My friend had the first mushroom farm in Estonia already in 2015, but it was obviously too early. I remember how we once had a barbecue and in the middle of the conversation he said that chaga is the hardest thing ever. The king of the mushroom world. He gave me a piece of dried chaga to take home and I started experimenting myself. I tried grinding it, but I don’t recommend it with home remedies. The coffee grinder stopped working. But I started adding chaga powder to coffee, smoothies and quickly realized that chaga is a very awesome medicinal mushroom. The rest is history. Today, with Shroomwell, we are not only making history, but shaping the future of the mushroom industry.”