Familiar challenges in marketplace, and cultural barriers
Call of action to be bold, fearless, think big and not quit
ON transit in Dubai from Oslo, Norway where I attended an Internet conference with the theme No Guts, No Glory that was hosted by the Telenor Group, I was struck by how many of the speakers – from media companies, telco and startups – framed their talks around the need to be brave, bold and fearless.
In her talk, the head of Innovation Norway Anne Worsoe started by reminding the audience, “You give yourself a chance to succeed if you are not afraid of failure.”
I was in Oslo at the invitation of DiGi Telecommunications to attend the conference and witness the Asian finalists of the Telenor Group’s Digital Winners app competition. App developers from the six Asian countries Telenor has a presence in, including Malaysia via DiGi, participated.
Besides the various interesting sessions, what I discovered is that, as it turns out, the Norwegians and Scandinavians in general are afraid of failure; are culturally thought not to think they are better than their peers; and certainly not to want to be wealthy.
Oh, and they are not encouraged to think big either. Sound familiar?
In fact, the founder of one of the leading Norwegian startups, based in Silicon Valley, said, “I found my spiritual home in the United States.”
WeVideo founder and chief executive officer Jostein Svendsen said he found it difficult to do business in Norway, and especially had difficulty in trying to meet executives from large Norwegian companies, including Telenor.
But in the United States, he was able to meet executives from the largest Internet companies and quickly form partnerships with them.
I am sure startups in Malaysia and Singapore can share war stories with him on the difficulty of meeting large local companies, much less to partner with them.
Svendsen gave an interesting talk on why Norwegian startups have failed to go global. I will share that story with you next week. I am sure entrepreneurs will be really surprised at the similarities in challenges their Norwegian counterparts share with them.
But some Norwegians broke the mould and dared to be bold and fearless, and have been rewarded. Telenor did so back in 2003 when the senior management team launched a strategic plan with a target of hitting 100 million customers. They had 20 million at the time.
“It was a crazy plan at that time and we actually did not talk about it externally,” acknowledges Telenor Group president and chief executive officer Jon Fredrik Baksaas.
Yet that strategic plan helped Telenor set in motion various strategies that today see it with 160 million customers in 13 countries around the world.
You can read my story on what Baksaas is trying to do with Telenor, but what I am really getting at here is this: The market challenges and cultural limitations tech entrepreneurs and telcos face in South-East Asia are not unique or specific just to us. Scandinavians face them too.
So, let’s not beat ourselves unnecessarily and make the challenges and limitations seem greater than they actually are.
And where Norway has not had a single US$1-billion exit or IPO (initial public offering) of a startup in the last 20 years, Malaysia is seeing an exit valued at US$582 million by Mark Chang of JobStreet.com; and MOL Global’s listing on Nasdaq by Ganesh Kumar Bangah with a market capitalisation in excess of US$1 billion.
All tech entrepreneurs across South-East Asia should take heart and be inspired by their success to drive themselves to do better.
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