"Hej!" from Sverige

| No Comments

Hej! In my first post from the Scandinavian country of Sweden, I will talk about some of my experiences and observations that I have had so far. My first two days I have been severely jetlagged, so it was difficult for me to stay focused on any reading, however I have been able to absorb a lot of Swedish Christmas culture. I arrived the evening of December 22nd, and on the 22nd and 23rd, I have experienced the many roundabouts on the roads, I see lots of blue and yellow (Country's National Colors) everywhere, particularly in street signs.

The day before I left America, I transferred my money. The exchange rate was 6.8659 Swedish Krona to every $1 American. So although every 7 Krona equals about a dollar, things are still far more expensive here. For example, a can of coke, which probably costs $0.75 to $1.00 in vending machines in America would cost about $1.50 here in Sweden. When I arrived here in in Sweden, I realized things are smaller. The houses are smaller, the cars are a little bit smaller (but safer, as Volvo is a Swedish brand and is popular among the Swedes... but still considered a little dorky), and the smallness reflects some of the simplicity of the country. Swedes eat similar foods (Ham, cheese and crackers, meatballs, taco salad), and play the same games (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3). They party, they shop, and they even have been eating similar portions of food to me, so either I'm a bad representation of the "fat American", or the food they are consuming happens to be a lot healthier. Now that I think of it, it's probably the latter.

Everyone seems to be able to speak pretty good English, and it has helped me to feel quite comfortable with the country. I talk about business to a lot of people, and my next blog posts will chronicle some of what I have learned from talking to people, as well as summarizing how the business climate is here, and also how starting a business works.

400981_10151107214250257_689100256_21906886_1598215065_n.jpg

Swedish Economy Key Notes

| No Comments

There are alot of important things to note about the Swedish Economy before we explore "how entrepreneurship works" in Sweden.


  1. 1. Most of the population speaks English, pretty well too. Yahoo!

    2. Sweden is a member of the European Union, and has been since 1995

    3. Sweden does not use Euros. The currency of Sweden is Swedish Crowns (Kronor). I'd like to explore what the implications are of not having the same currency as much of Europe.

    4. Sweden ranks 4th in the Global Democracy Ratings, with a score of 9.5 out of 10. It follows Norway, Iceland and Denmark. A score between 8 and 10 makes a country a "full democracy". USA on the other hand, has a score of 8.11, bringing it to the lower range of "full democracy" and closer to "flawed democracy". This score is based on the following factors: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture
    Up until 2009, Sweden was ranked #1, but Norway has held the new #1 spot for the past 2 years.
    More information on the rating can be found here: http://www.eiu.com/Handlers/WhitepaperHandler.ashx?fi=Democracy_Index_Final_Dec_2011.pdf&mode=wp

    5. Sweden is rich in minerals, and is heavily oriented towards foreign trade. Large organizations focusing in Manufacturing and Services make up most of the Swedish Economy. Private organizations are increasing slowly in popularity in Sweden, but most organizations are public.


These factors influence how many businesses function, and will be key in synthesizing information from my upcoming interviews.

sweden.jpg

Dinner Table Discoveries

| No Comments

I have learned a lot about Swedish business culture simply by sitting across the table from two managers at different Swedish companies (Swedish branch of IBM and IT company called Office IT-Partners). Many of the things I learned was about cultural understandings/norms as well as what they think about the government.
Here is a list of some of the things I have been learning.

1. In Sweden, nobody is "better" than anyone else. Everyone likes to be modest because its the most relatable. If someone is successful, they will keep that success to themselves and they won't brag about it or showcase it (except for Swedish soccer star, Zlatan, who is one of the highest paid soccer starts in the world. He is boastful, but in his defense, he is the best). The implications for feeling equal as everyone else means that you can be rich (unlike in communism), but if you are a salesperson, you won't drive a ferrari to a sales meeting. It would be more acceptable to drive a Volvo (Swedish brand) because then you would seem like a regular guy, and not a big-hot-shot. In America that may be different quite often because people will relate wealth with success, and they relate that success with ability to do their job. So many people in America would be more apt to trust a outwardsly rich person rather than a seemingly "normal" guy. It is not this way in Sweden.

2. The government is somewhat moderate, but by no means Communist. The difference between our government, Sweden's government, and that of the former soviet union is that our government is all about free market and less about social programs and making sure our citizens are taken care of (by the state), instead supporting big business and providing the bare minimum for lower classes of people. In Sweden, they have a democratic system, like the USA, but instead of a person being elected (like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama), they will elect a party and set of policies. The party takes care of who is in charge, and that leader elects his/her cabinet members. Unlike the soviet union, Sweden is pretty capitalistic. Yes, there are high taxes, but it is not to spread the wealth so everyone is equal. The taxes are in place to provide social programming such as free education and healthcare for children. This works well for a small country like Sweden, and I'm not certain if that kind of social programming could work on a larger scale like in the United States, but the United States is one of the only industrialized, "first world" countries that doesn't have a universal healthcare.

3. Swedes don't make a ton of money, but they don't need to. They make enough to get by, have a nice family, do some traveling, etc. Swedes don't need the excess luxury that Americans will typically have.

I have learned a lot so far from having meals and "fika" (Swedish coffee break) with Swedes, and I hope I learn much more as my journey continues.

Swedish Food.jpg

Christmas!

| No Comments

God Jul! Christmas in Sweden!
Its Christmas in Sweden! I never thought I would spend a Christmas away from my family but I feel comfortable here and it has been a very warm Christmas (both emotionally as well as weather... The ground is green! There is no snow, someone might need to mow the lawn if the weather keeps up like this!). We have been eating lots of delicious Christmas foods, including marinated herring, pig's ass (ham), potatoes, BBQ ribs and Swedish Meatballs! Yummm. Also, the Christmas drink is Glögg, a hot wine, kinda tastes spicy.
Christmas is a time where family gets together and they eat tasty food, open presents and... watch Donald Duck! Watching a variety hour of Disney TV shows is a very popular, and mandatory tradition (they take their Kalle Anka very seriously!). Also, Christmas Eve (Dec 24th) is the most important day of Christmas, as that is when everyone gets together, eats, and Santa comes. On December 23rd, people watch and play bingo on TV. On December 25th, people typically will rest, and the young people go out and party and drink. December 25th is the most popular party day of the whole year. Needless to say, I celebrated this tradition, and I coincidentally had a tummy ache for the next day. December 26th is another popular day for celebrating Christmas with family, and the final day of Xmas.
Xmas foods!.jpg

All these stores are called Max!

| No Comments

Maxi Ico, Max Hamburgares, Max everything! I think I would be very popular here in Sweden.

Tips for businesses to "fit in" in Sweden:

1. Put Max somewhere in the title of your business; Ikea is the outlier to this rule.

2. If you are selling a liquid, sell it in a tetrapak packaging. If you are selling a paste or any liquid of a thicker consistency, put it in a squeeze tube like toothpaste.

3. If you are selling clothes, just put naked mannequins outside your store.

4. REA! REA! Everything seems to be on sale... but is it? Slap these magic letters on your product.

5. Big box retailers: Give consumers a personal scanner so they can start checking out their items before they reach the checkout line! This is the coolest feature I think exists right now (but that may change if some big box retailers start to use RFID (radio-frequency Identification) chips in their products to checkout). These personal scanners are a major time-saver and make me feel like I'm in the future.

Grocery store scanner.jpg

For more information on these cool scanners, check out this page: http://freepizza.cc/2008/11/25/handheld-grocery-checkout-scanners/

6. Speak English and Swedish. I think a prerequisite to working anywhere within 3 hours of Stockholm, or anywhere in the southern part of Sweden, is to speak English. With all jobs being highly competitive to hold, English is an essential skill.

7. Round to the nearest Kronor. Are there even half-Kronors? I mean, given 1 Kronor is about 1/6 of a Dollar, each Kronor is like a Quarter, but given that, it doesn't seem like there is much change. Everything is "21:-" or "70:-", which would be just like "$3.00" or "$10.00".

8. Include the tax in your product sale price. Everyone does it. Reveal how much the tax was at the end of the receipt, it will always be ~25%.

If you follow these rules, you can surely open a B-C business in Sweden.

Here's a picture of me, seducing the camera. I was eating Greek food in Stockholm

Classy Me.png

Shopping (Sweatshirts vs. Swedeshirts), Globalization

| No Comments

Shopping in Sweden is a lot like shopping in the rest of the world... except 25% tax is included in your purchase. Luckily for most shoppers, if you are a smart shopper, you can get a nice rebate. Many of the stores are boutiques, so you would shop there if you want something in particular, but with the rising popularity of big-box retailer stores, I'm sure the next Target or Best Buy (but a Swedish version) will appear in the next 2-5 years.
As for fashion, I was surprised to find that anything "American" tends to be very popular among Swedes. As an American in Sweden, I can certainly say that my style tends to be very different than that of the youth. My clothes are a bit baggier than Swedes, I wear jeans instead of Chinos, they tend to wear blazers and I like to wear sweatshirts. But still, I find it very interesting that stores will emphasize how a certain fashion is "American".
I had a discussion with my friend Emelie about whether people buy "American" because it is American Style, or just because they like the brand. For example, Ralph Lauren is a very popular brand here in Sweden, but it also happens to be from an American designer. Are brands popular because it comes from America, or are all of these popular brands that people like all coincidentally American?
I think it is a combination of both. Right now, American design is trendy. I think that because so many popular brands come out of America, many designers throughout the world are inspired by American Fashion, and so style and fashion is permeating the whole globe. In 5 years, Europe and America might all have the same general fashion trends, and individual areas might come up with new styles, but the way ideas and trends are able to spread through the globe will cause these trends to be picked up very fast.
I think this is important to note for Entrepreneurship. As trends and companies become more subject to greater globalization, the world becomes "flatter", as Thomas Friedman would say in his book, "The World is Flat". The internet gives people access to a huge breadth of information, and soon enough, the world could be the same. This level playing field for businesses creates both an awesome opportunity for entrepreneurship now, but a grave look at future innovation and entrepreneurship in the future. When the world begins to think the same, there is huge opportunity to grow your business across the whole world. But when the world finally becomes the same, innovation stemming from differences is minimized. I hope that this speculation can be falsified, but if not, I hope we don't all become the same in my lifetime. I love innovation and different ways of approaching problems and thinking.

I think it comes down to individual countries policies and cultural traditions to keep up a country's identity, because soon fashion, furniture, and retail purchases will no longer be a distinguishable characteristic. I assume that food will also be affected, but in a longer amount of time. As I study here, I am trying many new things, but I am also witnessing McDonalds stores in every city I go to.

I hope each country can be competitive, yet retain its own cultural identity.

Fast Food.jpg

Types of Business in Sweden

| No Comments

Since I've been here in Sweden, I've noticed that businesses are spread far apart. Cities are positioned like American cities, where there will be a big city surrounded by smaller suburbs, but the distance between a big city and a suburb is much farther out then I have experienced in Minnesota.
In Italy, there really aren't any big cities, just small cities scattered throughout Italy, and in China, it seemed like the city was everywhere... because Shanghai is amazingly large, and between in and other cities, the empty space is filled with impoverished, dense, residential areas.

Sweden is alot more like Minnesota, but it certainly feels more like northern Minnesota, where you have to drive 30 minutes to get to civilization. Unlike Italy, Sweden has a lot of established retailer brands that exist in shopping centers much like those that exist in Minnesota. An anchor store connected to a bunch of smaller retailers.

Some of the larger retailers are IKEA (furniture store, invented in Sweden, also popular in the USA), ICO (Grocery Store), and the Systembolaget (Government Controlled Liquor Store).

Types of Businesses in Sweden
There are companies (bolag) and associations (förengar), but as for businesses I will be looking at, I will stick to companies (bolag)

There are Non-trading Partnerships, Trading Partnerships, limited partnerships, and companies limited by share.

enkelt bolag : The simplest form of company is a private, non-trading company. Liability is owned by the owners, not the company.

handelsbolag : A trading partnership that is different from an enkelt bolag in that the handelsbolag is a seperate legal entity and therefore has its own rights and obligations. It is formed by 2 or more individuals or companies reaching an agreement to jointly own the business. Although the assets and liabilities belong to the handelsbolag, the owners are liable for all debt and obligations incurred.

kommanditbolag : A limited, trading partnership where one or more partners have limited their liability to the amount they have invested in the business. a limited partner may actively partake in the management of the company, provided it is allowed in the partnership agreement.

aktiebolag : A company that has no personal liability, Aktiebolag is not limited by shares. Aktiebolag is the predominant form of business organization in Sweden, and the number is steadily increasing. Foreign companies usually form their subsidiaries with aktiebolag.

This overview on businesses types in Sweden comes from "Setting up a business in Sweden" by Rolf Skog.

Skog, Rolf. Setting Up A Business In Sweden. Stockholm: Huristförlaget, 1994. Print.

Kvicksund.jpg

Young people, Education, and Work in your 20's

| No Comments

I'm not sure if this is representative of the average 20+/- year old but my commentary on the education in Sweden explains my experiences thus far with the young adults that I have met.

Education is free in Sweden all the way to a doctorate level, yet many Swedes choose to work after their equivalent of high school. Given that education is free (it is subsidized by their taxes), one would assume that most students would go on to a University and get a post-secondary level of education, yet only 36% go on to get their post-secondary (or doctorate) degree. This level is high, but surprisingly not as high as the USA, Canada, or Japan.

Among the young adults that I have met, many of the graduates of the Gymnasieutbildning (secondary school) will spend a year or so abroad in other countries, since they have no debt, and the government supports them until they are 20 (free health care, families get stipends for each child that they have until the child is done with elementary school, and then the child will get a stipend from the government until they are graduated with high school, (Gymnasieutbildning).

Many Swedes like to spend their time across Europe and in America, as students, tourists, or au pairs (live-in nanny). They like to spend their vacations in Thailand.

Many Swedes choose to study outside of the country, although they agree that their universities are high quality. The government pays part of tuition if students choose to study outside of the country, and also grants loans. If a student chooses to stay in the country, they will have no cost for the education, but they typically take out "student loans" from the government to cover their excess expenses that they incur from living.

Many of the young people that I have met say that it is extremely hard to find a job. Entry-level jobs, like at McDonalds, are very competitive and so you will find many people ages 20-25 working entry level jobs. Many young Swedes look to Norway for jobs. With the rising popularity of entrepreneurship in the country, I would expect to see more jobs. I still need to explore this more before I can make any better assumptions.

Teaching these Swedes some drinking games.jpg

Yesterday marked the final day of 2011. In the past year, I have finished the tenure of my presidency for the entrepreneurship club, elected a new president, traveled to Italy for two weeks, finished a semester that I consider tied for first in terms of difficulty, made plenty of new friends, a cute girlfriend, and finished up my year in the beautiful country of Sweden.

Some cool things about Swedish New Year is that people love their fireworks! When I celebrated with Emelie and her friends, fireworks filled the sky in every direction. People lit their own fireworks, fired their own firecrackers, and put plenty of candles up into the sky in little red balloons. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Another thing that I noticed over the past week is that even though I may be considered a "fat American", I'm certainly not a hungry American. It seems like everyone is able to eat a plate extra of food than I... And I think the food here is very tasty so I don't know why my appetite is not able to compete with everyone elses. And maybe its because I'm here in a holiday season. I don't know if we'd be having such huge helpings during regular meals. I guess a huge difference in these meals and meals in the USA is that these meals use a lot less processed foods, and more bread! I eat too much bread here.

Also I read a really interesting blog post about entrepreneurship today. I loved the introduction to the post:

The old saying goes the best tax shelter in Sweden is not in Sweden....

How to succeed as an entrepreneur in Sweden.

1. Do it somewhere else. It will probably be easier.
2. If you are a sadomasochist like me read on.......

but I went on to read it and it gave a ton of great advice for entrepreneurs in Sweden!
The article was found on a Swedish news site for english speakers The Local, and you can read it yourself here: http://www.thelocal.se/discuss/index.php?showtopic=27374

Some of my major learnings from this post is the following:

1. Entrepreneurs need to get in touch with the Skatteverkat (http://www.skatteverket.se) to learn about the tax laws.

2.Arbetsförmedlingen (http://www.arbetsformedlingen.se) is essentially an unemployment office that is a great resource for entrepreneurs for finding labor and growing their business. They give 3 great resources for supporting your business by helping to subsidize employee costs:

1. Praktik. This option will give you a employee over the age of 25 where the salary is completely paid by Arbetsförmedlingen for a period of up to 6 months.
2. Integgsjobb as described above.
3. Nystartjobb - If you hire someone unemployed for at least 12 months or a new immigrant you receive a bonus to your tax account of twice what you would actually pay in employment tax per person.

I thought that was a somewhat lengthy blog post. My sponsors should like that.

Have a great 2012 everyone!

New Years Dinner.jpg

Interview with Sigrún Yngvadóttir

| No Comments

Background info

Sigrún Yngvadóttir was a native of Iceland, now running businesses in Sweden. Sigrún established a successful Advertising-agency and in addition to working as a freelance marketing consultant, she is now about to start a business conceptualizing ideas like a venture capitalist, but more like an idea capitalist. In her role, she will also help individuals who work in an environment they cannot identify themselves with any longer to make their own conditions as an entrepreneur.

Sigrún Yngvadóttir is also a member of the managing committee for "Nyföretagarcentrum" in a Stockholm district with lot of immigrants. The Nyföretagarcentrum aims to support entrepreneurs working out business plans.

Industry

Marketing/Consulting

Interview

"Many entrepreneurs are not experts on anything, because they want to learn more about a lot of things. They like to know less about how things are done because they want to do things different, because they follow their passions and they create their own conditions. They want to do things a better way, and they want to heal some kind of pain-point."

1. What motivated Sigrún in Sweden to start businesses?

Sigrún has been an entrepreneur almost her whole life. In a different post of mine, I talk about the trouble young people have trying to get a job. Sigrún wanted to prove that at age 19, she could get 24 hours of work covered by different jobs for 3 days. This early determination to beat expectations continued through her adult life. She was a freelance marketing agent, started up her own segment of another agency, started with other partners. She was motivated to work on her own because she did not like being bound by rules that the system had created. If you want something to be better or in a different way, you have to just go do it. It's good to start anywhere and work towards your vision. As they say, "If you want something to be done right, you have to do it yourself".

2. How do entrepreneurs in Sweden go about starting up businesses?

• First Step: Register your private business
• Second Step: Incorporate your company. There are several options for incorporation, I am just covering how Sigrún got started. It used to cost 100,000 Krona, and you would need to have an accountant say that everything checks out, but recently, the amount of money needed to incorporate changed to 50,000. Sigrún owns and operates a private business with 100% ownership.

Sigrún tried all the different kinds of incorporation and she found that Limited Partnership Company is good if you have Aktiebolag owner of your part of your Kommanditbolag; common in service businesses, more than one owner of business.

3. What kind of assistance does the government give to entrepreneurs to encourage new businesses to start in Sweden?
There are employment services that give contribution for starting a new business. If you can create a business idea, they help look at your plans, support growth and develop new business ideas. Of course, this process does take some time and requires a lot of paperwork.

Taxes can be difficult, so when you start a business, you can contact a general office, and you can make your own private business, and the taxes that you pay can cover some of your business as well. Additionally, you have to pay 25% VAT (can be different, but most common) as well.

As for hiring new staff, you can pay a little fee and you can get an employee subsidized by the unemployment service. This option is only viable if you are looking for a kind of worker that is available through the unemployment service. The unemployment service essentially matches you with a worker In Sigrún's case, this benefit lasted 6 months and then you have to take all the cost yourself.

Last word of advice: Try harder to do more of the things you love to do; do not spend as much time on things you do not like to do! Passion leads to quality, and quality is always profitable and sustainable.

Commentary

I learned a lot from Sigrún, and I think these mantras that I have been given reflect the same kind of entrepreneurial rule of thumb that we have in Minnesota. "Do what you like to do, hire people that like to do the roles that you do not like.", "Just START something because even if you fail you will gain a network and greater experience".

Certainly the taxes are different than American businesses, but that is expected. It appears that the main driver of entrepreneurship in both countries is passion, problem solving, and the ability to recognize opportunities.

In either country, it seems that if you want to start a business, people, the government, and your community will try their best to help you succeed, because your business helps to employ people and stimulate your local economy.

Interview with Gisele Mwepu

| No Comments

Gisele is the CEO of Soft Solutions AB and Soft Solutions is a partner of Office IT-Partner, a major IT services company in Sweden. Soft Solutions develops and uses new information technologies to modernize business needs.

Background info

Gisele is the CEO of Soft Solutions AB and Soft Solutions is a partner of Office IT-Partner, a major IT services company in Sweden. Soft Solutions develops and uses new information technologies to modernize business needs. Gisele is from a French Speaking part of Congo, Africa, and came to Sweden to start a life for herself. She went to school for Computer Science and got her Master's Degree in Computer Engineering at a Swedish University, Mälardalens Högskola.
Her story is really quite amazing, and inspirational in that she can speak French, Swedish, and English, as well as start and manage a growing company in a country that she was not raised in, but for 16 years she has called it home. Her company is now expanding outside of Sweden and she has ambitious plans for international growth.

Industry

IT Services

Interview

"Never focus just on the negative things about your idea, otherwise you will never start a business. Even if you start a business and fail, you are still gaining experience, building a network, and learning. What do you have to lose?"

1. What motivated Gisele to start a business in Sweden?

Gisele graduated from college, and when none of her classmates could find work, one of her friends (as well as classmate) approached her to start an IT business. She said yes, and they worked as partners in starting the business. They had no capital, and they didn't take any loans. They looked for customers first.
2. How do entrepreneurs in Sweden go about starting up businesses?
Gisele registered her business right away as an AB, and they were ready to "learn the ropes", as they say in America!
3. What kind of assistance does the government give to entrepreneurs to encourage new businesses to start in Sweden?
Gisele and her partner had no idea how the tax system worked for businesses, and she said it was her biggest challenging. Luckily, people who dealt with taxes were well informed and were able to help Gisele learn and manage the system. Gisele and the business were entered into a program that helped them kickstart the business, and government officials would check in on the business and make sure that she had the correct procedures and that the taxes were being taken care of properly. It seems as if you want to pay your taxes, they will be happy to assist you in paying your taxes!

Gisele's tips for new entrepreneurs

On Networking: "Networking is great, it's cheap, and it must be done intelligently. Know 3 people you want to meet, and figure out how you'll meet them. I would recommend this to ALL entrepreneurs"

On Marketing: "Word of Mouth is the best way for a new business to gain exposure. Use your network! They are your first customers! You are doing business with people, not businesses. If you treat them well, listen to their needs, and craft a solution that they want, they will pay for your solution, and they will recommend it to other people. You can invest money on marketing after you've tapped your own network and provided a great service."

On Productivity: "When I started my business, I wish I knew more about how to analyze our productivity. A big problem that many entrepreneurs will have is figuring out a price and how much something is worth".

On Financing: "You don't need to take big loans or go into a ton of debt. Look for your potential clients first... the people you are solving the problem for. If you can convince them that you are capable of solving that problem, you can ask them to help you pay to make the product or service. We started with nothing, and grew the business from customers paying us to build solutions"
Final words of advice:

Make business about People. Show to people that you understand and want to solve their problems. People have needs and you want to help them fill those needs.

The worst thing a company says is "here is what we are doing".

It's also not great to explain "this is how we are doing what we are doing".

The most important messaging you can have is "This is why we are doing what we are doing"

Commentary

Gisele is very inspirational and a great business person. In the USA, I'm confident she could succeed with the same business. The thing she said that resounded the most with me is that you should just start and not worry about the "bad things". There will always be bad things, and if you focus on the negative side of the business you will never start the business. Focus on how to overcome them, but don't let them stop you.

Rock & tree.jpg

Hollister: Brand Consistency & Experience

| No Comments

I went to the mall with Emelie today and I got to see a bunch of established brands like Cheap Monday (that was the only Swedish Brand I can remember right now). Emelie was telling me how she heard that there was a new Hollister store and that it was making somewhat of a splash with Swedish people. I thought it was sort of funny, but I wanted to check it out to see how it compared to American Hollisters (as well as how it stacked up against Swedish retailers.

I don't wear Hollister, but I sure do admire Hollister. When we walked into the Stockholm Hollister store, I could only think one thing: It was the exact same as the American Hollister store. The smell, the dim lighting, even the greaters spoke English slang that they would say in the US... "seeya later!" . I know that Hollister is part of a large established holding company, but I think that their business should be used as a model for anyone creating a business. Hollister isn't just a clothing retailer; Hollister sells an experience. Shopping at Hollister feels like you are shopping California. You as the consumer are not just buying a colored polo, but you are buying the smell, the aura, the visual experience, and the sense and self esteem. Hollister sells a bundle of sensory experience at a premium price, oh and you get clothes too. And to top it all off, no matter where you are shopping Hollister in the whole world, you can expect the exact same experience. Same Music, Same Smell, Same entrance to the store even! Where some might think this is not creative, I think this consistency is awesome. They have a very finely crafted experience, and they can replicate it where they need to.

I think that any business, start-up or established, needs to have an focused experience, and brand consistency. Something the consumer can always expect. If this experience isn't crafted by a company, consumers might create their own brand associations, and they may not be positive. For example, when I shop at Walmart (which is close to never), I associate the experience with being cluttered and dirty. The reason I feel this way is because there doesn't seem to be a certain flow to the store. There are narrow hallways and a wide variety of things... all over the place. Target crafts a specific experience and customers will pay a premium price for it... even though Target chooses to stay affordable to draw a bigger crowd. Perhaps Walmart has created its in-store experience to feel cluttered an unsophisticated to create the impression of low-low-low prices. Perhaps if Walmart was too clean, people would associate that level of cleanliness and organization with higher prices.

I guess the point of this post is that more premium brands need to differentiate themselves. I find that many of these fashionable brands all become the same, and differentiate themselves by word of mouth. Should premium brands have focused, complete experiences like Hollister? Does that exuberance lessen the value of the fashion to consumers? Should premium brands be able to sell themselves?

I think that clothes of any kind can only reach a certain quality, and then beyond that quality, people buy brands, not necessarily the clothes itself.

I think all these questions are worth thinking about for an entrepreneur who wants to sell a premium service or product. In my personal opinion, Entrepreneurs should deliver the best product or service they can, but they should also make sure that the consumer experience blows the consumer away. The experience and the quality of the product/service both need to be beyond consumer expectations to develop brand loyalty.

Also, just to clarify once more, I do not wear Hollister. I think their brand is focused on a certain target audience (which is good, they need to absolutely OWN their target market). I am not in that target audience.

hollister_facade2.jpg

The little things

| No Comments

I've been in Sweden for 2 weeks now and I've grown accustom to the major differences, and now I'm starting to notice the smaller differences between cultures.
People don't really tip here.
There are barely any stop signs.
People drink a LOT of coffee here, and I don't see alot of people drinking milk.
My host family likes viking metal rock music. I am just going to assume that everyone likes viking metal rock music.
There are a lot of hatchback cars here, not many trucks. The US has a ton of trucks and SUVS, Italy has a ton of hatchbacks and smartcars, and china is full of minivans and sedans.
Food from the USA is expensive here (like Burger King and Pizza Hut).
Credit cards are not swiped, they are inserted and held in the machine while the user types away at the pad. I have not seen a single credit card swiped, even though they still have the magnetic strip for swiping.
Subways and trollies work the same way that they do in Italy, and the trains are just as inconsistent. In Italy, I faced a train strike that held us in Cinque Terre all day long, in Stockholm, I faced a snowstorm that cancelled all the trains. We were lucky in that we took what was seemingly the only train out of the town.

Stockholm is an awesome city for business because it is so large, easy to get to by train, plane, bus, boat, etc., and you can find virtually any business there already.
I saw many established businesses as well as small businesses that look like they get by from day to day and I want to lay down some standards that I think are key for any business to be successful and grow:


  1. Product Quality is key. Sell the best of what you are trying to sell.
    Customer Service is important to get customers to come back time after time. The customer service at the train station was awful, but given that it was the cheapest option (and the only train option), we had to use it. But if other methods of transportation could drop their prices and maintain a higher level of kindness, I would opt for that option.
    Design, Originality, and consistency are important for branding. That is something that will distinguish a business from competitors and leave an lasting impression on consumers

snow in Stockholm.jpg

Interview With Gary Fabbri

| No Comments

Background info:

Gary is a writer & director. He was born and raised in Rhode Island in the US, lived in London for 12 years working in television and advertising and is now living in Stockholm Sweden.

Gary has extensive international experience as a creative. He has worked as Creative Director at Bodén & Co, a Swedish communications company specializing in film, events, and research, and at Fox Kids in London where he managed a team of creatives, worked with pan-European on air branding and the transition from Fox Kids to Disney. He was also a senior promo director at CNBC Europe for several years. He was worked on a lot projects though his company shed9.

He has written and directed and or edited numerous ads, promos, and short programs, and image films for companies such as: MTG, Disney, ModernTV, TV8, FoxKids, TV4, Discover Channels Nordic, Ericsson, Skanska, Posten, Proffice, SCA, and more.

Education:
BA - Psychology - Providence College
BA - English - Providence College
MA - English - University of Rhode Island
MBA - Management - University of Rhode Island

About Shed9:
Shed9 was founded in London in 1999 by Gary Fabbri and Malin Fabbri.
It started out as a network of consultants working with design, marketing and advertising for internet, print and television. Their strength is in understanding client's needs and developing creative solutions.
Shed9 moved its headquarters to Stockholm in 2003 but maintains strong ties with London.
Today the company focuses on the English speaking market in Stockholm, working with design, film, print and the internet.

Industry: Design/Marketing/Advertising

Interview:

Gary grew up near Boston, USA. He was interested in TV, Film, and Music, and he decided that he needed to move to LA, NY, or London to have a good business. He worked for NBC, SuperChannel, and NBCNews, where he realized that he loved to do promo work. At that time, Gary started directing. After a while, Gary got a job as a creative director at FoxKids. While in London, He met a Swedish girl and wanted to start a family, so he moved to Stockholm.

Stockholm was more expensive there than Gary had imagined. He started working right away at a production company. Early in his work in Stockholm, Gary contacted TV Company in London Viasec, and was given 1 name in a production company in Stockholm. Gary contacted this Stockholm production company and visited to prospect for a new job. He found that it was quite chaotic there. He was hired for his technical editing work, and after a while he was doing so much work and doing so well at it that he was promoted. All the while, he kept getting contacts. After 2 years of doing additional freelancing work, Gary became the creative director of company in Stockholm, and worked for almost 2 years when finally he decided it was time to do his own thing, and he quit. He wanted to do own stuff, run his own show.

His new role that he created for himself was a combination of freelance and his own production. He ended up working on something he liked. He didn't have to do any of the HR side that was in old administrative role. "I like doing stuff" he says, referring to the stuff he likes, rather than the administrative duties that go along with being in a big company. Gary never thought of self as entrepreneur. He was just doing what he loves, and he grew his business as he found himself having more work.

1. What motivated Gary to start a business?
Wanted to do what he liked the most and be independent.

2. How do entrepreneurs in Sweden go about starting up businesses?
Gary started as a basic registered company when started as a freelancer. He had to do that so he could take in loans, pay taxes. His former partner helped him to do that because it was a little complicated to set up. Two years into it, the work level became to a point where forming an AB was more favorable for his money than the old set up. At that point, he got an accountant and then running the business was just a matter of filling the necessary paperwork.

Shed9 was mostly private projects in London. When creating his AB, Gary kept the same name for that freelance project company in London and registered that name in Sweden for his AB.

3. What kind of assistance does the government give to entrepreneurs to encourage new businesses to start in Sweden?

Gary never asked for any kind of assistance, but he says "There probably are things available. I just haven't noticed or thought about differences. There are a ton of taxes here. AB allows you to pay 20% instead of 30% that you would be paying, so registering as an AB helps."

Piece of advice to anyone: "Be engaged and interested and keep learning. Do that and whatever you do will work out whether you are employed or an independent. If you focus only on making money, you will find your work more challenging."

Personal Commentary

Gary's story is like many of the entrepreneurs here in Sweden. A lot of people start businesses out of necessity to follow their passions. Not a lot of people start businesses to grow a business, they do it so that they can work for themselves. I have always wanted to have a business so that I could grow a business, much like a game. How can I turn something small into something big?

Gary found success doing what he loved, and being good at it. I hope I can have mastery of some skill

Stockholm!.jpg

Early Swedish Entrepreneurship

| No Comments

I want to explore Swedish business giants H&M, IKEA, and Volvo.

Volvo was founded in 1927, IKEA in 1943, and H&M in 2947.

Volvo

Volvo was started by two employees to Swedish Ball-Bearing company, SKF. Assar Gabrielsson, a SKF Sales Manager, and Engineer Gustav Larson. The car was designed for Sweden's geography and climate, and in the beginning was financed with extra sales commissions that Assar earned, but as the company grew, it did not make profit for years. SKF kept helping to finance the company as a subsidiary of SKF. Volvo was almost sold to an American automobile entrepreneur, Charles Nash, but Assar was confident that Volvo would soon make profit, and sure enough, the next year showed a small profit. Now that Volvo proved that it could survive without the continued investment by SKF, Volvo was put on the Stockholm stock market and SKF sold most of their shares.

Volvo is an example of a company built out of a need, but with much support from another pre-existing company. There were still risks involved with the venture, but the risk was seemingly minimized by the assistance of continued investment by SKF.

H&M

H&M was created in 1947 by Erling Persson in Västerås (a city I have been to many, many times!), as a store that sold women's clothing. He got the idea following a post-WWII trip to the United States as he was very impressed by efficient, high-volume stores. 20 years later, Persson acquired a hunting-equipment store (Mauritz Widforss), which included an inventory of men's clothing, which caused Persson to expand to menswear. Merging the women's store (originally called Hennes) with the Mauritz Widforss gave the store the new name H&M.

The store expanded to outside of Sweden around the same time as the merger, and it wasn't until the 1990's when the store was large enough to create a strong international presence. The brand is known for its fast-fashion clothing offerings, a concept also utilized by international fashion store "Zara" (my personal favorite). The idea is to get designs from catwalk to store in the fastest time to capitalize on the current market trends.

IKEA

IKEA was created by a 17-year old natural entrepreneur Ingvar Kamprad in Sweden. Ingvar sold matches to his neighbors via his bicycle as a little boy, and then the expanded his sales to include fish, Christmas tree decor, seeds, pens and pencils. He founded IKEA as a company to back all of his different sales activity, and as he diversified his portfolio of things to sell, he included furniture in 1948, when he was 22 years old. The sales were mostly mail-order.

One of the company's strength lied in Ingvar's stinginess. The firm is known for the attention it gives to cost control, operational details and continuous product development, allowing it to lower its prices while continuing to expand. Ingvar had those values very strongly in his own life. A characteristic that many will find as IKEA's defining quality is the cheap furniture that can be assembled by the consumer.
IKEA is an enormous private company, and its success can be attributed to its fine-tuned supply chain, its unique concept and strategy, and its inexpensive, chic product offering.

Commentary
These three businesses are prime examples of Swedish businesses that had a good idea, strong entrepreneurs, and continued motivation to grow the company. The stories mirror those of many American companies, and the big differences lie in the need posed in the country, in Volvo's case, but also in the current trends in the marketplace. These companies may try to stay on top of trends, but one could argue that their heavy influence now allows them to be trend-setters.

This is a picture of a popular mall area in Stockholm!

Swedish Mall.jpg

Final Entry: Conclusions & Key Learnings

| No Comments

Two and a half weeks in Sweden has changed some of my perceptions on business policy as well as national social policy, and has also squashed some of my previous perceptions on entrepreneurship internationally.

    1. Entrepreneurs are the same everywhere. The motivations that drive entrepreneurs are more or less the same. They may be taking advantage of an opportunity for change, following their passions, or both. Some businesses come out of necessity, some come out of passion. While the business structure may look different from country to country due to how the government enforces policy, the entrepreneur is typically a driven individual. I say typically, because the entrepreneurs who are not driven are the ones who are failing.


    2. How do these entrepreneurs start their businesses? From the entrepreneurs that I have spoke to, they either wanted to be an entrepreneur and created their business to fill that desire, or they followed their passions and registered an official business as a way to be fair to the government and pay their bills. Whether people want to be "entrepreneurs" or not, once they register with the government, they get the role and both passionistas and business-minded people want to succeed. In Sweden, they register with the government and get accountants to manage their books, just like in the United States. This leads us to the next question...

    3. How do entrepreneurs get assistance from the government? Entrepreneurs can get help from the unemployment agency for labor assistance and subsidization in early days of starting a business, but a great way for entrepreneurs to be supported is to seek support. The government will give businesses advice and point them in the right direction if the entrepreneur asks. Naturally, if an entrepreneur is looking for the best ways to pay their taxes, the recipient of those taxes is going to try an make it as easy as possible to get paid. Not all people look for assistance, but those who do get similar treatment that American businesses would get if they were looking towards community small business associations.

I thought entrepreneurship in Sweden would be radically different due to the more liberal government, but it isn't. Sure, the taxes are high, but the nation is beginning to think more about "entrepreneurship" and there is more resources than ever for aspiring entrepreneurs. The work ethic is similar to the USA, and the pressure to start small businesses is not exactly the same, but the need in Sweden to start businesses is strong (at least for young people). Education levels are high, diversity is surprisingly high (I thought it would just be a bunch of Blonde Girls, but I was sadly mistaken), and spread of ideas is rapid. This country may be super liberal, but It was not the "socialist/communist" country that I had came here expecting to see. I wish America had the same social policies as Sweden (guns are banned, army is used for defense only, universal healthcare, completely govt' sponsored schooling, higher taxes on the rich). While I have been here in the USA, I have been reading American articles about the USA and America seems more frustratingly corrupt than even... But the thing I love the most about America is our huge entrepreneur communities, and the desire to grow and build and learn and spread ideas.

I have learned a lot about Sweden, but I think my biggest revelation is that Sweden culture is just like Minnesota... with more tubes of paste and bread and cheese. Swedish business functions a lot like an American business would run, but the people who own the businesses don't get as insanely rich as they do in the United States. There's money and opportunity in Sweden, but its enough to be comfortable. Its certainly not like the excessive lifestyles in the USA.

Hej då Sweden, I've had a great time here! Back to the USA in the morning.

Emelie and I.jpg

References in Research

| No Comments

While most of my research was from interviews, I also used these five books to supplement my learning. Additionally, I used Wikipedia articles to help formulate some of the questions that I asked in my interviews. I did not use Wikipedia as a source for my findings, it just created a basis for a question that could be verified in the interview. All data in my blog has been verified by the business people I have talked to, except for when I make my own commentary.

References

Hemström, Carl. Corporations And Partnerships In Sweden. 1995.

Herolf, Olof. Doing Business in Sweden. 1995.

Johansson, B, C Karlsson, and R Stough. The Emerging Digital Economy. Berlin: Springer, 2006.

Ullenhag, Kersti. Nordic Business In The Long View, On Control And Strategy In Structural Change. Routledge, 1993.

Skog, Rolf. Setting Up A Business In Sweden. Stockholm: Huristförlaget, 1994.