December 2011 Archives

"Hej!" from Sverige

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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.

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Swedish Economy Key Notes

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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.

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Dinner Table Discoveries

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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.

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Christmas!

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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.
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All these stores are called Max!

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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.

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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

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Shopping (Sweatshirts vs. Swedeshirts), Globalization

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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.

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Types of Business in Sweden

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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.

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

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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.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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