These are my running notes from this PFIT meeting on Innovation from Norway. 26 participants, everything included, mix of people from product companies, consultants from various innovation companies, a few students, and odds and ends.
Kirsti Kierulf opened the seminar, talking about the opportunities for open innovation that comes with the collaboration between Microsoft, FAST, Accenture and other partners in the Search Lab at FAST. She has been central in establishing it and have a vision of making it a contributor into a global technology innovation network.
Jennifer Wessels from NextStep, a consulting firm specializing in technology marketing and exports, talked about the challenges of launching technical products abroad. Most entrepreneurs underestimates the investment of time and money it takes to launch something in the US, as well as the need for a solid local base (with customers whom potential customers can talk to.) Expect at least a year of pure investment in networking, another year to get to break-even, and a third year where you can start to think about profitability. That’s if everything works and you have a real customer base to work from. Don’t build to sell, build to last, first.
Another fallacy is starting only from the technology innovation view. If you define your company around the technology innovation, you sometimes forget customer need. Start out looking for what is missing in today’ market. Then look at how your technology can help. The best way to figure this out is called networking – get to know other suppliers, consultants, integrators, etc. Most companies miss on the market assessment research – spend 3 months, spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars, get the numbers and the credibility.
Some discussion points from the Q&A session:
- look for representatives that are local (not Norwegian) and have long experience and strong connections
- use other Norwegian companies for support – those that already have established presence there
- get a US presence early, even if it is only virtual – brochures in American English, a local telephone number, a rented office space with someone who checks the mail
- when you really build a location, keep it close to your customers,
- talk to people with industry experience of you customer industry, not your own
Allan Bjørnstad from Tandberg started by telling the story of Tandberg – a Norwegian audio and video company that when bankrupt in the 70s and reemerged in 1988 into videoconferencing. Funding and R&D support from Telenor, first product in 1991, sold very hard, in 1993 they had 30 people and 2% market share. Still a small niche company, large competitors, had to both make money and grow. Got funding from VC companies, strategy to get 10% market share, got that in 1995, 60 people. Strong values: Make fun and profit. "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Strong growth: 450 people in 2000 (25% marketshare), 850 people in 2005 (to 40% market share), acquired companies, built foundation in the US. Up to 2001 just in video conferencing, now moving into visual communication outside videoconferencing rooms. Production and manufacturing done by others, most employees are in sales or R&D. 2006- forward: Change how people communicate, integration with web sites, work with companies like Statoil to integrate visual communication into their infrastructure. Today 1400 people in 45 countries. 2001-2005 market growth 10%, Tandberg growth 24%, 2006-7 50% Tandberg, 37% market growth. Key point: Build something unique.
- how does Tandberg avoid becoming a high-end specialty company that loses out to cheaper, disruptive technologies? Answer: Focusing on visual communication, not videoconferencing, deliver functionality into technology platforms
- Skype? We cannot charge the private customers, but we can charge the enterprise customers. Follow the money.
- How to find funding? Talk about money, not technology, talk about market, not invention. Dare to be different.
FAST does not see itself as a Norwegian company, but more as half-American, which is a great strength. FAST has had a great journey – started 11 years ago, from the Norwegian Technical University, first finding its niche (tried search, some hardware, image transfers, etc.), had some success with alltheweb.com, tough times in 2001-03. Focus on the enterprise search market. Enterprises have much larger document sets, and lacks the link structure you find on the Internet. That means you both need scalability and to insert some intelligence in the form of metadata. FAST has two kinds of customers: Productivity customers, like Statoil and the FBI, who has employees that need to find data fast. This is a tough market to sell in, because everybody says that they can help you here. Sarbanes-Oxley and security is also a driver in this market.
The best market is where FAST helps companies make money rather than save money – companies that are moving into the digital space. Publishers, newspapers, media companies, telecommunications, banks etc.: Talk to the CEO and help them shape strategy to get into this space. Acquired by Microsoft because of strong technology and understanding of how to sell to large corporations (technology, people and vision). Now has 3600 installations, 700 employees in 32 locations (Oslo and Boston most important, nice dialogue between the pushy American and prudent Norwegian), 150 alliance and OEM partners.
- Choose large, international customers. (got Dell, IBM early.)
- Have at least one large office outside the Nordics.
- Think international from the start; use English as the primary language.
- Invest in a few international stars (ambassadors who know the culture, juniors who are hungry and can travel, rainmakers who generate the sales).
- Expect a lot of travel: both your employees and your customers want to see you face to face
- Build a good virtual culture: conference calls, instant messenger, etc.
- Create a big transcultural vision
- Create good processes, VIP culture and prudence
- First and foremost: ensure that technology, people and sales are "world class"
- Otherwise: People focus, deal focus, extremely hard work, extreme capabilities, quiet confidence.