The Travelling Salesman is back – Part 1

January 17th, 2011 by

microtask_travelling_salesman1In October 2010, we left Kristoffer Lawson with his plan to visit Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark in search of promising tech startups. After many vicissitudes, the trip is now over and he’s back. With a presentation held the 16th of December in the premises of Aalto Venture Garage, he went on retelling his legendary journey of networking and (self) discovery.

Good trip, but luck
“When I started thinking about this journey,” began Kristoffer, “it was always on my mind that I wanted to do it in a Landrover, because I wanted to visit a lot of remote places – I crossed six rivers in Iceland – and my intended 10,000 km drive actually turned out to be at least 13,000. I used Ville’s car and I loved it, even though it was hard to drive on the twisty Norwegian roads and long Danish motorways”, said Kristoffer handing the keys back reluctantly.

The trip, he admits, hasn’t been an easy one. When asked about the most difficult moments, he recalls: “We* had a hard time when the car was broken into in Umeå. Not only was the stereo stolen, but the windows were gone too… We found a garage in Gothenburg that could replace them with plexiglas pieces which worked surprisingly well. I lost my winter gear, got a stomach bug for three days in Copenhagen…This doesn’t compare to the Finnish couple we met though. They’d just had their house burned down, losing all their memories…what can you say to something like that? We didn’t have much but we gifted them with a printer.”

Sweden: Struggling to get it together
Dramas aside, Kristoffer found out some interesting – and somewhat unexpected – details about nordic tech startups during his time on the road. “Finance is what everybody is struggling with,” comments Kristoffer. He says it’s possibly even worse in Sweden than in Finland and that the two contries complain about the same things. “If you do some consumer-level technology or software, nobody knows about that, nobody wants to invest in that kind of thing. If you are looking for €100k-500k, it’s hard to get that kind of investment. All the people who have succeeded got money from abroad one way or the other. In Finland we have Tekes funding and they have something similar over there, so that’s at least something…”

He believes that in Finland, however, there is more of a joint effort going on between startups and students – Aalto Venture Garage being one example. “That’s really good,” he says, “as in Sweden everybody seemed to be a bit isolated, kind of taking care of everything alone, or more like not taking care of it. For example, there was no drive to approach the media.”

Norway: Fisherman’s friend
“Norway was perhaps the most difficult. Great companies…but not many of them. Aside from in Oslo, everything is energy- or fishing-related. For example in Stavanger I went to the business incubator, a place meant to boost entrepreneurship, and asked about software companies, web startups, anything…the answer was almost always: “Software…what does that mean?” After my host thought about it for a while, she said: “All right, we have one company here that does simulation of oil rigs”. Not exactly what I had in mind. Then I found a couple of startups, but we were out of time and we didn’t manage to meet.”

Continuing on?
So maybe Norway deserves a second visit at a later stage. What about the rest? The tale of the Travelling Salesman continues in the next post of this very same blog with impressions from Denmark, Iceland, best practices and organizational issues. Meanwhile, if someone from the Swedish or Norwegian start up scene wants to share some insight, we would be very happy to hear from them.

* some entrepreneur, talent scouts and friends joined Kristoffer here and there along the way.