Ola Ahlvarsson Seeks to Make Sweden Major Web Player

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STOCKHOLM -- One of Sweden's most successful Internet entrepreneurs is out to bring more U.S. Web companies to Europe and to launch them in eight or 10 countries simultaneously.


Ola Ahlvarsson founded boxman.com, a music Web site, in 1997 and had it up and rolling in eight countries two years later when he bailed out to found Result Venture Knowledge International, a consulting and Web idea-generating firm.


In the 10 months Result has been in business, "we have done 32 launches and have ownership in 14 of them. In some, we have a stake; some we created, and in some, we are the majority shareholders," Ahlvarsson said. His company is now valued at $120 million.


"Our next step is to offer U.S. companies one stop shopping for opening up in Europe. Now a lot of people make that offer, but few have hands-on operational experience which is how we differ from others."


In setting up boxman.com across Europe, Ahlvarsson recruited good people and launched innovative advertising campaigns in eight countries at the same time.


"We found excellent people in these countries and had investors back boxman.com in each one. It opened doors and assured a good rollout for the company in Europe. We now have the ability to do that over and over."


Response now has a presence in the four Scandinavian countries, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, as well as in New York and Brazil, which he thinks is already a great Internet market.


"You have a middle class of 10 to 15 percent of a 160 million population and that's already a larger consumer market than we have in Scandinavia. Brazil can take U.S. and European concepts and launch them successfully.


"Everything down there is already dot-com, and we can find stuff all over Latin American that has never been seen by European or American investors." He hopes to open in Hong Kong or Singapore this month and in Tokyo in August.


U.S. Web companies, he conceded, still get "the biggest bang for their buck" at home short term, but long term, "it is insane to exclude Asia and Europe, which are both larger than the U.S., and let other people take it.


Although Ahlvarsson buys into the concept that the Internet is global, he argues that "as soon as you cross a national border Internet behavior changes totally. Most Finns don't know anything about Swedish or Norwegian sites.


"Opportunities exist because you can see a concept work in one country and move it to the next, provided you make the changes that local conditions demand and that is where local competence comes in."


But local conditions and competencies make the launch of a pan-European approach difficult, he said, echoing an argument traditional U.S. direct marketers have carried on for the last decade.


"It's a relevance thing. Spaniards don't go to Peruvian Web sites. Finnish journalists write about Finnish Web sites. Buy one computer or business magazine in 10 countries, and you see very different editorial content -- and that's where we see an opportunity.


"The problem is not having an idea but having some execution behind it.


"A good business plan doesn't talk about Internet companies but about companies with online distribution from digital to WAP and various hand held Internet applications. Dot-coms will have to expand to wireless."


Ahlvarsson is also working on a new concept he developed while attending this year's World Economic Forum in Davos -- Internet incubators for blue-chip companies whose top management wants to do more on the Web but doesn't have the time to become personally involved.


"I realized that many of those business leaders who attended had their own ideas, but it isn't very likely that Exxon would spin off its own dot-coms. We could offer them an incubator to develop their ideas."


In other words, big companies would create small ones, "and we could have them up and running in two months in six or eight countries." The idea, he added, marries the Result network's speed with "the strength and credibility of blue-chip companies."


Stockholm, Ahlvarsson believes, is the ideal location for developing new Internet ideas and concepts.


"The startup scene here is like Silicon Valley. Since the mid-nineties, private individuals who made a lot of money paved the way for venture capital to invest in high-tech ventures."


Eight out of the 10 largest Web agencies are Swedish, he claimed. Some of the largest portals are located here. The market is 60 percent wired and "in absolute terms, Sweden sells more on the Web than the U.K."
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