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Doing business in Sweden: cultural awareness is essential

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If there is one tip Martijn Garretsen could give other entrepreneurs, it would be that cultural awareness is essential. On a wintry Friday morning in Stockholm, while enjoying a typical Swedish fika of coffee and cinnamon rolls, Dutch embassy and Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) staff sat down for an interview with Martijn Garretsen, co-founder of Blue Billywig.  

Blue Billywig offers an innovative Online Video Platform to its customers, allowing them an easy way to publish and analyse their videos and add interactive or personalisation features to them. One example of a happy customer is, which uses interactive videos to inform their passengers about the number of hand and hold luggage items they are allowed to carry. The possibilities offered by Blue Billywig are almost unlimited, from self-service videos to a video advertisement service. Ever since its foundation, it has generated half of its turnover abroad. In late 2018, it opened its first foreign office in Stockholm, Sweden. We were granted an exclusive peak behind the curtain.

Original company name

Blue Billywig sounds very playful – where is it from? ‘Blue Billywig is a fantasy character from the Harry Potter series,’ Garretsen explains. ‘It's only half an inch long, giving it a subtle presence. Blue Billywig can fly and sting. When you've been stung, you'll get the Blue Billywig virus: a happy feeling. Suddenly, anything is possible. This mirrors our approach to video: the possibilities are not limited to linear video, but extend way beyond that. I believe that in the future, the number of possibilities will only increase and viewers will become ever more immersed in the viewing experience, thanks to interactivity.’ The strides Blue Billywig has taken since November 2006 demonstrate that the sky really is the limit. Its customer portfolio includes such major brands as VodafoneZiggo and Albert Heijn. Moreover, Blue Billywig is a GoogleVideo Technology Partner as part of a programme that brings together the world's most advanced video platforms. All this earned it a spot in the Top 250 Scale-ups in 2018.

Why an office in Sweden?

Now the company has expanded to Sweden. How did this come about? Garretsen: ‘Together with embassies, RVO and a team of students from Fontys University of Applied Sciences, we carried out research to find out which country was best suited as a base to increase our export activities. It soon transpired that Sweden offered the most opportunities. We more or less already knew this, thanks to a knowledge session about doing business in the Nordics organised by Sweden is characterised by its advanced technology and extensive use of all types of video. During the start-up phase, the embassy was extremely helpful, providing us with practical information and setting us up with contacts.’ 

Starting in Sweden

Starting a business in Sweden is relatively easy, Garretsen says: ‘The authorities here are beyond helpful and professional. What helps is that people generally have an excellent command of English and many authorities and businesses offer a high standard of online services. It's therefore not surprising that Stockholm is currently among the best cities for innovative tech companies – and we're right in the middle of things with an office in SUP46, a leading incubator for tech start-ups and scale-ups in Stockholm's city centre. We're surrounded by many like-minded companies, so we can exchange experiences and attract staff more easily. I'm also struck by the level of cooperation between Sweden and its Scandinavian neighbours. It's comparatively easy to expand from here to neighbouring countries.’ 

Business culture

Garretsen has a key piece of advice for other Dutch entrepreneurs: ‘Get to know the business culture. Although our cultures are similar, there are a number of subtleties that can make all the difference. In the Netherlands, organisations are non-hierarchic and we're used to holding many consultations and meetings, but Sweden outdoes us in this regard. As a consequence, it takes that much longer to reach a decision. The advantage is that all decisions are well-considered and you can be assured that they will enter into long-standing relationships with you. This extends beyond relationships with individual companies. For example, one of our first customers was a major pension insurer. They introduced us to many other companies.’


Another vital aspect of the Swedish business culture is punctuality, Garretsen stresses: ‘Arriving late is a massive no-no. Either arrive bang on time, or don't bother showing up at all.’ Knowing the language is another big plus. ‘Even if you only speak a few words, this might still be enough to clear up misunderstandings or break the ice at the start of a negotiation. If you've taken the trouble to get to know the culture, contacts develop much more easily. The Dutch have a tendency to communicate very directly, as a result of which they can come across as rather blunt. If you've clearly gone to great lengths to immerse yourself in the country and its culture, you'll reap the rewards.’


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