Gaining a foothold in Sweden as an entrepreneur... How do you do that? The Dutch recruiter Undutchables has made a bold entry into the Swedish market with Undutchables Sweden. We spoke with owner Karin Björkman as well as her business partner and husband Guido Tendijck in Stockholm.
A Swedish native, Björkman lived in the Netherlands for twenty years and spent eighteen of those years at Undutchables. When she was asked whether she wanted to introduce the Undutchables concept in Sweden, she jumped at the opportunity.
She left the Netherlands together with Tendijck and returned to her homeland. There, she set to work as an independent entrepreneur under the umbrella of the Undutchables parent company. Successfully bringing together enterprises and international employees requires that you not only speak the market’s language but also understand its culture. Undutchables does both.
Launching an enterprise in Sweden
In addition to relying on her Swedish background, Björkman has made use of the network and knowledge of the Dutch embassy, while has also done a lot of her own research. It has been fairly easy to find information because she speaks Swedish. She realises, however, that entrepreneurs who do not speak the language take a different path. “To anyone who is taking steps to launch their own company here, I recommend that they prepare by gathering as much information as possible from different sources. The contact we’ve had with the Dutch community in Sweden has also been very valuable to us, as we’ve been able to exchange experiences about living and working here and now.”
When Undutchables made a previous attempt to gain a foothold abroad, it was unsuccessful due to the financial crisis. For this reason, we are now trying a different tack: using our own people who know the company, speak the language and are familiar with the social conventions. Even so, it remains difficult to work in Sweden as a foreigner or to return to Sweden as a ‘half foreigner’. Despite the fact that Björkman is Swedish, it has not been easy for her to enter the Swedish labour market. Björkman: “While Sweden and the Netherlands are similar markets, they haven’t yet realised in Sweden that they need an international workforce to keep the economy going, including for the further development of the tech sector.” The companies that do realise this fact are not yet very familiar with the idea of using an external agency to recruit international employees.
Patience is a virtue
Launching an enterprise in Sweden requires a lot of patience. With respect to the consensus culture in Sweden, Björkman says: “The Dutch polder model pales in comparison to what goes on in Sweden. A manager here never takes a decision on their own. So many people are involved in the decision that there’s never just one person who gets the praise or the blame. Most processes are very slow as a result. That’s different from the Netherlands, where decisive action will be taken at a certain point. While that doesn’t always work out, you can learn from it and move forward.”
According to Björkman and Tendijck, a major cultural difference between the countries is the indirectness of the Swedes as opposed to the directness of the Dutch. “Swedes are sometimes too nice and can’t say no, even though that’s what they mean. This fact can make it difficult to do business in Sweden.”
Tendijck says that people in Sweden are much more cautious than in the Netherlands: “You’re not allowed to make any mistakes in Sweden. If you make a decision as a manager and it turns out to be the wrong decision, it’s not you who takes the blame but the entire team. After all, you’ve made the decision together.”
Advice for doing business in Sweden
Björkman and Tendijck were informed of the importance to establish a network in Sweden. “We gratefully followed up on this recommendation. As far as possible, we’ve attended networking meetings and gotten to meet new people, both on a professional and on a personal level. This approach has helped us to promote our business, our product and ourselves as well as to increase our name recognition. It’s been pretty successful over the past two years! An openness to meeting new people is also in our nature. Still, it’s a must when you move to another country, especially when you’re launching a company at the same time.
The challenge is to know who can be of use to you. Where you often think that you’ve made good agreements to work together, you usually have to jump through a lot of hoops before you actually get down to business with someone in Sweden.
Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go as you expect! Our recommendation for people who want to launch an enterprise in Sweden is to believe in yourself, don’t give up and have a lot of patience! Gather information about the Swedish mentality and make a plan for how you will be successful in Sweden.”