A thriving start-up, a world-renowned economist, a country’s largest airline and most powerful bank. These are just some of the different perspectives that we got to hear from this week in Madrid. Each Spanish leader we had the chance to meet with offered different financial insights about the Spanish economy and how it affects their work.
The economy of Spain is the world’s fourteenth-largest by nominal GDP, the 5th largest in Europe and it is also one of the largest in the world by purchasing power parity. It is however often cited for high unemployment and taking off the entire month of August. In our first meeting with TV analyst Daniel Lacalle, we quickly learned that this unemployment number (occasionally in the 20 – 25% range) is actually much lower based on how they calculate full-time employment and the underground employment. For example, the current unemployment rate of 17% would actually be 12% if calculated the same way as the US.
Geoblink, led by Jaime Sánchez-Laulhé, a CEO with an MBA, also touched on the differences of trying to make it as a start-up in Spain versus Silicon Valley. He noted 2 key differences in working in Madrid versus the Bay Area. One, wages for software engineers are much lower and less competitive than SF making it more sustainable to be a start-up. Secondly, there is much stronger company loyalty in Spain. Because of government regulations that make laying off employees very expensive, people then do not regularly switch companies because the hiring process is much more difficult. He, in fact, has only had one employee leave in 3 years with the company and a staff of 40.
It’s been exciting to learn about the pride and power of the Spanish economy.
Sticker Price – 8000 Euros
My WTP – $250 R/E Ration – .4 (Reality/Expectations)
Innovation Score – 77 (out of 100) Practicality Rating – 1.2 (out of 5)
American Version – Peloton
The ICAROS is a VR enabled flying workout machine developed by HYVE. Featured in my previous post, the ICAROS creates a rush of adrenaline and high expectations upon first glance. The design looks as though a one-person-seesaw procreated with an iPhone to create a sexy monster of a workout machine. In reality, however, it’s a good workout that engages the core and stretches the lower back, but the VR is lackluster with low resolution video and simple game play (fly through rings) mechanics. I experienced a little of the VR spins/dizziness, but I think it is something I would get use to if I used everyday. Overall, the ICAROS is a bit of a hype beast that would likely collect dust in your home and best belongs in an equinox or other overpriced gym.
2. The Paradise Cleanseat Power by CWS-boco
Sticker Price – 1770.36 Euros My WTP – $2,177.54 R/E Ratio – 1.8 (Reality/Expectations) Innovation Score – 90 (out of 100) Practicality Rating – 3.6 (out of 5) American Version – Dirty Toilet Seat
There are some products in life that you never knew you needed, but after one taste of that sweet nectar, you now struggle to live life without it. Meet the Paradise Cleanseat Power by CWS-boco, a self cleaning toilet seat. CWS is a Swiss company, but boco began as a laundry service by Bernhard Burmeister in Hamburg, Germany in 1899. 109 years of cleaning craftsmanship has culminated into the eloquence of design and practicality that is the Paradise Cleanseat Power.
3. The Mark by Proglove
Sticker Price – 850 Euros (scanner) + 8.50 Euros (gloves) My WTP – $10 R/E Ratio – 1.3 (Reality/Expectations) Innovation Score – 55 (out of 100) Practicality Rating – 4.5 (out of 5) American Version – Wait…there’s manufacturing in the U.S.?
Imagine the glove that Spiderman uses to shoot web, but instead of using web to fight crime, it uses a bar code scanner to shave 3 seconds off installing a part into a BMW! The Mark by Proglove and all of Proglove’s products are named after ex boyfriends and girlfriends of the team as a way to remind everyone that sometimes you have to let a good thing go to get to something better (this is 100% true). While not the most exciting of innovations, the Mark gets the job done as manufacturers see the return on investment within 3 months of having workers switch to its part scanning solution over traditional bar code scanners.
4. Tilt Turn by Veka
Sticker Price – Call for price a.k.a. Super Expensive My WTP – $1200 (for 3 windows) R/E Ratio – 2.1 (Reality/Expectations) Innovation Score – 82 (out of 100) Practicality Rating – 4.9 (out of 5) American Version – That window that barely opens in NYC
The simple and blissful experience of using the Tilt Turn window by Zeka is unmatched by anything found in the states. The sensation one feels as your hand grasps the handle and gracefully tilts…and dare I say…turns the window, is just glorious nirvana. Well actually its more of a turn then tilt, but we’ll let that slide because it is such a great example of German engineering. I’m not the only weirdo who loves this window – check out an entire Tilt & Turn podcast by 99% Invisible. Nothing more can be said about this amazing product, well done Veka…well done!
5. Speed S +Plus Self Service Podium by Zumex
Sticker Price – 7290 Euros My WTP – It is worth mortgaging your house or selling 2 Hamilton tickets R/E Ratio – 10.0 (Reality/Expectations) Innovation Score – 100 (out of 100) Practicality Rating – 5 (out of 5) American Version – Sunny Delight (As in everything else tastes like sunny d in comparison after you try this)
Ok so we are cheating a little with this one, but that is just how much the entire Innovation Aus Deutschland class loved this thing. The Speed S +Plus Self Service Podium by Zumex is a Spanish made orange juicing machine…there I said it. But alas, we found a loophole! Siemens (As German a company as possible) makes the PLM Software Solid Edge that enables Zumex to create better products through 3D design, simulation, manufacturing, data management and more! And lets face it, there’s nothing more German than creating the thing inside the thing that builds the thing. Please watch the above video to see why we love this juicer so much!
6. Narrow Band Iot Device by IoT Venture
Sticker Price – It’s a Protype so free? My WTP – The price of a fitbit R/E Ratio – 1.0 (Reality/Expectations) Innovation Score – 77 (out of 100) Practicality Rating – 3.2 (out of 5) American Version – Find my iPhone
Did you know that 30% of all bikes in Berlin are stolen and only 5% are found? To be honest, I didn’t fact check this, but that is the claim of IoT Venture, a Berlin startup that is a member of the startup community Factory. IoT Venture uses new narrow band technology to build tracking devices that have longer battery life, better security, and deeper indoor penetration for more accurate tracking than the current solutions. The company is currently in a prototype phase, but hopes to help solve Berlins bike crisis when it launches. Although many were tempted to take the prototype as a souvenir, we were quickly informed that they would be able to track us down (which I thought would be the greatest product demo ever).
“In order to achieve sustainable growth, innovation is vital.” -Hanwha DreamPlus Entrepreneur
Walking into Hanwha’s DreamPlus center, you might initially think you are at a regular office building for the life insurance conglomerate. Yet far from a traditional Hanwha outpost, the DreamPlus center—which will have its grand opening next month—is a Pan-Asian innovation ecosystem and the largest Fintech accelerator in Korea. It finds, cultivates, and supports startups in global expansion, investment opportunities, and innovation acceleration. DreamPlus centers handpick high-impact startups across payment, lending, security, cryptocurrency, and a variety of other Fintech spaces. Since 2014, 5 DreamPlus centers have opened across Asia, including three in South Korea, one in Japan, and one in China.
The DreamPlus center is intentionally designed to foster a collaborative and growth-oriented culture. For example, the 4th floor contains a media center, complete with soundstage and recording studio, while the 3rd floor is built out as an expansive library. The lower level includes a sports bar, convenience store, and a meeting space decked out with neon lights and graffiti. On the 9th and 10th floors, early- and mid-stage start-ups are housed together to promote continued conversation and shared resources.
The Korean start-up scene sits within a unique landscape. One of the major benefits to start-ups is that the Korean government invests heavily in its conglomerates, or chaebols, providing subsidies that allow for quick growth, expansion, and maturity. In addition, many Koreans we met with pointed to the economic and cultural dynamism of the country as a key facet of the industry’s competitive advantage.
Yet start-ups here are not without challenges. There already doesn’t exist a lot of work-life balance in Korea, and this is even more pronounced in start-up culture. It can also be difficult to attract top talent to these companies. The Korean education system is incredibly competitive and, most parents want to see their kids go to work at traditional market leaders, like Samsung and Hyundai.
We asked one of the entrepreneurs about the biggest benefit of DreamPlus. “You don’t have to spend money or time here trying to appear successful,” he said. “You can focus on the work, the innovation, and solving the problem at hand.”
Lindy Gould (’19) is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.
The time has come, today marks the final day for the GIP Nordic Family Enterprise trip. We cap off our week here at Stockholm, visiting Mr. Peter Wallenberg, from the prominent Swedish business family, who have given back to their country as bankers, industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, and philanthropists. Today was definitely a highlight for the entire class, as Mr. Wallenberg shared with his stories about his humble beginnings as a busboy from their family owned “Grant Hotel” here in Sweden, which is worth mentioning is the only five star hotel until this day in Sweden. Mr. Wallenberg had told us about how despite his family’s wishes for him to work on the business side of their enterprise, he decided to start off working at the Grand Hotel. This experience ignited a flame that lead him to study hotel management in the University of Denver. Eventually, Mr. Wallenberg went back to work in a variety of management roles for the Grand Hotel, after eventually becoming the CEO for 12 years in 2006.
There is no doubt that Mr. Wallenberg’s colorful and insightful story had the class enthralled and engaged in his history, but what he seemed to speak most fondly about was his work with the Wallenberg Foundation, and his efforts to educate and bring together the 6th generation of Wallenbergs. He has hopes to create a culture of active owners, who are not only responsible citizens, but who are educated on the family companies as well as their goals and aspirations. Aside from educating the sixth generation about the various companies and functions, the foundation also organizes activities such as trips to other family businesses headquarters and factories, to see how they function within the organization. Other activities include an outdoor activity where in groups of the sixth generation are placed on an island for 24 hours to try and figure out how to interact with nature as well as work with one another. Though somewhat unconventional, Mr. Wallenberg has shared how much closer the next generation has become. On a larger scale, the family also gets together once a year on “Amalia Day”, with all generations to celebrate the life of one of their founders. Here, heads of family share ongoings within the business and family, but is also an opportunity for the rest of the family to get to know one another. “Parents Day” is another event that allows communication with parents of those within the sixth generation of Wallenbergs.
Despite all the efforts to get the next generation involved in the business, Mr. Wallenberg also stressed the importance of the will of the 6th generation to become a part of the business would need to come from them, and not to be dictated by others within the family.
After this, we met with Korina Papadopoulou, a second generation communications manager for her family company “Fontana.” Fontana is a food company that imports and packages fresh ingredients such as juices, olives, and cheese from Cyprus, to be sold to the Swedish market. Coming to Sweden as refugees in 1975, Korina’s father started the company soon after in 1978, it is today the leading brand in Sweden of green food from Cyprus and Greek. Joining the session was Annika Hall, who is a family business consultant, and has also written a book about the family’s rich history. Annika had shared about the inspiring story of the family, building a business from the ground up despite their inability to get help from the Swedish banks and government. Korina spoke about how her father’s hardwork, together with his passion for sustainability, has built the company to what it is today. Korina’s passions however, did not align with that of her family’s company. She had studied in the UK to become a journalist, and worked as a producer and director for MTV for most of her professional career. She had never really expressed interest in the family business, nor was she pressured to work for it, and she felt after years away from the family, that it was time to move back to Sweden and see how she could help the family. Today, her brother Loizos has taken over as CEO of the company, while Korina serves as the communications manager, focusing on PR and product development. Korina spoke fondly of working with her brother, which she has said made it a joy to come to work for the family. There is without a doubt, a unique chemistry with their relationship that is definitely unique, and something that the class felt as extremely genuine.
Looking back at the Nordic Family Enterprise program trip, I can say with certainly for the whole class, that this was most definitely a memorable and worthwhile trip that has changed some of our perspectives of family businesses. With about half the class having little to no exposure to family business, we had learned not only about structures to help govern and improve the efficiency of family businesses, but also about the importance of values and love within the family to create harmony and lessen conflict to between family and management, but also within the family. Many of us learned that a family business is unique from other businesses, in the sense that not only are you dealing with the growth of the company, and the wellbeing of shareholders, but also with the desires of family and legacy of the company’s founder, which are apparent through the values that are passed on from generation to generation.
What are US / Cuban relations like overall? Pretty icy as of the Trump presidency. What have my relations with Cuban been like? ¿Acere, que bola? Bienvenido a la Habana!
Here’s a day in the life of an American in Cuba, and some of our learnings.
7:00AM: Log into Wi-Fi in the hotel. Wi-Fi is extremely difficult to get in Cuba because the state restricts it to public hotspots where you must bring a pre-paid card with a code on it to log in. You know where a hotspot is because you will see many people sitting on their cell phones. We are lucky enough to have hotel Wi-Fi, and the only time many of the group accessed it was in the morning and evening when at the hotel.
8:00AM: Eat breakfast at the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana. The hotel is operated by Spanish company Melia and owned by the Cuban government.
9:00AM: Meet with Cuba Emprende, a Catholic Church sponsored organization that educates and supports private small business entrepreneurs. We spoke with several students of the program. These entrepreneurs usually have outside remittances or family support to start businesses. A paladar, or a Cuban restaurant, can be as costly as $200K CUC (roughly $200K USD) to start.
11:00AM: Visit small private business, Clandestina. The founders are two very impressive and scrappy women, one Spanish and one Cuba, who own the only major retail/clothing brand in Cuba. They bring materials from the US themselves, and hand paint or stamp designs on their cheeky t-shirts. Their most famous shirt design says, “Actually, I’m in Havana” – an ode to the fact that internet is extremely difficult to connect to, and you would tell a friend when you finally do connect that “Actually, I’m in Havana [and have limited internet]”.
Noon: Eat lunch on the rooftop patio of La Makina Gastro Bar. We had the option of fish, chicken or lamb at most restaurants, and most automatically served a mojito with every meal. The meals we had on our trip were the best of the best Cuban cuisine, and it is important to note, we saw no Cuban sandwiches on any menus! Our tour guide, Rossi, warned us that Cuba is not known for its food given the difficulties of importing supplies and the lack of production in the country (as the highly educated population is not incentivized to work in agriculture).
1:00PM: After the meal a brand ambassador of Havana Club, a JV with French company Pernod Ricard, spoke with us about how to taste Cuban rum, and how the Cuban and French companies work together quite well to sell over $40M in Havana Club in Cuba alone each year. It is not available in the US due to the Embargo.
3PM: Meet with the EU embassy. The diplomats we spoke to from the embassy were relatively new to the office and spoke about their thoughts on Cuban-EU and Cuban-US relations. They were notably, very diplomatic in their responses!
6PM: Dinner at La Guarida, an old dilapidated mansion whose top floor was renovated and turned into a restaurant and rooftop bar. The cuisine was excellent by Cuban standards and the atmosphere was absolutely charming.
9PM: Enjoy a daiquiri at Floridita, a bar Hemmingway frequented during his extradition in Cuba. Afterwards, head home to connect to Wi-Fi and recharge prior to a trip to the historic colonial city of Trinidad, a 5 hour bus ride from Havana.
Our second day in Sweden took us to the town an hour outside Stockholm where the group met with the owner and fifth generation family member of Hästens, Jan Ryde. For those unfamiliar with the brand, Hästens is a Swedish family-owned producer of luxury mattresses, bed linens, and lifestyle accessories. The company prides themselves on use of raw materials such as cotton, horse hair, wool, and flax. Established in 1852, the now 166 year old company has gone a long way from its sole offering of horse saddles, when they decided during the later part of their second generation to diversify to mattresses, with the decline of transportation via horse.
Today, Jan Ryde continues his family legacy into the 21st century, expanding the brand overseas, as far as Los Angeles and China. Hästens mattresses can be found in many households in Sweden, including that of the Royal Family, for whom Hästens has already produced over 60. Stepping into the CEO within the last few years, Jan Ryde brings a culture of family into the organization, with beautifully photographed and mounted photos of all their employees on the factory walls, and very informal interpersonal relationships between management and employees. Starting off the next generation, Jan’s 2 sons have recently joined the management team, eager and ready to carry on the family legacy.
After the visit, the group stopped by a small town on the way back to Stockholm for a quick meal featuring a traditional Swedish take of Goulash, before hiking to see some of the oldest Viking graves in the area. During this time, three of our CBS team also finalized preparations for final presentations to the Grant Thorton Group, and several Swedish family businesses. Grant Thorton is one of the world’s leading independent audit, tax and advisory firms, leading business advising to dynamic organizations.
Grant Thorton had organized an event for small family businesses interested in advisory and networking opportunities. During the event, Columbia Business School was invited to present topics to certain family businesses who were interested in either expanding operations or learning more about structural procedures to better and grow their respective businesses. There were three groups that presented and consulted for three family businesses, including:
Spiltan investment firm, who wanted to learn more about active and engaged ownership. The CBS group informed that company about the importance of communicating values to family members, and including an outside board to challenge internal board members, and engage them to innovate.
Lexington Clothing Company is a New England inspired clothing and lifestyle brand that was interested in expanding their international operations around the globe. One of the members who is herself a New England native, spoke about the local trends and preferences for logo-less clothing, in contrast to brands with larger logos in the Nordic regions.
Rejler is an engineering construction business in their third-generation that inspires the family members and employees with their core values of passion, empowerment, and health. Through Grant Thorton, the company had contacted our CBS team to learn more about Family Offices, as the company is presently in the process of creating their own. We soon found out that not many Swedish family business recognize or understand the importance of a family business and were pleasantly surprised to learn more about this from our team.
Around 100 family business members attended along with Grant Thorton members and the group from Columbia Business School. Speaking to some of the family business members during the networking event, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that the research and presentations from yesterday were very valuable in setting the informational foundation and groundwork to begin planning their family offices, as well as finding ways to keep owners active and engaged in the company.
The CBS group ended the night with some of the young associates from Grant Thorton at a restaurant called Miss Clara, in the trendy area of Stockholm. Students were able to not only reflect on the day’s presentations with the associates, but also find out more about Swedish culture and look for common threads between their different cultures. Today, the team will meet with Peter Wallenberg of the Wallenberg Foundation to present their findings on next generation education.
Over the past three days, we’ve heard from three inspiring Burmese men—Htet Myet Oo, the co-founder of Rangoon Tea House; Phyo Phyu Noe, the director at Delta Capital Myanmar; and Godfrey Tan, the chairman and CEO of Frontiir. They all have one thing in common: they studied abroad and then repatriated to Myanmar.
On Wednesday, we had lunch at Rangoon Tea House and got to experience a twist on Burmese food. The restaurant was founded by a group of repatriated Burmese citizens who wanted Burmese food to be more recognizable and respected, both nationally and internationally. Like many other presenters we heard from, Htet Myet Oo emphasized that the biggest problem in Myanmar is access to capital, as interest rates are often prohibitive. Yet, despite all that, after living in London, he came back. While his English was great, he mentioned that one of his reasons for returning was that outside of Myanmar no one speaks Burmese, making it difficult. But he also spoke about how he thought of Myanmar as being one of the most innovative places in the world because there are so many problems and so much room for change and opportunity.
Today, we heard from Phyo Phyu Noe, who spent a significant amount of time in the United States—both undergraduate and graduate degrees—but always had the goal of coming back to Myanmar. Frontiir, run by Godfrey Tan, is one of his PE investments. Through proprietary technology, Frontiir provides affordable digital access and useful information services to people in Myanmar. In a country where power can go out intermittently, they provide unlimited internet access to more than 120,000 households—double what was available just a year ago. Additionally, they employ more than 1,300 Myanmar people—one-in-eight of which is repatriated, with the goal of repatriating even more.
Hearing from the three of them ended our short trip on a sense of hope for a country trying to make up for decades of lost time. I look forward to following developments on both the humanitarian front and the economic front over the coming months and years.
Indeed, we’ve learned a lot in Myanmar, but perhaps the most useful skill we gained was learning how to tie a lungyi.