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The Wireless People

The Wireless People

The golden rule of journalism is to examine Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? and Why Does It Matter?

But of all those questions, it is the first one that people wishing to be "in the think" usually revert to again and again. "Show me who," the old saying goes, "and let me decide the rest for myself."

Accordingly WBT here looks at The Wireless People, our term for the _types_ of players currently populating the swirling, ever-changing wireless space and giving it its unique character. They range from The Mobile Magnate to The Niche Player, and of course there's room too for The Developer Turned Entrepreneur and for The Bright Young Thing. But the main thing is to recognise that these types, while they may here be portrayed as particular individuals, are just that: types. And as such they are being replicated on a global scale - in Asia, in China, in the Middle East, in Russia...all in addition to our geographical focus here, which is on either side of the Atlantic Ocean simply because it is on Europe and North America that most of the action is at the moment.

Make no mistake about it then. The Wireless People are coming to a country near you...probably even as you read this article. And they are coming to unplug you in 2001.

Part one
The mobile magnate
Chris Gent
Vodaphone CEO

by Dan Roberts

In the biggest corporate takeover of all time, mobile mastadon Vodafone Airtouch last year completed a $203 billion hostile takeover of the German mobile giant Mannesmann, eclipsing even the $182 billion that AOL offered for Time Warner. Behind the takeover, one man played an all-encompassing role - Vodafone CEO Chris Gent. Welcome to the first, and most fiscally prominent, of The Wireless People, WBT's clinical cross-section of the unwired world as it looks in 2001.

When the wind is in the right direction Chris Gent's office in the small market town of Newbury in southern England bears the distinct aroma of chicken tikka masala. The converted stableyard headquarters of Vodafone, the British mobile telephone company of which he is chief executive, is next door to an Indian restaurant called the Curry Garden, which doubles as a boardroom dining suite. It makes the world's largest telecommunications company seem like just a parochial mobile operator. And that is no accident: until last year Vodafone was indeed just a parochial mobile operator!

Gent is the man responsible for its astonishing transformation. With the help of relentless investment bankers and supportive Anglo-Saxon investors he has pulled off a series of audacious deals in the wireless space, and none more audacious than Vodafone's hostile takeover at the start of 2000 of Mannesmann, a German engineering group that had metamorphosed into Vodafone's nearest rival among the world's rapidly expanding mobile phone operators.

Nobody, perhaps, made better use of mergers and acquisitions in the bull market than Chris Gent did to convert his company's highly rated share price into cashflow. But now telecoms valuations have come back to earth and many of the deals are done. Gent faces a new test: he has proved himself a consummate dealmaker - but is he a consummate manager, too?

Chris Gent's early career in the UK was unspectacular. After leaving school without going to university he shared a spell at ICL - a relic of Britain's then declining computing industry - with Peter Bonfield, who later, as Sir Peter Bonfield, became chief executive of British Telecommunications. He has since shown Sir Peter a thing or two about global expansion: Vodafone's most impressive recent achievement in the UK has been to keep its lead over BT and the chasing pack.

It is too early to assess Gent's lasting contribution to Vodafone's operating performance. The company's early success in overtaking BT in its home market was largely due to Gerry Whent, who oversaw its growth from a small radio division within Racal, a defense electronics group.

Gent is a rare personality in the somewhat bland world of telecommunications. A mixture of stubbornness, charm, and good timing was vital to his year of dealmaking: the stubbornness to try what everyone else said was impossible; the charm to persuade the investment community to keep on writing him blank checks; and the timing - or the luck - to buy with shares before the bubble burst and mop up the rest with cash.

Much of the rest of his personality remains shrouded by the clichés that follow him everywhere. He's easily stereotyped as a typical English gentleman with traditional tailored looks and a fondness for roast beef, but Gent's humor can occasionally get him into trouble with its provincial-sounding attitudes toward foreigners.

Conquering the World
The endless dealmaking has imposed a personal cost. While on a post-Mannesmann break in Mauritius with his family, Gent's vacation was interrupted first by a 21-page fax, delivered to him on the beach, about regulatory clearance from the European Union, and then by daily updates from London on the progress of the hugely expensive 3G mobile spectrum auctions.

Reviewing the past months spent conquering the wireless world, he says that the highlight was arriving home after the night in early February when Mannesmann finally capitulated to Vodafone's hostile bid. Rather than sleep over in Dusseldorf, the campaign team chose to fly home in Vodafone's corporate jet and landed at Brize Norton airport near Oxford shortly before dawn.

"That morning was the first occasion I had seen my son - who was just 10 months old at the time - in a little while, and he threw his plates and tray on the floor in excitement when I came in through the door. 'Here he is. As seen on TV,' said my wife."

Unflinching in the Face of Wireless Scepticism
Gent has steel - any dealmaker does. However, it is well concealed behind affability. Characteristically, in spite of his triumphalism after last year's bid, he's at pains to play down reports of personal animosity toward Klaus Esser, Mannesmann's chief executive. This is in the light of comments made at a cricket match in Cape Town at the beginning of January 2000, when the cricket-loving Mr. Gent was caught off guard mocking Mr. Esser's German accent as well as his supposed love of poetry and chess.

Gent's affability has been essential in keeping investors happy. In endless personal visits and roadshows, he and his investment bankers at Goldman Sachs and UBS Warburg used the levers of the global financial system to maximum effect. After Mannesmann, Vodafone's 52-year-old chief executive didn't flinch in the face of growing skepticism about wireless Internet access and the acquisitions feeding frenzy led by the banker. Instead the pinstriped Englishman went on a worldwide victory lap, charming his way into tricky deals with Italian, French, Spanish, Irish, Chinese, and Japanese companies.

Bonus Controversy
Gent would be the last person to expect investors and bankers to be sentimental about his position at the head of Vodafone should he prove himself unequal to the task of managing the company now that the deals are done. He has already had a taste of investors' fury in a row that broke out in June 2000 over a $14.6 million cash bonus for his dealmaking successes. Gent regrets that the news of the bonus wasn't better conveyed to investors, who were angered by the way the bonus was structured. But he insists that this is a small sum in relation to the huge benefits he has brought to shareholders.

"In America," he notes "they think it's laughable that there was so much fuss."

Certainly, he is unsentimental in his assessment of others, such as Hans Snook, the chief executive of mobile operator Orange, who once challenged Gent for supremacy of the mobile industry but emerged on the wrong end of too many deals. In spite of Snook's departure from the board of Orange after it was sold by Vodafone to France Telecom, having been inherited by Mannesmann, Gent has little time for his maverick rival. "I don't feel sorry for him," he says, "He did a good job and was well rewarded for it. He has had a total compensation package worth far more than me or my team."

Surviving the Credit Crunch
So far, Gent's Vodafone has seemed in little danger. While many of last year's inflated technology deals are coming back to haunt their shareholders, Vodafone has survived the backlash better than many had expected. Its share price may have fallen back below its level when the Mannesmann bid was launched, but nonetheless the company recently overtook NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese mobile phone group, to become the world's largest telecommunications company by stock market valuation.

Although doubts remain over the long-term sustainability of Gent's more fragile creation, it enjoys a position of relative financial strength amid the postbinge credit crunch that is afflicting the industry. In a year when in most industrialized countries mobile phone ownership became commonplace on a massive across-the-board scale, Vodafone's success in building a network of networks - largely using its own shares as an acquisition currency - endowed the company with healthy cashflow just when rivals were at their weakest.

The shocking costs of winning German and British auctions for 3G mobile phone licenses have left much of the telecommunications and banking industries reeling. Vodafone's sale of Orange and Infostrada UK and Italian telecoms operators inherited from Mannesmann has given it yet more cash to weather the storm.

Nevertheless, at the back of everyone's minds is WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers, the now humbled supreme whose string of takeovers took the U.S. telecoms group as far as it could before unraveling in the face of regulatory disapproval and skepticism over its true operating performance. In spite of his commanding lead at the moment over the rest of the mobile phone industry, Gent does not boast any technological achievements to compare with Nokia's Jorma Ollila and NTT DoCoMo's Keiji Tachikawa, or even the marketing flair to match Orange's Hans Snook.

Warren Finegold, one of two investment banking advisers to have barely left Gent's side in the past 12 months, concedes that Vodafone's boss deserves the title "dealmaker of the year," but hesitates when asked to rank him among older world business leaders such as Jack Welch of General Electric. Vodafone's managers have yet to prove they can build the brand necessary for global success. Chris Gent seems aware of the scale of his task. "One of the problems with the success of the mobile industry," he says "is that people think it must be terribly easy to run a company. It's not."

Dan Roberts writes for the London Financial Times.
[email protected]

Part two
The NICHE
PLAYER
MIKAEL KARLSSON
AXIS COMMUNICATIONS chairman

by Jan-Eric Ohmann

Better known outside Sweden than at home in Lund in southern Sweden, Axis Communications is a wireless niche player par excellence. Its original (wireline) niche product was a protocol converter capable of allowing a mainframe to link to a PC-type printer, so that for the first time ever folks needing a printout could obtain it without being obliged to endure the forbidding chill of the typical computer room.

But now, in the Age of Wireless, the chairman of Axis plans to conquer the world market by offering an alternative to the 3G network, no less: Bluetooth Access Point.

Created in 1984 by a recent business graduate of the Stockholm School of Economics and his high school friend, Axis Communications - now a $75 million, 500-employee company - was originally devised by business student Mikael Karlsson and his good friend Martin Gren to house their budding aspirations to one day be Fortune 500 executives.

A Paradigm Shift Spawns New Opportunities
Talking with his friend about the future of computers in Lund in southern Sweden, where Gren was studying at the time, Karlsson reached the conclusion that the PC was on its way to supersede the mainframe computer. In fact, the entire computer world, as he saw it, was on the verge of a huge paradigm shift: the fledgling "Internet" was going to fly, and fly high.

Gren was halfway through his studies for an engineering degree at Lund Technical School at the time and had been thinking until then of a career as a consultant. Karlsson himself, at 22, had just received a business degree from the Stockholm School of Economics. As the two friends talked things over in a student room, trainee programs and consultancies suddenly didn't appear so attractive: they already sensed that they were maybe on their way to becoming future corporate executives.

After all, IBM had recently introduced its PC; mainframe computers seemed to have reached the end of the line. In this Borderland, Karlsson and Gren felt, there should be something solid, in terms of business opportunities, for a technician (Gren) and a future organizer and business developer (Karlsson).

"We started very broadly," recalls Karlsson. "We looked at terminals, computer graphics, printers, and many other components. What could we improve? We discovered pretty quickly that the printer sector would be fastest to commercialize. We would simply have to develop a product, produce it and sell it, get paid, and thus make a living."

This is still their basic business concept.

"What we know is that Axis is the first communication company in the world that can present the new Bluetooth technology with functioning access points, and which is available now," says Karlsson.

Spurred On by Lack of Capital
When surveying the Swedish market, he finds many companies with exciting computer products, which - if put to work - are apparently efficient and cheap to use, in such fields as Internet technology. But that doesn't mean they'll make money. Karlsson can't explain why "commercial fingertips" have such a difficult time reaching out. He knows it would be presumptuous for him to tell others what to do. There are no simple answers. But what he can do is describe a big difference between the past and the present.

"The capital market gives companies time to develop products," he says. "This, in turn, can result in innovative companies getting deep into complex systems, which take much longer to develop. We could never spend three years finding the perfect solution. I believe that this vision is basic to everyone at Axis: we must be innovative - and fast."

He adds, "Even though it sounds much better as we talk of the past, a shortage of capital can actually be useful. Fighting as an underdog has its advantages."

"The dedication phase" is what Karlsson calls the launching of a new product or the establishing of a new market. Forget about Christmas or other major holidays. This is when the company's established goals must be met; this is when a trip to Japan can mean three months' absence with only yourself for companionship; this is when "Axis Core Values" are put to the test.

Core Values Carved in Stone
The Axis Core Values were established at a midsummer holiday in 1985 and are, says Karlsson, very much alive today. "All employees know them," he says, "I see this sometimes in e-mails. For example, someone might write: 'I don't think that we are now sticking to point 6 on Split vision.'"

The core values - "The Stone Tablets" as Karlsson calls them - consist of the following:

  1. Axis increases the value of the network
  2. Growth in volume niches
  3. Always open
  4. Make it happen!
  5. Never satisfied
  6. Split vision
Of the six main values, Karlsson's favorite is No. 4: Make it happen! He says that you can't describe a company's success better than that. Each stone tablet contains four or five subvalues - unpacked, for example, No. 4 means:

-Take initiative and responsibility. Stand up for what you believe in. And dare to say no.
-Mistakes are accepted if you learn from them. "Why" is more important than "who."
-Don't just talk. Dig in when needed. No self-importance.
-Give credit to those who "make it happen."

And perhaps these subrules should be complemented with the following: "We are cocksure within the company, and this energizes us. But we are humble and respectful to customers and the market."

Internet in the Wall
Now is the perfect time for Axis's corporate energy to get flowing. Two years ago, Axis started developments in wireless Internet. This year, a separate division was created: the Mobile Internet Division. Karlsson and Axis have taken a clear position on the direction of the wireless Internet. They insist that there are alternatives to 3G, or UMTS as it is known in Europe (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System).

"The UMTS network requires investments costing tens of billions of dollars," Karlsson explains. "But why take the roundabout way via the atmosphere to a base station and then to a central system and finally back the same route to complete the service when all you need to do is point a mobile phone or a computer at a little micro base station - an access point in a broadband wall outlet? The Internet is already sitting right there in the wall!"

Karlsson sees two alternative ways to expand at the same time. One is directed by the large telecoms operators and their partners. They will have national coverage in their countries. The alternative involves many new and small operators, as well as those working with large operators.

"We can already see this," he explains. "More and more companies are becoming their own telecoms operators and service providers. We call them xSP operators, with the x standing for all types of companies that can be service providers. They can be offices, hotels, airports, and any other places where many people gather.

"Suddenly, you'll find local mobile networks or so-called hot spots that can offer employees or customers wireless data and telephone services right at the location. This will probably be both cheaper and have higher capacity than the 3G network can offer."

But to handle this technology, xSP operators need access points for various radio technologies. In addition, they need systems software. Axis is ready and happy to supply both. According to industry analysts IDC, the market for wireless LAN equipment like this will be about $5.5 billion by 2004. Another analysis, by Cahners, forecasts that 20 million access points will be installed by 2005.

Axis calls this technology "Radio-LAN": radio signals that can be controlled and positioned within the LAN. This requires so-called "system intelligence" to handle such things as roaming, when a mobile phone calls abroad and must change operators.

In Axis's first version of its Bluetooth Access Point, seven individuals can use computers at the same time via one single access point. In the course of 2001, Karlsson expects to expand the technology to an entire product family with higher performance.

At the same time, the company is developing Mobile Internet Server, MIS, a systems and applications platform that can handle such things as roaming, authorization, security and invoicing. The server will also be introduced in the course of 2001.

"Father of Wireless" Joins the Team
Radio-LAN technology has its enthusiasts, and one of them is Östen Makitalo, known in Scandinavia as "the father of wireless." He has studied it in detail and seen the plans for it - and was impressed enough to be persuaded to join the Axis board of directors in the summer of 2000.

"UMTS technology requires extremely costly licenses in most nations," Karlsson points out. "Radio-LAN" on the other hand uses frequencies that are unlicensed - they're free. This is the huge advantage. It must be cheaper for consumers. And it will take some time before UMTS is fully built out."

Since Axis is now established in 15 nations, including offices in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Munich, London, Boston, and Silicon Valley, with products already being sold in 60 countries, it is perfectly poised to take advantage of the interim.

Black Earth, a BMW Bike...But no Bluetooth
As for Mikael Karlsson himself, having been managing director of Axis from 1984 through 1999, he's now chairman of the board, giving him a little more freedom...and several more responsibilities.

One is the chairmanship of IT Oresund, which covers southern Sweden and the Copenhagen region of Denmark. IT Oresund includes 11 universities with a total of 120,000 students. Karlsson says that within this IT promotion organization he has a mission. He takes out a map of Scandinavia. He shades in an area that stretches from Copenhagen north through the Swedish cities of Malmo, Lund, Karlskrona, and Stockholm, and then across the Baltic to Helsinki, Finland. "It's fantastic, what's happened in Scandinavia," he says. "There's a determination and there is strong support that encourages entrepreneurs. We have come a long way. However, cooperation among the regions is weak. It could be intensified in many ways."

The Danes and the southern Swedes alike are talented in "the human touch," making software user-friendly and incorporating aesthetics into the IT world. You find scattered around the region companies that have the potential to become to wireless what Bang & Olufsen is to TV and stereo.

The Stockholm region has systems producers concentrating on telecoms and on wireless Internet. Helsinki also has systems know-how, and a fine sense of producing the right products at the right time. "We would be even better in our fields if we improved and intensified cooperation with each other," says Karlsson.

Now that his finances are secure, he has become almost someone else, an "ordinary person" as he calls it, a free spirit - particularly in the summer. He's bought himself not one but two new motorcycles: one's a BMW, a "glider"; the other is a Ducati, an Italian machine that attracts both the eye...and the ear.

On the road to his summer cottage on the south coast, Karlsson passes through the very rich, very black earth fields in the province of Skane. It is one of the few places in the world that has absolutely no need of Bluetooth access points to enhance good living. Jan-Eric Öhman has devoted the past 30 years to writing about business and industry and the fascinating men and women who make it tick. Formerly a reporter and editor for the Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, he's been a freelance writer for the past decade. [email protected]

Part three
The DEVELOPER
TURNED ENTREPRENEUR
SATOSHI NAKAJIMA
UIEVOLUTION, INC., ceo

by Jeremy Geelan

During his high school career in Japan he did it. And now he's doing it again, only on a more massive scale. Satoshi Nakajima, developer extraordinaire, has gone back to playing computer games. He has left Microsoft and is head honcho, CEO no less, of a new company devoted to the creation of software that will make games easier to play on wireless phones.

While a chief architect at Microsoft, Satoshi Nakajima oversaw the creation of the Windows 95 user interface and of Internet Explorer 3.0. In addition to being lead software architect for the Windows shell, he amassed so many patents that he entered the Top Ten list of Microsoft patent holders.

This kind of prodigious technical prowess is probably what motivated Nakajima, just 39, to leave Microsoft and cofound the Bellevue venture capital firm Ignition Corp. with a group of former senior executives from Microsoft and McCaw Communications. And it is doubtless what has now spurred him to move on again, this time to run his own show: UIEvolution, Inc.

This time around he is leveraging his status as an i-mode guru. Because in Japan, phone companies already offer games for playing over the wireless Internet against other subscribers, and UIEvolution is going to be concentrating initially on exactly this: interactive games.

By the time Internet games via mobile phone reach Europe and then the U.S., Nakajima reckons, some 200 million people will probably be hooked on wireless gaming, creating a $6 billion industry of which he hopes UIEvolution will grab and hold on to a decent share.

"UIEvolution's games will be more sophisticated than those now found on cell phones or personal digital assistants," says Nakajima. "They'll run in color on a variety of devices, most of them mobile. And they'll be asynchronously interactive. That means, for example, that a chess game could go on for days, with each player's move registered on a server run by the cellular service provider and notice of a new move delivered to the opponent as a message.

By contrast, Nakajima explains, the interactive games currently available on cell phones have no server component, use simplistic graphics, appear in monochrome, and aren't interactive. It is this that spurs him to predict profitability for UIEvolution within one year.

Can a company like UIEvolution really make the wireless Internet easier and more fun to use by introducing gaming? Does interactive gaming truly have the capacity to be a killer app?

Listen to Satoshi Nakajima's own messianic words on this matter: "UIEvolution is a complete paradigm shift of how people address the gaming industry," he explains. "Today's wireless gaming limitations require a complete redirection in the types of applications needed to improve the gamer's experience."

How can one doubt the word of a developer prodigy who's been developing software for 23 years and who while still in high school built his own development environment with a text editor, assembler, database, and compiler? This "GAME compiler," as it was called, was designed to create games, and became very popular very quickly. In fact it was ported to multiple platforms, including the Apple II.

What led Nakajima to make the leap from working with entrepreneurs to becoming one himself? According to his Ignition colleague, chairman and CEO Brad Silverberg: "Satoshi became excited by the possibilities of the wireless Internet and enjoyed working with entrepreneurs so much that he decided to become one himself," said Brad Silverberg, "He's a brilliant technologist and we have great expectations for him and his team."

Part of being a brilliant technologist is knowing that you always have to start simple. In UIEvolution's case that means developing and deploying tic-tac-toe and chess games that allow users to make moves with the up, down, left, and right keys. No multitapping, no entering of numbers on the phone's keypad.

Making games easier to play wirelessly, Nakajima reckons, is the next New New Thing. Of all the different areas of wireless content, the usability challenges represented by interactive gaming rang his bells, and piqued the interest of the developer in him...and so far he has $2 million in seed money from Ignition, so they must think he's on to something solid.

"Maybe I'm too far ahead of the curve," he says, referring to the fact that even in Japan, and certainly in the U.S. and Europe, interactive gaming on wireless devices is only just beginning to grow. "But if I succeed," he adds with a smile, "then UIEvolution is going to be really big." Jeremy Geelan is editorial director of WBT and writes regularly about the interface between business, technology, society, and the future. [email protected]

Part four
The BRIGHT
YOUNG THING
NIKOLAJ NYHOLM
SPEEDNAMES, INC., COFOUNDER

by Flemming Flyvholm

Ttwenty-five year-old Nikolaj Nyholm is not without self-confidence. In 1999 this energetic young Dane cofounded Speednames, which in just two short years has become one of Denmark's largest companies devoted exclusively to the Internet. But he is also business-savvy enough to know how important it is to know your own limits; last year he relinquished his position as chief executive of the good ship Speednames in order to make room for a more experienced pair of hands on the rudder.

"When I set my cap at something...I usually achieve it." That's pretty much the simple recipe underlying both business and technological success, according to Nikolaj Nyholm, cofounder of Speednames, Inc. - one of the few companies to emerge unscathed from last year's economic shakeout of new i-technology companies both in Denmark and around the world.

The number of employees in the Speednames, Inc., HQ in Copenhagen has risen from three to 70 in the two years since Nyholm founded it in 1999, and in January 2001 the company attracted a round of $8 million in finance from Danish and overseas investors for its "digital identity" service.

Nyholm was just 23 when he and a fellow Dane, Mickey Beyer Clausen, started Speednames. Nyholm was the visionary and the idea man, Clausen the marketing maven. They both remain part of the management team today, but like so many start-ups it wasn't long before they ran into the now-classic pattern of high growth...and accompanying liquidity problems.

To remedy the situation, Nyholm and Clausen sought more than just capital: they sought management help. They already had passion and panache; what they needed in addition was leadership and experience.

Both commodities were supplied to Speednames by Internet Ventures Scandinavia (IVS), which brought in Mogens Nielsen as director. "It was the best decision we ever made," admits Nyholm quite openly. "Had we not made that decision, Speednames would not be alive today."

Nielsen was at the time VP of Business Development for MultiMark A/S, a leading vendor of CRM software in Denmark. Prior to that he had founded, and served as CEO of, Catalog International, a leading international vendor of e-business software best known for the award-winning [email protected] suite.

The Two Keys to Success: Drive...and Impatience
Let's go back to the start, to the get-go spirit that had Speednames up and running in the first place.

Nyholm believes that this drive is characteristic for his generation: "We don't really see any barriers," he says, "We just go after what we want. While I can see how it might backfire, I've more or less just done whatever I please...and I've been relatively fortunate in that it's all worked out!"

It helps a great deal that he had a specific product in mind (see sidebar, "About Speednames"), and a vision, and that he was passionate about it. He still is. "When you have an idea," he explains, "it's no good just sitting about: you have to realize it, to give it shape and form and an existence in the real world."

Nyholm's background is decidedly international. He has spent half his life outside his native Denmark, Europe's oldest kingdom and one of its smallest countries. He's a believer in applied education rather than education for its own sake, which has sometimes given rise to problems in terms of his own higher education - he holds a degree in economics from Tufts University in Boston, MA, and has studied at the Universidad Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica, as well as at the University of Roskilde in Denmark.

"My college education at Tufts was geared very much toward the applied rather than the theoretical," Nyholm explains. "The atmosphere on campus there was very intense, and I found it very inspirational." Evidently so: it was in Boston, while at Tufts, that the original idea for what later became Speednames was germinated.

Economics Is a Tool
It was a combination of the forward-looking atmosphere at Tufts and a demanding summer job (with NetNames) that he got as a student that sparked the idea that five years later was to become a reality. After two years at Tufts, though, Nyholm left the U.S. to begin studying economics at the University of Copenhagen - and grew immediately disappointed and frustrated.

"I just couldn't grasp economics the way they were teaching it to us," he admits. "Their whole approach was to elevate economics to a high science, on a par with physics or mathematics, whereas I had always viewed economics as a tool. On the theoretical plane, economics doesn't really interest me at all. What I'd been learning at Tufts made more sense to me than what I was being taught here in Copenhagen."

Nyholm felt compelled to regain his sense of reality, with the result that his studies in the field of economics began to take a back seat to his activities in the field of business.

Since taking up his seat on the other side of the table, as it were, by becoming an employer who now hires newly graduated academics, Nyholm's own misgivings about the approach taken by some universities to what and how students are asked to learn seem to him to have been corroborated. "Sure, universities shouldn't just train people for jobs. There should always be a broader role that they play within society as a whole, a wider dimension. But that doesn't mean that every student should be herded into doing the same primary research."

In Nyholm's opinion, it is absolutely right and proper that universities should ensure that they provide students with a sound grasp of methodologies and that they develop their analytic skills. "Obviously you need to have a thorough grasp of your subject and know how to use the theory, but where's the sense," Nyholm asks, "in every ordinary student being obliged to address his subject as if he were engaged in primary research?"

The Importance of the Pioneer Spirit
When hiring newly graduated job candidates for Speednames, Inc., Nyholm accordingly is moe concerned about the character and nature of the candidate than with his or her specific subject and degree. What he looks for in a candidate is whether they resonate strongly with the spirit of Speednames, the selfsame spirit that possesses him and the entire enterprise.

"A pioneer spirit is the most important thing that any start-up needs," he says. "And at Speednames that's what we seek to hang on to." He views Microsoft Corporation as an example of a company that has achieved this. "Our staff live and breathe their work. It's the only way we can make any forward progress overall. The entire team, quite simply, has to have the hots for the project."

So Nyholm doesn't turn down newly graduated job applicants then. On the contrary, he says that Speednames is very happy to hire them for their go-go spirit and their hunger finally to enter the real world and actually do something. "It's a huge change from university, where they've pored over their books and been obliged to demonstrate that they can gather material in minuscule quantities that will maybe lead to a breakthrough only many years later.

But it is precisely this type of person that as an employer Nyholm singles out and gives Speednames jobs to because, as he explains it: "They are very malleable, so as a company we can shape them to a large extent - they are so keen to get going that they are happy to work within the initial parameters we set them."

Nyholm doesn't offer leadership positions to new graduates, mind you. "They simply lack sufficient experience in going beyond the limits set for them by others. They've usually only had to work with projects involving themselves." And he and cofounder Mickey Beyer Clausen were not immune to the same lack of experience, a lack they were self-aware enough to recognize as early as Year One for Speednames.

Nyholm recounts the problem:"We had a business that in Q1 of 2000 boomed incredibly. We had $2 million in the bank, but we still hadn't sufficient cash reserves to keep up with the bills." So they went to Internet Ventures Scandinavia and IVS matched them to a partner with the right credentials for the situation as they saw it.

The chief executive position was handed to a professional businessman, Mogens Nielsen, a move that Nyholm didn't see as a defeat in any way. On the contrary, "It was something we requested of IVS," he says, "And I'm sure that the request would have been reciprocated had we not asked. Speednames clearly needed a new CEO."

In fact the whole management team was professionalized, with a new marketing director and a new financial director coming on board at the same time as Nielsen. They were all exceptionally talented and Nyholm experienced, he says, a huge sense of relief and release at being superseded by Nielsen as the overall boss of Speednames.

Father of Two: Speednames and Viola
"You have to be able to let go of mere power and identify your core competency," he explains. "For me, that's product design. It's what I like best, and I believe I'm pretty good at it. I like above all technology that can be turned into a product and beyond that into an entire business. Product development is where technology and the marketplace interface, and it's a minefield."

It's a minefield that Nyholm seems to navigate his way around comfortably, though. As VP of Product Development, everything around him seems to be thriving. The young company has weathered its first storm. Speednames, Inc., is continuing its growth. What's more, Nyholm has a little daughter now. So in truth he's the father of two: first of Speednames, already in its third year, and now of little Viola, who isn't yet done with her first.

When Viola is old enough to want to register a domain name for some cool e-business in the whirling wireless world we'll all be living in by then, it's certain that she'll turn first to the company her father cofounded and register it via Speednames, Inc.

About Speednames
Speednames was created in 1999, and since its launch in Europe and Asia Pacific, the company has become the world's largest and most advanced international digital domain name registrar. The company claims to have the most versatile search and registration engine on Earth.

With Speednames, customers can digitally search, register, and manage their domain names in more than 110 top-level domains. The service already runs in English and more than 10 European languages, such as German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian - with double-byte Asian languages to be launched in the coming months.

Apart from helping companies protect their domain names, individuals can also manage their own online identity with Speednames Multiple Services. Speednames has also established relationships with Network Information Centers (NICs) in more than 110 countries, making it the registrar with the largest NIC network in the industry.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

More Stories By Dan Roberts

Dan Roberts writes for the London Financial Times.

More Stories By Jan-Eric Ohmann

Jan-Eric Öhman has devoted the past 30 years
to writing about business and industry and the
fascinating men and women who make it tick. Formerly a reporter and editor for the Swedish
daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, he's been
a freelance writer for the past decade.

More Stories By Flemming Flyvholm

Flemming Flyvholm is an editor of the business
section of Berlingske Tidende, Denmark's oldest
and most prestigious daily newspaper.

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