Lessons From Norway


Editorial note: This is a guest post by Kristoffer Lawson, the Travelling Salesman. He's on a 10 000 kilometre drive to meet Nordic startups. ArcticStartup is supporting the project, by covering his travels and findings.

With another week on the road, I have to say that the exhaustion is slightly getting the better of me. While it has been a joy to visit this beautiful country, so many things have also gone wrong, from missed meetups to losing a fuel cap, that the stress is beginning to show. Oslo thankfully gave me a chance to recuperate a bit, for a couple of nights, but it also added stress of its own, as I will mention a bit later.

On Monday I will be driving via the Nokia Qt office in Oslo (ex-Trolltech) and from there onto Göteborg where we'll have a meetup at 17:00, and hopefully will collect some pitches and ideas. Sign up for that! Copenhagen is on the tour the following day, then Odense, Aarhus and Aalborg, before I take the Smyril Line ferry over to Iceland.

But first let's have a look at Norway. I'll do this as a list of important lessons I have learnt about the country.

Software is not at Norway's heart


A wise man once said that to be a success in business you need to wake up early every day, work hard every day, and to find oil. Norway found oil. Repeatedly, as I visited each location and talked to all kinds of people along the way — more than I even have time to cover — the picture of a nation driven by oil, food and energy was painted. The majority of technology companies were involved with that, in one way or another. This was most obvious in Stavanger where actually finding any software companies proved virtually impossible. Even the ones based there seemed to be out of town. The city itself reeked of young prosperity, though. I'm sure it's a great place for partying, and it was very cosmopolitan, but I'm uncertain if it would be a good base for building a web startup, for instance.

However, there are also great exceptions to the rule. Playfish is one of the biggest successes in social gaming, and it was largely built by people from Tromsø. Trondheim-based Falanx provided ARM, through an acquisition, with graphics chip IPR that they sorely missed. Opera, from Oslo, is a household name on a global scale, whereas of course Trolltech, the company behind Qt, made a mighty exit to Nokia

I did my best to search for up and coming new startups, even though it did prove more difficult than in Finland. FXI Technologies AS must surely be one to keep an eye on, with their processor expansion on a memory stick. Then several others preferred to keep in stealth mode, for better or for worse, but textUrgy in Bergen was open and helpful about their plans for semantic search. Check them out.

It Is Smegging Expensive


Of course I knew this on a theoretical level before, but the reality of paying 20 euros or more for a pizza does leave you with a quickly thinning wallet. The reason they don't drink alcohol with meals here is because a pint can easily be over 10 euros. Ouch. I've actually had to up my budget for accommodation because of this!

In Town, Check The Hotel About Parking


Seriously, the cities are full of one-way streets and unclear parking statements. Make sure you know what you're doing!

They Don't Like Car Drivers


Or maybe they do, if you happen to be driving a Caterham 7 in the summer. In the winter, and with a Land Rover, going is slow. The 'big' E-roads would never gain E status in Finland. They are mostly narrow, twisty little things going from one mountain to the next. Anything smaller than an E road is even more difficult. Often they will lack lane markings and parts can be so narrow that if you're unfortunate you could enter a blind bend with another driver coming the other way, and with absolutely nowhere to move. The lorry drivers don't care, though, with even the E roads being so narrow that oncoming lorry wheels were often on my side of road. I guess the thinking is that, even against a Landy, a lorry driver knows who will fare worst in a collision. Do not prepare to average more than 60 on the non-E roads, whatever the speed limit might say.
Your satnav may also navigate you towards these mountainous passes. The reasoning being, I guess, that the speed limit is the same as the E roads, and the distance shorter, so why not? The reality is that they are much, much slower. In the more wintery months I would also recommend a 4x4. The going can, at times, be very precarious and you will be even slower, or worse, in a normal 2WD.

When I finally entered a real proper European style E road, along the southern coast, it was full of speed cameras and low speed limits (70km/h and 80 km/h). So after having to concentrate for hours on the bendy bits, where I was constantly under the speed limit, now I had to concentrate to avoid hammering it!

Then, as if that wasn't enough to put you off driving for good, they have tolls everywhere. I'm not even sure how much they'll be charging me for all of those.

The Scenery Is Breathtaking


The flipside to those bendy roads is that you get to see some of the most stunningly beautiful locations on this planet. The same short drive can offer you the extremes of pouring rain, heavy snow, lush green valleys, and total arctic wilderness, as you climb up and down the mountains. You will want to stop, and often, so try not to be in a hurry.

Russian Ambassadors Value Security More Than Kings


For the first time in my life, I experienced the reality of finding my vehicle compounded. I had left the Landy on a Saturday night near the Russian embassy in Oslo. The signposting was ambiguous. One sign post said parking, without any extra classification, another said only for Russian embassy guests. I parked between the two, after asking many locals if it was OK (none knew the answer, even the hotel). I guess the Russians didn't like a big Defender sitting near their gates (and with suspicious gadgets in the back), as it was gone the next day. You can imagine my shock as I frantically tried to figure out what had happened.

Now 400 euros poorer, and with a good mind to raise a complaint with the traffic office, I left the Landy outside the King's palace. Free parking from Saturday evening onwards, until Monday morning. Even I don't wake up in time to get moving before 9 am, I fully expect nothing more than a normal parking ticket.


Edvard Sørgård of ARM.


Fancy a drive?


Bergen startups.


Kindergarden demo party.

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Jani Penttinen November 08, 2010

Wow, I bet Wili is happy to see his car for a day after reading about all these adventures!

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Tor June 23, 2011

You make a reasonable argument that Norway's economy relies on "black gold", sadly at the expense of new innovations. However, it'd be worth mentioning that Norway is the origin of the object oriented programming paradigm. Nevertheless, Norway is by many said to be the inventor of the GSM technology. Both technologies have been fundamental for more than many of the innovations that we speak of today. Still, that doesn't count for the lack of commercialization. Change is needed, indeed.