Start-up Growth Lessons Southeast Asian Founders Should Learn From This Dutch Entrepreneur
Ivan Landen spent 18 years getting to know an industry before striking out on his own.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Ivan Landen left the Netherlands 18 years ago to work for Starhub in Singapore. At that time, changes in telecommunication were still a novelty. Many of his classmates took the usual route after studying economics, but Landen, who was fascinated by technology and captivated by The Internet, took the route to Asia.
“After Europe, which tended to be more traditional, Asia was the place to be in terms of development,” he says. “It was extremely exciting to be in Singapore at that time. It’s a great place to start in Asia for any foreigner.”
He stayed in Singapore, then lived and worked in Thailand for nine years. “From a business perspective, that was a more challenging environment. But also Thailand and surrounding countries were catching up!”
Those long years working in and traveling across Asia paid off. Landen felt confident enough in his understanding of the industry to discern what his business customers needed: more flexible business connectivity.
“Traditional telecom was simply not delivering the service customers needed,” he relates. “At the same time, 4G LTE mobile technology was advancing rapidly. So putting two and two together, we developed a solution which uses mobile 4G technology to provide permanent connections for business locations.”
And so Blue Wireless was founded in 2015. Two years later, Landen has grown the team to 10 people across Singapore and Australia, serving customers in 16 countries.
Hitting the ground running
Starting up was easy, definitely. Registering and setting up a business in Singapore take only a matter of days. It pays to start up in the same industry, knowing potential customers and which talent to tap, and having existing networks to draw on for support while building the business.
“When you are in a start-up environment, you have to work with people you trust,” Landen says. “Don’t start a business without having a network.”
For the first time, after working in large multinationals for so long, Landen felt what it was like to work in a small business environment. “Decision making is fast and the agility allows us to serve the customer with great speed and flexibility.”
But the real challenge, Landen discovered, lay elsewhere. “When you are in a big company,” he says, “there is not much sense of urgency. In a start-up, it’s a race against the clock and you need to be successful before the money runs out,” he says. “But with 400 sites implemented over the last 18 months, we passed the break-even point already and are cash-flow positive, earlier than planned.”
Ivan Landen, Founder of Blue Wireless
Blue Wireless’ key differentiator as network service provider is combining flexibility and reliability in one service. “We can connect any business location across the AsiaPac region within 24 to 72 hours and provide customers a guaranteed Internet performance.” But what is perhaps the greatest challenge for Blue Wireless is to deliver uniform quality of service across different countries and environments.
It might have been easier to just limit operations to Singapore with its excellent infrastructure, but Landen decided to develop services across 16 countries simultaneously, thereby offering something greatly valued by his enterprise customers, as they demand consistent service across the whole AsiaPac region.
“What all our services have in common across all countries, whether Japan or New Zealand, is that it’s based on 4G LTE, which is an extremely robust technology,” Landen explains. “However, to localize the service, we worked with local partners in each country who speak the language and know the local situation best.”
Like so many businesses today, Blue Wireless operates a hybrid business model, where overall operations and service is centrally controlled, complemented with installation in-country by local contractors, allowing them to scale quickly and serve its customers across the whole region.
While traditional Telcos still dominate the market, Blue Wireless has established its niche among enterprise customers whose needs are different from consumers and whose businesses require maximum flexibility and reliability.
It is here that Landen sees the company growing over the coming years. “It’s not possible to be everything to everyone. So my tip to any new entrepreneur is make sure you know your specific customer very well and offer the best possible service to that customer.”