Moving from being a traditional telco into the role of a global digital service provider, Telenor is always on the lookout for the best ideas for new digital products and services, or technology for how to improve the current ones.
Increasingly, they are found in startup communities across the European and Asian markets. One of the central goals is to improve customers’ lives through new innovations and great services, so helping local startups thrive and scale is part of how Telenor does this.
“To stay relevant to our customers, we constantly need to both improve our core offering, and launch new engaging products. With the recent addition of dedicated “deal scouts” to the global innovation team, we’ll have a great complement to the pipeline of startups from our accelerators across the world,” says Vegard Aas, Head of Innovation for Telenor Group and leader of the new team.
“The team will do proactive scouting of market-ready products for piloting and distribution, focusing on our global product categories of communication services, connectivity, storage, security and entertainment,” says Vegard.
Meet Alex Toh, born and bred Singaporean who is a founder, venture capitalist and corporate venturer:
Q: How does your background help you in identifying new startups or products Telenor should partner with?
A: I have a wide experience from an investor’s point of view but also as an entrepreneur. When I was still in school I started an e-commerce startup selling female fashion and accessories. Slogged day and night at it and I very luckily managed to sell to a private investor three years later. I then joined a VC firm where I was involved in the end-to-end process for over 10+ deals; from sourcing and all the way to getting next round investment. In my most recent role, I joined MetLife’s innovation arm as a corporate venture builder to create and build new business units internally. I was also part of the team managing a startup engagement programme; an insuretech post-accelerator. These years of experience has also given me access to a good network in the startup ecosystem in Asia and would facilitate deal flow.
Q: What level of maturity are you looking for in startups that Telenor potentially could collaborate with?
A: We’re looking for market ready startups; these are startups that already have a product that has been tested with a customer. Ideally, they are doing well in a country and want to scale to other countries. These would likely translate into post-seed startups in the Series A or B financing stages but we are also open to working with later stage, more mature startups. We look for the same maturity of startups globally.
Q: Startups have voiced that it can be difficult to find the right contact person in large corporates. On the other hand, the global startup ecosystem can be tricky to manoeuvre for businesses interested in collaborating. You’re here to help?
A: Both Thomas and I have good networks in Asia, Europe and the US, and have been in similar roles before so there’s efficiency and effectiveness in scouting. Also, having a single point of contact makes it easier for startups as corporations are large and many times, they speak with multiple stakeholders and get dropped mid-way. We act as the relationship manager with the startup, managing both Telenor’s local businesses across the world and the startup.
Q: What sort of partnerships are you looking for primarily?
A: We are open to all ways of collaboration and most partnerships will be on a case-by-case basis as each startup’s business model and market is very different. However, the general starting point is a quick pilot to understand if there’s a good synergy from both sides. The startup must also be comfortable with working with us. If things go well from there, it can develop into a distribution, revenue, partnership, white label deal, etc. and/or investment if it makes sense.
Scouting Europe & US
Meet Thomas Andersen, a Norwegian passionate about digital business opportunities – and flying small airplanes!
Q: A risk taking pilot – sounds like the perfect match with the scout team?
A: I love flying my single engine plane but I’d say I take measured risks. Coming from a background of working in M&A, strategy and business development, I’m able to give a thorough evaluation to identify new growth drivers. I also have a background as a management consultant for a wide variety of businesses.
Q: What companies are you on the lookout for in the team?
A: The basic principle should be that the partners can help us solve our customers needs better, or other business problems that we have. Additionally, Telenor should add value to the partner through more than just financial capital. We are not at all supposed to be a VC or purely a financial investor. There are thousands of VCs out there. We need to play in an area where we have an advantage. If our assets can’t add value, there’s no point for us to partner or invest. Our key asset is probably our customer relationships – we have more than 174 million customers that trust us for the connectivity we provide.
Q: What does that mean in terms of specific products?
A: Products and services that are complementary to connectivity are of high interest to us. It can’t just be any service, but a service that the customer would want from Telenor and that resonates with our brand. For now, we are in particular interested in products or features within connectivity, communication, security, storage and entertainment (music, video, gaming). Connectivity is obviously in particular interest for us. Any partner that can help provide higher quality or cheaper connectivity to our customers is of super interest! For example, technologies that improve our networks or new ways of communicating, distributing our pricing our services to our customers. We are on a journey to digitalise how we do our business, whether that’s how we interact with customers, or how we run our operations in the background; and partners that can help us with this are of great interest.
Q: What value will Telenor add to startups keen to partner?
A: Our customer relationships is a key asset we bring to a partner. But we can also add value through other assets, such network infrastructure, payment, customer analytics and our local go to market organisations. And we are very eager to partner with companies that can help us leverage our assets better than we do today.
Q: Sounds like you have your work cut out?
A: There is only so much two scouts can cover! We intend to proactively identify attractive partnership within our focus areas; however, we are also relying heavily on close collaboration with our colleagues in Telenor’s twelve global companies. We also run accelerators for early stage startups in many of our markets. Together we are a large army of scouts that can make a difference to the startup ecosystem.