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While some entrepreneurs set the bar at conquering just one country, others won’t stop until they’ve won over a continent.

For German-born Rolf Hansen, the success of his low cost mobile provider Simyo in Europe led him to try his hand at introducing a similar product to the Australian market, Amaysim.

Dynamic Business spoke to Hansen about what drives him to succeed.

You grew up in Europe and spent much of your career there – what prompted the move to Australia?

I always wanted to become an entrepreneur, which is the opposite of what my father was – he’s a mathematics professor. I went through quite an experience in the early 90s working as an employee for Hutchison Telecom, then starting my first consulting start up. When the internet came in the mid 1990s, I jumped on that train and became part of a whole movement in Europe which led to a new market. I was part of the launch of a company that was like the Groupon of the late 90s, launched it successfully, floated it, then de-listed it successfully and wound it up. We were part of the rollercoaster of the new economy.

I learned a lot out of that, and in 2000 I started working as a self-sustained entrepreneur and consultant and investor. I came across a business model that’s the core of what we do today with Amaysim, which is called low cost mobile. At the time in Europe it was called no frills, and it’s the equivalent of the RyanAirs and EasyJets of the airline industry. I saw that model taking off in Denmark with 2 companies leading the market and grabbing market share from the existing big players in no time with a very simple product proposition and I decided to launch that in Germany.

In 2008 I bumped into my friend and business partner Peter O’Connell, who’s Australian and our chairman here at Amaysim, and he and I started discussing the possibility of doing what we had done in Europe in Australia [with the success of Simyo), and we really got excited about it, because when we started looking at it, we saw the Australian market was really ripe for the picking. Not only did we see great market potential but I wanted to do something new, have an adventure with the family. The lifestyle opportunity that Australia provided, combined with the market potential, was just too sweet to neglect so we decided to try it in Australia, which led us to start Amaysim here.

The company was founded on a core set of beliefs and values – what were those?

I’m a believer in the idea of corporate values as a foundation of every success you produce. What we usually do, before even developing a brand or name or logo, is have the founders spend a few days talking about what matters to us, what set of values drive us personally, what the corporate behaviour should be, and how the organisation should act. We came out of those two days with 200 or 300 attributes, which we then condensed down to 4 distinct pillars of our value system – simplicity, agility, reliability and empathy.

[Empathy] is not just a nice word for us, it’s a cultural driver because if you want to become the most customer-centric telco on the planet, which is our mission, you have to understand what matters to people: what matters to your customers, your staff, and what matters to our partners out there. We want to be the opposite of a dominant and arrogant player who just invents a product, throws it over the fence, and tells people to take it or leave it.

What challenges, or mistakes, did you have to overcome with Amaysim?

Even the best market research can be a bit misleading. When we launched our first low-end product, it was 15 cents a minute only if you use it, but we had underestimated the effect of bigger telcos spending hundreds of millions of dollars setting cap plans. If you took Aussies through a detailed questionnaire, they got it, but in a spontaneous buying situation they couldn’t make up with 15 cents per minute is. They were more used to, I pay $20 a month and get $200 worth of whatever. That led to a bit of a slower start than we had anticipated – we had fewer subscribers than anticipated and they spent less than we anticipated. Our response to that was quickly adapting to reality and five months following the launch, we launched our second product. That was an example of, okay, you got it wrong, but don’t sit and whinge about it, be very quick and agile on your feet to launch a new product.

What differences have you found between working in Europe and Australia?

To be fair to Europe, it’s a lot of different things – Germany is different to France, which is different to Spain and so on. What I like about Australia is that Australians have a good blend of a can-do mentality and wanting to work hard to make something happen, and a relaxed way of living, a good work-life balance. Australia provides me and my team with a lot of energy to do a lot of things but also live a decent life. Australians are also very straight, they don’t like to beat around the bush for too long. That was interesting for me, it’s helpful in negotiations. It’s the same with consumers, you have to be very straight and tell them what you’re about.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and start ups?

Be prepared to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes you don’t learn. As an entrepreneur, be prepared to give all and lose all, because that can always happen.

You also have to be a true believer in what you do and be passionate about it. People have to feel that, so you can’t be too academic.

Having said that, you have to blend your passion with a professional approach to doing things, so a sound market analysis is the third thing I would really advise people to do. I’ve seen many businesses where the assumptions simply didn’t add up, so it’s better to spend as much time and money as you possibly can on substantiating your hypothesis.

The other thing is to try to have a solid work-life balance. There’s only a couple of years where you can do one thing with no sleep, go 24/7 and work hard and play hard. Spend a lot of time with family and friends, because they give you honest feedback. You get a lot of dishonest feedback from the finance sector, but friends and family are a good sounding board for whether you’ve left planet earth or whether your feet are still on the ground.

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Gina Baldassarre

Gina Baldassarre

Gina is a journalist at Dynamic Business. She enjoys learning to ice skate and collecting sappy inspirational quotes.

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