Ola Ahlvarsson: The Master of Synergy

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Ola och Micke

[Mikael Syding & Ola Ahlvarsson]

Brief message from Ludvig: Since many of you asked for more after the popular interview with billionaire investor Martin Sandquist, I’ve translated another podcast newsletter. This one is from our interview with Ola Ahlvarsson, one of the most interesting people I’ve met in my life.

For my own enjoyment, I’ve also translated some additional excerpts from the interview that weren’t in the Swedish newsletter.

I’ve listened to this interview 5! times now, and I’m still picking up on new nuances of what Ola said. It’s straight-up gold; idea-after idea-after idea.

….I think it may have been too much information for most people’s brains to handle.

The interview aired for the Swedish podcast “25 Minuter” which I do with former hedge fund manager Mikael Syding, where we talk about business, self-development, books we read, and how to build a future-proof career.

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Ola Ahlvarsson is a serial entrepreneur, investor, and World Champion in several martial arts. He’s also a speaker, writer, and…. a TON of other stuff. But he calls himself only one thing: a Company Builder.

His resume is too long to list, but here are a couple of things:

  • Founded 22 businesses (and invested in many more).
  • Written 2 books: Mission Possible and Silicon Valhalla Saga.
  • Been made a Global Leader of Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. (Other members include: Bill Gates, Larry Page, Bill Clinton, Carl Bildt, Bono, etc.)
  • Worked with practically all of the world’s biggest brands (Harvard, McDonalds, IBM, Google, Samsung, Twitter, Schibsted, Bonnier, SEB, Procter & Gamble, Shell, Yahoo, Ericsson, etc.)
  • Been given the Keys to Miami by mayor Philip Levine (for helping their entrepreneurial community).
  • Became World Champion in the Karate style Goju Ryu in 1991, won the Swedish Championship in Kung Fu in 1996, and became World Champion in Kick Boxing in 1997, to name a few.

In my eyes, this makes him a multi-badass.

Ola has things that I want–like: a global network of cool people, elite-level skill in multiple disciplines, and an interesting point of view on most conversational topics. And he co-owns a castle! I want that by 30.

Maybe most important, he’s built up a sweet synergistic ecosystem of businesses and networks in the IT sector, consisting of companies such as:

  • Result – Started 30 businesses and scaled 300+.
  • Star Stable – Biggest online game for horses (with 11 million users).
  • SellBranch – Manages sales for Twitter and Yahoo in Scandinavia.
  • Epicenter – Stockholm’s #1 office space for fast-growing IT startups.
  • Sime – Biggest Nordic event for business opportunities within IT.

Many people don’t understand how this works, because it’s complex and requires many layers of thinking, until you get up to a system’s point of view. To make a comparison: The average Hip Hop fan thinks about this or that artist. What does Jay-Z think about? He thinks about the industry and the culture of Hip Hop.

You could compare Ola’s synergistic ecosystem to Ycombinator in Silicon Valley; both have build up a powerful funnel to find up-and-coming IT entrepreneurs and “jack them in” with other businesses and a global network. In Ola’s words: “I’ve positioned myself in a situation where I have a lot of ideas coming to me.”

This should be the goal for every ambitious person. Or is it just me?

Here’s What You’ll Learn:

1) Practical takeaways from the interview.

2) Interesting excerpts (quotes) on topics from IT to feminism.

3) My top lessons from Ola’s book Mission Possible.

Practical Takeaways:

  • Ola’s current favorite book: Homo Deus by Noah Yuval Harrari–for interesting scenarios and thoughts about how the next couple of decades might turn out.
    • Another important book Ola read early in life: The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell. It made him realize that if you want to be happy, you have to get out there–and get it.
  • Ola’s life has 4 pillars: Exercise, business, love, and friends. As long as 3 of the pillars are still standing, life’s good.
  • When Ola does something new, he starts by looking at the best people in the world at that thing. How do they practice? What do they avoid?
  • Choose a scalable business model. The companies using technology will continue making the most money.
  • Something that many people misunderstand: The Block-chain technology. It has the potential to revolutionize accounting, law, and democracy. 1
  • If Ola had to throw money at a random sector, it’d be IT.
  • Important future-proof skillset: Learning the new style of management. “It used to be that the business leader or manager was like the conductor of an orchestra; now it’s more like a jam session, where you gotta get people to identify a shared vision.”

Ola Ahlvarsson Keys to Miami Mayor Philip Levine[Ola Ahlvarsson receives the Keys to Miami]

Interesting Excerpts from the Interview:

 

The Logic Behind Star Stable:

500 million girls in the world like horses. There are no good games for horses. Girls like to play. Why hasn’t anyone done anything?

Moore’s Law:

In 30 years your phone is one billion times ‘smarter’. Self-driving cars are a billion times better…. the linear way of thinking we have about society will not be true.

On the Difficulty of Understanding Exponential Change:

When I speak, I sometimes ask the audience: You wake up tomorrow without a little finger. Nice scar, doesn’t hurt, but you don’t have a little finger. That’s alternative #1. Alternative #2 is: You never get to use a smart phone ever again. No one prefers having a little finger over a smart phone.

Then I do the same thing, and I ask them: OK, you wake up the day after and your second little finger is gone. Or…. you can never use an AI-robot in your home ever again. Now everyone wants to keep their little finger.

What AI is:

What people don’t get is that once an Alexa-Robot (or whatever it’s going to be) learns Spanish, then everyone will learn Spanish. As soon as it learns a joke, everyone will learn that joke. Can you imagine that level of progression? That, as soon as one human learns a thing, then every human learns that thing. That’s what AI is.

You Don’t Need a Unique Idea to Be an Entrepreneur:

I met Bertil Hult from EF at a dinner. He said he hadn’t had a single unique idea in his life. But, he’s the best at copying and escalating–and that’s another sort of entrepreneurship.

[Note: Read on to the section about Ola’s book Mission Possible to learn about the 5 Entrepreneurial Types and what they mean for business and investing.]

The Free Market Faces a Death Rattle:

I believe a lot in the invisible hand making bigger, better, more ethical companies. But there’s also a death rattle in IS or Trump or whatever it might be, and this is dangerous. Because, in this fantastic society we’re building, a few people are providing an out-sized portion of value.

Ola Ahlvarsson[Cutting weight for the Olympics.]

The Complexities of the Modern World Creates Conspiracy Theories:

If you were to ask someone at the top of a corporation, like Volkswagen, ‘hey, let’s do some environmental cheating to sell more cars, what do you say?’ –Of course we’re not going to do that.

In the top you’re driven by a different code of ethics than many of the decisions that are made in the organization as a whole. This is difficult to understand for people who are at a distance. You can imagine a meeting in the government, where many of these people have different political agendas, and someone says: ‘hey guys, why don’t we all cheat the tax system? We’ll make up a law that allows us to rent out our summer places.’

This room does not exist. I’ve never seen this type of room in Davos or any other place. So, there’s a conspiracy theory about how power works that isn’t really accurate.

Why Does This happen?

Ludvig: It’s because the information is so easily available these days. Everyone can put up whatever they want. And then the info becomes adjusted to what our biology has evolved for. Compare this to the difficulty of reaching the top and making those tough decisions. That takes more effort and willpower.

Ola: Yeah, and you know less about the decisions being made also. Are you an expert on Antarctica and oil drilling? Do you think it’s “good” or “bad” that Shell drills for oil there? Lego has been partner to Shell and made Lego figures for about 40 years. Then Greenpeace made a movie where polar bears drowned in oil that got millions of views. Then Shell had to retract their oil drilling. They lost 1,3 billion. Is this “good” or “bad” by Greenpeace? We don’t have a fucking clue. We just think, “poor polar bears,” and then we have a bunch of assumptions.

In a more complex society, this is how things happen. I hope we will get more facts about what works and what doesn’t. Then decisions can be made on more fact-based grounds than having people believe things.

Ludvig: I think it’s like this: People who want to evolve have the opportunity to do things with relatively small resources. So, we’re getting a more extreme society in the sense that people who are internally motivated and have big goals, are being pushed up by BIGGER forces than ever before, compared to the people who aren’t. Those people have a more addictive environment. They can get into pretty bad negative downwards spirals–and get stuck there.

Ola: Yeah. The businesses that use technology will be making a lot more money.

The Imagined Evil Patriarchy:

There are structural injustices, but I believe they are in speech, education, parenting and other less salient factors. Then people believe that there’s an evil group of people; it might be a patriarchy or it might be those greedy capitalists or what have you…and they think that these people are deliberately ruining things for others. If you think that, I think you’re getting upset about the wrong things.

On Leftist Movements & the Economic Motor:

…the lack of understanding is tremendous. On the whole, I think the leftist movement is way off. They think it’s a “cake” where–if I have less of this “cake”–it’s because someone stole my piece. Look: It’s not a cake and it’s not small; the economy is becoming BIGGER if we CREATE things together.

So, we should be angry at those who are exploiting people; not at those who build businesses. When you say, “for the tax-payers’ money”, you need to know that if you’re a normal employee, then it takes 54% [of your salary on the employer’s behalf] before you pay your school, your medical care, and so on. Without businesses, there would be no roads, health care, police.

So: We don’t have enough knowledge about how the economic motor works.

Swedish Feminist Bias:

3% of Silicon Valley companies are founded by women. A lot of the feminist rhetoric–as it’s being interpreted–is that “you want equality”.

By that definition, it’s very easy to be a feminist. Then there are also people who have an agenda that ‘there’s a cake, someone stole it!’ … Look: I started 22 businesses. I didn’t steal that opportunity from women.

I don’t think there are men sitting in a group saying: ‘let’s not have any women here! We’re not going to invest in women!’ On the contrary: I think it’s easier to get investments if you’re female. Everyone wants girls in the board room because there are so few of them. But the same ones get asked all the time.

I think we need to expand the funnel. We need to challenge girls earlier. We need to give them tools, role models, and more…

We’ve been too bad at raising girls. They’re raised to be ‘perfect’. Guys are raised to be brave. I have a daughter, and I’m trying to do the opposite.

Fundamentalists vs Communists and Nazis:

The difference is that they [Communists and Nazis] don’t believe there’s a God. That means you can say, “Ok, Hitler was wrong.” Then you’re not part of Hitler Jugend next year. But if you think I’m gonna burn in hell next year–if you really believe that–then life’s just a transport streak toward a cosy destination. But… when there’s a God involved, you’re not allowed to say that.

Let’s say we have a Communist, a Nazi, and an Orthodox Jew. Then we have to respect the Jew by law, but we can demonstrate against the Nazi and the Communist because they have the wrong values. It’s pretty weird.

It’s deeply rooted in our [Swedish] culture to have freedom of religion, but imagine a land where you say: absolutely no religious people allowed. Absolutely no churches. No Nazi symbols allowed either, by the way. No Communist demonstrations. We don’t want that here. It would be super controversial.

But if you come from “Planet Somewhere”, and you want to learn how things work here [on Planet Earth], you wouldn’t find any evidence for a God. So it wouldn’t be controversial for you.

 

My Favorite Parts from Ola’s Book Mission Possible

Funny cover, awesome book, full of great tips for entrepreneurship/business/investing.

Funny cover, awesome book. Full of great tips for entrepreneurship, business, and investing.

 

New opportunities are created through:

New technology [Block-chain]

New communication [Social media]

New customers [3 billion people going to use the Internet]

New markets [countries/demography]

New networks [Sime, Epicenter]

New chaos [current world order]

The 5 entrepreneurial types:

  1. Win or disappear. Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma.
  2. Better safe than sorry. Ingvar Kamprad, Charlie Munger.
  3. The virtuoso. Linus Torvalds, David Blaine.
  4. The serial entrepreneur. Richard Branson, Ola Ahlvarsson.
  5. The Intrapreneur. Jack Welch, Jorma Olilla.

The serial entrepreneur:

Value chain analysis is a hobby. To see who makes the most in the industry is often the first step to understanding how they’ll start their next bold project.

Advice for investors:

If you want to get really rich, you should become good at finding win-or-disappear-entrepreneurs, and betting on them.

The problem with university education:

We talk about supply and demand. About capital and production. Never about who creates the supply, convinces the capital, and leads the production: the entrepreneur. Maybe this is because the academic world is far removed from the doer-mentality that’s the life joy of entrepreneurs.

Break out of Homeostasis:
It’s easier to be a couch potato than an elite athlete. Easier to be salary worker than an entrepreneur. Easier to avoid risks than to face challenges.

 

Thoughts?

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  1. Ola isn’t personally invested in it, but he sat down in a mastermind with some of the biggest investors and experts in the field, and walked away feeling convinced that they believe they will change the world.

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Comments

  1. Really good tips. Thanks for taking the time to translate. Ola seems like a badass. How long are your interviews?

  2. Nice to see someone with clout speaking out against obvious idiocies. I hope this will spread.

    /Erik the Swede

  3. The 6 ways that new business opportunities pop up is a great idea/mental model.

    • Yes, it’s a very actionable book. That was one of the things I liked the most. Another was “the hype curve.” You can read more about it here:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle

      Ola’s version of it is much more detailed and useful, however. He has like 18 steps, which makes it more nuanced, and he also explains how it works for different roles (with different incentives). Like entrepreneurs, investors, journalists.

  4. The next 10 years are going to be very interesting to watch. I don’t think a lot of people realize just how tremendous the change might be (if it becomes anything like all the tech-optimists prophesize). OTOH, it might be that we’re all overoptimistic (as history has shown often to be the case when it comes to things like robots, rockets, and supercomputers) and we have to wait longer for a sort of combined critical mass to happen to multiple different technologies.
    Supposedly, that’s what happened with the iPhone. It was just right in time to become financially feasible for mass-production due to Moore’s Law in multiple core technologies used for production. Then those were put together with new design skills.
    I think maybe this is what will happen. That we don’t get the sort of sudden, singular, rapid innovation that many tech optimists are hoping for. But that we have lots of smaller innovations which are then somehow combined into something really powerful.
    Anyhow, the next 10 years will be cool and confusing.

    • Good point of view. Doesn’t help much for predictability though.

    • There’s going to be no major change in lifestyle.

      People will buy the same shit they buy today, just in different ways. All this shit about Bitcoin and other fads really perturbs me. You cannot trade bitcoins for real money, and nor will you be able to in the future. It’s like trying to trade stock certificates for food. Will never happen.

      Bitcoin is a pump-and-dump with the only liquidity in the market provided by morons who are buying these coins from other people. The only way you can use bitcoin today is to “buy” trivial products (mostly a promotional ploy — “We accept bitcoin! Look how cool we are!”). There is no fundamental value in the coins themselves. The idea they’re worth $2,000+ each is reminiscent of the .com bubble.

      Bitcoin’s main advantage is providing a decentralized financial infrastructure. When we go to Mars, you’ll be able to pay for shit from all sorts of people without the need for banks to manage the transactions.

      In other words, when you board the “Galactic Express”, it won’t be dollars in your pocket but bitcoin. This way, transactions you make anywhere humanity has a presence will retain the same value no matter what. Your bitcoins can be backed by USD/CAD/GBP/EUR/Gold/Ethopian Sex Slaves to give a quantifiable value to what you can spend… but the coins themselves will not hold the value. They will enable the transaction.

      What you see today is one of the biggest bubbles in history, which ironically won’t go away because morons will still keep buying bitcoins.

      The bitcoin is not where the value lies…. unless you’re in the business of selling bitcoins to others. The value lies in how those bitcoins can be used

      And until something of substance is developed which can actually harness the potential of bitcoin, you’re going to be shit out of luck. It will take significant adoption of many ordinary people BUYING real bitcoins in order to facilitate transactions in order to bring true liquidity to the market.

      It needs a killer app. Ethereum is not it and nor is bitcoin. It needs something like ebay which will accept real dollars and use credits (bitcoin) in its backend. If these credits can then be used on other services, the user benefits. This is how the adoption will take place. This type of thing requires a MASSIVE company on the scale of a Microsoft or Oracle to build an infrastructure that can facilitate the experiences that would encourage people to buy the coins.

  5. Thanks for this Ludvig! Ahlvarsson sounds really interesting.

    According to his profile on Wikipedia (and other places on the Internet) , he has an English version of “Mission Possible”, but I can’t seem to find it.

    Do you know if this is true? And if so, do you know what the name of it is? I’d love to read it

  6. This guy sounds like a real-life Iron Man. Cool. I disagree however that academics, at least not all, have not a doer-mentality. This might be true for many, but let’s not forget that the main goal of academic research is to create knowledge, not jobs. Entrepreneurs may have the tunnel vision that academics do not have (well, every once in a while there are outstanding academics who do have it, like Craig Venter) to transform that knowledge from a crude thing into a profitable businesses, but you still need an academic to create the knowledge in the first place. Goes without saying that the entrepreneur will have a far more direct importance for the common Joe that needs to pay mortgage, but again, this is only direct. Let’s not forget the WWW was created inside a physics lab, not by IBM or Microsoft. There are countless examples of academic research spin offs that were turned into businesses. You cannot have GPS without special relativity, etc.

    • Yeah, something like that.
      I agree with you on this, “the main goal of academic research is to create knowledge, not jobs” and the rest of your points.
      However: Things may have been different in your experience (schooling) than mine. While I have a Master’s Degree in business, I feel kind of cheated out of it because it had almost no practical value.

      • “Education” (which is 90% just credentialing) and research are very different sides of a university, which don’t always mesh well. To the researcher, a university is a source of funding and cheap labor (grad students); teaching (especially undergrads) is a burden. To the student, a university is a place to buy a middle-class membership card. Undergrads know and care nothing at all about research.

  7. “This should be the goal for every ambitious person. Or is it just me?”

    Obviously it is preferable to create your business, community or ecosystem but if it were easy everyone would do it. And you probably need to be a pretty diverse thinker/person to do it too. Some people are too passionate/specialized/genetically oriented to a narrow aspect of the world and therefore are probably better off focusing on that.

    Don’t want to come off as being negative, just trying to be realistic. I enjoyed the read and learned a lot.

  8. Listened to the pod interview and now read this. This man is spot on – on everything he said. You should do another one. Maybe with specific questions from listeners?

    If you like this concept, I will pose the first question to Ola: “how would you describe your 4 best developed skills, and how did you practice to become good at them?”

  9. I forgot to add this before. I think the episode should be like one of your normal 25 min ones. Like the last Q&A, but with Ola as a guest

  10. Great conversation! Ola sounds like a fascinating individual with a grasp and view of the BIG picture. Some interesting insights shared. Would love to hear more conversations like this one. Thank you!!

  11. Love these types of posts. (been reading your blog since 2015). Ever since 2015, I really enjoy reading your input from a BOOH perspective. (I have to admit I’m really tired of mainstream self help blogs without a scientific perspective)
    I have a few suggestion if you don’t mind :)
    1. Would love to have a translated interview once a month posted on the blog.
    2. Hire a translator (virtual assistant) to transcribe your podcast into English. Maybe start with 1-2 episodes to a month. Begin with your top 10 favorite and top 10 downloads epsisodes. IMO with all of these content I can see your blog and podcast will blow up to something similar to Noah Kagan or Tim Ferris. I love the uniqueYour current MOAT is the type of guest you’re able to attract and your personal input.

    Overall keep up the good work! Every time I see there’s a new article I get a huge dopamine rush to read your blog. I gotta admit I really like the transformation of your development and the blog.

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