Build trusted relationships: I believe that relationships come first, and business comes second. In other countries you can have a successful product, but in order to achieve your goals here, it is equally, if not more important, to build trusted relationships.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Are Traasdahl, Founder and CEO of Crisp. Are has more than 20 years of experience in mobile and digital technology. He was the Founder & CEO of Tapad Inc. In 2016, Telenor Group acquired Tapad for 360M dollars, making it the fifth largest venture-backed M&A exit in New York since 2009. Prior to Tapad, he founded Thumbplay, a mobile entertainment service that he grew to more than 100M dollars in revenue in less than 3 years before he exited the company. The company, later acquired by Clear Channel, is now called iHeartRadio.
Traasdahl is a frequent contributor for outlets such as CNBC and Bloomberg News, and he has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Ad Age and other major news publications. He was named Global Startup Awards™ Founder of the Year in 2016 and EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was raised in a small village of less than 10,000 people in Norway. My family was filled with idealists and activists for both social and environmental causes. I vividly remember my dad in his office writing thousands of letters on behalf of Amnesty International on his typewriter to help address injustices in the world. The path I chose as a tech and business entrepreneur was not necessarily my expected one.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
After finishing my studies, I moved to Oslo and began working for PA Consulting Group. Telenor, one of the world’s largest mobile telecommunications companies, then approached me to work for them. At the time, Scandinavia was at the forefront of mobile technology and they eventually sent me to the U.S. to start a new company on their behalf.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
When I moved to New York, I knew nobody and had to start over again and learn how to do business in a completely different city. I traveled back and forth from Norway to New York and always stayed at the same hotel. After weeks of waking up at four in the morning, going to work and coming back at midnight every day, the doorman finally came up to me and said, “Do you have any friends?” I answered “no, not really” as I didn’t have any friends in NYC. He offered to grab a beer with me and I’m so grateful for his kindness. That doorman was really my first friend in America.
So how are things going today?
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created so many unprecedented challenges, it also shocked the food supply chain and served as a catalyst for change and greater technology adoption. At Crisp, we are working with some of the world’s largest brands, retailers and data suppliers to automate the flow of data throughout the food supply chain and help optimize supply and demand during the pandemic and beyond. On a personal note, I’m also incredibly grateful to be spending more time with my kids and my wife.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In 2016, I was fortunate to sell Tapad, a company I founded, as one of the largest venture-backed exits in NY. After the sale, I wanted to take some time off and spend it with my wife and kids, then 4 & 8. We had the privilege of traveling for 14 months to over 30 countries — it was truly the trip of a lifetime. During our travels, I witnessed the staggering imbalance of the food system and this made a deep impression on me, certainly influenced by my upbringing. When we returned to the States, I began meeting with my serial technology partner Dag Liodden, who also grew up in a family deeply passionate about social issues. After hundreds of hours of research and meetings with experts in the industry, we determined that the root cause of food waste is slow-moving, unused data. And that’s when we founded Crisp.
The food supply chain is ripe for a true data driven solution that provides a real-time universal point of the truth to help address the paradox of growing food insecurity and waste. Dag and I personally invested an initial 12M dollars to allow Crisp to focus on building world-class technology and products the right way. We are joined by an amazing team and partners in the food industry working together to solve this problem.
If our customers succeed, they drive more profits for themselves, revenue for us — and together we also contribute to solving one of the world’s biggest problems. We call it achieving a positive double bottom line.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
Several years ago, I was invited to meet with President Obama along with 10–15 other tech executives. We were told to choose a specific topic to discuss and I chose immigration — specifically how to reform the immigration system in the U.S. to attract more technical talent. The idea was if someone was extended funding from one of the leading venture funds, that would be a qualifier of being able to get a visa faster. Two days before my dinner with President Obama, the Secret Service reached out to say I couldn’t meet with him. . . because I was an immigrant. I still hope that immigration policies can be changed to incentivize tech entrepreneurs to move here.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
5 important lessons I’ve learned in achieving the American dream are:
- Build trusted relationships: I believe that relationships come first, and business comes second. In other countries you can have a successful product, but in order to achieve your goals here, it is equally, if not more important, to build trusted relationships.
- Provide value: Think about how you can provide unique value before you sell anything. I have found that coming from a place of “how can I be a resource to others?” is always the right starting point. That’s the question that can guide you from starting a company to ultimately selling your product.
- Put in the long hours: Especially when I first arrived in New York, I worked very hard. I saw that this could be the difference between having a good idea and actually accomplishing your goals. When building Tapad, I saw it as part logic and part magic. The logic is hard work and research, but when you’ve done that long enough, magic moments will happen — insights or connections that are breakthroughs. But those don’t happen without the logic piece first.
- Start by finding your biggest fans: I recommend developing a product by finding 100 customers that love it rather than 1,000 that like it. Build on a smaller scale and get the end product to be amazing — the growth will follow from that.
- Take a hint: I’ve found that Americans will never say the word “no” even when that is their answer. I’ve learned not to spend eight months pursuing what I think is a “maybe,” and to spot the “no” faster and move on.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
Yes — actually, four things come to mind:
- Entrepreneurship — This country is full of entrepreneurial spirit. Even when bad things happen, there is enough pride and excitement to rebuild or try something new. I think we can trust that entrepreneurs will keep rising to the occasion.
- Combatting the pandemic — It’s exciting to see the U.S. now administering 2 million COVID-19 vaccines a day, which can help bring an end to the pandemic. The ability for the U.S. to implement solutions at scale when we put our mind and resources to it is amazing. I believe that we can get through any problem that comes our way if we get organized and work together to turn things around.
- Checks and balances — This is part of what makes the U.S. and how it functions so special. I try not to take that for granted.
- Technology and innovation — There’s an incredible drive to innovate that has helped the U.S. tackle numerous challenges. Even during the pandemic, we saw a number of technology solutions arise to address everything from working remotely to, in our case, helping the food industry become more responsive and resilient.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d still like to meet with President Obama (see above).
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!