A conversation with Einar Dahle, Co-founder and Owner of BUS Norway about starting a business, managing talent and disrupting markets. With a trusted partnership evolved over eight years, BUS Norway and 99X Technology stand strong to deliver industry-leading products, change markets and improve lives.
What made BUS happen?
We started in 1991 and we are a Norway-based software provider for the automotive industry. BUS builds web-based products to help vehicle dealers and car repair shops simplify and automate the vehicle inspection process. We initially became dealers for two systems and had about 100 customers. By 1997, we saw that the legislation changed and there was a need to have a system to do the roadworthiness test to report the findings to the authority. So, we started building our own product solutions to fit this requirement. Today, BUS is a technology company in Norway and Sri Lanka supporting over 2,000 customers ranging from large car dealers to small one-man car repair shops who do over a million vehicle inspections each year.
What's it been like in your journey as an entrepreneur? Are there some key pointers you would like to share?
I was the ‘IT guy’ and my friend Bernard Jaeck the ‘finance guy’ from Saab Automobile. We started talking about dealers, ERP and accounting systems and how there was a gap in technology to monitor and manage car sales. This was a great success for some years but soon we realized to be a dealer using products that did not meet our specific needs was quite frustrating. In 1996, we bought the ERP system and soon made a shift both in strategy of development and introduced a completely new pricing model based on recurring income.
On 1st of January 1998, the EU-legislation for road worthiness was introduced and we developed a module on our ERP-solution to engage our customers even more to our services. Soon we also realized the huge potential to deliver this service to other customers, who are using other ERP-solutions. We were overwhelmed by the demand and soon had several hundred new customers. However, we were not able to get as many customers as we expected due to where we were competing with our ERP-solution. So, we decided to shift the core services of BUS to work with small modules for a large number of customers instead of the complex ERP-solution, where the potential quantity was quite low. We then sold the ERP solution and step by step, boosted the number of customers.
What made you switch your core product development from Norway to Sri Lanka?
We faced what is called ‘cowboy’ coding, which means that the developers had complete control over the development process. When one person says they want to do it using a specific technology and another says otherwise, it becomes very difficult and confusing to move forward from that point onwards. There wasn’t enough continuity. We then tried working with consultants and setting up an internal development team, but it wasn’t making progress as expected. As a management team, we concluded that we had to take a different approach and direction.
What’s it like working with Sri Lankan talent?
Switching to working with the 99x team of product engineers gave us the support it needed to accelerate our growth. We discovered incredible people here in Sri Lanka. Everyone who joined our project was exceptional in their tech skills and knowledge. Initially, there were some challenges in communication as the team was shy to speak but given the opportunity, they showed their true potential in presenting ideas and working towards the end goal of BUS.
What sort of a culture do you promote within the team?
My philosophy when partnering with 99X Technology was that this is only a geographical extension of our team and that everyone who’s working on our project is a part of our company. We also have a flat organizational structure, and everyone is equal within the company. I think that is one of the success factors of our company.
Was outsourcing your product development a good idea?
Before working with 99X, we had concerns about making an outsourced model work given factors such as procedures, time differences as well as cultural differences. However, after many productive discussions with 99X and a test project later, we signed up to outsource our product engineering to Sri Lanka. In terms of operations and setting up processes, it took us time to learn, fine-tune and establish an optimal work process. Now we can see the beauty that has come out of this. I would never go back to the previous setup. Unless you’re a much larger organization having your own development team, it is more productive and far more effective to outsource and co-create.
What community projects is BUS involved in?
Since the day we started, we’ve been keen on helping people who are in a poor situation. In 2002, we started donating to Better Life Norway and since 2012, we expanded the donations to Sri Lanka and each year we fund different projects at schools. Last year, we enabled a school in Pepiliyana with an internet connection and a teacher to teach IT to the children.