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"Exporting SMEs need to understand how digitization affects their business model, customers and target markets"

Entrepreneur and startup mentor Cristina Riesen on how to build products customers need, want and love, and how design thinking can help an organization's digital transformation in today's fast changing environment.
Cristina Riesen
Cristina Riesen

What role does export play in your strategy (both now and in the future)?

I have recently founded We Are Play Lab, a global social enterprise on a mission to empower parents and educators to raise children with 21st-century skills. In practice, we will tap into world-class research and best practices and use technology and design thinking to build digital learning tools for parents and educators who are committed to raising the creative thinkers, long-life learners and collaborators our world needs. Being a non-profit does not mean that we do not generate revenue; it reflects our commitment to building an organization for the next economy: the economy of purpose. As the problem we are looking to solve is global, export is and will be at the core of our strategy.

Digital transformation: Where should exporting Swiss SMEs start?

First of all you need to be proactive in understanding your current strengths and weaknesses and the impact digital technology will have on your business model, your customers and your target markets. When it comes to digital transformation, the construction industry is less affected than the media industry, to give an example. After identifying what kind of transformation is most appropriate for your organization to create sustainable value in the long run, you need to get the expertise and create an environment that welcomes change. As the CEO of an exporting Swiss SME, you need to become an architect of change first of all, not only by envisioning a strategic roadmap leading the way into new markets, but also by designing lean processes that can best support your organization’s digital transformation. From my experience, design thinking can be a great help on this journey. In the end, the secret is to look at digital transformation not as a daunting task, but rather as a chance to empower and energize your business and your team and as an opportunity to expand into new markets.

What is your business model (if possible in one sentence)?

We Are Play Lab has a hybrid business model combining the social logic of a traditional non-profit organization and the commercial logic of a for-profit business. In short, on the one hand we rely on donations and on the other on generating revenue by selling our products to our customers, parents and educators around the world.

What customer requirements does your business model fulfill? In what way do you align your business model with customer requirements?

In a world of rapid change where work and jobs as we know them are fading away, parents and educators struggle to understand how they can best prepare their kids for the future. We are here to help by providing actionable insights based on science and best practice, empowering our users not only with knowledge, but also with the how-tos that can be easily plugged into their busy lives. As a human-centric organization with a very strong user focus, our mantra is to only build products that people need, want and love. Our goal is to take parents and educators on an inspiring learning journey that will benefit themselves, their kids and society at large.

Which global trends most influence your business model (demographic change, globalization, mobility, digitization, etc.)?

We are at the crossroads of all these key global trends. The products we are building address the growing global 21st-century skills gap in developed and developing markets. We are designing social and emotional learning tools with a mobile first strategy in mind, knowing that this is where we can best reach our users. At the same time, instead of taking a local approach to learning and education, we look at global best practices as a source of diversity and innovative thinking.

Which topic will have a major influence on your business in 2018?

If I had to choose just one major force, it would be geopolitics. Increasingly complex geopolitical situations will impact the way we assess opportunities and risks globally and will play a big role in product monetization and user outreach.

Forum For Swiss Foreign Trade: Rethinking business models

Meet Cristina Riesen on May 18, 2017 at the Forum for Swiss Foreign Trade "Rethinking business models: The international competitive advantage of tomorrow". Want to know more about how exporting SMEs are adapting to the digital transformation and how they are rethinking their business models? Read more in our dossier or sign up for our Export Newsletter.

About Cristina Riesen

Entrepreneur, startup mentor and lecturer Cristina Riesen is interested in using the power of technology and entrepreneurship to tackle complex societal challenges. A former General Manager for Evernote in Europe, Middle East and Africa, Cristina is an EMScom graduate and a certified Hasso Plattner d.School design-thinking professional with more than 10 years of experience in communications, international business development and entrepreneurship. Prior to Evernote, she was a radio editor and worked in public relations for iconic design and architecture brands.

@cristinariesen cristinariesen.net weareplaylab.net

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