Never mind the self-effacing laugh and boyish looks of 27-year-old Stefan Krook. The young CEO of Glocalnet, a Swedish telephone startup, is mounting a challenge to state-controlled telecom giant, Telia.
Krook's key asset is Internet telephony. Two years ago, when the technology was barely crawling, he set up a system that could provide low-cost, though strange-sounding, phone calls. His company, Glocalnet, sold mostly to African and Turkish immigrants in Sweden--customers who focused more on cost than voice quality. Since then, Krook has persuaded Internet power Cisco Systems Inc. to install and finance a more ambitious system. That allows Glocalnet to offer better service, while giving Cisco a foothold in Europe's telephone business.
Now, Krook has 80,000 customers and racked up $2.4 million in sales in the first quarter. The surest sign Krook is on the right track is that Telia is hurrying into the same technology. So will Telia swat Krook aside? Don't count on it. He's a moving target. Krook is planning to bid on a license for third-generation mobile telephony. The aim: Win the license, build the system, then sell capacity to other phone upstarts--folks just like him, in Sweden and beyond.