What Makes Oslo Business Forum so Successful?

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The Oslo Business Forum is arguably the most relevant business conference in Norway and it was founded by two very ambitious BI dropouts. Marius Røed Wang and Christoffer Omberg used to organize academic and social events for students as part of SBIO until they got the brilliant idea of making it a business. With a little adjustment from the target market of broke students to wealthy business people, they hit the jackpot.

Marius Røed Wang and Christoffer Omberg . Photo: Stian A. Rasmussen / Oslo Business Forum

But, as they mentioned in the interview with Inside after their latest event – Digital Leadership (Thursday 4th of April 2019) , it wasn’t quite smooth sailing at the beginning of their journey. It was a classic entrepreneur’s story: they saw this unique opportunity, they believed in it, they risked everything they had, and it failed. They had the goal of selling out 1400 seats in 2 minutes. Having secured Sir Alex Ferguson, ex-manager of Manchester United football team as the keynote speaker; and 6 months on the project, the first week of ticket sales yielded only 12,000 NOK Revenue (3 tickets) to cover their approximately 2.5 MNOK cost. But what was important was that they did not give up. They saw that what they were currently doing wasn’t working out. They had nothing else to lose, so they doubled down. As Christoffer said “… so it was like, either we go bankrupt, the company will not ever exist or we can try a lot of things and maybe one of the activities that we are doing will succeed. So I think we got the mentality of testing, failing and learning from that experience, because we had nothing to lose… “. At the end of the day they were able to sell around 850 tickets and hold an event that was highly praised both by the attendees and the speakers.

It is very evident that they have taken the ideology of “testing, failing and learning” to heart. Because you can see their events improving exponentially year-on-year. One obvious improvement is the scale. In 2016 they sold 850 tickets, whereas in September of last year, they sold-out at 3000 tickets.

Richard Quest. Photo: Kjetil Fredriksen / Oslo Business Forum

But that does not mean that they have perfected their art or that they don’t face any challenges today. Matter of fact Marius mentioned a major hurdle they ran into during the organization of the latest event – Digital Leadership. Richard Quest – Famous CNN news anchor and now three time moderator for OBF – whom many, including Marius, believes to have become the face of OBF. Two days before the conference (2nd of April, 2019), OBF gets a call from Richard saying that sadly he will not be able to attend the conference due to his contract with CNN demanding him to prioritize their project over others. The hectic process of hastily securing a new speaker and getting them up to speed ensued. OBF secured Pellegrino Riccardi, world renowned motivational speaker and cross-culture expert as the new moderator. They switched out all the graphics content, and the evening before the event, they get another call from Richard saying he will be able to attend after all. This is one of a million things that can completely change the quality of their events. They have learned to not take everything for granted and to roll with the punches, which might be the key to their success.

Another key element adding to the quality of their events, were the volunteers, revealed Marius. The majority of whom consisted of BI students. It was understandable when seeing their big smiles and warm greetings. They seem very driven and committed to the event and we wanted to know how they became so motivated without monetary incentive. Marius was able to shed some light onto this mystery, “…what we saw there is how SBIO can be one of the most professional student unions in Norway and all of the people there are not working for the money, but they are working for the experience and they are motivated for something that is bigger than themselves. So what we try to do is build up a community between ambassadors and give them a kind of ownership to the conference. So they have responsibility areas, someone gets the opportunity to pick up the CTO of Amazon, like how often do you get the opportunity to sit in the car together with the CTO of one of the biggest companies. So we strongly believe in the thought of giving ownership and also to give the ambassadors an experience they can use when they are applying for a new job…”.

Happy ambassadors greeting the attendees. Photo: Kenneth Danielsen / Oslo Business Forum

Having heard that, we wanted to see how the volunteers actually felt about the experience and what they got out of it. We had the chance to interview Alexander Sveen, who had been with OBF from the beginning and had volunteered on every event since. Alexander believes that it is the practical knowledge from the experience that initially attracts the students, especially SBIO members who has to organize such events every semester. But he believes it is the “good, young, energized” culture that keeps them coming back to volunteer.

We also got to interview another member of the volunteer team who has experienced the OBF events from both sides, as a volunteer and as an attendee. Louis Grenez was initially recommended to volunteer to the event when he was an ambassador for Fadderullan, by its board. As he put it, “Looking back at this decision, I am very satisfied to having joined the project, as I built a strong connection with this conference and the talented entrepreneurs behind this successful event”.  In the last event – Digital Leadership – he had the wonderful opportunity of handling Richard Quest, which is a perk in itself. But Louis also mentioned that in addition to this, ambassadors get the unique opportunity to get to see some of the speakers’ (even keynote speakers’) talks during their breaks, which is highly valuable given the knowledge these speakers convey, and not to mention the prices of the tickets.

So it goes without saying that applying to volunteer for the next event – on the 25th of September 2019 with David Cameron as the keynote speaker – is a worthy investment of your time.   

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