If the similarities are clear, the differences between Ansel's two markets are crystalline. In the United States, Ansel sells to distributors and retailers, but in Latin America, Edenholm explained, the company deals directly with end users.
And the Latin American market has been the primary source of Ansel's immense growth. Ansel markets itself in South America by its reputation and customer satisfaction, not advertising--the lifeblood of North American marketing. Extensive ad campaigns are not necessary in these south-of-the-border markets, and that keeps Ansel's costs down. "Our strategy is to put more and more emphasis on Latin America. That's where our real competitive advantage is," Edenholm said. "We bring products and service at a lower cost than other businesses that depend on a much larger structure. For IBM to do business in Argentina would cost two or three times more."
Edenholm adds that being a U.S.-based provider in a southern hemisphere continent also enhances Ansel's image and reputation.
"It's easier to be a significant player in those markets," he said. "We're one of many players, but we're one of the more efficient players."
Three strikes and you're an entrepreneur
You might think Edenholm spent years getting into a computer networking business with offices in four countries and a phone that speed-dials to Chile. But he didn't start out as a businessman, and he didn't plan to knit friendships on three continents into an international networking company.
"If you had asked me when I was a student at Reed what I'd be doing in 1998," he said, "I would have said I'd be teaching economics."
Instead, he got sidetracked somewhere between preparing for an academic life and running this expanding company.
Edenholm was born in Sweden. His father, an economist for the Swedish Match Company, moved the family to Chile when Edenholm was 6. "It was a great place to grow up," he said. Despite the country's turbulent politics in the '60s and '70s, Edenholm grew fond of it. "I like Latin culture. Chile is a country that works--it's efficient, much more efficient than a lot of Latin American countries-- but it also has a pleasant and comfortable lifestyle."
Edenholm attended an international, American-based high school in Santiago, then entered Reed College through a scholarship program.
"It was a good choice. I liked it a lot and found it stimulating," Edenholm said.
His first experience as an independent businessman occurred while still a student at Reed. During summer vacations in Chile, he and a friend opened a small ski shop in a popular resort area. The two rented and sold ski equipment for a year--at least they tried to. Lack of snow forced the shop out of business. That was Edenholm's first taste of the vagaries of entrepreneurship.
After graduating from Reed with an economics degree in 1982, he traveled for a year, then enrolled at Princeton University. He earned a master's in public administration in 1985, moved to San Francisco, and married Valerie Daggett '83, whom he had met in his senior year at Reed. Edenholm started work on a doctorate in economics and a law degree at the University of California, Berkeley.
About that time, several events in Edenholm's life nudged him off the academic path. First, friends in Chile asked him in 1990 to help locate suppliers of computer networking products.
"Radu Tomescu, who is a good friend of mine and is now my partner, and I got into computer networking on a very part-time basis," Edenholm said. Tomescu was able to find manufacturers in Taiwan to make the products that Edenholm's friends in Chile needed. "We became a purchasing agent, and it took off on its own. Then we realized there was a market in the United States for the product," he said.