Go East, young man
For generations we've been conditioned to look to the West for its technology, but also for growth markets, for the doorway to global success. It's now time to look East.
You're the boss of a great little tech company. You've got some brilliant ideas, some very smart people. You have designed some killer piece of technology, and you want to make some decent money for a change. You have a couple of customers in your city, but now you have eyes for the world.
So you jump on a plane and head for London, or LA, or Berlin, and you try enter the overseas markets. And spend the next six months just trying to get them to take you seriously.
“No, we don't have elephants walking down the street in Africa. That's because Africa is a continent, not a country. Yes, our houses are made of brick and we have fridges. Yes, we do have Levi jeans and use a knife and fork. Now can we please talk about the business case for implementing our software platform to reduce your development costs?”
I've just returned from a week at Gitex, in Dubai, to launch the first commercial product of a start-up I'm involved in (www.korwe.com). It does dotmobi “MEAPs” (mobile enterprise application platforms), a server-side integration layer that manages sessions between phone browsers and content servers, and content servers and back-end information systems. More about MEAPs from Gartner here: (http://www.informationweek.com/whitepaper/Mobility/Mobile-Business/meap-gartner-report-wp1266956907560 free login required).
They want to change the world, because their world is still changing fast.Roger Hislop, contributor, ITWeb
So this is interesting tech, cutting-edge tech, commercially important tech. And the attendees to Gitex liked it. And were entirely happy that I was South African. World Cup! Cricket! Nelson Mandela! MTN! Gitex is the Middle East region's biggest tech trade show, extending it's touch to southeast Asia (India, Pakistan and the other 'stans), Iran, etc as well as North and East Africa. And don't forget Turkey and other nearby Eastern European markets.
Needless to say, the Middle East region is characterised by islands of massively developed cities with advanced economies and numerous established industry sectors, and large swathes of semi-rural, low-income populations. Lots of the wealthy, hordes of the poor. A bit like South Africa.
This region comprises large markets. It is also an early adopter market, and it shares many of the business peculiarities of developing markets - and make no mistake, our economy has an awful lot more in common with India or Egypt or Hungary than it does with America or Germany.
Like us, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe also have great gobs of mediocre skills, but also a small wellspring of super-smart technologists and entrepreneurs. They are willing to try new things, and new people. They want to change the world, because their world is still changing fast.
For many South African businesspeople, this just feels too weird and uncomfortable for words.
Talk to an Afghan, or Saudi, or Hungarian? About what? How?
The first step is, obviously, the Interwebs. Look for information on these markets, look for people doing things in your space. Maybe there's a systems integrator that could be a local beachhead?
Talk to the Department of Trade and Industry; they're a bit bureaucratic and lumbering and it needs some patience and persistence, but there are a lot of DTI people that are working very hard to expose South African businesses to other markets. They fund trade show activity; they have contacts.
Locally, there are the South African consulates with their trade missions (try www.southafricadubai.com). They can often form bridges to their local business community.
The best way, of course, is to jump on a plane and go there. It's also fun to see new places.
This all takes time and money, of course, but if you start extending some invitations to connect to those likely to welcome you, the world could be your oyster.