DataSoft credits ‘power of meeting people’ for its foothold in East Africa
Even in the cyber age, meeting people face-to-face can often prove to be invaluable. Just ask M. Manjur Mahmud of the Bangladeshi software product and services company DataSoft, which gained a new partner and a new customer in Kenya following a business-to-business (B2B) matchmaking event facilitated by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in East Africa late last year.
DataSoft was well-placed to crack open the East African market because many of its products – microfinance software products and services in particular – target emerging markets, said Mahmud, the company’s chief operating officer and director. For example, DataSoft’s contract with Nairobi-based Synergy Innovations Limited means that its web and mobile application Microfin360 – which is already a success in Bangladesh, with 96 partners – is now on its way to entering the Kenyan market.
The partnership represents a ‘perfect synergy where we create certain products and services that they can take and use in their own context’, Mahmud said.
Gaining a foothold in East Africa
That’s not all. DataSoft also has a new partner in Uganda and is aiming to gain a foothold in other markets in East Africa with its banking and financial products, including solutions to counter money laundering. Mahmud and a domain consultant will travel to the United Republic of Tanzania and Mozambique in August under the sponsorship of the ITC Netherlands Trust Fund III (NTF III) programme, which organized the weeklong B2B event last October that enabled DataSoft to meet, and eventually partner, with Synergy Innovations.
‘We realize that meeting people is important,’ Mahmud said. ‘The power of meeting people, which NTF III has made possible, has worked like magic. When people see that you’re part of a delegation, they understand that you came through a screening process, so your credibility increases.’
Providing a ‘stepping stone’
‘NTF III provides us a stepping stone, an opportunity to go into the market,’ he added. ‘Our responsibility is to take this to the next level and create a big opportunity out of that small opportunity.’
Mahmud is trying to do just that. He has had conference calls with potential partners in Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania and he has met with representatives of some of these companies in Delhi, India.
Meeting businesses on their home turf is important, he says, and that is why he is returning to Africa this month.
‘They are ready to welcome us because they realize that our products are really outstanding and cost-effective, they are mature products and they are as good as any products from Western countries,’ he explained. ‘We expect to go home with a couple of new partners, who will take us to the end client to do some presentations there.’
It is too early to say what these African partnerships will mean for DataSoft’s bottom line. Even multinationals such as Facebook, Google or IBM need three or four years before they see any real impact on their bottom line, Mahmud said. But DataSoft anticipates long-term recurring revenue sustainability from the East African market.
Extending ‘million-dollar’ help
NTF III has helped DataSoft ‘open up a new market, a new continent’, Mahmud said. ‘Before, we didn’t have any clue about what is going on in this market, that you could earn a dime there. We had no market research about the African market. They provided this research and they handpicked companies to have B2B meetings with us. This gave us a glimpse of the market. They also provide opportunities for a follow-up trip – they see us from beginning to end.’
The ITC project, funded by the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, helps beneficiaries build capacity and develop market linkages while also offering advice and support, Mahmud said.
‘If I am confused about some partner in Africa, I can contact someone from NTF III in Nairobi to help us learn,’ he said. ‘They love to help us, which is million-dollar help. A lot of projects are like a drop in the ocean – they don’t give real support. But this project really works to help a company become successful.’
Learn more about the ITC Netherlands Trust Fund III programme.