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Why Canadian tech startups should pay closer attention to developing markets

Why Canadian tech startups should pay closer attention to developing markets

Posted by PanamericanWorld on November 10, 2015

Nityaa Labs is a cross-border team of eight people based in both Canada and India. Our main product is AirTV, which helps media companies and content creators to set up their own video streaming services. This is a pivot from one of our previous products called AirStream, which was more focused on the consumer side. We started exploring AirTV just two months ago and have already signed up two customers, including a major media company in India.

My co-founder, Nitesh Dulal, and I moved our company to Canada from India this year. For our previous product, AirStream, most of our users were based in North America and Europe. It made sense for us to be closer to the North American market to better understand their needs and serve them better. Naturally, our options came down to the United States and Canada. Considering the complications in getting a U.S. visa on time, and the cost of living, we chose to come to Canada through its Start-up Visa program. Half of my team is still in India.

I know how the Canadian market works and am also able to reach out to customers in India. I think more Canadian companies should develop a similar model of selling to other countries, in particular developing markets such as India, Southeast Asia and Latin America. There is a lot of opportunity there, especially in technology and apps.

The key is to have someone on the ground there, who knows the market well. It’s not as complicated as some people think. It’s best to start small, though, maybe test it for three to six months. By then you’ll come to know if it can be a success or not. Then you can start investing more heavily. This works even if you have a small product with a limited budget. In Southeast Asia today, some of the most common products are still being developed by U.S. giants.

Now is a perfect time for Canadian entrepreneurs to bring their products to the developing world and sell them there. Some people think you need to begin by starting a subsidiary there and hiring people. That might be true if it’s operations-based, but for something like technology I think you just need one or two sales people to get the job done.

Business is increasingly global. These markets are coming of age. There are many products out there and a lot of investment, particularly in developing markets. Think about it this way: 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s population is in [Asia, Southeast Asia and India]. The U.S. market is good now, but others such as Europe are slowing down. If you don’t want to miss out on the game, and if you want to be a leader in technology, you need to take your products to these developing markets.

The only hiccup is that doing business in … some developing countries like India can be very different [than Canada]. In India, for example, paperwork sometimes gets complicated and finding resources can be difficult and time consuming. In Canada, things move a lot more quickly. This is why I recommend you hire someone who is already in that market where you’re going. You can then explain to them your product and how to sell it. The benefit of having someone already there is that they know the market and what could work and what could not work.

What has been your best business decision to date?

When we decided to join the GSF Global Accelerator [a 13-week program for startups] in India and focus 100 per cent on our product. Before that we were bootstrapping by doing some consulting work, mostly iPhone and Android app development. We had momentum in the consulting work – we had lot of clients and good cash flow. It was scary to give up all of that immediately and steer the ship in a different direction. But the decision paid off.

What has been the worst business decision?

I would regret two decisions: one where we decided to focus on one product longer than we should have. There were signs of changing market conditions and we should have adapted, however there is no clear winner in the debate between ‘perseverance’ and ‘when to pivot.’ Secondly, I should have been more outright and clear in my communication [with colleagues]. Because of this one of my co-founders left the company. These are lessons that you have to learn.

Who are your business mentors?

We are grateful to lot of people who went the extra mile to help us at different times. [Nityaa board advisers and entrepreneurs] Vispi Daver and Kanchan Kumar have helped us with product strategy and by making important introductions. [Another board adviser] Sourav Ray is our go-to person whenever we are stuck on any technical hurdle. [Startup guru] Madusha Cooray gives us lots of critical feedback and directions for our products and ideas and helps us in hiring.

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