Here’s a tip for any Israeli mobile entrepreneur seeking fame and fortune: Look east, not west; look south, not north. And learn some languages other than English.
That tip comes courtesy of Jari Tammisto, perhaps the world’s most knowledgeable expert on the mobile business. With two decades of experience, Tammisto played a key part in turning his native Finland into a major center of mobile phone development. In 2004 he became CEO of MobileMonday, which builds global communities to enhance the sharing of knowledge, contacts, and leadership in the mobile developer community worldwide.
Tammisto was in Israel this week for the Israel Mobile Summit 2012, which featured speakers from some of the world’s biggest mobile and communication companies, Israeli experts, and app developers. The Summit was sponsored by MobileMonday, and featured speakers from companies like Nokia, Paypal, Amdocs. AT&T, and others – along with a start-up competition that pitted eight of Israel’s most promising mobile apps against each other. It’s not just any contest; previous winners at Mobile Summit events have gone on to great things. For example, iOnRoad, last year’s winner, won a top design and engineering award at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
As director of an organization with chapters in more than 140 countries (the Israeli chapter of MoMo was established four years ago), Tammisto has seen it all, and on his first visit to Israel this week, he said he was very impressed by the passion and energy of Israeli entrepreneurs — but that he was most impressed by the willingness of Israeli entrepreneurs to take risks.
“They know about the risks of moving ahead with ideas and the potential for failure, and still they forge ahead,” Tammisto told The Times of Israel. “This willingness to take such risks is unique to Israel.”
With entrepreneurs here willing to take on new challenges and boldly go where few other mobile companies have ever gone before, Tammisto believes that Israeli start-ups would do well partnering with service providers, manufacturers, and app distributors in Asia, South America, and even Africa.
“If I have any concerns about the Israeli mobile industry, it’s that you tend to look to the US and Europe for customers, and of course funding. But the numbers don’t lie,” Tammisto said. “In the past few years, the mobile market grew by 170 million people worldwide, but only 8 million of those were in the US and Europe. The rest were in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”
There are opportunities there that few people are taking advantage of — lots of potential and few competitors, exactly the way a savvy entrepreneur likes it, Tammisto added.
Of course, entrepreneurs who go this route will have to do some different thinking when working in what most would consider third world markets; profits per unit sold will probably be far less than in places like the US, and there are likely to be cultural and even political issues that need creative management. Still, said Tammisto, it’s worth a shot for many entrepreneurs.
“Earning money is definitely a more incremental process,” because products have to be priced for the market. On the other hand, there are many potential customers, especially in Far Eastern countries, and the volume of sales could help balance things out. Regardless, said Tammisto, “I work with a number of companies that don’t even consider the US and Europe for their products,” because they are doing so well in the developing world.
Culture and politics, on the other hand, might be more of an issue, but an issue that can be neutralized by partnering with companies and distributors in target countries. Those partners can help Israeli start-ups avoid gaffes. “Israel’s brand name as an innovator is very good in the international community, and most serious players are able to separate politics from business. And consumers who like a product or service like it regardless of the politics involved.”
Nevertheless, Tammisto said, he feels that with a little TLC for their partners, Israeli start-ups could do well almost anywhere. “The partnership model they have been working with may need to be redefined,” and by doing so, Israel will be able to smash negative attitudes that may crop up.
And Tammisto himself stands ready to use his good services to advance the cause. “I want to put innovative Israeli entrepreneurs in touch with people from developing countries and help them to work out deals,” he said, adding that “no one else is doing that right now, and it’s something that’s long overdue.”