The First Step In The Sand. Predica’s CEO Lessons From Qatar

Joi Ito, flickr.com

Before our first projects carried out in Qatar, I had no idea about business culture, environment and possibilities lying in the Middle East. Yet – there we are. Invited by authorities of Qatar to be the first foreign company to establish subsidiary without any local business partner.

It was neither easy nor quick but totally worth it. Let me tell you why exactly.

The reason

Everything started when Tomasz Onyszko, co-founder of Predica, got few freelance IT and tech jobs for a large Qatar company. The management was more than satisfied with delivered results, so they asked us for some training in project management and lean methodology in business.

Typical companies consider Qatar and other companies from the Middle East as perfect for one-shot-quick-win projects with a high fee and a low chance to transform into something bigger. But Predica is far from being typical.

The first tech and consulting project we had done for one of the biggest Qatar oil and gas companies clearly proved, that there was a high need for our expertise and experiences. With our flat structure, there was nothing better to do than sending the CEO to Qatar to forge first business contracts into the strongly recognized brand.

Few days after my first flight to Qatar, I was there back again.

The challenge

First lessons of local business culture were almost as harsh as priceless. For Qataris, all business – from selling sweets in a local shop to building complex IT systems to buying an oil tanker – is based on personal relationships and trust. And building trust and relationships is anything but easy for a guy from some country in Central Europe. There is a big difference between hiring a freelancer for some troubleshooting and establishing long-term cooperation with a business partner. The level of engagement is incomparable.

As a result – typical sales cycle in B2B segment takes from 6 to 24 months and nobody considers that weird. I was disappointed to see, that after first 6 months in Qatar, with two interesting, local cases in the portfolio and many contacts made, I had no new customers. Now I know, that’s normal and everything was going properly – in the way they do it in Qatar, not the Polish or European one.

Luckily, it applies to every company, no matter the size or revenue. Competition is harsh, no matter the segment, the budget or a project.

Business conditions

On the quality level, be ready to stand against the best of the bests from Western Europe, USA, Canada and other highly developed countries. If the priority is high enough, it is not a problem to hire some consulting prodigy from Hong Kong or London.

If you would like to compete on price, get ready to meet companies from India, Egypt or Lebanon. It is nearly impossible to offer a lower price than shared services center in Bangalore. It employs hundreds of it engineers for much lower wage than European specialists are ready to work for.

Last but not least, I had to learn the culture and “the way of life” in Qatar. Fun fact – it is common to meet near some landmarks, without the precise address. Business meeting “near Lulu Market” or “near Al-Jazeera building”? Any problems?

Yep, two, to be precise. I owned no office-landmark to meet someone. And I didn’t know the city well enough to find the landmarks based on navigation.

Francisco Anzola, flickr.com

Game changer – local presence

After months (in fact – years) of building the local presence, contacts, and network of peers, it was obvious, that it is high time to establish a local subsidiary. Easier said than done.

Any company willing to start operations in Qatar has to find a local partner to launch together. With more than 50% shares in his hands. Although smart, it is not really convenient for someone just entering the market, without a trusted partner.

My answer? Hard, fair work, delivering excellence on every level and building the brand and a local presence. There are no shortcuts, no magic tricks to earn the trust of locals, only to build the relationship and give what you have best to offer.

My effects? Predica Middle East LLC has just been registered as part of the QFC family. And I consider it as the great honor and a sign of a trust from Qatar authorities.

And with local registration, we have not only gained new opportunities but also obligations. There refer to fulfilling Qatari ambitions of the 2030 vision. The magnitude of initiatives is enormous, and we will not dodge from our responsibilities.

Next steps

With a strong presence and big, local customers in the portfolio everything gets much easier.  Predica can compete with the greatest international brands now.

Qatar is still teaching us many valuable lessons about the local business environment, culture and the Middle-Eastern way of making business. We are now much richer in experience, know-how, and contacts.

Every great journey requires the first step. And for us, Qatar was the first step. So what’s the next one? The rest of Middle East – Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia. And I’m sure, this is not the end of our journey. Want to join us in it and start a project? You can reach us directly through requesting an intro session  via < get in touch > here or shoot me an email: g.chuchra@predica.pl 

 

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