e-commerce start ups, from the Middle East to the Far East


By Paul Kenny

This month I’ve been in Japan, I’ve been privileged to witness the human forces behind some great companies in action.

This month I’ve been in Japan, I’ve been privileged to witness the human forces behind some great companies in action. Nothing excites me more than the energy, the swagger and the hustle of a company on a growth trajectory that’s fueled by the passion and the hard work of the founders. I know where they are coming from. I’ve walked in their shoes several times now, most recently with the launch of AYM and the Danube App in Saudi Arabia and now as we work with Danube to continue to grow the Danube.sa e-commerce platform. I root for these guys at every stage. I’m an entrepreneur to my core and naturally find myself aligning to what others on the same path are trying to achieve.

I was in Japan at the invitation of Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), the country’s main business facilitation agency. It has a twin focus: to support FDI into Japan and to support SME exports from Japan. Technology entrepreneurs figure large in this second part of the picture. Japan has a long history of innovation in technology that is showing no signs of slowing up in the 21st century.

I was speaking as part of an annual pitch event run by JETRO that looks to find the best early-stage technology companies from all around Japan and support their efforts to access international markets. This programme is wildly oversubscribed. I’m delighted to have been asked to be involved in the competition which looks to find 10 of the best companies in Japan and bring them to GITEX in Dubai in October.

I had some great fun during the trip talking to them about my experience in the of growth technology companies across the Middle Eastern e-commerce space. At the next phase, in August, I will be running an e-entrepreneur boot camp for the winners to prepare them to present to partners and investors in Dubai in October.

While it can be hard to pick winners, faced with so many good companies, there are certainly a few characteristics that resonate with my own experiences of successfully launching technology businesses in the Middle East that are worth noting.

The ones that do it well generally excel in certain areas. It goes without saying that the technology is (almost) always winning. The technical skill in early stage tech companies is rarely in doubt and the creativity with which they approach challenges is frequently amazing – and certainly a step ahead of where the industry was five years ago….in fact even two years ago.

But more importantly, the standout companies – and indeed the competitors in the JETRO competition – have adopted a model that is about building deep and vibrant relationships with their customers, not doing deals. It’s about the long, long game. They invest time in getting to know their customers and users and understanding what actually brings value to them, before looking to work out how to deliver that value in ways that can be sustained over the long-term. (As a side note, this is also one of the reasons why the shopping application we have developed on behalf of Danube has resonated so well with customers – they have spent nearly 40 years building really close relationships with their customers.)

They also know that the reality of entrepreneurship is about putting in the really hard work. Humility and patience are the keys to success. Doing hundreds and hundreds of good little things over and over again along the way is the way to get the big meeting… the signature deal… the major customer. Day in, day out, you’ve got to be on it.

Paul Kenny is MD of AYM, developer of the Danube shopping app. He previously founded daily deals website Cobone and was founding founder at Emerge Ventures.