Filling up white spaces

  • Many start-ups are focused on consumer-facing apps, ignoring opportunities in the enterprise space
  • It may not be glamorous, but such apps can make a difference in lives as well

Filling up white spacesGENERALLY speaking, there are two types of entrepreneurs – those who start their own business to spur a shift toward an internally-inspired vision of a future; and those who create their own company to make money on their own terms.
 
The first group of start-ups isn’t created so much as born, with origin stories typically involving founders enjoying a sudden spark of clarity or inspiration brought upon by a personal experience or that of their loved ones.
 
The other group is a more calculated affair. These founders actively seek to solve an existing pain-point and plug gaps in the market.
 
If you are in the latter group, and happen to hold expertise in mobile app development, then the message in today’s column is for you.
 
At a DNA-TeAM panel discussion last month, the topic was focused on mobilizing businesses.
 
One of the panel speakers, Nimal Manuel, who is the principal at McKinsey & Co in Kuala Lumpur, said that there are plenty of opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs within the “white spaces” of the enterprise world.
 
The term “white space” has many definitions, but within today’s context, it refers to gaps that spell business opportunities.
 
According to Manuel, white space start-ups and smaller companies may want to explore include enterprise social networking and enterprise mobility.
 
The latter includes examples like collaboration and communication as well as accessing corporate ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications via mobile devices.

The former would involve building apps with a great user experience or interface that caters to industry specific markets.
 
“There are no compelling solutions yet from the big boys because it’s not their core business,” said Manuel.
 
“While many of these clients are looking into mobility, their first port-of-call are the telcos, but telcos have not been nimble enough to capture this segment,” he added.
 
Another panelist, Naveen Mishra, industry principal, ICT, Asia Pacific, at Frost & Sullivan told the audience that in every boardroom you go into, you will hear that mobile is part of their strategy.
 
“Yet whole industries have been disrupted by applications like WhatsApp. So many big companies have missed out on major trends that start-ups have successfully initiated,” he added.
 
Manuel concurred, admitting that he serves many large clients who have to defend against start-ups disrupting their business.
 
The gaps and potential opportunities were further underscored when a member of the audience stood up and identified himself as working for oil and gas giant Petronas, sharing that even with interest and ready funds, finding relevant solutions for his industry has been a trying experience.
 
The call that evening for aspiring entrepreneurs to focus on and solve enterprise-centric problems had me thinking about a brief conversation I had some time back with Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) chief executive officer Datuk Badlisham Ghazali.
 
The topic of conversation centered on start-ups finding a niche to fill and the lament of those involved in funding, at seeing the consumer-facing ideas dominating applications.
 
“Why not make products such as ERP solutions?” Badlisham had said to me.
 
Filling up white spacesGranted at first glance, filling white spaces and providing solutions to companies rather than people is hardly a glamorous undertaking.
 
You won’t be featured on the cover of glossy magazines heralding you as having “killed Facebook” or for that matter, have most people understand what it is exactly that you do.
 
But as Forbes columnist Adam Hartung in his 2008 book, Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition, wrote: “White space provides a location for new thinking, testing and learning.”
 
The upside to building apps for enterprises is that they already know exactly where the pain-points and are very clear about the end goals.
 
It will require a deeper level of knowledge about the specific industry you are trying to help to truly come up with a great solution, but rest assured that companies will be eager to share information where they can to help you along. It is to their benefit after all.
 
If you’re still feeling like it could be a rather thankless yet profitable venture, let me assure you that it would indeed have an impact on lives.
 
That oil and gas engineer using an augmented reality mobile app to transmit and receive real-time information without needing to venture too close to potentially hazardous areas would thank you.
 
That patient with a life-long illness will thank you for that app which helps track and manage the multitude of appointments, procedures and medications.
 
Remember the last time you overheard your friends working in large companies moaning about the confusing software they have to deal with at the office?
 
If there is one thing the Bring Your Own Device movement has certainly accomplished is the consumerization of the office. This means that workers now expect much more from their professional IT tools, holding them up to the same usability standards that drive consumer offerings.
 
Trust me, build that killer enterprise app and thousands of employees out there would thank you for making their work lives simpler and less stressful, especially for software that’s actually user friendly.
 
The only catch being that all those fervent sighs of relief and silent prayers of thanks won’t go directly to you.
 
If there’s still some hesitation about trying to color in those white spaces, let me leave you with this one thought: “Why mine the gold when you can sell picks to the miners?”
 
This column originally appeared in the Metro Biz section of The Star and is reprinted here with its kind permission.
 
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Giving our own start-ups a fair shake

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