During the 1980s and 1990s I was a corporate man. Working for a number of large telecommunications companies I travelled the world, even operating in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan that people would think twice about visiting today. During that period becoming an entrepreneur was not something in my mindset. I never thought it would happen, nor was it a particular ambition.
I have always liked a technical challenge, and whilst working as a CEO of a major mobile phone network in Asia, I noticed that fraud was taking place against my network. I decided to set myself the task of finding a way to eliminate this. Eventually, after much trial and error, I found a solution and, knowing that other companies would have the same issue, I looked to commercialise it. In 2001 I set up a company.
Fifteen years later Revector has operated in more than 100 countries globally – this is with a core team of less than 10 people. It has not all been plain sailing but one thing is for certain: the company could not have survived or thrived unless, right from the start, international business all over the world was part of the plan. Realistically, my business had four potential customers in the UK, perhaps 120 or so in Europe but more than 1000 in the world.
Many business people tend to expand to the countries closest to their borders first. This is perfectly understandable and goes to explain why the debate over the European Union creates such interest and confusion. But outside of the LEAVE and REMAIN debate, the world is getting smaller and more connected – providing an opportunity.
For Revector as a business, far more revenue has come from the African continent than the Americas and Europe combined. To some extent it was simpler for me to do business internationally because of my own background. Being used to working in different cultures facilitated a global approach for Revector. The reality is that any business that wants to grow in the telecommunications industry has to think globally, because the challenges that the industry face are similar for many operators. Whether it is network optimisation, bill management, fraud or revenue assurance, what one operator experiences will be broadly similar to others.
Keys to successful international business
Revector’s globalisation was helped by early adoption of Cloud-based technology. This enabled us to create a secure portal that any customer could log into for information on how many frauds had been identified, where the fraud was taking place from a geographical perspective and specific aspects that would facilitate fraud eradication. The ability to receive this information in real time, at any time of day, enabled the company to scale up quickly.
Another important aspect of rapid globalisation was becoming an active participant in industry forums, events and conferences. These events enabled the company to meet lots of potential customers in one place. It also helped identify the issues that operators were addressing around fraud and revenue protection, shaping better product development.
The single most significant issue that companies concern themselves with when doing business globally is getting paid. Yet ironically the only aged debts that Revector has experienced have come from what people would describe as developed countries. Of course there can be difficulties to face, such as currency fluctuations, but the US dollar seems to be an international standard in many parts of the world.
Countering concerns about payment is the capability to actually meet with and influence relevant people that are central to decision making. In a developed country it often takes weeks to get a meaningful answer out of a chain of command, whereas there have been occasions when Revector has pitched for business and received a purchase order on the same day – simply because the operator or regulator has a problem, needs it fixing, and wants to ensure it happens quickly.
One recent example was in Cameroon. I was there last summer to speak with some of the mobile operators and regulators. I arrived to find a room full of interested people and, post my presentation, I was rushed in a limousine to meet the Prime Minister of the country to further discuss issues around telecoms fraud. All of this was completely unexpected and unplanned – so much so that the Prime Minister had to arrange a police escort for me back to the airport to ensure I did not miss my flight.
The right side of the law
Ensuring that the company is not at risk of breaching international sanctions, or working with companies that are under suspicion of malpractice is a much bigger issue that should be taken extremely seriously.
International sanctions are a hugely complex area, with both individual countries and international bodies having the capability to impose sanctions. The list of active sanctions changes very regularly: on an almost daily basis the US, the European Union and the United Nations issue new or change existing sanctions. Furthermore it is not enough to know that the company you are doing business with is not sanctioned. If directors of the company are also involved in other businesses, there may be a risk of breach. It is certainly worth doing the research to ensure compliance.
The flip side of this is the opportunities that are currently opening up in countries where sanctions have traditionally been deployed. These countries are now unlocking significant frozen assets and are determined to grow the economy. This offers businesses one of the most significant opportunities globally.
Furthermore, there is still a global respect for British engineering. A hugely significant moment for Revector was being awarded two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. The value of these internationally cannot be underestimated.
Will I come home?
I can honestly say that I have rarely felt threatened whilst doing international business. On one occasion in the Caribbean I felt vulnerable as a result of a fraud surveillance when we found out that we too were being watched. It was scary but nothing I had not seen in a Manchester pub! Ironically, the only time I had been robbed was in Barcelona, until I had a Macbook stolen recently by a taxi driver in South Africa.
International business reaps rewards
UK companies with a phobia to international business outside of the US or EU are certainly missing opportunities to develop. The global mobile telecommunications industry has transformed life in so many parts of the world, but where you see this most is in developing countries, which itself offers new opportunities. Whilst it is not without its challenges, Revector would not be able to exist without international trade. The backbone of successful international business is being prepared to engage in new cultures, to get on a plane and travel and to have faith in the people at the other end.
Andy Gent is CEO of Revector, a global leader in the detection, location and elimination of fraudulent activity on mobile networks enabling mobile operators to protect revenues. Gent founded Revector after an extensive international career across telecommunications, software, mobile and internet businesses. Formerly Chief Executive Officer of Paktel, Pakistan’s largest Mobile operator, Gent also held senior roles with ECET International, a Cisco-backed software application house and QuailtyNet, Kuwait’s leading internet service provider.