Presenting in Kharkiv
Following my March 30 presentation to the Kharkiv Chamber of Commerce, I was asked the following question by a software developer:
How can local firms overcome the reticence of prospective American clients who say they're afraid because Kharkiv is so close to the conflict zone?
I began my answer by referring to Israel’s experience, having just been back there last summer. It’s easy to have breakfast with a Tel Aviv IT firm and do lunch up in the Golan Heights, literally overlooking the battles between Syrian and ISIS forces – not to mention the Palestinian-related tensions and violence. And yet, Israel’s IT industry continues to prosper, with plenty of U.S. investors and clients. I believe this is because innovation and quality – and cost – are also compelling factors. Ukraine’s IT sector flows from a strong educational climate, and offers sophisticated software development, system architecture, and project management. Its professional teams integrate seamlessly with U.S-based clients and demonstrate a high level of customer satisfaction and quality control.
Back to Israel for a moment, Americans feel an affinity, identifying with its society and culture, believing it shares America’s future. Ukraine today finds itself in a military conflict that traces directly back to its fateful choice to embrace the West. Even without the conflict, Americans would have concerns about fighting corruption and protecting intellectual property; of all Ukraine’s regions, Kharkiv is doing the most on both those fronts.
Seeing is believing. PowerPoint presentations and Skype calls can’t substitute for actually visiting Kharkiv and walking down a hallway past offices that could easily be anywhere in the United States – except that they’re in Kharkiv, less than an hour’s drive from the conflict zone.
Americans also need to see that Ukraine and Kharkiv are a unified brand, not an arbitrary assortment of disconnected individual companies. Kharkiv’s software firms may vary in specialization, size and quality, but they all draw from the same world-class pool of talent. All told, Ukraine has the most IT professionals in Europe, and over 1,000 firms.
In reality, plenty of American firms are already outsourcing to Ukraine, including to Kharkiv. If anyone uses the conflict as an excuse, there are others who realize that makes little difference. It is the background to the conflict which is precisely Ukraine’s strongest selling point – its aspiration to be part of Europe even in the face of Russian intimidation.
Serious clients shouldn’t even need much reassurance on the military situation. Ultimately, IT is about the people behind it and their intellectual capital. There are no factories or shipping lanes to shut down. There are no crops or oil reserves to be forfeited. And there are no Americans being sent to live overseas – it is, after all, outsourcing. And Kharkiv is as at least as safe as New York City.
Recruiting clients is never easy. But in the case of Kharkiv’s software community, all the ingredients seem to be in place. Now it’s mostly a matter of selling.