Thursday, July 31, 2008

Evangelizing Business Graphics in Asia-Pacific

On a five nation Asia-Pacific swing in July I met with resellers of SmartDraw’s visual communications software. I found a receptive message to “thinking straight”, “working smarter”, “better presentations”, “raising the level of education” and “making money” at each destination. At this stage in SmartDraw’s development the company doesn’t have an overseas office [yet]. So, we’re working with partners, distributors and resellers to get the message out. Highlights:

ChinaCogito Solutions of Hong Kong & Beijing was founded 10 years ago by Jimmy Wong. His youth will give him the energy required to introduce a growing brand to Hong Kong and the explosive China market. Because his company is relatively small, he can provide focus. Cogito distributes SmartDraw through Jardine’s , PCCW, Microware and other channels. (Excitement for the Olympics was building, the Peeking Duck is still delicious and watching the noodle makers spin and weave noodles by hand is hypnotizing.)

Singapore – SmartDraw has been represented for years in Singapore by Infoland, who’s Marketing Director Mee-Leng Poon has introduced SmartDraw to schools. Interestingly, she’s found that SmartDraw can be used as an authoring tool for kids to make fun presentations. For the business market, we began working recently with Efektif, who has already succeeded in introducing SmartDraw to the United Overseas Bank (UOB). Efektif has been a value added reseller of various business graphics solutions for years, such as project scheduling software, and mind map solutions. (We had time after our meetings to sample the famous pepper crab.)

Malaysia – Our distributor Nadi-Ayu Technologies observed a problem in Malaysia’s schools: Many teachers had computers, but weren’t using them. Nadi-Ayu wondered what would happen if teachers had better software? So, they did an experiment with a group of instructors giving them SmartDraw. Their conclusion: teachers with SmartDraw used their computers more. The Ministry of Education agreed with these findings, and awarded Nadi-Ayu different projects to supply more than 30,000 licenses of SmartDraw to instructors and computer labs. During a 5-day visit we met several government ministries in Putrajaya, the new capital area of Malaysia, and also universities. (Awaking each morning to the calls of prayers from a nearby mosque, we had one free moment to sample a Durian, the fruit that scared participants on the TV show “Fear Factor” with its sensuous bouquet.)

Australia – My arrival coincided with the Pope’s visit to Sydney. Dodging the PopeMobile and the PopeBoat I visited SoftwareTime located in a quaint area of Sydney. Software Time has a strong education focus, and manager Chris Marlow expressed interest reselling SmartDraw if we could get the margins right (I assured him we could). Next there was a meeting with Aquion – a distributor, with strong ties to resellers like Insight. Insight is a large reseller to corporate customers – but we need “order makers” not “order takers.” Fitting the “order maker” profile is a reseller called MindSystems of Melbourne, an experienced marketer of business graphics software, who sees an excellent fit with SmartDraw in combination with its other productivity software offerings. Melbourne is also the home of City Software, a traditional software seller who has been offering SmartDraw for a couple of years already, and whose SmartDraw sales have been expanding in line with our world-wide growth. I was impressed with the offices and strategy of Edsoft, which has an education focus. (One of the main features of the office is a glass meeting room with an artistic rendering of the company’s roadmap in vibrant colors on the clear wall. The company is located near a former artist colony – and the influence is apparent.) However, because Edsoft has requested exclusive rights to be the sole reseller for SmartDraw, it is not likely we will be doing business with them at this time. (MindSystems located not far from a vineyard, so after lunch which included Australia’s great oysters, we were able to grab a taste of Melbourne.)

New Zealand: Cold, rainy, at the height of winter ….Met with James Taylor of Metro Business Software, a long-time business partner whose SmartDraw sales have been rising the past two years. I also met with Patrick Baker of Mindlogik, who is in the business of consulting, training and “business mapping”. Patrick sees SmartDraw fitting in beautifully with the consulting services he and his partners offer to New Zealand companies. (James suggested we have lunch on scenic Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride from Auckland. NZ is not just about “All Blacks” and whites: try the red wine!)

Conclusion: I'm bullish on the growth prospects of "business graphics" and visual communications in Asia-Pacific and throughout the world.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Business: Melbourne Style

For the first time in my 27 years of international business, I spent $400 on taxi fares rushing to meetings in Sydney and Melbourne over a two day sprint.

I escaped the political demonstrations in Malaysia to find a jubilee of traffic jams in Sydney: the Pope had arrived.
At my first meeting in Sydney, I'm greeted by a Jack Russel Terrier mix, who grabs the most expensive tie I own and starts pulling. (In Texas, they'd just cut it off with scissors -- here, they send in the dogs.) I left with the order.
After a morning meeting Saturday with our new reseller in Melbourne, MindSystems, we head to a restaurant to feast on fresh oysters, lamb brains, raw steak tartar and “wagu” Kobe beef at the Wine Room in St. Kilda. Then, it's off to the wine country on Mornington Peninsula, town of Mt. Eliza. We follow the coastal road – Melbourne is situated at the back of a very large bay. We pass Canary Island Date Palms and Protea “bottle brush” trees that rise as tall as 4 story buildings.

MindSystems is a true "order maker" and a true value added reseller of business graphics software solutions. They have the formula. I'm looking forward to working with them.

First stop is Morningstar Estate – picture perfect for weddings. We pull into the driveway where grazing sheep catch my eye. This is what we need at the Blue-Merle Vineyard for weed control and dog control. (Our shepherd needs something to do – so not only would a pair of sheep keep Bluey occupied, they keep the weeds down and don’t eat the vines.)

The winery has a tasting room, restaurant and hotel , and I’m thinking this is the place to stay on my next trip to Melbourne. Especially since MindSystems is located just down the road. From the terrace, you catch glimpses of the bay. My first thought: mildew.
“I don’t like red wines,” says our pourer, a young man of 23 years.
“How’s the mildew around here?”
“I’ve never heard of a problem.” Yeah, right.
The pinot is drinkable. The cabernet-merlot blend is not. According to Derek Barton, author of “Australia’s Best Wine Tours” which I purchased from one of the many book stores in St. Kilda, the peninsula is known for good pinots. We head outside to the vineyard. I’m struck by two things: the way end posts are supported (see picture), and the pruning. The end posts are not put in at angles; rather, they are straight, given extra support by another end post placed at the top. (See the picture.) The pruning method is to prune back to a single shoot, which stretches across the cordon wire. This is to control vegetative growth in this challenging microclimate (surrounded by water).

Whereas Morningstar Estate is a beautiful castle, our next stop across the road is a bohemian hole in wall with attitude, the Under Ground, where the yard is littered with barrels and the grounds could use a good cleaning. This is the place to have fun and to talk with the winemaker who describes in great detail the challenges of mildew and the pruning techniques. I notice they are using the breathable, oxygen permeable plastic drums, which are reputed to allow wine to age with a slow oxidation process similar to barrel aging. The winemaker concurs with the assessment and gives me the name of the Flextank supplier.

We enjoy sampling the sweet muscat wines, and I am especially keen on trying the Duriff, which they have named “Dr. Duriff.” We know this back home as Petite Syrah (no, it is NOT petite shiraz, mate), which is a thick, dark, chewy, big wine – of which we have a barrel full back at the Blue-Merle vineyard, maturing nicely. Dr. Duriff does not disappoint, and I purchase a bottle to bring back to the artisans of Blue-Merle Country. Next stop, New Zealand.

When you go:
Place to stay: Novotel, St. Kilda. Located about 5 miles or so from the Melbourne City Center, along the bay. Jog along the beach in the morning. Enjoy breakfast and a “flat white” coffe at the racer’s café (where all the cyclists hang out).

Lunch or Dinner: Melbourne Wine Room The George. 125 Fitzroy St., St. Kilda. Tel: (03) 9525-5599. Reservations recommended. Everything delicious. Ask the waiter what’s good the day you go.

Morning Coffee: Racer’s Café, St. Kilda

Sails on the Bay. Restaurant. Despite being located right on the beach with a bay view, the food is good. 15 Elwood Foreshore, Elwood, Victoria.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Intoxicating Durian: The Majestic Fruit That Kills

(July, 2008 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) -- Durian is the King of Fruits. This is the football sized “spike” fruit of Asia, found in markets from Bangkok to Jakarta. Its bouquet is so powerful the fruit is banned from airlines and hotels in Singapore and KL. It was used as an obstacle on the TV show “Fear Factor” – the smell scared away the participants.

Ah, but the taste. If you get past the smell, you’ve got it licked.
The first time I tried it in 1993 I wasn’t so sure. We had met for happy hour at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar in Singapore, and after downing a yard of beer, I was taken to the nearby “hawker stall” for delicacies of sting ray and the fruit of fruits.
“Don’t eat Durian after drinking beer,” Ricky warned.
“I can’t take too much,” said Angeline, a Singaporean. “It’s too ‘heat-y’,” that is, it caused her body temperature to rise. After eating it, she would need to eat something “cool” – like watermelon-- to keep her system in balance.

We walked by the stalls inspecting the spiky fruit, inserting a nose here and there into the cracks, as if discerning a fine wine, to find one perfectly ripe. I did my duty as the honored guest taking a few bites, the last one with some difficulty. That was enough. The next day when we met to discuss strategies for increasing sales of desktop projectors in the region, I was moving a little slow. Was it the tail of the sting ray or the beast of fruits?

That evening, the talk turned to Durian. Ashok recalled driving up to Malaysia and coming to a market where the fruit was on sale. He loaded up on it, stuffing the trunk of his Mercedes. To this day, the smell lingers. Then, they told me how it is forbidden to bring into hotels (if it gets into the ventilation system, the hotel might need to be evacuated, and the odor might linger for days, if not years). It seems that not everyone in Singapore appreciates Durian. (Well, even half the population of Japan dislikes “natoe” – the “rotten” soybean dish, which is really good for you and prevents blood clots.) Better informed about this fruit, I became intrigued and told myself that I’d give it another try, someday. I soon had my chance the next week at a market in Malaysia (the country reputed to have the best Durian – at least according to Malaysians) – when I suggested to my host, “Let’s eat Durian!” He was surprised to hear that from a Westerner and undoubtedly pleased. He got some of the fruit, warned me not to drink beer with it, and I dove right in. This time, there was no turning back. I had become a Durian addict.

“The Wild West” are three words I use to describe Indonesia in the 1990s. Here’s one reason why. After dinner one evening, I suggested to my hosts, “ Let’s get some Durian. They thought that was a grand idea. We gorged ourselves, but couldn’t finish it all. (The taste is very rich, and a little goes a long way.) Too expensive, and too good to throw out, they offered me a doggie bag to take back to the hotel. “I can’t take this into the hotel,” I protested. “It’s banned. They’ll knock on the door, and throw me out of the hotel .”
“You’re correct,” Julius said, in that wild-west way of talking he had. “They will come knocking on your door, and they will tell you, ‘Please, give me some of your Durian!’” he concluded with a laugh and his Cheshire cat’s mischievous smile. He insisted all Indonesians love durian. Encouraged by my hosts, I brought the doggie-bag back to my room in the Hotel Intercontinental and put it in the refrigerator. I had a bite the following day, and left the reminder in the fridge when I checked out. (I can only surmise what was done with that fridge.) I imagined the ultimate pick up line had I been single: “Would you like to come up to my room and eat some Durian?” Now who could have refused that?

In later years, I’ve had my fun with Durian, introducing it to friends and family. “What’s this shit?” asked my Oklahoma cousin when I purchased some at a local Vietnamese market in OK City. When my friend Suki – who has spent a lot of time in India -- invited us and a group of his friends to his home in San Diego for a tandori chicken cookout a few years back, I brought Durian for desert. He’s still my friend – we play golf together -- but I wonder why he hasn’t invited us back for dinner? I’ve pondered bringing it into the office April Fool’s Day, but hesitate when remembering the reaction that ensued when one of the Asian gals in the office cooked some “tsurume” in the microwave. The fumes rose to the vent and reached me at the other end of the building triggering fond memories of eating the dried squid —heated by a match or butane lighter – with beer in our dormitory in Japan. I decided to join the feast, but couldn’t reach the kitchen because of the exodus of staff gagging at the smell, which they found disgusting. Since something as innocuous as dried squid has been banned from our company, what would happen if I gave Durian to my boss? (Since I like my job, we’ll hold this idea until I close my next million dollar deal.)

Fast forward to July, 2008 … it’s my birthday week and I’m in Malaysia and I’ve decided to treat myself to a present. Something I haven’t experienced in years and sorely miss. As someone once said, what happens in Malaysia stays there. I’m going to find the best one money can buy. But before that, a round of golf.
It’s a par 5-hole, and I’m in a bit of rough on the right hand side after my drive. Not a problem. I pull out a 5-wood, and hit it perfectly. The ball is sailing down the course but inexplicably drifts into a forest. I walk among the trees I don’t recognize but notice the sword of Damocles above my head: A durian fruit. Durian is so powerful, its magnetic force has pulled my ball into the woods. Says my friend Mohamed, “It’s the curse of the Durian tree.” I look for a fallen Durian, find one, pick it up, and to my amazement, the ball is not inside . “Major,” I call out – he was an officer in the army -- after finding my ball some 250 yards from where I last struck it, “Let’s crack open one of these and eat it.”
“You like Durian?!” he asked in disbelief. “The best Durian is in Malaysia. You’re lucky. It’s the season. You need to try D24. It’s the best,” and he proceeds to tell me about all the varieties of Durian. After the golf game, we pass by a fruit stand. Stepping out of the car, I’m struck by the pungent fragrance which scared off the challengers in “Fear Factor”. As we sniff different fruits deciding which one to purchase, it all just smells delicious.
Durian is the king of fruits,” Mohamed says.
“What’s the queen of fruits?”
“I don’t know.”
Normally, two small wedges of the fruit are enough for me – it really is filling. But Mohamed has bought us each our own fruit the size of a football. The first one called a “fox” Durian – it’s delicious, and I understand why foxes love it. Next, we open up a D24, which I find even sweeter. I’m so full, that I won’t need dinner. Warns Mohamed, “Don’t go out and drink any beer tonight.”
“What would happen?”
“The Durian causes gasses to mass in your stomach, and when it mixes with beer, it will make you sick. I knew a guy who drank beer with Durian – he ended up in the hospital.” He also told me that people with heart conditions and diabetes will get sick – and could die-- if they eat it.
We’re giddy now, high on Durian, telling jokes about the consequences of burping after eating Durian. This is fifth grade humor, and we’re in an uproar. “Craig, the Durian has made you drunk!” cries Nadira, our hostess.
“There’s death to drug traffickers in Malaysia,” I recall. “Why isn’t this banned?” Who needs alcohol in this country? Durian is intoxicating.
Nadira , if I had eaten Durian before going into the club last night, would all of the ladies have come up to me to lick my lips?”
“I’m sure, but just don’t burp on them or they will run away. The smell of Durian from your stomach mixed with ‘nasi lemok’ is horrible,” she giggles.
We approach a roadblock on the highway back to KL. Police are on the lookout for trouble makers, as there are planned demonstrations against the government. I roll down my window, as if to burp in the officer’s face, which puts us in stitches.
We’re on the road again and it seems that Mohamed just can’t avoid the pot holes, which is setting my stomach ajar, and I’m concerned about a very voluminous, liquid “burp” with horrible consequences that could strip the paint off of his Acura. We each roll down our window – with more giggles – at the next bump in the road.
I get back to the hotel past 10pm and there is a message from earlier in the day. “Craig, it’s Iris. Give me call, and I’ll take you to the Durian market.” Iris is another one of our resellers in Malaysia, of Chinese descent. She looks like the actress Michele Yeoh and sells like a fireball. It’s too late to call her, so I send her an e-mail, proudly stating that I am now an aficionado who has sampled D24, the king of the kings.
She writes back: “Yep, that is a good grade of durian. Great to hear that you had finally tasted the Malaysian grade Durians. Well, my choice is not D-24 (too commercialize), I prefer the unknown grade. Besides D-24, there is XO, D2, D101, Red Shell, etc. But to get a good taste pls. visit Chinese Durian sellers….”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Malaysia: "Fascinating Destination" Continues Strong Investment in Education

My first visit to Malaysia was in January 1986 while en route to Japan to pursue graduate studies. Until then, I had travelled extensively in Europe, and was something of a “professional Eurrailer” – having made numerous trips from Paris to Helsinki. Something I enjoyed, with friends in most major cities along the way. My reaction to setting foot in Malaysia: “This is really interesting.” The sights. The food. The people. The hawker stalls. The durian. It was at that point I made the transition to Asia-Pacific guy.

My second visit to Malaysia was in 1993 – on a mission to understand distribution opportunities for desktop projectors. I met with professional audio-visual and computer resellers. My hosts told me about the Malaysia 2020 project – the country’s ambitious national goal to significantly raise the level of its population through technology. This was a positive development for information technology suppliers.

I took time to meet with my uncle – a former Yale professor who had written books on computer programming languages – who was teaching in Malaysia. His role: to prepare Malaysian students for studying abroad.

From 1993 – 1998 I had many occasions to visit Malaysia to support the activities of our resellers – and to enjoy the pungent Durian fruit, the spicy chili crab, and even to enjoy the “break fast” during Ramadan. The Ministry of Tourism ran a campaign for Visit Malaysia Year calling the country “Your Fascinating Destination.” I would agree with that moniker.

Ten years have passed since my last trip to Malaysia, but the country’s investment in technology to improve skills and knowledge of its students continues. This time, the Ministry of Education has selected SmartDraw’s business graphics software for use in classrooms throughout the country as part of its PPSMI Project (Phase 4). SmartDraw will be used to support a program to improve learning of math and science in English. It’s hoped that because many of the teachers already have computers, that SmartDraw software will encourage them to actually use their computers more. I’ll have an opportunity during the next week to meet with Ministry officials, schools, technology integrators and our OEM partners (Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo & Acer are preloading SmartDraw on their computers at the Ministry’s request) to discuss implementation, training and other issues and to learn about “fascinating uses” of business graphics software in the classroom.

(Disclosure: Craig Justice is Director, Worldwide Reseller Sales & Business Development for SmartDraw.Com Click here to read the press release about the Malaysian Ministry of Education’s investment in SmartDraw’s software.)

Caution: Pan Asia-Pacific Airline Ticket Troubles Humble Veteran Traveler

I just purchased my first pan-Asia airline ticket since 9-11. Things have changed. And not just the price. My itinerary: San Diego, LAX, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland back to the US. Another difference this time – I had to do the booking myself, without the services of a travel agent. As a legacy flyer (over 1-million miles) on a legacy airline (United), I tried to book my itinerary on United and its partner airlines, figuring if I ran into trouble, they’d be more likely to help. Here are the road-blocks, obstacles and surprises I ran into:
1) Couldn’t book it on-line. It was all going smoothly on line, until I tried booking the segment from Sydney to Melbourne. This should have been easy, because there are over a dozen daily flights. United kept wanting to send me back to Singapore, to fly from Sydney to Melbourne. (At this point, I called United ticketing).
2) Through Singapore Airlines, United offered a flight leaving KL with a change of planes in Singapore for Sydney. Issue: sold out in economy class. When I asked how much that segment cost flying business, I was told that I would be required to book the whole itinerary in business (which was out of the question). I asked about direct flights on Malaysia airlines – perfect, a direct flight, less hassle, gets me to Sydney early in the morning for a full day of work. Booked it.
3) United no longer has a partner airline in Australia, so the United agent suggested I take Virgin airlines. “I often book people on Virgin,” she said – recommending the airline. OK, book me.
4) The agent quoted a price of $4,500 before taxes. I said that was fine. She said she needed to send it to the rate desk for final pricing. This was on Tuesday. I was given a deadline of issuing the ticket Sunday midnight.
5) By close of business on Friday, I hadn’t heard from the rate desk. I called United to purchase the ticket. They said it’s still at the rate desk. They say they’ll call back. I give them my mobile.
6) They call on Saturday. The price, $7,500. At this point, I’m stuck, because the consolidators I know aren’t working Saturday afternoon …
7) On Sunday (a week ago) – I purchase the ticket. In fact, they do it as 3 tickets. 2 United tickets (one covering the domestic flights, the other the international flights) and the Malaysian air flight. The United tickets are e-tickets. They will issue a “paper ticket” for Malaysia airlines. They tell me they will Fed Ex it, and it will arrive Tuesday, July 1st. Fine.
8) On Weds. Morning the ticket has not arrived so I call. “Do you have a tracking number?” I asked. “We mailed it.” Hmmm, I’m skeptical it will arrive in time. “Don’t worry … just go to the airport three hours before departure, and you can file a “lost ticket” claim and have the ticket reissued. (By the way, when I reviewed my Amex bill, I saw three charges of $25/each for “mail ticket.”)
9) Saturday afternoon, check the mail box. No ticket.
10) San Diego commuter airport, Sunday morning. “We can’t issue the ticket – but you can do it in Los Angeles when you get there.”
11) When I arrive in LAX, I go to customer service, wait ½ hour in line. “We can’t issue it here … you need to go to ticketing outside security, but you don’t have time. When you arrive in Hong Kong, go to the ticketing desk there and get it done” – don’t these people realize business travelers have appointments to dash to when arriving?
12) Captain can’t make the flight; a 2.5 hour delay is announced, so another captain can be brought in. Alright, enough time to get the ticket (I assume). I go to the Red Carpet Club to see if anyone there has the “magic powers” to do this ticket. (At United 10-years ago, the people in the 100K flyer lounge had the magic powers at LAX.) No, but he recommends I go to terminal 6 – one terminal over, because they have a 100K line, and I’ll get better service there.
13) Arrive at the 100K desk. They are polite, but can’t do a thing. I need to go back to terminal 7 and find “Line 7” which is for “paper ticketing” and lost tickets. They tell me there’s a person there who can help me. This is a slow moving line. Fortunately, I have a thick book: Texas by James Michener, and I have nothing better to do than read while waiting 45 minutes in line. As advertised, this is “the man” (actually a woman). And, the ticket is issued in about 10 minutes as she does research, makes phone calls and punches keys. I give her a United “attaboy” coupon for excellent service. “By the way, how about that ticket from Sydney to Melbourne?” I ask. “Is that a paper ticket also?” She responds, “There is no ticket. You have to go and buy that yourself.” And, in one of the positive changes the last 10 years, I pull out my computer, log into the wireless network, go to Yahoo travel, and book an e-ticket on QANTAS (adding another $210 to the total cost of air travel).
14) In summary, the people who did the original ticketing at United’s international desk:
a. Didn’t say the Malaysian airlines ticket needed to be purchased separately.
b. On two occasions, never mentioned that the ticket in Australia needed to be purchased separately.
c) Sent part of the ticket via "snail mail" instead of FedEx, which didn't arrive before my departure.

Travelers beware!