Bacon's Rebellion

James A. Bacon



We are the World

After pontificating about overseas outsourcing, Baconís Rebellion is giving it a try. Already, Iím getting sentimental. Global trade is beautiful, man, itís really beautiful!


 

When Mugure Mugo first contacted me about a month ago, I had no idea that I soon would be conducting business over the Internet with someone halfway around the world. Baconís Rebellion had an editorial focus of little interest to anyone beyond the confines of the Old Dominion. All my readers and customers were right here in Virginia, and so were all the Web designers, programmers and miscellaneous experts Iíd ever need to operate an electronic publication. Sure, Iíd write about the challenges of conducting business in a globally integrated economy (see ďNowhere to Run,Ē) but I had no intention of doing anything rash like actually conducting business with someone outside the United States.

 

Fortunately, Mugure did manage to find me. The 32-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur had been scouring the Web in search of customers for her business, PrecissPatrol. Her team of ďweb content specialists,Ē she suggested, could help me maintain the massive directory of Web resources Iíd compiled for Baconís Rebellion. Or perhaps she could assist with some other labor-intensive Web research.

 

Well, it just so happened that I did need help. My ďin houseĒ research staff was falling apart on me. One of my two researchers, eldest daughter Sara, was heading off to the University of Virginia. The other, teenager Ginny, soon would be preoccupied by studies at St. Catherineís. Neither had the time to comb through the websites of hundreds of Virginia-based companies in a market research project that I needed to get done.

 

No problem, Mugure e-mailed me from Nairobi. Her employees were all college educated. They spoke and wrote fluent English. And they were proficient with the Internet. Not only could they handle the research, but she would charge me only $7 an hour. That was less than the $8 an hour I was paying my daughters, and less than half the price Iíd paid a temp firm last year for similar work at Virginia Business, my former employer.

 

We couldnít shake hands over the Internet. I couldnít even look her in the eye. But Mugure inspired confidence. Her command of written English was better than that of most Americans. She quickly grasped what I was looking for. And she stayed on top of things: She did everything she said she would, and she did it when she said she would. Despite the seven-hour time difference between Richmond and Nairobi, our extended work days overlapped by several hours. I thought things would work. We had a deal.

 

(I know what some of you are thinking. Yes, I do get e-mails on a weekly basis from the sons and nephews of deposed African dictators with caches of treasure that only I can help them uncover. In fact, I keep a collection of their missives. So far, Iíve amassed urgent pleas from the wife of Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi; one Andrew Onwo, auditor general of a South African bank; a certain Andrew Kabiru, personal assistant to deceased Congolese despot Laurent Kabila; Hamed Abacha, son of a deceased Nigerian president; and many more. But Mugure never alluded to any secret Swiss bank accounts of former Kenyan presidents, so I was fairly confident she wasnít trying to snooker me!)

 

Since then, Mugure and I have communicated almost every day as sheíd updated me on the progress of my job. Maybe itís the Virginian in me, but I donít like doing business with a stranger. Or maybe itís the journalist in me, and Iím just plain nosy. But I asked a lot of questions about her business, her country and her family, and she answered them forthrightly. The story that emerged of entrepreneurial energy in a foreign culture is one that I found fascinating.

 

Mugure belongs to the Kikuyu ethnic group, which is native to the Nairobi area and has embraced Western education and culture more readily than most other East Africans. Her father was a civil servant, and her mother taught school for 20 years before starting a family business, a security firm. Placing a high value on education, the family sent three children to the United States to earn their degrees. Mugure stayed close to home, earning a Masters at the United States International University in the capital city.

 

After graduating, she worked with a well-

established trading firm for four years. Then the local economy took a slide, the company laid off most of its middle managers and she lost her job. At the same time, her husband Edward was feeling the pinch in his architectural practice. ďIt was a very difficult time,Ē she says.

 

So, Mugure decided to create her own job. Selling her car, she raised $4,000 and started a company, E-Business Solutions. It was an audacious move, considering that she had to hire a tutor to instruct her in website design in the evening while she rounded up work during the day. But her husband gave her office space, a telephone line and a PC, so she kept overhead low. As she signed up new clients, mostly local Kenyan companies, she grew incrementally, hiring free-lance help before taking on full-time employees.

 

Last November, Mugure attended a workshop sponsored by the International Trade Center. It was there that she learned of a growing phenomenon in international trade: the outsourcing of back-office support operations to developing countries. In April, she launched PrecissPatrol to provide Internet research services. She targeted two markets: Internet filter developers who needed a way to keep up with harmful and time-wasting content on the Web, and developers of special-focus Web content. The business quickly took off. PrecissPatrol now supports five full-time employees, each with diplomas in Information Technology and each equipped with a high-speed, multimedia computer. The company has relocated to an office just five minutes from Nairobiís central business district.

 

Doing business in Kenya offers intriguing contrasts with the U.S. In East Africa, maintaining Internet connectivity is one of the businessí biggest costs. On the other hand, labor is so inexpensive that, rather than buy a new car, Mugure and her husband have opted to hire a driver so they can readily share their old vehicle. Despite paying wages that are low by American standards, PrecissPatrol is no clerical sweatshop. Mugure limits her employees to nine-hour days so they can maintain their concentration and do quality work. (Mugure, on the other hand, frequently works past 7:30 p.m., as I can vouch from my e-mail exchanges with her.)

 

Although Kenya has one of the highest fertility rates in the world, Mugure has not yet had any children. She describes herself as a Christian whose faith guides her day-to-day life, and she insists that she and Edward plan to start a family soon. But for now, she appears dedicated to building the enterprise. Every penny she makes, she plows back into the business.

 

To her knowledge, PrecissPatrol is the first company of its kind in Kenya Ė and she hopes it will serve as a new model for development in sub-Saraha Africa. She faces stiff competition from India, where a fast-growing IT industry has built a reputation for excellent service and has forged strong business ties in the U.S. But thatís not stopping her. Mugure has launched what she hopes will become a service portal --  www.outsourcetokenya.biz Ė that will help Kenya follow the same development path. ďMy hope,Ē she says, ďis that the success of PrecissPatrol will inspire other professionals to market their services abroad, as has been the case in India

 

Occasionally, I have qualms about outsourcing my business overseas. One of my consuming interests in Baconís Rebellion is rural economic development. Iím acutely aware that thousands of my fellow Virginians in places like Martinsville, where I once lived, are out of work. Shouldnít I be looking for some way to outsource my business to Southside or Southwest Virginia? By feeding business to Virginians in distressed areas, couldnít I contribute in a small way to creating a stronger, more vibrant Commonwealth?

 

But the qualms donít last long. I doubt I could find a Virginian with a college education willing to work for $7 an hour. And, the fact is, in the early stage of building my own business, I canít afford to pay any more. Besides, it was Mugure who found me, not someone from Danville or Abingdon. If she hadnít shown the initiative in identifying my website, I probably wouldnít have found anyone to do my market research. Now, thanks to PrecissPatrol, I have developed a list of more than 100 highly qualified prospects for a new marketing service that I plan to roll out shortly. If the new initiative is a success, Iíll have Mugure to thank in part.

 

To my mind, outsourcing to Kenya doesnít take away jobs from Americans. Mugureís Web research will help jump-start sales for at least one fledgling business, Baconís Rebellion, and help preserve at least one job -- mine. Eventually, as Baconís Rebellion grows, I will hire Virginians to work for me. Forging partnerships with Kenyans to handle the routine work allows Virginians the luxury of concentrating on the creative, value-added tasks.

 

Meanwhile, Iím delighted that I can contribute in some small measure to the success of a business enterprise on another continent. Developing countries like Kenya need entrepreneurs like Mugure to generate foreign exchange and raise their standards of living. Global trade is beautiful. By disseminating fresh ideas through Baconís Rebellion, I hope to help build a better Virginia. By outsourcing to Kenya, Iím helping build a better world.

 

-- Sept. 9, 2002

                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Jim Bacon

 

Phone: (804) 918-6199
Email: jabacon@bacons-

           rebellion.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mugure Mugo, founder of PrecissPatrol, tracked me down through a Bacon's Rebellion-affiliated website. The Kenyan entrepreneur didn't blast out mass e-mails like other would-be outsourcers. She studied my website and tailored her pitch. That hooked me into an e-mail correspondence. Then, to overcome concerns about doing business with total strangers, she offered one week's free trial. Her rates are affordable. Her employees did competent work (though I did have to spend some time instructing them on U.S. conventions such as area codes and zip codes.) She won a happy customer.

 

 

 

 

Dad, you creep! Ginny Bacon, a 16-year-

old casualty of global trade, was dumped when her dastardly dad found he could hire college-

educated Kenyans to do the same job for less. She can make pocket money babysitting, but the work is eratic. Her future is far from hopeless, though. An honors student, Ginny has bright college prospects.