On a cold and foggy winter Sunday in Yerevan, best suited for a ski-trip to Tsakhkadzor, or better yet, a lazy afternoon reading at home, I joined 150 young professionals at TUMO Center at the inaugural ProductCamp Yerevan (www.productcampyerevan.org) for a truly memorable day.
Armenia’s IT industry is often referred to as deep in Electronic Design Automation (chip design for the rest of us), development outsourcing, and [more recently] the occasional mobile app. So seeing 150 young IT and non-IT professionals, representing nearly 60 organizations, gather together for an entire Sunday on product management was, to say the least, pleasantly surprising.
Why? Because product management is fundamentally a new discipline for this country. It encompasses everything from ideation, concept definition, market and demand analysis, business plan/business case development, development plan, marketing and sales plan, and go-to-market execution – essentially the full R&D and commercial execution of a product or service idea. Commercialization, especially on an international/global scale, is something usually seen as beyond the reach of those based here.
Today’s sessions proved that this is not the case. ProductCamp Yerevan was overseen by execs from Ginosi.com, a global internet business headquartered in Armenia. Several participants have significant experience developing and delivering global products from here. What’s more important, audience members understood and accepted that there is a viable path to succeeding beyond the borders of Armenia, even if that requires more work, and a drive to succeed beyond artificial barriers posed by geography or lack of experience/knowledge about the target market.
Once again, TUMO proved to be the perfect environment to listen, discuss and imagine a different reality. Amoor Avakian conceptualized the event, based on similar events he led in the Netherlands and Israel – and today’s event drew at least twice as many participants as each of these previous events. The keynote speaker was Wouter Blok, responsible for one of Google’s largest corporate accounts and its travel industry sector.
This is the latest in a series of events focused on entrepreneurship, start-ups, realizing business ideas – all aimed at thinking and acting beyond so-called “closed markets” and local monopolies. In fact, I’m quite sure that the local sugar import king or other oligarchic luminaries, traditional fodder for FB rants and raves, would have no idea what was being discussed and imagined today.
I saw many familiar faces, and met a number of new people today. And I came to the realization that we are living in two parallel realities in Armenia: on the one hand, the popular discourse on corrupt officials, oligarchic headline grabbers, and the general decline of ‘Armenia as we know it’; on the other, the path chosen by a small group of smart, forward-looking people who want to learn, not criticize; who look for solutions rather than complain about problems; who focus on building, not tearing down. Which group would you rather be part of?