“Travel as much as possible, embrace diversity, keep time to keep learning and reading. Do not waste time with people or matters that drag you down. It’s important to be with people who will make you better, who will teach you something, who will add something to your own development.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mehdi Daoudi. Mehdi is CEO of New York-based Catchpoint, a digital experience monitoring company. He spent more than ten years at Google and DoubleClick, where he made sure the infrastructure responsible for billions of transactions daily was always available and running fast. This inspired him to build a more comprehensive digital experience monitoring platform. He co-founded Catchpoint in 2008, which now serves hundreds of clients worldwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m originally from Morocco. Yes, I’m an immigrant! As a child, I dreamt about working in a room full of computers in the United States. I went to college in France, and as part of an international exchange program, I got a full-time job at Reuters. A colleague convinced me to move to a new company called DoubleClick, which was later acquired by Google. At DoubleClick, I was responsible for making sure its 5000 ad servers were performing well (always up and loading fast!). It was then I realized a better external monitoring solution was needed to provide quality online experiences to all users, regardless of their location. That idea was the birth of Catchpoint.
We know that it is not always easy for a foreigner to do business in China. Can you share an interesting story about a challenge that you faced, and how you overcame it?
Every day we help customers deal with the challenges of doing digital business in China, which has this firewall surrounding it. China calls it the Golden Shield Project, and although its purpose is to limit or censor certain content, it also acts as a “speed bump” of sorts which can slow down the load time of websites or other digital services from outside companies. For example, we’ve seen the websites of several major brands suffer load times of over 20 seconds in China. Most people will abandon a site if it takes that long to load. Therein lies the problem.
So, we developed a suite of monitoring solutions designed to quickly isolate any of the micro issues contributing to slow performance. We also combined it with monitoring servers located in various regions of China. This allows our customers to get a real-world view of how actual China users are experiencing their website or other services. We now have the most in-China monitoring points of any performance company.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Several. One is particularly interesting and related to the China issue. L’Oreal, a leading cosmetic brand, is a Catchpoint customer that has 80 different versions of its website worldwide. Its mandate is to make sure each website performs well for every user. That’s an expansive and highly-detailed monitoring project. We’ve already discussed the roadblocks with China, but other countries have their own internet infrastructure issues, gaps, or compliance rules.
One notable example is the GDPR legislation that was just enacted in the European Union; compliance with these new laws is wreaking havoc with many digital services. As organizations scramble to comply, performance can lag unless you identify and remediate potential weak spots. Other countries have, or will have, similar laws enacted. So, working with L’Oreal is an exciting project that speaks to the opportunities — and challenges — of conducting digital business on a global scale.
What advice would you give to other business owners who do business in China, to help their employees to thrive?
The main one that comes to mind is developing partnerships with Chinese companies. This is one of my top 5 tips for doing business there. Catchpoint has several relationships with Chinese technology providers that make up our monitoring network; companies like Tencent and Alibaba. The mindset there seems to be: if you want to reach China’s customers, you need to align with companies here, rather than plant your people or infrastructure on our soil. We’re all familiar with the Think Globally — Act Locally mantra. This is much more applicable in China from a technology perspective.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s a lot of people, but I was very lucky to work with an incredible team of network engineers that were with me at DoubleClick, then moved on or stayed at Google. They were amazing and natural teachers; they were patient and took the time, often after hours, to explain very complex things. I could not have asked for better guides than Tony and Domenick (they know who they are!). They realized that the more I knew about their world, the more we would have good conversations, and the less I would stop crying wolf with my false-positive monitoring alerts!
What do you think are the new untapped markets in China that may become the next “big thing”?
Our focus on the digital world encompasses many markets and industries. What we see as the biggest arena of growth for all businesses will be the final buildout of internet infrastructure beyond China’s urban regions. Unlike the United States where fast broadband and wireless infrastrcuture is already built, and constantly being enhanced, in China the service to outlying regions is still under initial construction. Many Chinese are getting their first connection through a wireless provider. The businesses that can optimize their websites or other services to load quickly in those outlying regions will develop strong consumer loyalty, the same way Amazon and Google did in the US.
We keep hearing about the “Trade War.” What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?
The current situation is keeping everyone on their toes. The world is so connected, it’s hard to project what could happen next. However my instinct tells me this “war” will probably not gravitate beyond hard goods to our category of technology services. If it does, having those existing strong partnerships with Chinese companies will help. We may even need to expand them.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Do Business In China.” (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’m going to get technical, but most of your readers will understand the concepts. All of my tips revolve around the idea that digital businesses need to think of China as a second internet. That’s how unique the situation there is. That said, here are the five things that will help you avoid the digital missteps of so many companies that came before you.
• First, know the censored words. Seems like an easy one, but it’s a bit more complicated, as these words are constantly changing. A simple phrase buried deep within your site could trigger the firewall and slow your page. So stay abreast of what’s being censored. For an updated list of censored elements and keywords you can go to Greatfire.org.
• Second, eliminate most third-party website elements. Beyond keywords, there are many internet services blocked by China. Your website will load much more quickly if you pare them down. Social media integrations are among those blocked. If Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube are an integral part of your website, that will have to change. Since most websites are comprised of many third-party elements, it is likely that one or several of these will be censored. So eliminate what you don’t really need, and run multiple tests of your site or service before going live to consumers.
• Third, get local. This means ensuring that your servers and other technical infrastructure are located within mainland China and therefore inside the firewall. Don’t think that a server in Japan or Singapore is good enough. Early on, Catchpoint deployed its servers in Hong Kong and were amazed to discover that our first-connect load times were five to six time slower than when we eventually moved them to the mainland. Of course, a server’s closer geographic proximity to an end-user means faster load times, but since all outside data must pass through the China firewall, this also has a slowing effect.
• Create a unique monitoring strategy. The combination of the firewall, a still-in-progress data provider infrastructure, and most people accessing via mobile makes effective monitoring a challenging task for any company. But each company has a unique customer profile. So once all these common elements are factored into your plan, then consider where your best customers are and make sure your monitoring points are close-by. Your strategy needs to include more than just Bejing or Shanghai (you wouldn’t try to monitor the entire U.S. only from New York or LA, would you?). Does your site have many graphics or video? That will mean services like content delivery networks (CDN) will be needed. Eventually you will find where the potential congestion or trouble spots lie, and be able to prevent them from occuring in the future.
• Create in-China partnerships. And as I mentioned before, partner with companies in China to allow your digital business to flourish. Beyond the cultural requirement to partner, you will find many helpful people and services. It starts with the mandatory filing of your ICP license, which is free, but the paperwork must be filled out in Chinese, and it must be submitted in-person. An in-China partner such as a CDN or hosting company can take the responsibility for both the application process and for the content itself.
All of this is designed to make sure that your “digital front door” to the enormous Chinese market is always available and loading fast.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Travel as much as possible, embrace diversity, keep time to keep learning and reading. Do not waste time with people / matters that drag you down. It’s important to be with people who will make you better, who will teach you something, who will add something to your own development.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In a word, education! I am amazed by how most world governments have given up on education. I am in love with DonorsChoose, but in a way, it’s sad that teachers have to crowdsource funding for basic stuff. We also need to try to stop the digital divide across the entire spectrum in the US. Thirty years ago, basic mathematics might have been enough for most people, but in the digital age, the “new basics” should be providing coding or engineering courses to all. I’d particularly focus on providing these courses to minorities and girls.
Originally published at medium.com