Codetree wants to help European firms enter the Chinese IT market
(BY THOMAS K. GROSE )
China will have 230 million middle-income consumers by 2005, with a combined purchasing power of $900 billion, according to U.S. government figures. That could make it the world”s largest market for consumer goods and services. For European software makers who would like a piece of that action, language is a major hurdle ― both in writing software and the manuals that go with it. But a year-old Finnish company, Codetree (www.codetree.net), says it can help European software companies break through the language barrier and crack the Chinese market.
Codetree, which also has a subsidiary in Shanghai, offers three services. It will help a company take its existing software and materials and localize them into either Mandarin (the country”s official dialect) or Cantonese. It will also offer software support and training to end-users in China. For companies that want to design software for China from scratch, it will act as a subcontractor to handle the translation chores. And it can give marketing and promotion assistance to European companies that want to sell their software in China.
Stefan Weckstr?m, chairman and CFO, says that Codetree will initially seek contracts in Finland, but wants to quickly expand its operations throughout Europe, primarily aiming at small- to medium-sized companies. It is starting to hire top young graduates in China to work on projects. Since Chinese universities graduate about 150,000 software engineers a year, finding qualified personnel won”t be a problem, he says.
English is Codetree”s Lingua Franca. “The students generally know English, so that is our working language,” Weckstr?m says. For products that do not already have an English translation, that means translating them first into English, then into Chinese.
Weckstr?m, 28, is one of the four founders who launched Codetree a year ago. All four of them have worked and studied in China. “Between us, we have 10 years of experience in China,” he says. Their backgrounds range from software engineering to economics to marketing. In January, the company received $90,000 in first-round funding. And it has just begun work on its first major project. Ironically, that project involves improving the website of a Chinese company. Weckstr?m explains that, for many Chinese companies, it”s prestigious to have working relationships with a Western operator.
The main problem Codetree faces at home is a resistance to subcontracting among Finnish companies, Weckstr?m explains. However, given that Finland has a shortage of qualified software engineers, let alone those who can work in Chinese, he thinks that that resistance will soon melt. Certainly gaining access to a market valued at $900 billion is a big lure that needs no translation.