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Case Study: Dream Deferred: The Story of a High-Tech

Entrepreneur in a Low-Tech World

Marsha Patterson

May 13, 2019

Case Study: Dream Deferred 2

Adesemi was the start-up vision of Monique Maddy. Monique was born in Liberia and

raised in the United States. Her vision was to, “blanket the entire developing world with

affordable wireless telecommunications services.” (Maddy, 2000) Maddy’s article offers deep

insight into the pros and cons such as emerging-market risk, negotiating, cultural differences, and

bureaucracy involved in conducting business in the third world.

Adesemi’s infrastructure-related challenges were many. Any third world country the

company would first operate in would prove to be expensive because there would not already be

infrastructure readily available. Adesemi chose to start its operations in the country of Tanzania.

At the time, Tanzania was home to almost 30 million people with only 120,000 phone lines. The

country’s telecommunications infrastructure was almost nonexistent. In fact, Adesemi’s

engineers expressed that the network would have to be completely wireless because of the

physical infrastructure deficiencies.

Political or governmental challenges when conducting business in other countries,

especially less developed countries, is one of the biggest obstructions to the success or failure of

the business. Adesemi’s challenge was procuring the necessary licensing to operate and receive

commissions for the business they would be creating for the local telecommunications company.

The company soon learned the hard way that doing business in the third world is not the same as

doing business in developed countries. Third world nations present a particular problem where

the lines of ethical business practices can become blurred. A business will be faced with quite a

bit of waiting, pushing, and cajoling, in order to get anything done. This can take weeks,

months, or even years to get through stonewalling.

Adesemi also had to deal with political differences among its own staff. Conducting

business in another country meant that Adesemi pooled management and experience from many
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different countries. Employees from the same nationalities tended to bond together against other

nationalities. Without a melting pot of different nationalities that knew how to work together,

Adesemi was faced with the stereotypes attached to different cultures working together. Maddy

describes the different groups issues with each other stating that the Scandinavians were

regarded as cold, the British as snobby, the Tanzanians inept, and the Americans as arrogant.

The political and governmental challenges were evident in how the employees interreacted with

each other and how the business was constantly stonewalled by the government.

Third world entrepreneurs face many problems in raising capital for their overseas

ventures. Maddy separates these emerging-market venture capitalists into two separate and

unequal groups, Do-Gooders and Do-Wellers. Do-Gooder venture capitalists provide equity

capital and loan capital to generate economic prosperity in emerging-market countries as well as

to help stimulate further influx of capital from other investors. These investors want to promote

growth at their own pace by putting little money into these start up businesses, which allows

little opportunity for real return. Do-Wellers on the other hand, believe that business is a high-

stakes game. These investors see untapped opportunity in the third world, and they want to seize

it. They understand that the business is high risk and they are looking for a high reward.

The problem that these two groups of investors create is that the Do-Gooder investors,

while they understand emerging markets and are familiar with the government rules and

regulations, are terrified of the inherent risk and enmesh the company in their own bureaucracy

and rigid methods of investment and analysis. The Do-Wellers on the other hand, have limited

experience with emerging market countries, but they are patient and willing to pour money into

an investment that looks like it might be a big score.

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Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) help to shape and implement democracy in

developing countries’ entrepreneurship. NGO’s offer a people-centered approach to service

delivery, advocacy, and empowerment. NGO’s play a crucial role in international development

by funneling development funds from individual donors and from wealthy countries into less

developed countries. Because NGOs are idealized for “doing good” and are not concerned with

profit or politics, they play a role in development and encouraging entrepreneurship. (Eric D.

Werker, 2008)

A culturally divergent workforce is another area of doing business abroad that presents its

own set of complications. Maddy explains that she anticipated a diverse workforce would

present a strong and heterogeneous front, where different mind-sets would create new and

exciting solutions to problems. Instead, however, the diversity created more problems than it

solved. The disagreements among the employees from different countries were based on

stereotypes and mistrust of each other. The misunderstandings created from the cultural

diversity of the Adesemi team took up much of the author’s time in settling disputes that were

never fully resolved.

New businesses in a foreign market need local partner relationships to establish and make

their company credible in the eyes of the locals. The author refers to local partners as, “next-

door neighbors”. Local alliances are a large part of having a successful business because they

provide a local knowledge of customers habits and key government and industry players. This

relationship, however, is more useful in the beginning, or start up, of the company. Established

ventures soon lose the need for the local relationship.

The “Old Boy Network” proved to be very important to Adesemi. The author partnered

with an old classmate for her company. Adesemi was tied up in not getting answers on a local
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level from the local telephone company but after speaking with an old professor, who happened

to be working with the president of the World Bank on a project, a settlement was negotiated

between Adesemi and the government. The author was even able to start raising money for her

company from the consulting firms and investment-bank recruiters on campus. The Harvard

School of Business alumni network was extremely useful to the startup of Adesemi. Having the

Harvard School of Business alumni network available opened many doors and created many

opportunities that would otherwise have been closed to Adesemi.

There are many lessons to be learned from this article about conducting a lucrative

business abroad. The potential for new business is extremely high in newly developing

countries. The ability to get the company running and functioning profitably however, is another

story completely. A knowledge of the local customs and government, the ability to find and

retain local relationships, and successfully navigating business in these new environments are all

key to a successful business.

Eric D. Werker, F. Z. (2008, 1 25). What Do Non-Governmental Organizations Do? Retrieved from
Harvard Business School: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/what-do-non-governmental-

Maddy, M. (2000, 06). Dream Deferred: The Story of a High-Tech Entrepreneur in a Low-Tech World.
Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2000/05/dream-deferred-the-story-of-