November 3, 2013

How to be a Successful International Entrepreneur

I had the pleasure of making a presentation entitled "How to be a Successful International Entrepreneur" to the Global Business Club at Seattle University on October 31, 2013. While I made several points during my presentation, there are a few worth mentioning in this post.

The title of my session should be "How to Not be a Failing International Entrepreneur." Too many people have a glamorous view of entrepreneurship, which may include the financial reward, schedule flexibility, and the (perceived) power of having an executive title such as President, Chief Executive Officer or Chairman of the Board. They forget (or do not realize) that most businesses fail within their first two years of operations nor do entrepreneurs anticipate the personal sacrifices involved. Such sacrifices include limited or no income or time spent with friends and family. Working long hours (often 110-120 hours a week) is the normal course of entrepreneurship.

Sensitivity to cultures is essential to any business operating outside of its home country. Each culture has a uniqueness about it and the more an entrepreneur understands the nuances of their customer, the greater chance of their business succeeding. Business is about people and entrepreneurs must understand their customers' culture. This point is supported by an interview of Frits van Paasschen, Chief Executive Officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, dated October 25, 2013. Scott Mayerowitz of the Associated Press notes that Mr. van Paasschen "moved the company's entire leadership team to Shanghai for a month in 2011 and to Dubai for a month earlier this year. He plans another month overseas in 2015. He wants his staff to better understand the cultures they are opening hotels in."

"Hire people who are smarter than you," a friend once advised me. One point that I make regularly is the importance of collaborating with talented people. I always equate building and running a business to producing a movie. While I may be a talented producer (business strategist), to produce a successful movie requires talented actors, screenwriters, stagehands, and lighting, set, costume, and sound designers, just to name a few. The same principle apply to creating a successful business and if your company's budget is limited, then it is essential to hire people who possess a multitude of valuable skills.

While many entrepreneurs attest to the value of understanding their company's financials, I am routinely surprised by the large number of business owners who do not. Let me repeat an important point I made during my presentation: UNDERSTAND YOUR FINANCIALS. Understand your company's sales, research and development, and general and administrative expenses. Understand your cash inflows and outflows. Understand your cost of goods sold on a per unit basis. Understand your amortization and depreciation schedule.

Photo of me presenting to
Seattle University's Global
Business Club:
Mohammed Alturki
A student asked, "How do I determine when to expand into different international markets?" "I do not know" was my simple response. "There is a danger in being opportunistic," a mentor explained to me early in my career. Every business has to balance its focus of developing products or services for their key market while exploring new opportunities of expanding the company's offering or entering new markets. Expanding too soon could drain valuable financial and human resources. My colleagues and I at ROI3, Inc. routinely address the benefits and consequences of expanding our line of mobile apps or entering new markets. Ultimately, there is no magic formula of when to expand.

I wish to express my gratitude to Mohammed Alturki, President of the Global Business Club, Quan Le, Faculty Advisor to the Global Business Club, and all the club members who made this experience an enjoyable one for me. Thank you.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. Mohammed Alturki:
    Thank you so much Aaron for coming and giving us the great presentation. I received a lot of emails after the event saying that you open their eyes to many interesting subjects that they did know before. We had a lot of students who were majoring in business, some were majoring in theology and history.