When I think about immigrants, especially those who dare to start a business in a foreign country, many names come to my mind: Elon Musk from South Africa or Sergey Brin from the USSR. These stories are very inspiring. You can read about how immigrants are willing to take higher risks moving abroad and start their own business.
But those are not the only cases. There is a connection between being an immigrant and an entrepreneur, the figures are showing this. Around 30% of all entrepreneurs are immigrants, more than half of the unicorn´s (55%) have an immigrant founder and they have a more than 60% survival rate (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Global Report)
So, being an immigrant and entrepreneur (immpreneur) seems to be an effective combination. Statistics are on our side, but you can’t rely on that, the numbers don’t show by themselves. This comes with many sacrifices, like any other entrepreneurial path.
After 5 years of growing a company in a foreign country, I learned many things, thanks to local entrepreneurs and other colleagues immigrants. But, to make something useful with all the tips that I got, I think that you should follow some simple rules. So here are some questions you should ask yourself while executing immpreneurship. Remember, there are always two sides to the coin, things can go well or bad, depending on how you will use them. The experience’s all that matters at the end and I´ll tell you some of my stories, maybe more than one applies to you because you know, “It’s said that a wise person learns from his mistakes. A wiser one learns from others’ mistakes. But the wisest person of all learns from others’ successes.”
My story started when I came from Russia with all my family. I needed to bring food to the table and I had almost no money. During that time I made an important decision: to risk everything and turn my strategy 180 degrees, from B2B focus to direct sales (b2C). I got fast results (sales) and more than 75% margin but at the same time, I was suffering in terms of operations and sales process. Meanwhile taking the B2B strategy would not give me immediate income but would help me to build in a long-term perspective more sustainable model. Immigrants usually do not have friends and family to support them and fund them (neither in time nor in money, so consider your options well). So I learned that it is always wise to ask yourself if you are ready for high risk and fast profits or if it is better to take more time to build the team and strategy.
Quik sales are good because you are acting fast and could give you a competitive advantage, but in the end, you put more focus on tactical short-term priorities instead of taking your time and moving slower but strategically.
This experience helped me to be open-minded, to be able to absorb other cultures. I started to perceive things around me in a brighter way: events, people, ideas. I was definitely surprised by things that before were normal to me. I was surprised that here in Chile kindergartens are private and expensive (very expensive, get ready if you have children). Business-wise, works the same. When I was looking for clients it took me a while to find a way to talk directly to the owners and understand why everything is so different. I was hoping to do that because communicating with owners meant communicating with the colleague’s entrepreneurs. So I learned that a shared experience is always good when you are dealing with new things and finding support from other funders can help you to go through this cultural process.
Knowing traditions and cultural codes is very necessary because it makes you more tolerant/resistant to the barriers and helps you to keep going. For example, I did not know that Chileans never say NO to an offer. They tell you that they will write you back, call you back or something like that. So I waited for their message for a long time. Because I did not know that I was very motivated since I was thinking that my project was awesome, like really good and super necessary for the market. Everybody was telling me how great it was. I actually believed in that and somehow my passion and beliefs made people think it is real, so in a way, that helped a lot.
When I was facing all these issues (or opportunities, now that I’m thinking about that time), you always look for support. My husband followed me in my journey to launch Bifidice in Chile. The easy thing is to find that support in your family. I could have told him to join my company, but we choose to work separately, to not have all the eggs in one basket. Bifidice is my family business. I started this in Russia with my daddy and I´m still paying for psychotherapy. Adding a family member to your business when you are an ex-pat could be very beneficial. No language barrier, common background: your spouse/husband could be your effective co-pilot. In my case, finding support from other founders or business owners was a good thing to do. What about you? If you are not comfortable with a family member in your business, find support. Start-up Chile was amazing.
An open and clear mind brings many opportunities when you are foreign. Now I look back and I understand how my experience from another country helped me to get inspired by the local traditions of your new homeland. I only started to understand that when I was crossing ideas from different markets and industries. I was making my project more unique and diverse, a key component for innovation. But I only saw this, because I forced myself to be open-minded, also with the support of other founders.
These thoughts are now a key component of our growth strategy. Now in Bifidice no matter what country we are executing the project: Russia, Italy, Chile, Germany, we trigger a global feeling/trend: how people create relations with the food, with their children, and their own health. That’s the common ground (global). But we take into consideration local traditions, like the size of the family, incomes, level of market development, preferences, etc. We use the similarities to build a global strategy and the differences to create value in every market.
When I look back I only see good experiences and learnings. Probably I would have made a few fewer mistakes if I knew better by following others’ tips. But in the end, all is always good. The most important learning that I got was that you can hire yourself without asking for diplomas, recommendations, and a local network. Also, you can hire a good combination of immigrants, because they are very motivated people, and locals, to empower you and get you closer to local networks. In the end, you own your destiny.
There is no silver bullet. Be open-minded, look for support, and stay foolish, always…