Emerging international markets for mature entrepreneurs…
50 is the new everything!
by Michelle Parks -- May 21, 2017
Today’s international entrepreneurial landscape is littered with post-millennial, flip-flop wearing, wanna-be-old-school, western MBA graduates who have convinced themselves that the world needs them. They have invaded countries with developing economies with a sense of entitlement that rivals the Mayflower fiasco, ignoring the entrepreneur caveat: it’s all about the customer. Who they are, what they want, and if you can deliver the goods.
For example, when I launched Pangaea Services in Cairo in 2004, I was very aware of the fact that my potential clients had never done business with an unfettered, well-educated, black-American woman. All the Americans they dealt with were white, mostly male, and either afraid of them or felt they were saving them. It was interesting to watch the play of emotions on the faces of the Egyptian businessmen while we sipped very sweet shay mae halib and discussed our families before delving into the logistics of, from their side, how much I didn’t deserve because there was no man to negotiate for me and, from my side, how fast they were going to pay me. They expected to deal with a foreigner speaking ‘when-in-Rome’. Well, I had children and rent so instead they became fluent in ‘pay me, now’. Again, I reiterate, that mettle comes from experience.
Because I had already done time as a colored proletarian in various U.S. industries, I was confident in my professional acumen and very self-aware. This led to the opposite of what I was told to expect as a black woman in the world. My perspective was welcomed and instantly credible. As a result, I was able to cultivate a lucrative business environment while fostering deep friendships.
Twenty years ago, when I went to the Dominican Republic, I was sure my English lessons would revitalize the economy and help people live better lives. Now, at 50, I am confident that my students in our new Yokohama center will come away with better communication skills, more confidence, and a pleasant memory of when they improved their English at Pangaea Services.
Being an international entrepreneur is not about where you studied, or who you know, or your projected profits. Over the last twenty years, six countries, and many trials, I have learned that it’s about being able to read your audience, define your boundaries, and accept your limitations. This is learned behavior borne of experience. When you are in a foreign country, negotiating your cut (and it is your ‘cut’, never a salary), you realize what you are made of and what survival in an emerging market actually means. It means paying attention to the emotional cues of your audience. What do they need and what are they willing to pay for it? Are you willing and able to give them what they want the way they want it? It is also very important to notice the significance that your race, gender, and nationality can play in every aspect of closing the deal.
"I had to accept that I was a foreign entrepreneur with great expectations, learning to run my race, and preparing to coast into la dolce vita." M.
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