Immigrant entrepreneur 101 - brnd.ws
Lately, a few people lately have asked me why I made the decision to quit my job and become an entrepreneur. In particular, I feel people are mostly interested in understanding how, as a stranger who landed in the US a few years ago, I took the necessary steps to find a team, build a network and start a company.
I think a lot has been written on the motivations to become an entrepreneur. I particularly like Mark Suster’s view on what makes an entrepreneur and Brad Feld’s more fundamental perspective (which I first heard when I was a student at MIT) on how to approach your career decisions.
I don’t think of myself as a serial entrepreneur that has to be permanently starting something new. I have worked for large and small companies and have been happy with that. But when I look back, I was happiest when I started my company and that’s for a combination of reasons – the learning experience, the satisfaction of building something novel, the personal growth, the emotional rollercoaster, the adrenaline rush anticipating big decisions. So the decision to quit my former job and start Piictu was a no brainer. How did I go from getting in the US to starting a company?
As an immigrant who wanted to do business in the US, I felt I had to read more than normal. Let’s face it, I’m at disadvantage when it comes to understanding a market or industry. I can read a lot of market research and collect all the data I want and I will still miss the tacit knowledge that surrounds it. It’s inevitable. I’m talking about very broad topics – how business is done, the history of VC and entrepreneurship, what industries are strong where – and small details that locals take for granted – I still don’t get baseball metaphors but at least I’m getting better at tipping rules. Believe me, knowing these details helps a lot when you’re building a business (plus, you don’t sound stupid).
My recommendation is to read blogs, as that’s where tacit knowledge is articulated. Read everything you’re interested in, read a lot, and read regularly. You’re not going to learn these things in a day.
Socialize with locals
I don’t care if you’re a social person or not but the best way to learn the small details I was just talking about is by meeting local people. As a foreigner, it’s very easy to look for other foreigners and get closed in that community. The drawback is that you’re less likely to understand the local habits and culture.
In addition, socializing is networking and you’ll need a network once you start your business.
Before you start a business you need a network but that’s not the only reason to network. Before you start a business you need to start discussing business. If you are an idea person you need to probe your ideas, ask for feedback, listen to external opinions. If you are not an idea person you want to start looking for ideas. Anyhow, networking means invaluable learning and great friendships.
I don’t recommend approaching networking from a utilitarian standpoint – it’s unnecessary pressure for yourself and it makes you sound less authentic. Again, it’s about socializing. Just start attending events and meeting people (you naturally will). Be willing to help in whatever capacity you can and you will soon see a snowball effect happening.
Put yourself out there
Finally, once you’re ready to make the jump, put yourself out there – start telling people you’re looking for a co-founder, or an idea, or money whatever it’s your case. People will try to help you, or they might remember you next time they hear a matching request from someone else. Leverage the network you’ve been building. Don’t be shy to ask for favors.
Some resources I found useful:
startupdigest.com – great to know what events are happening in your area
letslunch.com – great networking tool (for now only in the Bay Area)
meetup.com – look for informal meetups in your geography and area of interest
For blogs and written resources, I’ll default to the awesome list put together by Tom Eisenmann (all four posts on Launching Tech Ventures).