In Spring, 2008, I spent my exchange semester studying in Osaka, Japan. Three of my American classmates were looking for summer internships. As I had spent my previous semester in Shanghai making friends with interns who worked at Heineken and the Beijing Olympics, I managed to help my classmates by connecting them with companies in China.
A few months later, I graduated from Jonkoping International Business School in Sweden. I was 23 years old, in the diamond industry and decided to move to the Thailand. Paradise on earth! One day I looked at my bank account and saw $1,998. I recalled my time in Japan and thought how easy it would be if you could just apply up for an internship and go to China with your housing, visa and friends organized.
My parents told me I had to burn all my bridges to truly succeed. I bought a laptop and a one-way ticket to China. I burned all my bridges and have never looked back.
Five years and four global offices later, I’m running a multi-million dollar business. My journey has taught me vital lessons for an entrepreneur to live by.
1. Learn foreign languages. I speak seven languages, a tremendous advantage compared to our competitors. It is much easier to understand foreign markets and cultures. I communicate with local vendors and business partners without any problems. People appreciate and respect you when, literally, speak their language. Thanks to my language skills, I've developed relationships with important business people who others could not. Join a language course today. It’ll be worth your time and money.
2. Treat everyone with respect. Not everybody in the global business world is doing business the same way as you. Be open-minded to other cultures and “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Too many entrepreneurs put on an act when they meet important business people and treat everyone else with less respect. Every single contact knows another contact, so treat a CEO the same way as a waiter. I see them both as potentially important contacts. People judge actions more than words.
3. Move fast. A start-up has to move as fast as a mouse or get crushed by an elephant. If you come up with an idea today, act on it today. Don’t wait. Every day somebody is waking up with the sole purpose of running you out of business. Procrastination is your enemy.
4. Love what you do. I meet so many people, from investment bankers to marketers, who don’t enjoy what they are doing. You can never be truly great unless you really love what you do. Every day, wake up with a smile and enjoy every second. Don’t live a wasted life. Love every second and, if you don’t, do something else.
5. Be 24/7. Opportunities are lost while dining with your friends or out in a bar. Once, I was invited for a live interview on Fox-TV business news but, as it took me 12 hours to respond, they canceled on me. My iPhone is on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My colleagues know they can reach me at 5 am as well as at 11 pm. Be connected and keep your phone on 24/7. Answer emails in real-time. That’s the only way to get an edge running a fast growing start-up in different time zones.