4 Ways International Work Experience Helps Entrepreneurs Succeed
When you’re an aspiring young entrepreneur, starting your own business is a bet on yourself that can set you up for a lifetime of success, or a lot of debt and time spent back at the drawing board.
Many successful companies have a presence across not only multiple cities in one country, but also multiple continents.
Global ambitions require a global perspective, which is why working internationally before setting up on your own turf can be very beneficial. But beyond that, the lessons you gain from working abroad will pay off regardless of where and how you decide to develop your entrepreneurial ventures.
I was born in China, grew up in the U.S. and eventually held the position of CEO for two companies in both countries. I learned a lot about how expanding your comfort zone impacts the success of your company. When you start a business, you’re entering a competition against all of the established powers in your industry, and they’re not rooting for your success.
Here’s how international experience and a global perspective can boost your startup’s success:
1. Improved communication.
Strong leaders are deft communicators. The most valuable lesson I learned from my first international business venture was that the timing of communication is the most important part. You can never postpone any decision because the opportunity to get everyone on the same page may never happen again.
For example, when we planned to register a new clinical study in China, we had hosted several meetings, but we never came up with a final decision. Procrastination left our ambitions by the wayside. Procrastination can lead to desolation, but by staying in steady communication and engagement with international partners, you impose less tension and increase cohesion.
2. 'Blank market discovery' and combinational development.
When you come to a problem with fresh eyes, you have a unique perspective compared to those who’ve been banging their heads against the wall to figure it out.
Oftentimes, when you work abroad, you gain an advantage of perspective. You’re so new to the culture and habit differences that it may lead you to lock in on a certain opportunity that only an outsider could spot. This is called “blank market discovery.” It allows you to come up with a new idea that fits with the culture. It gives you the opportunity to try things that may not work in your own culture but may work in another.
A multicultural approach to business can also result in a combinational development, which is when you take the new country’s idea and add your own culture’s spin for a new thought that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Think of it as the Ellis Island of innovation.
3. Flexibility and adaptability.
The only way to succeed in an unfamiliar environment is to adapt. While you may feel like a fish out of water at first, you’ll eventually find confidence and belonging if you don’t shirk are flexible and adaptable to your surroundings.
When you find yourself back on home turf, your experience and expanded perspective will be married to the confidence and comfort of home. That is a fantastic combination as a leader.
4. Becoming multilingual.
Thirty-one percent of executives are bilingual. When you’re abroad, immerse yourself in not only the culture, but also the language. Many avenues and programs are available to help you learn the language, but there are few lessons as valuable as simply insisting that your international circle, cohorts and co-workers speak to you in their native tongue until you catch up.
Learning multiple languages will not only help you while you’re abroad, but you’ll also be able to connect with a wider range of people once you return home, resulting in a more diverse group of hires for your startup.
Taking a job abroad is an investment in yourself that will make starting your own company less of a gamble. There will be some bumps, culture shock and homesickness along the way, but when you decide the time is right for you to return home and start your own business, you’ll be armed with lessons that can’t be taught -- only experienced and learned.