4 Things I’ve Learned from Building 4 Companies in 4 Countries

by Carol Chen

Starting businesses are never easy, especially if you have to build one in a new market or niche. Here are some universal tips that will help you regardless of how or where you decide to leave your footprint in the world: 

1) Get to know the right people.
The saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” could not be more relevant when launching a startup. Whether you’re in a new place or breaking into a different industry, meet as many people as you can that are willing to help you learn the things you don’t know (as well as the things you don’t even know you don’t know).

When I set out to create a clothing line in the US, I had no idea how the fashion industry worked or how to manufacture overseas. So, I went to as many trade shows as possible to talk to suppliers, buyers, competitors – essentially anyone that could teach me anything from how to produce to how to sell. Likewise, when I ventured into the tech world in Singapore with Covetella, aligning myself with key players in the city and the industry afforded me valuable intros and many opportunities that would’ve been difficult to get on my own.

If you’re a newbie, get to know the experts and influencers in your area and field until you can become one yourself. (And keep in mind that good relationships are always mutually-beneficial.)

2) Adapt and assimilate quickly.
Remember Avatar? If you want to bring about change in an unfamiliar environment, you need to be fully integrated to be truly effective. As an outsider, people may respect you, but they won’t trust you.  

When I moved to China to build a factory, I lived in the factory dorms, ate in the factory food halls, played basketball with the workers, hung out with my managers’ families – which gave me deeper insight into the Chinese culture and mindset than if I had maintained a less-immersed expat lifestyle. When I was developing an MMA brand in Taiwan, I took boxing and Jujitsu classes and started training Muay Thai regularly so I could better understand the sport as well as our target customers.

The sooner you can master cultural and industry-specific nuances, the sooner you can start making an impact in your space. Also remember to be flexible about your product; the market will tell you what it wants and you should adjust accordingly.

3) Remember your purpose.
Being an entrepreneur is probably one of the hardest and loneliest paths you can take (albeit one of the most rewarding). Growing up, I watched my immigrant parents struggle through the ups and downs of ten different businesses, but they never lost sight of their goals – and now they are living the American Dream.

From simple creature comforts to major life decisions, you will have to make many sacrifices that will leave you questioning why you ever decided to take the leap in the first place. You will have fewer friends, you will have fewer hobbies, and you will never have enough time. But being tenacious and remembering your “why” will get you through those dark hours and make the journey worthwhile.

4) Follow your heart.
As a serial entrepreneur, I often joke that it’s easier for me to make money than to find love. Several times I’ve had to decide whether or not to move countries or exit companies because of personal reasons, and I find that you rarely regret your choices when you go with your gut. Life, like a startup, is dynamic and unpredictable, so being clear about your values and aspirations will help you navigate both. Take the paths that excite you the most; if you do have an entrepreneurial itch, regardless of circumstance, you will always find a way.

About the Author
Carol Chen is the founder and CEO of Singapore’s premier fashion rental marketplace, Covetella. Called an “International Style Icon” by E! News, she was a top finalist on Channel NewsAsia’s reality show ‘START-UP’ and a delegate at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with President Barack Obama. Follow her on Instagram.

 

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