There are International Entrepreneurs?
I’m a red-blooded American. No apologies will be forthcoming for that perspective. That being said, Americans are often rightly accused of being ignorant of what happens beyond their borders. That is also true for entrepreneurs. Sometimes I find myself amazed to read about international opportunities or hear an interview with a successful entrepreneur who has a crazy accent. But I shouldn’t be. The entrepreneurial bent is universal: there is someone in central India or coastal Namibia who has the same dream of independence as I do and is not content working for “the man”.
An Eyesore in Paris
This was brought home to me on a trip to Europe my wife and I recently had the good fortune to take. While visiting the Eiffel Tower, I was more interested in reading the biography of Gustave Eiffel and his legacy than in climbing to the top of his namesake tower. He began his own engineering company in his early 30s (after the business for which he was working suffered a downturn). He had a vision of large, steel structures on a scale that far surpassed anything anyone else was building at that time. He designed and built much, much more than an eyesore in central Paris or the frame for Lady Liberty; he designed, built or oversaw the construction of nearly 60 large structures around the world- from bridges to government buildings. What impressed me in this story was 1) he began his own company as a young man, and 2) he had a vision of something different and grander and better than what currently existed…and built the solution rather than waiting for someone else to do it. (As an aside, Eiffel’s mother ran a coal-distribution business and his father left his job to join her in running the business. Seems like entrepreneurism ran in the family.)
The most expensive city in Europe
A second, more modern, more relatable example is the walking tour of Zurich, Switzerland my wife and I took. Like many travelers, I use TripAdvisor regularly. And while researching things to do in Zurich one of the top attraction was a free, 1 1/2 hour walking tour. Well, I like free (especially in the most expensive city in Europe) so we showed up at the right time/place and off we went. The guide was a very knowledgeable young man and took us on a very pleasant tour of the city; throughout the tour he provided multiple coupons to various establishments with whom he had worked a deal. And while perhaps not as comprehensive as a longer, paid tour would be, it was time (and money) well spent. At the beginning of the walk the guide said the free walking tour was started by some friends and him to provide visitors an inexpensive way to get to know their city and they hoped the tours were of value to people. The cool thing? While he (and his friends) may not have charged for the tour, people were very generous with their tips at the end. So here was a young man who spent about 2 hours of his Friday morning walking around a gorgeous city, giving a pitch he had well memorized, working on his English and enjoying talking with the pretty tourist girls…and probably made well over $100 for that time. Now, is he going to retire on that gig? No, but he can probably count on that to pay for some regular expenses or to pad his savings account.
In both cases, the moral of the story is the same…and one that I’ve seen repeated in hundreds of entrepreneurial case studies: 1) see a need, 2) visualize the solution, 3) create the solution, 4) reap the benefits. Was either venture above guaranteed? No. Could either venture suffer a downturn? Absolutely. Was there hard work and effort required to move from #3 to #4? Without a doubt. Were both Eiffel and my tour guide rewarded for their solution? Yes they were. Eiffel built a company that constructed steel buildings around the world. My tour guide built a web site and then took tourists on a walking tour of his city. What are you doing?