Starting a new venture, or just feel like your business is stuck in a rut? I can help with that.
You’ll hear me talk about my experience as a member of the Entrepreneurial Scholars program at the University of Portland (shameless plug for my awesome university) repeatedly in other articles. The university provides a fantastic opportunity for business majors and non-majors alike to start and grow a business venture in a school year. One of the best things about this incredible opportunity was our ability travel.
Part of the program was setting up our own business meetings related to our venture—n New York, Denver, and an international location of our choosing (the group I was in did Tokyo and Kyoto—in five days!). In addition to these meetings, we also researched cultural landmarks and attractions that gave us insight into the entrepreneurial culture. My venture, a frozen yogurt food truck, required me to meet with restaurant owners, vendors, suppliers, and food truck enthusiasts.
I was also lucky enough to study abroad in Ireland for a semester and traveled all over Europe in search of unique experiences and awesome people. Finally, someone is going to give you an excuse (and a darn good one) to travel—for the benefit of you and your business, of course!
5 things entrepreneurs can learn from traveling:
1. Engaging across cultural groups
There are few things more daunting than walking into a room full of people you’ve never met before. If you’re in a place foreign to you, it can be even worse. However, learning how to brand yourself and your venture to any audience is a fantastic skill for an entrepreneur.
Trying to explain what froyo was in Japan was difficult—they understood the food truck part (food trucks and stands dominant Japanese streets), but couldn’t understand how they fit together—and then we had a language barrier on top of that! But my confidence and clarity about my business helped move the conversation forward. Being comfortable and confident, even when you don’t speak the native language and are nervous about what’s being served for lunch, makes future pitches and presentations easier.
One crucial tip that I learned from my travels: If you do not understand what someone has said (a thick accent, broken English, you don’t speak a word of German, and so on) do not just nod and say, “Hmm!” Do your best to understand, and ask the other person to repeat. Yes, it’s awkward to say you couldn’t comprehend, but you’ll be glad you understood—for all you know, your nod may have just sealed the deal to sell your entire company!
2. Native customs and body language will make the sale
Wow, was I out of my comfort zone when I landed in Japan. Severely jet-lagged, utterly confused by their three (three) different subway systems, and nervous about my business meetings, all I could think about was remembering to bow and accept their business cards with both hands.
But knowing a few Japanese phrases and common gestures made all the difference; I was immediately seen as credible and trustworthy. They knew I had done my research, that I truly cared about getting to know and understand them. When you do your homework, it shows—you’re more likely to truly connect with people if you work to understand them.
3. The importance of key trends
I remember lounging in the common area of my London hostel after a long day of exploring, and hearing a song I had never heard. After Googling the song, I discovered a British artist who was only just starting to make it big in the states. A year and a half later, I am still absolutely obsessed with that artist.
Researching your venture or what new ideas are out there and travel go hand-in-hand. While American culture definitely has global reach, there are phenomena and trends unique to every country that you can only fully experience upon immersion. Understanding these trends and how they can work with your business is important to success—implementing foreign ideas in America or using them to inform your own venture can make your business innovative.
Understanding the green tea was huge in Japan (green tea ice cream, green tea cookies, green tea everything) was a turning point for my business. Without traveling and experiencing the green tea craze first-hand, I never would have known that this cultural element was so important. If I ever chose to go global, Japan will get its green-tea-flavored froyo!
4. Being open to ambiguity
Anytime something went wrong on our Japan trip—one of my classmates leaving an expensive gift on the train, taking the wrong subway line, getting caught in the pouring rain without umbrellas—we would turn to each other, laugh and say “We’re being open to ambiguity!”
We were constantly told in our entrepreneurship classes that starting a business was all about ambiguity, and how you reacted to it. At the fundamental core of starting a business, you’re signing up for a truckload of the unpredictable—is this business going to even work? Will we turn a profit this year? Can I trust this investor?
Is ambiguity a scary thing to avoid, or something to embrace? When things went south while traveling, it became my classmates’ mantra and joke—it was how you dealt with challenges that helped you learn. Traveling throws you into the truly unexpected and unpredictable; how you decide to react to those challenges, just like with unprecedented things in your business, is what will make you successful.
The ambiguity of travel was a perfect reminder of the same ambiguity of starting your first business. Asking questions, relying on others, and having confidence in your own abilities will help make the unpredictable predictable.
5. Making valuable connections
As part of our program, we were required to cold-call people related to our industry, or use our network of mentors, family, and friends to help guide us, and meet with people who could advise us on our business.
While we were only required to have three meetings while visiting New York, I ended my trip with eleven. I was desperate to meet as many people as possible, to get my questions answered and challenged. I still stay in contact with them now—they are mentors and friends who have provided me with fantastic advice and feedback.
Even more incredible, travel can provide a unique type of connection: the spontaneous one. A woman that you strike up a conversation with on the airplane, your waiter at a restaurant, your guide on the city tour—these seemingly insignificant meetings can make your trip better in ways you would never have expected. They give you insight into the city, into the culture, into the people. But more than that, they provide you an opportunity to discover what their personal “pains” are, and how a business you create can help alleviate them.
Travel can change your life, and the life of your business, in the best way possible. If you’re open to challenges and the unknown, there is no stopping you now.
What have been your favorite travel experiences, and what have you learned from them?