Understanding The World – Part I – 5 Tips on How to Find International Opportunities

Is this your next car?

In the past I’ve written more than a few blogs about the opportunities that exist for non-US entrepreneurs in the United States.

Today, I’m writing about the vast opportunities open to all entrepreneurs worldwide. They just need to know how to look. So here are 5 tips on how to look for and spot international opportunities.

  1. Look at which countries are hot. Brazil and China for sure, but what about places like Bangladesh and Nigeria? I know of one enterprising American entrepreneur that’s selling cell phones in Angola. And I have a friend who moved to Bogota, Columbia several years ago when it wasn’t exactly a tourist destination. And another friend that just purchased the cellular phone rights for an entire country. OK, so there’s some risk. But, heck there’s also some outsized returns. How many competitors do you think these people encountered? Not many, that’s for sure. So, what’s the moral of the story? Think outside the country.
  2. Keep your eyes open. One of my favorite examples is the US school teacher that was traveling with her class of elementary school children in Europe. And, what were the little rascals buying? Gummy bears! What did she do? She secured the rights to the US market and made a tidy sum selling something that had never been sold in the US. OK, so Europe isn’t exactly on the super fast growing economies list. But, that’s not the point. The point is: travel with open eyes and you will see the opportunities. Go back to your home country and start selling that product!
  3. Think Poor. When you’ve grown up with everything this one is difficult: think poor. Ask yourself, how would I make due with their income? What would I be willing to buy with the little money I had? I had a French teacher, a wonderful lady, that used to teach in Cameroon and one of the things she sold quite succesfully to the locals was a plain straw hat that had a mirror on the inside. Who would have thought? She did. And, what did she once do? She gave a free hat to a big chief and in return he gave her a carved elephant tusk. Ok, so that’s not IPO material. But, it’s a start and if you don’t start you don’t get anywhere.
  4. Think Poorer. You say, how can really poor people possibly afford anything? Well they can’t. You have to come up with completely new products and ideas for those markets. After all, most of the products in the developed world are made somewhere else so you need to look elsewhere for ideas. Peel the orange all the way back and invent something new. One of my favorite stories, is the American entrepreneur that moved to China to sell cosmetics to the Chinese masses. Well, lipstick can be pretty expensive. But her solution was ingenious. She was going to sell miniature lipsticks. Like those mini-bottles you find in hotel room bars. Just a small version of the original. I’m generally not a big fan of just make it smaller to make it affordable but in this case it was the right approach. (More about how to develop for the non-US market in a future blog). And…
  5.  Think local. So what do you do if you need a shovel to farm but you can’t afford shoes? Ever try pushing your naked foot against the blade of a shovle to push it into the ground. Tough right? More, like impossible. So what did some enterprising entrepreneur do? They put a step on the shovle so it formed a “T” and the farmer could then push down with their naked foot onto the top of the “T” and not cut the bottom of their foot. A very simple and elegant solution. OK, so that’s not exactly a large market. No it’s not, but depending on what you’re trying to do (i.e. do good) it could be the perfect solution. The point is that even if you want to make money (while doing good I assume) you have to adapt locally?

So, as they say, when in Sri Lanka, do like the Sri Lankans and all roads will lead to Beiing.

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