The Entrepreneur’s First Critical Decision

Sometimes an Uber ride is not just an Uber ride. Kathy and I were picked up in Brooklyn, New York by Malik. He is the first person I ever met from Gabon, Africa, and he represents them well. He misses his family who is still there.

Starting in America

Malik came to America five years ago. He was 24 years old, did not speak English and had $800 in his pocket. I asked him, “What did you do next?”

He told me about what he is doing now. I kept trying to reel him back. I asked, “What was the very next thing you did?”

He said, “I went to Harlem where someone told me there was a small community of Gabonese. I was prepared to live on the streets, but I met a man who gave me a room for three days. I used that time to find work. That was my start in America.”

Living the Immigrant’s Dream

I told him I was going to Uganda to speak to people his age about getting out of poverty. I asked, “What advice would you give me to give to them?”

He told me, “This is a tough question to answer. The governments of the independent nations like Gabon are corrupt. There is an abundance of natural resources in these countries, and the government leadership controls everything. There are, therefore, no jobs.”

“So what should I tell these people?” I asked.

“You should tell them they should leave. Make it their goal to come to America. Here there is so much opportunity. There are many jobs here, and people treat you fairly,” he said.

This worked for Malik and many immigrants in the past. In fact, it worked for my grandmother and grandfather on both sides of my family. They immigrated from Western Europe in the early 1900’s. Thanks to them and their sacrifice, we improved our lot in life with each succeeding generation.

Leave Unfriendly Markets

Just like people leave countries in search of employment opportunities, entrepreneurs should leave unfriendly markets in search of better opportunities.

Countries controlled by dictators and corrupt governments stifle free trade. Everything must go through them so they can get their piece. This creates high unemployment and black markets.

I’ve invested in a couple of startups who sell into markets with these same characteristics. I would describe these markets as oligopolies. There are a handful of buyers, little innovation and high protectionism.

Smart Market Choices

As a startup entrepreneur, evaluate carefully the market you are about to serve. Be sure it is highly segmented meaning there are big companies at the top of the market, a clear middle market and an active and broad-based low end. These markets are always searching for innovation as a competitive advantage.

You can’t choose where you are born. But, as a startup entrepreneur, you can choose who you are going to sell to. Choose wisely and you’ll have the opportunity to build a fast-growth company.