After starting and selling two successful companies, I was ready for a new challenge – starting a company in another country. After a round the world scouting trip, I chose Singapore.
With my business contacts, start-up money, local residence set up, and lots of paperwork, I received my coveted entrepreneur pass “EntrePass”. This allowed me to set up a new company in Singapore, and I thought I had set myself up for success, but actually it was the opposite.
After my first year of struggling I thought I had underestimated the amount of money needed to establish myself. However, after successfully establishing myself now in Korea, I realized it was an underestimation of the cultural view of time that did me in.
You see my business plan required me to show a strong web presence to make the business successful and to raise start-up capital. The bids we received in Singapore seemed quite high, so we looked to Indonesia for our solution.
Time is money, and time costs more in a foreign land
Cheap is not necessarily inexpensive
The programmers, web developers and visual design artist’s fees were a fraction of the cost of the Singapore bid, so we went with it. The problem was the Indonesian culture basically views time though the lens of the past, while the western view is more towards the future. Many of the ‘eastern cultures” revolve around the present, with the belief that one should enjoy the day, because the future is not certain. Now this is great when you aren’t working with a deadline and have a lifetime to accomplish your goals.
For the first few months we stayed in contact through Skype and email. However I noticed that with each passing deadline, their response was “no problem, it will be done in a few weeks”. After four months I had to fly back again and work with them every day. When I was with them things got done, until I left and everything slowed down to a crawl.
Counting the cost – not as easy as it seems
The problem was not the cost of fling back and forth, the problem was the cost of running the other aspects of the business in Singapore were quite high. When I was busy in Indonesia, the things needed to be done in Singapore were put on hold, but the cost of business was not.
Well, in the end, their “in a few weeks” turned into a few months, a few months turned into a year, and after a year of dwindling finances, I still didn’t have an operational site, nor the ability to show off what my business had to offer. Without this I was not able to raise the capital needed to continue on. The moral for every entrepreneur attempting to start a business overseas: “Time is money, and time costs more in a foreign land”.
Turning failure into opportunity: Lessons learned
- We experience many things both before and after failure. With the right attitude we can use the lessons learned to our advantage.
- What appears to be an inexpensive alternative can break the bank if it eats up too much time.
- When changing locations factor in cultural differences especially communication differences and negotiating business contracts.
- We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan. Many times we don’t spend enough time planning which is great for spontaneity, but may slow down or even stop our business.
- We all fail, but are not failures. Unless you give up and live life believing you have failed.