Earlier this week, we discussed the special propensity for foreign-born citizens to start successful businesses. Eighteen percent of immigrants start small businesses; that’s 5 percent more than citizens born in the U.S. When one group of people is doing something particularly well, it’s a great opportunity for everyone else to learn from them, so today we’re focused on the advice from entrepreneurs born overseas.
Cultural Exposure Encourages New Ideas
As we discussed in a previous article, Harvard Business Review (HBR) did a study to learn why immigrants are more likely to start businesses. They discovered that the most important element that set foreign-born entrepreneurs apart was the “cross-cultural experience” they gain from immersing themselves in more than one set of traditions and habits:
“By living in different cultures, they encounter new products, services, customer preferences, and communication strategies, and this exposure may allow the transfer of knowledge about customer problems or solutions from one country to another. By applying this kind of arbitrage, a temporary or permanent migrant can decide to replicate a profitable product or business model available in one country but not in another…. Cross-cultural experiences may also stimulate creativity. Interacting with two or more cultural contexts can help immigrants combine diverse ideas, solutions, and customer problems in order to create something entirely new.”
What can non-immigrant business owners and managers learn from this? Well, you certainly don’t have to migrate to gain the same insights and skills.
HBR highlights the importance of emulating the cross-cultural experience at home. When you travel, keep your business brain awake and pay attention to how the businesses in your host country operate. What services and business models are commonplace there but new to you? Encourage employees to do the same, and build up “opportunity recognition skills” as part of their training.
Of course, not everyone can swing international travel. But this mindset of opportunity recognition can be used any time you leave your usual stomping grounds. Our vast nation offers huge differences region to region–the fast-pace typical in NYC may benefit from some southern hospitality norms, and vice versa. Frequent an immigrant-owned small business near you and pay attention to the subtle differences that sets it apart. Without even leaving your door, you can benefit from the cross-cultural experience: if an employee was born in another country, give him or her the chance to tell you what he or she notices that could be done differently or better.
Aside from the academic, stories of entrepreneurs born outside our borders have valuable lessons to offer.
Bringing the Flavor Fusion
“Drawing on flavors from his native cuisine—fused with Mexican dishes—and his top-notch chef training from the Culinary Institute of America, he concocted the deeply flavored caramelized short-rib barbecue and smoky-spicy salsas that top two crisp corn tortillas…. Through his simple yet revolutionary cooking, Choi unleashed the power of food to cross cultures and race.”
Choi’s multicultural upbringing inspired him to bring many styles of food together, creating tacos that he calls, “Los Angeles on a plate”. This success story embodies the American “melting pot” ideal.
If you’re in the restaurant business, explore cuisines you may not usually try. Who knows, you may some element that, fused with your own recipes, creates something new and exciting.
Tapping into Community Makes Everyone Stronger
Did you know that 40% of America’s roadside motels are owned by Indian-Americans? Sociologist, Pawan Dhingra, investigated the “Patel motel” phenomenon and discovered that Indian-Americans, “were typically farmers back in India, and even if they didn’t own land, they didn’t want to work for someone else. Part of the reason they gravitated towards the motel business was related to their desire to be autonomous in their work lives. They also wanted to know people who had done it before and succeeded. Those two factors helped create motivation and triggered a domino effect where others who were interested in small business and concerned about mobility went into the same thing…. Also, many brought in additional relatives to work – unlike other small businesses, motels allow people to live for free so they’re saving money as they work. And after spending 5 years in the motel industry, it was only natural those relatives would go on to manage franchises of their own.” Small businesses make all members of the community thrive together, especially when business owners encourage and support each other in the early stages.
Instead of competing with other small businesses in your industry, try finding a way to partner with them, and raise each other up. Co-host an event that draws in new customers, or put together a “trail” or “crawl” of businesses in your area in a way that complements everyone.
Flexing the Fearlessness Muscle
Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, born in Greece and educated in London, was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2006. When she studied at Cambridge University, she was the first foreign student to become president of the Cambridge Union Society. Huffington insists that exposure to the unfamiliar is key:
“Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me.”
What is your “someday” goal? Opening a new location? Adding a service or product? Don’t wait for opportunity. Feel the fear, then make a plan and do it, anyway. Services like The Center are there to help you make it work.
We’ve all heard the success stories of famous foreign-born business icons Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bull), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), and Sergey Brin (Google/Alphabet). But as we discussed earlier this week, the positive influence of foreign-owned businesses reaches from the top of the business food chain all the way down to Main Street shops and services. Now that we know why, all businesses can benefit from their experiences.
L.A. Son by Roy Choi