Immigrant refugees appear every day. A dictator claims more power, an invasion occurs, discrimination grows. Nations that could do something, do nothing.
Some of the people in those countries decide to take their chances on a new land. When they arrive in that new land, some of them are welcome, some are unwelcome, but mostly they are ignored, left to their own devices – that is to say, they must start making a new foundation, and quickly, where they are.
This episode is dedicated to two refugees among the 120,000 Venezuelans who fled to their neighboring country of Colombia, South America over the last month, to seek food, medicine, and safety, which followed more than 1.5 million Venezuelans who fled over the last 10 years.
These two refugees, Katherine and Alexander, written about in the Miami Herald, said that back in Venezuela they could either work, he as an engineer, she in a bank, or they could wait in a line all day to get food, but you could not do both. So they arrived to the streets of Bogota, Colombia, with $250. Alexander could not apply for work as an engineer because he was illegal, and besides they had to eat today. For the same reasons, Katherine could not apply for a job or a loan to start a business..
So as you listen to this in September, 2016, they took their $250 and bought some corn flour and oil and a little stove, and began selling corn tortillas on the streets of Bogota.
This episode is dedicated to this young couple starting where they arrived, standing on the street, in the rain, in a city that is not their own.
Dedicated to the 1.6 million other Venezuelans who started over in some other land over the last 10 years, and dedicated to you, dear listener, whether or not you are an immigrant – after all, aren’t we all immigrants to this world – as you start over – as you begin some part of your life standing right now, where you are.
The lessons I’d like to focus on from four of my past guests are:
- Have the courage to imagine that you have power to change your condition. (Amel Derragui)
- Identify your natural talent – and strengthen it. (Steli Efti)
- Trust your family. Trust your ability to persevere. Trust the little that you have. (Jose Prendes)
- Outwork others. (Gary Vaynerchuk)
Please visit our website, www.theimmigrantentrepreneur.com, to see links to their companies and read the transcript of this episode.
The first is Amel Derragui a serial entrepreneur, who today creates opportunities for others here in New York, with her two companies Blink and C, as well as Tandem Nomads.
Amel moved frequently in her life. In fact, she grew up in three warzones. Listen to her amazing story in episode 26.
Here she speaks of her experience as 14-year-old in Uganda, with the overflow of refugees from the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis. Many immigrants are children, who have power; the power to imagine that they can better their condition
And then after that I went to Uganda where it was right in the middle of the genocides issues between the Tutsis and the Hutus and I was in a school, in the French school at that time, and a lot of kids that were refugees ended up in that school. The courtyard, where the kids would play during the break, it was like a warzone too; it was crazy because you had kids from every country but also from every ethnic group like Hutus, Tutsis, and thy would just fight. I heard black people insulting white people, I heard white people insulting black people, I heard kids saying to people who were black and white, ‘you are not white, you are not black, you are nothing’. And then you would hear Hutus and Tutsis fighting on their ethnic groups; like, what’s happening here? I was really shocked and this was like the third experience in my life on the road with issues, society issues and human issues at the end of the day. I started really thinking, ‘what can I do here?’. I remember I just couldn’t stand that and I went to the supervisor of the school and said, ‘why don’t you do anything about this? Aren’t we supposed to be here to teach things to people?’. She was shocked, he said, ‘sorry?’ and I said, ‘no, we have to do something’ and the said, ‘ok, then offer something’. I said, ‘ok, I’ll come back tomorrow and offer something’, I was 14 at that time so, ‘what can I do to make this change because I can stand it anymore’, I thought. ‘What is the thing that makes people come together despite their differences? What can it be? Obviously is not culture, obviously is not race’ I thought. But I realized it might be money; building something that’s profitable. I went to the supervisor and said, ‘listen, we have an issue for lunch, there’s no solution to be able to have lunch in this school, so let’s build our own small kiosk or snack place but it would be the responsibility of the kids to build it and to manage it’. That was an amazing experience because what I did was I tried to find 2 o 3 people that would work with me on this project and ask for the authorization of the supervisor to do it. Then the supervisor assigned a teacher to follow us through this project and the first thing we had to do was to raise money to start building it and second, to create engagement among the kids to do it. I said, ‘how can I do both of them together? How can I raise money to start constructing the kiosk and getting the food and buying all the necessary, and how do I get the kids engaged in this project’? And then I realized that one of the other things that make kids want to be together is having fun and partying so I started organizing events, fundraising events, where again, the kids would have to be involved and each of them had a mission. I remember that one of the most beautiful moments for me and what meant that the project succeeded was when we had bought everything –I had sponsors like Coca-Cola sponsoring my event.
Oh, my gosh. This is in Uganda?
Yes. That’s actually when I realized I wanted to do branding and marketing communications. It’s when naturally I realized it that with branding you can do a lot of businesses but you can create and make a difference. Coca-Cola joined me in this project and they gave me all the tents, all the tables, they gave all the drinks; they sponsored everything. The biggest DJ of the city came to play. But one thing I think I didn’t want to purchase was the food; I didn’t want to get catering for a purpose that I believe that food is also something that’s common to all human beings. I asked every person to join me and make the sandwiches for the party. So we spent one day where we were all sitting in a row, one would take the bread, butter it, the other would put the tomato, the other one would put the salad, the other one would put the tuna extra and the other one would close it, the other one would cut it, the other one would pack it. It was amazing to see these kids who were fighting on their race issues, suddenly work together on this table and pack the food for the party and prepare it together; that was just amazing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what happens with the kiosk; the victory is already there.
Steli Efti is a celebrity entrepreneur because he is accessible and so articulate, in English, his third language. He blogs, and gives back to entrepreneurs in his native continent, while growing his sales software company, Close.io.
These clips are from last year, from my episodes 21 and 22. Steli spoke enthusiastically, for one hour about his own immigrant experience, and shared exactly how he started in the US.
Despite his happy persona had quite a tough childhood. He tells a great story of, after dropping out from school, standing in front of a bookstore, at the age of 17, trying to get up the courage to enter and read his first book. Once he finally did begin reading books though, he hasn’t stopped.
This clip, I’m asking how Steli created a highly successful sales company after several failures in Silicon Valley. The lesson here is: even as you are starting where you are and probably failing, also identify your natural talent and work hard to strengthen it.
You just said that Americans have this kind of innate sense of marketing and yet you, as a European, are coming here teaching Americans how to sell. From the Zig Ziglar to … there are thousands of sales consultants and sales organizations and yet you’re crushing it. What is your unique understanding? The opportunity was right there for someone to take and it was this brilliant Greek German coming here and is teaching … My understanding of your insight was to go after VC-funded firms, newly funded firms that the first thing they were needing to do was to go out and make a sale. Was that basically the insight that you had?
Steli: Yes; so, there was no insight. Things happen very organically and with not as much strategy in place, for me. One step led to another and eventually, after a number of steps I could look back and understand why I’ve arrived where I am; all these steps were really helpful and necessary to get me here. But while I was on the journey I didn’t necessarily knew that it would arrive here. I think that sales have always been a part of my life because when I first got into entrepreneurship in business, it was what I call my entrepreneurial superpower; it was the one skill I had that allowed me to succeed.
And I realized at a fairly early stage, ‘Hey, I’m good with people, I can connect with them, I like them, they like me and I can help them make decisions; I can sell them on my ideas, on my products. So, this is a skill that I have talent for; that was the first step. The next step was that I didn’t just have some talent, a natural ability in this area but I also started nurturing it. I became a passionate learner and I invested an incredible amount of time in studying languages, psychology and sales; just working on my skills as a communicator and as an entrepreneur and that made a big difference, I think. I studied some things that are weird to most people that are Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Like, I studied hypnosis and I studied all kinds of other things.
I’m playing two. Jose in Spanish, so you can hear the tone in his voice, which communicates, of course I translate.
The lesson that I learned from Jose was very simple. Trust. Trust your family. Trust your ability to persevere. Trust the little that you have.
“When you left Cuba, where most workers don’t earn more than $20 a month and you didn’t have any financial resources or any English education, what was your perspective looking ahead in your future?”
La verdad, Kent, es que era empezar desde cero. Lo único que podía hacer era tener mucha confianza en mis padres, era saber que ellos estaban tomando la decisión correcta y que con trabajo y perseverancia íbamos a salir adelante. Ésas son las únicas armas con las que sales cuando vienes de un país tan pobre como Cuba y emigras. Ésas son las únicas herramientas que tienes.
— Truthfully, I had to start from scratch. The only thing I could do was to trust my parents, knowing that they were making the right choice and believing that with hard work and perseverance we were going to come through. Those are the only weapons you have when you emigrate from a country as poor as Cuba. Those are the only tools you count on.
Cuba was and is much poorer than Venezuela even today. – I asked him what was the one quality of the Cuban people that helped you achieve success?
Yo pienso, Kent, que Cuba, siendo un país con un régimen totalitario y pobreza y escasez, el pueblo cubano se ha acostumbrado a: hacer mucho con poco”. Yo pienso que eso, sería una característica importante que ayuda mucho cuando estás empezando en una empresa porque, generalmente, no tienes muchos recursos. — I think that the Cuban people, living in a country with a totalitarian regime, poverty and food shortage, have grown accustomed to: MAKE A LOT WITH A LITTLE. I think that’s, an important characteristic that really helps you when you’re starting a company because, generally, you don’t have too many resources
I asked him for an example, he said, that when the Hurricane Wilma destroyed his first company in Miami, an online veterinary supply, it destroyed our building, they had no idea what to do. They had no power, the merchandise was all wet. It was pitch black so we went and bought these flashlights, and started to look for things that could be saved. We didn’t just sit and assumed that everything was lost; we went looking for things.
And lastly Gary Vaynerchuk, who really did start where he was. His first job in highschool was in the stock room of his Dad’s liquor store. They had immigrated from the most miserable country in Europe, which had lost 1/3 of its population in WWII. Gary invited me to his offices for two interviews, and a key theme he shares for immigrants and for anyone is. Outwork others. Here’s Gary:
Kent: Talk to immigrant running a small business today who is trying to bring it to the next level. Some of them may be like a father 30 years ago.
Gary: I think you need to recognize that your biggest advantage is you’re hungrier than your competitor and that if you are not applying your one advantage, which is your work ethic and the hours that you have to put into your business, well then you are going to come up short. The reason immigrants win, is often they have no choice, but number two is because they are just outworking their competition. The immigrant who is working for 17 hours in his or her store is just working in that store for 17 hours a day versus the person who absentee owns it and hires some employees and the truth is some 15-year-old kid at the high school behind the register doesn’t care as much as the mom who’s store it is. That work ethic is the variable. My advice is very simple, follow exactly what you’re doing.