Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at email@example.com.
Q. I am about to launch a marketplace of digital patterns for clothes and accessories, and I need to find my first investor. I have a good team, a good idea, and a good business plan. My company is a LLC with a trademark in the U.S., but I’m based in Bolivia. I’m finding that it’s difficult to get to meet groups of investors from anywhere in the world if you are in a country that does not have a reputation for minting e-commerce entrepreneurs. What do you recommend?
–Founder and CEO of a patterns marketplace
Congratulations on creating a company and trying to do your magic. That’s awesome. I know what you are saying. It’s definitely harder to get money in a country not known for entrepreneurship, but rest assured, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get funding.
So, what do you do?
First, you have to find out who has done this successfully in Bolivia. Investigate who has been funded and from where they received funding. Then, find a way to meet them, if at all possible.
Next, you should apply to programs that serve to help entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Endeavor was founded by Linda Rottenberg, who is also known as la Chica Loca (“the Crazy Girl”), for insisting that high-impact entrepreneurs exist in developing markets, but her track record shows she’s anything but crazy. Endeavor has helped provide entrepreneurs in 30 countries with access to talent, capital, and markets, which has yielded billions in revenue and millions of new jobs. You might be particularly interested in Endeavor Catalyst, their investment vehicle which co-invests with professional investors like VC and growth equity firms.
It might also be helpful to think about going to an incubator. Good ones include Y Combinator and Techstars, and although this one has many locations, you might have to move while you go through the program.
Finally, if you are really finding being based in your country to be a barrier, you may want to eliminate the barrier. I know this sounds extreme, but it’s not untoward. Mikkel Svane’s journey to build Zendesk included him moving his cofounders and his family from Copenhagen to Boston (where his first venture investor, Charles River Ventures, was based and which was a condition of the deal). They ultimately moved to San Francisco, where the VC firm that led their next round of funding was based, and where there’s much more startup action. Mikkel credits that move as one of the most important decisions for Zendesk’s success, and his book about his experience reads like a love letter to California, or what he calls Startupland.
Mikkel always felt a pull to the U.S., but this could be a hard pill to swallow for many who don’t want to leave their home. The tough truth is that when you are starting out, you can’t expect everything you need to pop up where you are. (Later, when you are bigger, the world may come to you.) But right now, you have to go to the watering holes. That’s where all the action happens.
It’s awesome that you are committed to be an entrepreneur and make your idea a reality. I know how hard it is. It requires moving out of your comfort zone (in your case, possibly literally).
Maynard Webb is a longtime technology executive, investor, board member, and best-selling author. His most recent book is Dear Founder: Letters of Advice for Anyone Who Owns, Leads, or Wants to Start a Business.