Be Locally Gifted And Globally Minded

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I recently bought and read Peter Thiel's book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. It's the umpteenth book I have read on building a successful business since I took entrepreneurship extremely seriously.

Peter Thiel is one of the founders of PayPal, a part owner of Facebook and a venture capitalist who runs his own hedge fund. In his book he talked about how he built successful businesses and also what his investment company looks for in a starting company before they invest in it. Revealing the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and businesses; the same characteristics that helped him see success in a very young companies and making him one of the earliest investors in some of the world's most successful young companies: Booktrack, Slide, LinkedIn, Rapleaf,, Yammer, Yelp, Inc., Powerset, Practice Fusion, MetaMed, Vator, Palantir Technologies, IronPort, Votizen, Asana, Big Think, Caplinked, Quora, Rypple, TransferWise, Nanotronics Imaging, Stripe, and Legendary Entertainment.

Reading the book brought back to my memory business lessons from another great book I bought on business, Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs by Norm Brodsky. And when I think back on all the business books I have bought and read, there is one common big lesson. From The Intelligent Entrepreneur to Start Something That Matters. And that lesson is that as an entrepreneur or a young company, you must be locally gifted and globally minded. You must start by focusing on a small market and be so good (gifted) that you capture that small market, and all the while setting your eyes on the global market. You must act like a small company and think like a global one. You must do everything on a level of quality that is comparable to or better than in any other place in the world. Yet you must not plan to get 1% of a $40 billion global market. You should plan to get 90% of your local $10 million market first and then move up to capturing 80% of the $500 million regional market before thinking of going after the global market. Facebook started by focusing on capturing just Harvard students, and then only university students across the world before going after the global market. But since the start, Mark has always had his eyes on the global market. So he took his idea, applied it locally in a gifted way but with a global mind.

Being locally gifted may look crude to you. It may seem like you are starting like every business around with a small goal. Like you are not aiming high enough at the start. And you are right. It's the crude time-tested way to grow a very successful business. The businesses that have been around for hundreds of years and are still growing are businesses that started as a small local champion, the big fish in the small pond, and kept migrating from one pond to a slightly bigger pond. They weren't too much in a hurry and took their time to dominate one regional market before competing in a bigger market. They never aimed at 1% of the anything but 90% of whatever market they want, till they were big enough to go after 90% of the world market.

I believe the globally minded part is where most Nigerian companies get it wrong. We don't do things to an international quality level with the hope of someday going from a national market to a West African market, to an African market, to the MEA market and then to the global market. We don't have R&D departments to force us to provide a product or service that beats that provided anywhere in the world. We don't focus on one thing enough to become a global leader in it. We would rather own a conglomerate than one revolutionary company. The moment we start making money we begin expanding the business into other fields and reducing our ability to compete in a global market as one of the best. We also don't ever want to spend a significant portion of our revenue of research and development, building the edge we will need to go global someday. 

I'm not going to let the time and money I spend reading all these business books waste. I am going to put to practice this lesson I have learned from them. In fact, I have begun following the advice. I am focusing on a product category (Business Data Analysis) and becoming so extremely good at it that I'll be at the forefront in the Nigerian market. I have stopped obsessing about saving my company revenue, I keep spending almost all I make on learning new better ways to do my business and expensive software that will put me at the cutting edge of the technology that power the industry I'm competing in. I am on course to becoming locally gifted but already globally minded. You should too.


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