I recently wrote about the research of Ernst & Young and their model for exceptional entrepreneurial leaders. Their research identified the top (personal brand) attributes and skills of the most successful entrepreneurial leaders worldwide. Given we are CEOs of our own careers in the new world of work, this list is applicable to today's most successful professionals and executives as well.
In this and future posts I'll be featuring expat professionals and entrepreneurial leaders that demonstrate those critical factors for success abroad as well as some additional qualities I've added based on research on success across cultures.
This particular expat entrepreneur's or (expat-preneurs's) personal brand definitely includes many of these attribute and skills as you'll soon see as you read this interview and learn more about his fantastic project. Being a big believer in the power of art to inspire and transform, I'm a big fan of Naysawn Naderi, founder of ArtSumo.com. But I'll let him tell you more...
Naysawn, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I think of myself as a Canadian engineer who is aspiring to be a global entrepreneur. I joined Microsoft right out of university, and spent the next four years in Seattle, Washington developing and releasing Microsoft Test Professional, speaking at conferences around the world, and drinking free soda in the Microsoft Commons. After four years in corporate life, I decided to start Art Sumo and travel the world in search of incredible art finds. Art Sumo is my first venture.
Art Sumo is a socially motivated art e-commerce site. We deliver original, creative paintings from developing countries to art lovers in North America at low costs, while providing artists with sustainable revenue. We send out a single email featuring one painting per day, highlighting the region, artist, and story behind the painting, hoping to allow people to "Discover the world, one painting per day."
What inspired you to start Art Sumo?
I've always loved to travel and had a particular love for international paintings. I started collecting art when I first made a deal with my parents that for every country I visited, I would bring them back a painting representative of the place. A few years ago, at thanksgiving, I looked around their living room and thought that their living room had a nice sampling of art from all over the world. I also realized that it would pretty tough to collect such works without doing a trip around the world yourself. But I didn't dwell too much on the idea.
A couple of years ago, I found myself in New Delhi, India. I met an artist who's whole family specialized in extremely intricate depictions of the story of Krishna. Their work was more impressive than anything I had ever seen and I was completely blown away at the quality of his work, yet despite the quality of his work, he said it was hard to find people eager to buy them. I couldn't help but think about how many people in North America that would love his work and how much of a better living, their family could make if somebody could connect the continents together.
It was out of a desire to connect the continents, help struggling artists and to have the fun traveling the world to meet with these amazing artists, that I decided to create Art Sumo – to let people connect with artists from all over the world.
How are the artists selected and compensated? How do we learn more about them?
I'm no expert in art and even if I was, I'm not sure an expert's pick would properly mirror what people would like to buy on the site. To determine who's work to feature, we photograph many artist's work and then we use a panel of friends to vote on which artist's work to feature based entirely upon how much they like their paintings. Artists are compensated immediately if we purchase their work in advance, if we don't, they are compensated via an internet money transfer immediately after their paintings sell.
Art lovers can learn more about the artists directly on Art Sumo. Currently the amount of information that we provide about each artist is relatively limited but going forward we will be adding photos, bios and detailed contact info for each artist featured on Art Sumo.
Can you share a story about one of the artists whose work you've chosen for sale and why?
Sure! One example that comes to mind is Katia Kimieck. She's a fantastic artist from Brazil who reached out to us after an article appeared in the Brazillian press about art sumo asking if we could feature her on the site. After viewing her work, realizing that it was fantastic and hearing that she was having a hard time selling it locally, we decided to open up her work to our membership base. Her first two paintings sold in a matter of seconds and she has been contacted by many interested parties for commissioned work.
Some photos of her and her work:
You used to work for Microsoft as a Program manager. What inspired you to leave? What concerns did you have about quitting your job to live and work abroad? What helped you get beyond those fears and finally make the jump?
I did indeed work for Microsoft and loved my time there. Nonetheless, I had never dreamed of working in a company with 90,000 people and had always wanted to live life by my own rules. With each year that passed, I found that while Microsoft allowed more work flexibility than almost any other company, I didn't want a job that would prevent me from living where I wanted to live. I find that the worst jobs tend to be located in the places that are the best to live. I felt that the only way to get the best of both worlds, live in the best places and do the work that I enjoyed the most would be to uproot myself and start my own company.
I'm currently single, under 30 and without children. I asked myself if I wasn't going to take a professional risk now, at what point in my life would I? I decided it was now or never, so I took the leap.
Building a portable business to support your life abroad is no small task. What are your suggestions for those interested in working abroad and enjoying the international lifestyle you do?
I would offer three pieces of advice:
1. Hang out with people who are living the lifestyle that you want: I think we all live in a bubble made up of the people who we interact with on a daily basis. If your bubble is constantly filled with people that are living a life-style that you don't want, it will likewise encourage to live that lifestyle. When I was at Microsoft, all my friends were all buying houses, talking about how to move up the corporate ladder and mostly working for the weekend. I kept asking myself what was wrong with me that I couldn't be happy just by focussing on the same. By expanding my friend circle, I slowly realized that I wasn't weird to have other goals in life.
2. Line up a business partner: Having a business is an emotional journey with lots of highs and lows. While I think it is extremely important to have somebody to bounce ideas off of, work together with and strategize, a business partner proves their weight in gold when they can help you recover from the lows and remind you that good times will be ahead.
3. Pay people to work for you to help you gain traction before quitting: Jumping into bootstrapped startup entrepreneurship mode can mean transitioning from having a lot of income coming in to next to no income coming in. Since while you're working a job, it's hard to dedicate time to gaining traction on a startup, I would highly recommend dedicating a portion of your salary when working a job you plan to quit to paying a freelancer to begin developing your startup idea.
What are some of the "lessons learned" from leaving your job to travel the world and start your own portable career?
Plenty! Here are three tidbits:
1. It really isn't that hard to live in another country: In Europe, it is easy to rent places that are already furnished, with pots plans and all the basic necessities for half the price of rent I was paying in Seattle. In most places, there is always a population that speaks English which makes for living in the culture not too hard.
2. Entrepreneurship in many parts of the world is a fact of life, not a novelty: Before I came to Turkey I remember viewing entrepreneurship as a mystical thing which should be studied, analyzed and perfected. In Turkey, in order to get by, it seems that everyone has figured out that they need to take matters into their own hands to make money. Entrepreneurship seems to be the norm rather than the exception, especially in the upper echelons of society.
3. Embrace stumbling and making mistakes: Whenever I try something new, I find that stumbling and making mistakes is a natural part perfecting it and ultimately succeeding. It's natural to have several miss-steps.
Thanks so much Naysawn for sharing about your experience and success!
EXPAT CAREER AND BUSINESS SUCCESS TIP: Are you an aspiring expat-preneur and wary about taking that leap and build your own portable business? What personal brand attributes named as those held by the most successful entrepreneurs worldwide (named at top of the post) does Naysawn demonstrate? What can you learn from Naysawn that can help you take that first step forward? Choose one thing that Naysawn has done to start his business and see how you can do the same.