I had Tuesday to Monday eve in mid-September in a race across the planet to take advantage of British Airways’ generous offer to fly a batch of entrepreneurs wherever they wanted to go in an effort to further each’s fast-growing businesses… at no cost.
My itinerary? Starting from home base of Boston, then to New York’s JFK, through London, with the ultimate destination– Singapore. Total air time one way? 18 hours. Total air and waiting in airport time one way? 24 hours.
What earned me the opportunity? First, membership in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (“EO,” www.eonetwork.org, formerly known as YEO, or Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization ) a global membership organization that is nearing 10,000 members across more than a 100 chapters. EO is one of a group of leadership organizations, including YPO, WPO, CEO, and several others. Qualifications for EO membership include annual revenues of $1 million or more, and either founder or majority ownership status in your business.
Hailing from the Boston chapter of 100 or so EO members made up of computer software and hardware entrepreneurs, legal and staffing professional services business owners, and a host of other small business founders including franchising, travel, consulting, real estate, and medical devices, I was made aware of the strategic partnership between British Airways and the EO organization. The following paragraph, detailing what a face-to-face opportunity would mean to the growth and expansion of our boutique retained executive search firm, BSG Team Ventures, was what I jotted down–
We have a presence in Boston, New York, Silicon Valley, and London. These are key global innovation centers. However, there is clearly a fifth and/or sixth location to round out our client value proposition of “on the ground coverage in the key innovation centers in the world”– and those are India and Asia. Although there is a term sometimes used that combines the two (“Chindia”), we feel that there is perhaps a need to be able to service our growth-stage clients in each. One alternative is a meaningful position in a location like Singapore, which is equidistant from both these key innovation markets.
The ability to set up a series of meetings with potential partners, and then bring pre-meeting calls and video conferences to an in-person, face-to-face setting, would be extremely meaningful in taking our business from EU-American only, to truly global, capable of better servicing the needs of our clients who continue to demand the need to themselves expand globally.
I had been to Singapore and Hong Kong in 2008 on business, and knew that another trip there would allow us to cement some developing relationships “face-to-face.” In 2008, we completed a VP Worldwide Sales search based out of Singapore, and are now working on another General Manager search based out of Tokyo for a leading global technology innovator. And with the recession of 2008-2009 projected to recover in west-bound fashion this time (Asia first, Europe second, and the U.S. last), China, Japan, and the rest of the Asia-Pacific corridor is important to every business, both large or small like ours.
Having won the right to cash in the BA offer, a plane load of entrepreneurs amassed down at JFK airport in New York. BA was everything they’ve built their reputation on-service-oriented and courteous, only as the British can be-with a send off in the first-class lounge that was rich in food, spirit(s), networking with other entrepreneurs, and a few humor-filled greetings speeches by both British Airways officials and the British government. Example of the power-networking in the BA lounge? I met up with Morgen Newman, co-founder of IdeaPaint, another Boston-based start-up that was a BA travel recipient, with a company out of Babson (my alma mater so plugging here) that has formulated a special paint that can be applied on any work surface that then functions as a “whiteboard,” completely erasable when using dry-erase markers. IdeaPaint is a tool for entrepreneurs that simply brilliant. Most entrepreneurs are visual thinkers, and this now allows us to scribble on every surface…. (“Beware office cleaners-these walls aren’t “dirty”…. DO NOT ERASE!”)
My itinerary and goals for the trip looked like the following:
- Tuesday: Departure from JFK New York on flight into Heathrow, England, arriving at 9:30pm, with champagne reception at the end at the hip Sofitel Hotel in the new BA swanky Terminal 5. “Bubbly” is the right term for a plane load of entrepreneurs bottled up for 5-hour trans-Atlantic flight….
- Tuesday eve: Trip into London to stay at one of BSG Team Ventures’ partner’s flats, Simon Haworth, for early meetings the following morning
- Wednesday morning: Meetings with an affiliated venture fund Dr. Haworth is a partner of, IPSO Ventures, focused on zero-stage technology transfer out of UK universities
- Wednesday lunch: meeting with Simon and additional BSG Team Ventures staff in UK to review firm-wide global priorities
- Wednesday dinner: Meeting with Sean Sean-Rogers, venture capitalist originally based in Boston with Commonwealth Ventures, then London with Benchmark Capital, and now out with his first cool media start-up venture fund of his own, called PROfounders Capital .
- Wednesday late eve: Flight out of Heathrow to Singapore
- Thurs eve: arrive in Singapore 13 hours later but given time zones crossed, a full calendar day later. On way to hotel, bump into another fellow EO Boston chapter member, Warren Katz, who’s military software simulation company MAK Technologies based in Cambridge, MA was recently bought by a Singaporean company and where he had meetings completely unrelated to anything to do with EO, British Airways etc. The probability of bumping into a fellow Bostonian and dear friend 9,500 miles and 15 hours away from home in the same hotel lobby in Singapore is….. rough math? Zero. If anything proved Thomas Friedman’s claim that “the world is flat,” this certain did. Serendipity works in strange ways.
- Thurs late eve: After a run on the treadmill and a shower at the hotel to shake off the jet lag, meet-up with Warren at the hip Equinox Bar at the top of the SwissHotel in downtown Singapore for a nightcap on the 70th floor overlooking the city (Warren holding porcelein statue of a lion, the symbol of Singapore, as proof of authenticity and handy memory jogger for old age).
- Friday day: Meetings with the Singapore Economic Development Board regarding the state of the cleantech industry in Singapore, and the Ignite Clean Energy Competition I currently chair. Potential partnership with Singapore on global cleantech competition expansion. This was followed by three meetings with boutique retained executive search firms with a similar focus and specialization to our own firm. Great meetings. All three firms turned out to be potential partner-caliber opportunities. And each of them had active retained executive recruiting practices that did search work in India, Singapore, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Korea.
- Saturday: Meeting with existing technology client who went public earlier in 2009 for lunch to discuss current and future expansion searches both in the U.S. and Asia
- Sunday: Originally, I had booked the trip to try to squeeze in one more business day by staying the weekend and leaving late Monday eve to allow for more business meetings. However, once there, was greeted with the fact that Monday was a holiday, the end of Ramadan for the Muslim religion, and business was closed. It’s a great example of Singapore as an Indo-Chinese melting pot not dissimilar to that of the United States. However, in Singapore, it is a fusion of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures that co-exist and create not only incredible cuisine, but a vibrant cultural diversity where all three associated religions are celebrated and many languages spoken. Moved from hotel in downtown Singapore out to a small island just 15 minutes out of the city called Sentosa, a former military base built by the British half a century ago to protect the island, now converted to a natural wildlife habitat and recreational weekend playground for Singaporeans with several resorts anchoring each end of the island, dotted with golf courses, tennis, beach, dolphin petting, and lots of beach and water sports. Note to self-keep windows of hotel room closed….
Ran back into Singapore the city to do some late Sunday shopping, and again bumped into the cultural diversity of Singapore, with a street celebration capping off the end of a period in Chinese culture and I believe Tao religion that starts In May, and ends in September, often referred to as the “Moon Cake” festival. This is a festival and celebration on the streets of Singapore and many other parts of Chinese Asia I’m told that celebrates the return of all the ghosts to the underworld who each year are let out to roam the earth and make trouble for their living relatives. At the end of September, these ghosts are all returned behind the gates to the underworld, rendering the earth safe again until the following May. The Chinese celebrate with parades, demonstrations, the burning of special urns the night before on the streets, and the Chinese pastry called “Moon Cakes” made up of a bean paste with some sort of frosting over the top.
Below is a picture of several groups of Chinese children rehearsing before the start of the parade. The boys were part of a martial arts school; not sure what the girls were part depicting.
All said and done, in 4 business days the dash across the globe was a great opportunity, albeit an exhausting one.
Here’s to entrepreneurship and the pioneers in all facets of enterprise who take on the unknown every day, week, and month, in an effort to forge new business value. Whether those pioneers are in the U.S., UK, Singapore, or India, we’re all very much the same, driven by a like urge to grow and nurture an emerging idea. Hats off to the rest of that planeload of globe-trotting entrepreneurs. Can’t wait to hear their stories no doubt more compelling and inspirational than mine….