By Sara Haq W’06, Founder and Principal of SH International
The entrepreneurial journey can be lonely, and it is certainly beset with challenges. But as any quest, the path toward founding a company will include heroes—people who step in and aid you at just the moment when you need them most.
In this post I’ll tell you a little about my own entrepreneurial journey thus far, and describe the 5 hero archetypes I’ve met, and how they helped me along the way. It’s a little bit of a public “thank you,” and also, I hope, an inspiration to those of you at the beginning, or a low point, of your entrepreneurial quest. You will meet heroes along the way. Keep an eye out for them.
Three years ago, I left my job at the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, where I had worked first in Washington DC and then in Istanbul. I was engaged to a Turk, and planning to stay in Istanbul until he got a visa to come to the US. We did not know how long this would take, and so I could not commit to a new job.
The Mentor is often, but not always, much older than you and more advanced in their career, and you may not have met them until after graduation. They take an interest in your career and entrepreneurial vision from the perspective of someone who has been down that road before.
When I revealed to Julio Marquez (GEng’85) my entrepreneurial long-term ambitions—and frustrations at being temporarily “stuck” in Istanbul—he offered me a contract to identify equity investments in Turkey for the fund where he was Managing Partner.
I enjoyed it so much that when I finally made it back to the US I kept going. Thus SH International LLC was born. SH International expands companies into emerging markets through hands-on consulting services in the areas of business development, financial advisory, and executive coaching. While Julio and I have worked on several investments together, I credit him the most with giving me my first training-by-fire in the entrepreneurial mindset.
The Professor is a person whose class inspired you. Later, as you develop your career in the same or similar field of expertise, they give you opportunities to develop professionally. They also offer the chance to measure how much you have grown since being in their class.
Wharton professor Philip Nichols taught me in an emerging economies class where I gained from him a foundational understanding of how to dissect emerging markets business issues. Since then, he has given me the incredible honor of letting me back into his emerging markets classroom as a guest lecturer. That guest lecture was a lot of fun and also contributed to my emerging markets expert profile.
This year, I was able to go to a Wharton Global Alumni Forum, in Bangkok. I met with Prof. Nichols and caught up with him about my business. It was powerful to get the perspective of someone who planted some of the seeds that helped me grow to where I am today.
“The Best Friend”
The Best Friend is someone with whom you spend most of your time together not talking about careers or businesses. They cheer you up if you are having a bad day or spend time with you on the weekends, and they are there for you when you need them. I believe that this is the chief advantage of attending Wharton as an undergraduate: the opportunity to form sincere relationships with future business leaders at a time in life when you are not so concerned with networking.
I often think to myself how lucky I am that my best friend, Amy (Buck) Namdar (W’07), is so business intelligent. While we mostly talk about other issues in life—relationships, health, etc.—I am very grateful for both her emotional support and spot-on advice as I deal with my entrepreneurial journey from both a business and a lifestyle perspective.
“The New Kid on the Block”
In building your venture, it’s hard to ask for better talent than a Wharton student. While a bootstrapping budget may not allow you to hire a graduate as a full-time employee, maybe you can afford a student intern. The New Kid on the Block will also give you the boost in self-confidence from knowing that someone, in the same place where you once were, is enthusiastic in committing themselves to your entrepreneurial vision.
Last summer, I was working to expand several consumer goods companies into the Middle East. I needed to make a trip to Dubai to meet with several potential collaborators, and decided to take my first intern, Vicky Zhao (W’16), with me.
Beyond her help in preparations and the pleasure of companionship during a two-week trip, going to meetings as a team gave me more credibility and an extra layer of safety. She definitely boosted my effectiveness. As a result of this trip, we put together an incredible deal for one of our clients: a contract with a luxury cosmetics distributor that distributes to many high-end locations, including Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols.
I have since worked with another phenomenal Wharton intern, Cathy Wang (W’16). You can read more about her experience here.
The Benefactor is usually another friendship-based individual who will provide you with key resources that you need, both in terms of business and general support. When you feel hopeless, they will come out of the woodwork and provide what you need, sometimes without even realizing it.
I became friends with Adhiraj Parthasarathy (C’06) in my freshman year in college. Some of the earliest revenues that I booked were from a project brought to me by Adhiraj. We helped his company position itself for expansion into Afghanistan through potential partner introductions and guidance in initial negotiations. But he has proven his support and dependable, giving nature in more ways than this.
When I went to the Wharton Global Alumni Forum in Bangkok this year, I had a potential client who invited me to take advantage of his close proximity in the Maldives to come and learn more about the proposed project. I felt uncomfortable having an initial meeting with him by myself, and it was not feasible to arrange for someone from the US to come. Adhiraj saved the day, flying in from India to catch up and accompany me to the meetings. This act of heroic support and friendship has charmed me for a lifetime.
While you may meet some or all of these hero types, remember that entrepreneurship is ultimately about being your own hero, and having the strength and vision to create a business rooted in your own talents, abilities, and chutzpah.
Please share examples of some of your entrepreneur heroes! Feel free to add new hero types!
Bio: Sara Haq W’06 has extensive on-the-ground emerging markets business and finance experience across Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and South Asia. She is a sharp negotiator and takes pride in being both business savvy and street smart. She speaks six major world languages: French, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, Hindi/Urdu, and her native English. She was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and currently lives in Washington, DC. Learn more about her company SH International on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.