Dialing Up Success From Abroad: Tips from ZipDial CEO, Valerie Wagoner

Nick’s note:

Mikell Hazlehurst is an avid traveler and just finished an MBA exchange program at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, India. Mikell wrote an in-depth research paper on barriers of entry and strategies of success for expat entrepreneurs in Bangalore. Mikell interviewed Valarie Wagoner, CEO of the mobile marketing platform ZipDial. Soon after this interview, ZipDial was acquired by Twitter. Below is a condensed version of Mikell’s research paper including Valarie Wagoner’s ideas on starting successful companies abroad.


by Mikell Hazlehurst

The amount of aspiring entrepreneurs in places like Silicon Valley is staggering, and a face-to-face meeting with a successful startup CEO would never happen without personal ties (and even that is a stretch). By placing yourself in a small startup ecosystem and adding to the equation that you have “being an expat” in common, I believe that chances of getting the support you need from the local expat community drastically increases.

Regardless of who you are or what you’re doing, the likelihood of success ultimately depends upon your strength of character and an unwavering attitude of persistence. Strategic adaptability is essential for an entrepreneur coming to India to start a business, and the expat entrepreneurs who are successful are the ones who can “Think Local”.

For instance, the ability to do business in India requires a willingness to turn constraints into opportunities. Valerie Wagoner, who is the CEO of ZipDial, spent a semester studying in Bangalore at the Indian Institute of Management. Originally hailing from California, Valerie’s Bangalore-based company was just listed on Fast Company magazine as the 8th most innovative company in the world, ranking just behind some of the world’s biggest brands like Nike and Google. Valerie actually gave one of her first demos for ZipDial on the IIMB campus at the N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL). She would go on to explain why starting ZipDial in India was the right move:

“A large, growing domestic market that is a solid foundation for expansion of a unique business model and technology into other emerging markets. Emerging markets in general have a huge amount of opportunity if an entrepreneur is willing to take a long term view and have the stamina to execute, and India is a great place to start for future expansion.”

I then wanted to know what advice Valerie would bestow upon a potential entrepreneur who is interested in starting their business abroad. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs have obtained knowledge the hard way, and it becomes of utmost importance to learn from their mistakes. Valerie was kind enough to share with me to “have a strategy to be global from early on. India is a large, important market, but you should think early about your long-term global expansion and how you build a solid foundation for that. Incorporate outside India, even if you are going to primarily build in India and sell to India. This will make future expansion outside of India more seamless. Raise more money than you think you need earlier than you think you need it (if you can). Do not take for granted the importance of high-quality finance and compliance team members (whether in-house or outsourced). You need to keep this in order from day one to avoid costly headaches later. And don’t underestimate. Be generous with employees about Employee Stock Options, and be ready to educate employees about how they work and why they are important.”

Shortly after returning from India, I found out that ZipDial had been acquired by Twitter. Valerie’s hard work had paid off, and I bet she ended up banking a lot more money because she was able to keep both her business and personal expenses at a minimum. I ended up interviewing several other expats and local VC’s for an article which was used for my final research paper in an independent study course at IIMB.

I spent countless hours running around the city of Bangalore trying to make my meetings on time. All of the entrepreneurs knew each other, and it was an interesting experience for sure. If you’re interested in trying your hand at starting a business abroad, I’d recommend looking into Bangalore for the low cost of living and high availability of cheap talent. One of the entrepreneurs I met with for this project has a company which specializes in finding startup jobs for expats in Bangalore. His name is Troy Erstling, and you can checkout his website at BrainGain.Co.

Complete Immersion: How Learning to Scuba Dive Can Help Your Professional Life

by Nick Waterhouse

On my recent travels through Thailand I promised myself I’de take on a “No Saying No” attitude – but let’s be real – anyone who has been to Thailand is aware that saying “No” is necessary every once in a while (think Bangkok nightlife). Rather, my goal with this ‘try anything’ mindset was to overcome old fears and fight laziness.

Scuba diving was one of those old fears that it was time to face.

The lessons that I learned when becoming a certified diver have stuck with me and have helped me immensely in my personal and professional life. Here are the takeaways:

1) Don’t be afraid of classroom work

No matter what type of scuba certification you are interested in, classroom work is mandatory. At first, I dreaded this section and wanted to skip straight to swimming with whale sharks and starfish. Looking back, I realize how vitally important this classroom work was to my understanding of scuba. It may have even saved my life (more on that later).

As with anything, learning facilitates growth and sometimes a “learn as you go” philosophy is not enough to stay afloat in any endeavor (pun intended). There is a reason why all scuba certification requires this classroom time. It is essential in the learning process.  Being placed in a dedicated learning setting, free of distractions, I was able to quickly understand the technical side of diving before ever entering the water.

In my professional life, there are always new things to learn about industry, market, competitors or technology. This dedicated classroom time reminded me that learning about new things away from my typical work station can be a productive ‘break’ from my workday and can give me that competitive edge. Just like this portion of my scuba learning was done outside of the water and in a classroom, I realized learning should be done away from my desk and in a different, yet comfortable setting.

There are countless reputable (and cheap) videos and tutorials on just about any subject matter imaginable. Before you start that next project, take some time to learn about the subject matter the old-school way. Take notes, ask questions and test yourself. Who knows? This ‘classroom work’ could mean the difference between a failed campaign and that promotion you’ve been wanting.

2) Take things step-by-step

Tackling a new project always seems daunting in the beginning. Surely learning what a ‘BCD’ was and sizing my scuba mask seemed leagues away from swimming with schools of barracuda. To understand how to enjoy being 30ft+ underwater, I was forced to take the learning step-by-step and only focus on the current task at hand. I wasn’t able to start diving until I learned the ins-and-outs of all my equipment. There was a set series of steps that I had to follow in order to reach my end goal. By not being allowed (or allowing myself) to try things out of order, it was much easier to focus and excel in each small step of the process.

Continue reading…

To School or Not To School: A Tale of an Unconventional Path to Higher Education

by Nathan Walworth

For many adolescents in the United States, anything beyond high school may seem like a misconceived dream that inevitably develops into a student-loan nightmare. Save now and refrain from higher education, or get a degree and be enslaved to preemptive debt. The American dream is in quite a pickle.

Through this simple example, one can imagine the psychological trauma inflicted on many young minds across the country. Plus, educational goals inevitably narrow into aspirations to reduce future debt rather than to learn based on passion or values. This is not necessarily a question of good, bad, right, or wrong, but more of an acknowledgement of a subconscious bias towards learning as a direct product of indentured servitude to student-lending institutions.

This is just one version of one example among the countless situations different young Americans are facing. Some kids may not have the option of college. Some simply don’t care… and in a way, why should they?

A kid is a kid.

And as a kid, it is easy to stray from schooling unless education is easily accessible and promises a positive outcome. Great examples of appropriate accessibility of higher education can be found across Europe. If furthering education is your goal, cheaper (and sometimes more beneficial) alternatives to the conventional, American route do exist. I want to present my path as an example for others to see that nontraditional methods to furthering education are accessible… you just need to find them. To no other generation before has the world been so small, so why not see if we can treat it as such?

Like many discoveries, mine happened by accident. I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz pursuing a degree in Marine Biology, and among science majors, it is well known that a mere bachelor’s degree is not enough to make a decent living in our field. I already knew graduate school was necessary for my goals, but alas, the expense of continuing education seemed financially crippling.

During my final year at UC Santa Cruz, I was fortunate enough to study abroad at Lund University in Sweden. Here I learned that, at that time, any person from anywhere in the world could attend Swedish universities… for free! Importantly, before I applied to their Master’s program, I had to check if U.S. institutions would recognize my European degree as an equivalent to theirs. Fortunately, Lund University was more than qualified, ranking higher than most Universities in the U.S. I immediately messaged several of my Santa Cruz science peers of this opportunity and in that following year, several of us ended up attending the same program. And what a year it was.

Some of my most profound lessons came from outside the classroom. Within my department were students from all over the world who, like me, discovered the educational opportunities Sweden offered. Our coffee breaks were filled with philosophical conversations about why different nationalities have a different perception of life, helping teach me to work efficiently and cordially across borders. I had to convey both scientific and social ideas in a way that could be universally understood, irrespective of language and culture. I was able to access parts of my mind that may have remained dormant in the U.S. I emerged with a unique master’s degree virtually free of debt, setting me apart from many in my field.

Continue reading…