Go Global – How I did it & what you should know!

Akmal Saleem is Chief Executive Officer of Maarij Capital – Group of Companies.

Most entrepreneurs have a global vision; our minds are programmed in a manner which makes us want to expand, explore and roam the world, whilst doing business. However, dreaming of having a global business, and actually having one are two very different things. In this short article I aim to help aspiring young Muslim entrepreneurs understand how I went global; and give some tips on things to consider when doing so.

Over the past 8 years I have helped build a global business. Currently Maarij Capital – Group of Companies operates across the world, with a presence in the UK, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan. In 2018 we have plans to open offices within the UAE, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Australia. Our group of companies – Maarij Consultancy, Maarij Investments, Maarij Trading & Maarij Ventures – sit in a unique position with influence and understanding of both developed and developing markets.

People who follow me on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/akmal_saleem/) will see that I am always traveling, building relationships and exploring opportunities across the world, and this is where I want to begin. If you truly want to have a global business then you have to be interested in what the world has to offer. You need the passion to uncover the mysteries of hidden cultures and the brilliance of human behaviour and character. If you like your comfortable home, glass offices and can’t live without your morning cup of coffee, then you are going to struggle in building a global business empire. I say this having faced the demanding challenges associated with entering new markets; some markets we entered and others we didn’t.

Let’s take a step back. So how did I go global and build a presence in emerging and developing markets?

My first company was setup in Reading, UK, with an office in Pakistan. I am not shy in saying that this was purely a cost decision. For most start-ups with a global vision the first country you usually expand into is determined by cheap labour, as it saves costs. With our branding and creative agency (Brand786 Global) I hired a number of developers in Pakistan and started delivering web projects. After a while, it became clear that Pakistan was not going to be a long term investment, so I divested the team only leaving an IT support team in the country. Working remotely was a very interesting experience. It taught me to articulate what I wanted through sending lots of emails and then trusting my staff. Such configuration helped me produce better proposals and improve my general communication skills in the early days.

However Pakistan was not really a business expansion; it was functional expansion. Saudi Arabia was the first market we expanded into, and it occurred as a result of my social nature. At university, I would meet anyone and get involved in everything. I loved making friends, learning about peoples’ stories and expanding my network. I made a Saudi friend, who at the time was outside my social circle and a couple of years younger. After graduating, I was invited back to give a keynote address at an awards ceremony where my old Saudi friend was receiving an award. After re-connecting, he told me he wanted to take Brand786 Global to Saudi Arabia. We sold him a franchise, which was ridiculously cheap, and kicked off our adventure in Saudi Arabia. It is worthwhile to note, I practically gave the rights to the brand in Saudi Arabia for free.

If you want to go global, be ready to look beyond money in the initial markets. Indonesia emerged as a strategic market following an invitation to speak at an international conference. I fell in love with the country and people and I could see incredible opportunities. So within 6 months I setup Maarij Capital, and started trading.

I am very selective about the countries I work in and who I work with. Being able to judge character is very important, but beyond character there are a number of other factors one should be aware of. Below are key observations and insights from my experience:

1. Local Trust – You require the ability to judge character if you want to expand into unknown markets, otherwise you will get burnt very easily. Malaysia for me was a big lesson. A guy showed me fake accounts, talked the talk and then, behind my back, registered all our local domains and tried to extort me! I laugh about it now because in business all dis-honest people fail, and that is a fact. What is a little creepy is that he has the cheek to follow me on social media!

2. Local Mentality – The local mentalities you have to deal with can be very challenging, so you need thick skin. If you have a short temper then there is a good chance that most of the time you are trying to do business, you will be angry and if that is the case you will make bad decisions.

3. Local Staff – Always hire local staff when operating in new countries. It significantly speeds things up and you will get to know the market quicker. Language is an obvious challenge; with new marketing channels such as social media, if your brand speaks in the wrong way you will be moving backwards.

4. Culture – Simple things like understanding the local culture can have a huge impact on local success. Showing that you care is an essential part of setting up in different regions. Show respect to your hosts, and ensure that you take the time to learn about the country, its history and vision.

5. Capital – Often people think that you need huge amounts of capital to go global. This is not the case. Just as you typically start the first business with little, you can enter a new country with a small amount of capital and limit your risk. This approach however takes a little longer, and you have to be someone who can read people and characters easily.

6. Opportunity – Many people have an affinity for a country and therefore want to do business there. Although this is not a negative point, it can be something that hinders your decision making ability and creates bias. Expand into the market that has the opportunity and use data and research to back up your decision. It is hard enough establishing in a market where you do not speak the language and understand the local culture. Do not make it harder by going in blind. The Internet has made it very easy to understand local markets and so there is no real excuse to jump in blind. The trends and patterns are clear, and if there is no research available, it can either mean that there is significant opportunity available or that it is a frontier market which needs a few more years to mature.

7. Blueprint – The mechanics of entering into a new market is something that can be replicated with minor tweaks, so always understand and take note of key lessons when developing opportunities in new countries, even if you do not follow through. Once you have done it a couple of times you will have a clear blueprint of how your brand can penetrate, and the approach you want to take. After you entered into more than 5 countries then you will have it down to the pixel.

8. Confidence – Without this critical component you will be lost. Ensure that you have the confidence to follow through with your decision. Every time I am about to enter a new market, just before I make the final call, I have to take a step back and re-assess everything in a holistic manner. Then I consult my gut, and if I have a good gut feeling about the research, approach and strategy, I go for it, but when I go for it, I never look back.
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I hope that this article has given some valuable insights into going global. Maarij Capital – Group of Companies has achieved this feat and we are helping companies also achieve their global ambitions and grow into emerging and developing markets with trust. You can find out more about this by visiting http://www.maarijcapital.com.


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