Mario Berta: Entrepreneurship is an Infectious Disease; You have it and it Grows and Grows
IE University gathered interested people for Entrepreneurship Day on October 8th in Tbilisi, and focused on topics like how to translate entrepreneurial activity into economic growth and how to grow companies.
Prof. Mario Berta was the keynote speaker; a global professional with international experience in corporate strategy, innovation and scaling. He is a founder and CEO of Flyspaces.com, a tech startup that provides access to flexible office and retail space.
He is also one of the creators of Easy Taxi, which became Asia's biggest taxi application, with operations in 9 countries. Professor Berta discussed popular mistakes, going global, and entrepreneurial education with CBW:
You’ve developed companies all over the world that are different, one from the other. Is there any common technique or mindset that has helped you implement your ideas?
I’ve transitioned from a corporate career to entrepreneurship, after which I founded these companies. I think the main thing that you have to analyze when you are willing to implement an idea, is to ask yourself a question: is this going to be lucrative, can your idea make money? I see a lot of young talented people who are very passionate about what they do, but they are not necessarily money-driven. It certainly is important to be passionate about what you do, but at the same time, make sure that it’s economically feasible to keep it going. I’m going to sound obvious on the second one, but it’s all about your team, regardless of the business, you need to have very different kinds of profiles in a company. You will need a numbers-driven guy, a good salesperson, the one who’s a tech wiz, and make sure to get all these profiles involved, doing their job on a top-level.
One of your successful projects, Easy Taxi, became Asia’s biggest taxi application. However, there are often cultural and business misunderstandings when Westerners enter the Asian market. What’s the key to minimizing difficulties?
Some of the problems and challenges can be foreseen while entering a different market. In each country, you need to do some cultural, as well as technological, adaptations. We do the same with FlySpaces; in the five countries where we operate today, we have five different languages spoken, three different religions, and different currencies. We go from Singapore, which is a super-advanced country both technologically and structure-wise, versus, let’s say Manilla, which is my home,which has a very different dynamic, as a city.
Overall, all the major megacities like Jakarta, Ochimin, Manilla, Kuala Lumpur - they share the same opportunities and challenges, they have heavy traffic, some of them have better or worse infrastructure, but in the end, they are megacities of at least 10 million people. A city with such a huge population faces the same problems, Mexico Cities and Manilla across the earth, share the same problems in terms of infrastructure and overpopulation. These are things that are very objective, those challenges just need to be analyzed.
Entrepreneurs often focus on expanding companies internationally, rather than locally. Could you point out what are the best ways to avoid making mistakes throughout this process?
In the first place, only go international when you’re ready. It’s very dangerous to expand into two or three, or even more different markets when you don’t have the right team or the proper technology, you might not have even found your market niche yet, then it can implode. Your attention will be divided into multiple countries, teams and people and just as great financial resources, you will need to start allocating funds to different companies. Besides, you need to be well-prepared regarding the relevant market in each country. For instance, in Indonesia, a very populous country, you have 280 million potential customers.
You can sell anything to anybody. However, most companies in Georgia, which has a population of only 3.5 million, are international from day one. Given that its small-scale market, especially if a company is in the technology sector, one has a multiplayer effect. In fact, I discussed this topic with a Georgian startup entrepreneur. They immediately look at expanding to Georgia, Armenia, Turkey. That mindset is quite forward looking. In any case, my advice would be to start expanding whenever you believe you’re ready.
You are a Professor at IE Business School. What is your approach to your students, to make sure the concepts learned throughout their education can be applied to their careers?
It has to do with the curriculum of the school. I only teach in executive education, which by itself gets extremely practical. It’s notable that in one of our objective owner scaleup programs, we don’t give our students accounting or legal classes.
We give them a subject which is more about becoming an entrepreneur than doing all the jobs at the company. What we believe is that we don’t want to give students classes that, as an entrepreneur, they shouldn’t be focused on. You should hire an accountant to do her/his job, hire a lawyer to do legalwork. Hiring, product, technology, managing people, firing people when necessary; these are things that only entrepreneurs can do, and one hires a team that consists of different profiles. We teach a practical, pragmatic approach in executive education. While the MBA curriculum is much broader, we touch bigger data, as its duration is one year.
Being an entrepreneur is not only creating a product or service but also bringing people into that vision. What are the most important features that one should have?
Georgians think there are not enough entrepreneurs in the country; I completely disagree, I see entrepreneurs everywhere. I took a walk in the old town yesterday, where I could get an idea of the market. The humble lady selling carpets is actually an entrepreneur. We have a myth that entrepreneurship is only creating the next Uber. It’s not true; it’s everywhere, it’s an infectious disease that you have and it grows and grows.
I see things in this manner when I’m walking down the streets of Jakarta, looking at buildings, and I always wonder what businesses are running inside these buildings, even in a small, crappy building. I think entrepreneurship is everywhere, at every level, and you don’t really need to have a company with 1000 people to be called one, you can be a husband and wife running a bar, if that's what you like and you’re passionate about.
Why not? The more structural entrepreneurship, where you really put the company together and incorporate, raise money and so on, requires commitment, and you have to be ready for that with your mindset.
You will be there for the long run.