By Bea Wray, 2018
I once worked daily with an Estonian who was largely educated in Manchester, England. So, I was constantly reminded of the importance of culture and language differences.
Katheriin waited in a “queue” to buy a sandwich at the corner Café and later said she searched the “rubbish bin” for a discarded document. By themselves, those terms might be perplexing, but in context, they make sense.
Serving as a mentor and co-founder of the Millennial Women Network and connecting with women in 24 countries, I am aware of these language subtleties. I’ve experienced language difficulties on previous occasions; so I know to listen twice when something sounds amiss. Several years ago, before I learned to listen twice, our family shared accommodations with British friends on a Disney vacation.
My daughter’s 5th birthday was that week so she brought her full Cinderella gown and was planning to wear it to her “Birthday Ball” at the castle.
We arrived to our shared villa after a long day of sightseeing and saw our friend’s son in the swimming pool. He called out to my daughter, “Hey your costume is in the toilet!”
My daughter and I were aghast as to why someone would put her Cinderella gown in the commode, so we ran inside to check on the situation. It was only after seeing the gown safely hanging in the closet that I realized our English friend was simply saying “come on in, join us in the pool” by letting us know my daughter’s swimsuit (a.k.a. costume) was in the bathroom (a.k.a. toilet).
We erupted in laughter when we realized the miscommunication.
Today in the entrepreneurial world, our cultures and languages collide as well. Nationally, we consistently hear that startups are the only source for job growth. Virtually everyone wants job growth, right? But how do we support startups and entrepreneurship? How do we launch a company? Can we help someone take their emerging business to the next level? How do we engage as mentors and investors?
Too often we tend to think entrepreneurs and investors are other people, far away and far different from us. I, however, think we are missing the call. Don’t let differing language and cultures get in the way. Angel investors do not “give away” money. They take calculated risks. Entrepreneurs are not “people who can’t find real jobs.” They are the backbone of our economy and are generally the hardest working people you will ever meet.
Case in point: At the doctor’s office recently, I was heartened to have my physician ask me about angel investing. The physician’s assistant laughed as the doctor kept inquiring about investment opportunities rather than my health.
My doctor shared that he had made two “startup” investments in recent years, one for less than $5,000 and the other for more than $20,000, and he was eager to invest again.
This individual had overcome the language and cultural barriers between his world and that of startups. For the doctor, investing in startups meant expanding his intellectual pursuits, broadening his business network and contributing to the local economy. It was also a thrill for him.
Back to crossing cultural boundaries. There’s a big difference between understanding the language of startups and being able to spot a visionary CEO of a budding company. Phrases such as minimal viable product, ROI, risk capital, private placement memorandum, accredited investor, crowdfunding, etc., may sound foreign to most of us, but spotting true talent behind a good idea is like recognizing a smile: Everyone can do it.
There are two ways to get our economy going full steam: be an entrepreneur who creates jobs or be an entrepreneurial supporter. Don’t worry about the language, just dive in.