So it has been a busy period in the #MKstartups community. Franck Nouyrigat has been working with different actors during the past 10 days and soon we will share his learnings and experience. In mean time, before Franck‘s arrival, I had the pleasure to meet another eco-system advisor, also part of the SECO Entrepreneurship Programme that is implemented by Swisscontact, who was working with the community.
Saturday evening, on the main square in Skopje, was a perfect time for grabbing coffee with the expert Mike Ducker and discuss startups. And first thing’s first, I wanted to learn more about his experience so far and how did he end up working with startup development?
“My story is like Forest Gump, more lucky than Smart. I started my career in accounting and finance, the biggest position I had was being a controller of $50M beverage distribution business in Detroit. Because I was young and could easily adopt to technology I managed quite a number of enterprises from the client / user side, including a sales handheld adoption for all our sales people in 1996, pretty innovative stuff at the time. An IT Service company in Detroit saw my resume and asked me to do an interview where I would sell the company to the president, so I worked all weekend on power-point to present the company to the founder, needless to say 15 minutes into the presentation he asked me to join and manage their marketing and sales. During my time there I changed the direction of the company from offering generalized IT services to everyone in the market to focusing in on market segments and developing products for those markets. 2 weeks after I joined the company the founder approached me and asked me how we can start an e-learning business in China and that started my startup journey. I put money into this idea, developed a business plan (which was a waste of time), found some partners to provide content and pitched to venture capitalists (VC). We were offered one deal but decided to decline it and focus on implementation. We ended up pivoting and developing the technology in China and selling it to the school districts in the US.
This was not so exciting to me so me and my wife joined the Peace Corps and went to Kenya to live for over two years. During my time in Kenya I realized I wanted to stay in development so I first started to focus on how technology can help economic growth and private sector development and then advocating for donors to help fast growth entrepreneurs that create jobs, I’ve focused on this for about six years now this includes about 2 1/2 years in Egypt where I managed a program to help grow their ecosystem. I’m currently working with about 13 different ecosystems around the world.” – says Mike.
After spending some time working with entrepreneurship eco-system actors in Macedonia and Albania, I wanted to hear his opinion on the current situation and what does Mike want to accomplish through the SECO Entrepreneurship Programme:
“We are implementing a program funded by the Swiss Government which means a strong focus on sustained job creation and nobody can create sustained jobs better than entrepreneurs who want to grow their companies. So our focus is to support the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Macedonia and to help entrepreneurs grow. On the good side the number of successful business people who want to support young entrepreneurs is growing as well, I was happy to see the amount of support. We need to focus on getting more smart and passionate people to take the entrepreneurial journey. I wouldn’t want to use Silicon Valley terms, that could be misleading, a unicorn focuses on company valuation while we are focused on creating great companies that are focused on growth and great companies, these can mean different things. We must aspire to get to a situation when Macedonian companies think about solving global problems not local one, regional or European ones.” – said Mike.
There are so many benefits that the community can get through this programme and I can see that there is a change happening. Slowly but surely…
While Mike and Franck are here, all stakeholders were eager to collaborate and work on bridging gaps and helping each-others out. Lastly for this meet-up I wanted to ask Mike, what are the advises he was giving to the startups here:
“Generally I have 5 pieces of advice for most startups:1. Focus on Market problems, those you can dig deep into.2. Entrepreneurship is a contact sport, so someone needs to be out there making contact every day, talking to potential customers, people in the industry and get out and learn3. Think Strategically about your team4. Women Rock, having women on your founding team will ensure better success.5. Don’t listen to the noise, if you move your business a little bit every day you are an entrepreneur.” – added Mike.