For entrepreneurs, attending a business conference is always a bit of a gamble: Will it be worth the time and money? But when you're heading to an event abroad, the board game Risk seems a more apropos metaphor.
While the costs can be steep no matter where a conference is held, attending one overseas can add far more complexity than even the savviest of entrepreneurs may be prepared for. From finding a hotel and arranging transport in a foreign tongue -- calling the experience "chaotic" might be an understatement.
Still, detaching from your business -- even for just a couple of days -- can not only be therapeutic, it could give you the distance you may need to work on your business rather than in your business. To ease your transition, we reached out to a well-traveled conference goer, Ingrid Vanderveldt.
Progress and Potential
Want to know how a society -- in the developing world especially -- really ticks? Ask the women.
From Nairobi to New Guinea, women have long served as the family's primary caretaker -- cooking, cleaning and supplies gathering. They're also increasingly the family's breadwinner. It's a sad fact that in war-torn or impoverished parts of the world, men are often forced to either pick up arms or earn money in remote locations, away from their families -- leaving women to look after children and the household.
Last year, entrepreneurship activity among men and women was almost equal in most sub-Saharan Africa economies, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey. In Ecuador, Panama, Ghana, Nigeria and Thailand, the rate of entrepreneurship among females was higher than that for males.
Women entrepreneurs have benefited, in part, by the rise of microfinance. That access to capital -- even at high rates of interest -- is credited with helping women either start or expand a microenterprise and, by extension, more sustainably provide for their families.
In time, these businesses may grow beyond their "micro" label. They may scale up and create thousands, if not millions, of jobs. The potential is thrilling.
The serial entrepreneur whose Twitter handle @ontheroadwithiv reveals her hectic schedule, has visited cities not only across the U.S., she can also boast having traveled to at least 10 different countries for conferences or business in the past five years. And as Dell's Entrepreneur-in-Residence, she's readying her sails once again. Next week, she'll attend Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event in Istanbul, Turkey.
So what does Vanderveldt do to prepare for an international conference? We asked her for her top advice. Here's an edited version of our interview.
Entrepreneur: How do you decide whether an international conference is both worth your time and money?
Ingrid Vanderveldt: If the conference is aligned with my business and personal goals, then cost is not an issue because I know it will drive the return on investment that I am seeking. My time is actually the most valuable asset that I have so I make sure that any of the decisions I make around where and how I spend it are aligned with my business and personal goals. I also try to stick to events that are recommended by or run by people I trust.
Entrepreneur: How do you learn about the place you'll travel to?
Vanderveldt: I research online, read books and ask friends and colleagues for advice on travel. When I get to my destination I also connect with locals to learn about fun places to go.
Entrepreneur: How do you learn about and then adhere to religious and cultural customs?
Vanderveldt: I stick close to my local guides who understand the culture. Otherwise, I apologize if I inadvertently make a mistake.
Entrepreneur: What kinds of safety precautions do you take?
Vanderveldt: Here are my seven safety tips, in no particular order.
- Have a plan for a driver/pickup from the airport. Do not jump into an unknown cab in a country where there is risk and if you are alone.
- Don’t be flashy or showcase valuables. Keep expensive bags, computers and phones hidden and if it’s not a necessary item, try not to bring it at all.
- Always keep your passport on you and keep it protected. My husband bought me a security cover for my passport so information cannot be obtained remotely from it.
- Always keep important/valuables under lock and key. Use the safety boxes provided by your hotel.
- Have a game plan. If you go into a country you are unfamiliar with, have a game plan for how you'll get around and what you want to see. Even when I am a “tourist,” I am deliberate about my intentions and focus. I don’t want to appear confused or lost. The minute you do that, you become a target.
- If you see or sense that something is unusual, trust your gut and take action.
- Check out any government travel warnings for the area you're planning to visit. The State Department's website is a good place to start.
Entrepreneur: What’s your packing strategy?
Vanderveldt: I have gotten pretty good at packing since I travel so often. I don’t like to carry a lot of bags and prefer to pack lighter so I feel more "flexible." The first thing I do is check out the weather to see if I need to bring an overcoat.
If not, I follow a plan that looks like this: Start with running shoes and workout clothes. Then I pack undergarments, socks, shoes, makeup and finally on to outfits and jewelry. I find that black skinny pants are a super versatile piece for me since they pack small, look great in nearly any environment and don’t wrinkle, plus they can go with a variety of tops and jackets. My other big must-have is my $30 steamer. It saves me every time.
Entrepreneur: Any lengthy in-flight travel tips?
Vanderveldt: Buy the extra leg room. Invest in a set of Bose noise-blocking headphones. Make sure computers are charged. Bring a journal, great music and reading. I get my best "inspired thinking" done on planes.
Also, introduce yourself to those you are sitting near, you can put your headphones on after. I have met some amazing people on planes. Most recently, I met the former CEO of Hyperion Books who introduced me to my literary agent, Lisa Queen. That would have never happened if we hadn’t at least said hello.
Entrepreneur: What's your top jet lag remedy?
Vanderveldt: Don’t run off the plane and go directly to an appointment if you can avoid it. Build in the time to sleep when you land, drink lots of water and then hop into the new time zone.
Entrepreneur: How about your strategy for the actual event?
Vanderveldt: Whenever I travel, I try to have a game plan if possible. If I am going to hop on a plane and go somewhere away from my husband, family and team members here in Austin, Texas, I like to know that I am using up every ounce of my time meaningfully. In other words, I consider actionable objectives or results that will help my team grow.
I like to know what I am there to do and who I am there to see or speak to, but there are definitely times when that is not possible and I need to be flexible. I make sure to build in time to network and form relationships, as well as the things that keep me sane like working out, eating and sleeping.
I also try to remind myself that sometimes business relationships and deals will happen at unexpected times, in unexpected places. For example, every year at the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference, Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of electric-scooter maker Current Motor, and I host the women for an after party in one of our rooms, and that’s often where the real business gets done. It can be good to go with the flow and keep yourself open because at the very least you’ll have a good time with some amazing people, but you could also leave with a business deal.