Scaling up, 6,000 miles from New York City
Khulan Davaadorj traveled 6,000 miles from her hometown of Ulaanbaatar to soak in America’s entrepreneurial vibe. She wanted to bring lessons back to Mongolia, where three years ago the 30-year-old launched Lhamour, her country’s first organic skin care company. Her whirlwind visit took her to the State Department in D.C. one week and a Crain’s breakfast forum in Manhattan soon after.
“Mongolia doesn’t have any entrepreneurship at all,” she said. “When I started I was one of the only people there that used the word entrepreneurship. In New York, just walking down the street inspires you because it’s such a diverse place. It has everything. But even though it has everything, it always evolves in a new way.”
Davaadorj visited the country through the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership. She ended up with a front-row seat at our forum last week because the program paired her with Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.
Kauss started S’well, a water-bottle maker, in her apartment in 2010. Her sharp designs caught on, and last year she generated $100 million in revenue. Kauss joined three other entrepreneurs for a discussion on how they grew so fast: Jon Oringer turned his stock-photo business into a $1.5 billion publicly traded company.
John Foley has raised more than $400 million to make Peloton a new kind of fitness company. Ben Daitz turned Num Pang Kitchen from a single sandwich shop into seven here and, as of last week, one in Boston.
So how do you scale up without falling flat? These entrepreneurs advised knowing your customer, loving your product and hiring slowly but firing quickly to get the right people.
I always ask entrepreneurs: Why New York? Surely there are easier and cheaper places to operate a business. For the founders on our panel, New York is where their clients and customers are, where the investors are and where talented employees flock. For all of them, it’s where home is and where their networks are strongest.
Davaadorj doesn’t have these advantages in Mongolia. Her generation is encouraged to go into mining. But she launched her business in her kitchen and now sells her products in five countries. She is the model her peers look up to. To her, New York itself is a startup accelerator. Listening to her made me appreciate that.
“I’m so happy to be with other entrepreneurs,” she said. “They have similar issues and passions. Everyone needs pioneers to show the way.”
A version of this article appears in the May 15, 2017, print issue of Crain’s New York Business as “Cultivating entrepreneurs”.
By Jeremy Smerd