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Best Advice I Ever Got: Nicolas Gremion

This CEO moved to Costa Rica with a credit card and an idea for changing the book-publishing business. Crazy? Maybe, but it's working.
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Nicolas Gremion is the founder and CEO of Paradise Publishers, the company behind Foboko and Free-eBooks, an e-book publisher. Despite picking up and moving to Costa Rica with his wife, his companies return double-digit growth each year. Here, he shares the three lessons that made it possible.

When I first came up with the idea for my business eight years ago, I was brimming with ambition. I had visions of creating an organization that would act as "the people's publisher," solving an array of problems with the traditional book-distribution model. Namely, that books were costly to print, carry, and distribute.

At the time, great books couldn't get a publisher's attention, customers had limited access to different titles, and books were expensive to purchase. I wanted to change all of that--and give authors and readers more control over what was published and read.

Although I'm thrilled with the success of our venture, I can't help but be surprised that things worked out as well as they did. When we first launched our site, I had just moved from Canada to Costa Rica, and I had no idea how to speak the local language. To further complicate things, I knew only slightly more about websites and publishing than I did about Spanish--and our initial investment capital didn't amount to much. Though I eventually did raise some investment capital, I basically started with my credit card (in the very early days). Our first year we made just north of $50,000 in revenues. Since then, our revenues have doubled every other year.

Some would say I was taking quite a risk by moving 3,000 miles away, to a country with a language that was foreign to me, in order to start a business in a market I didn't understand--and with limited funds. But I was ambitious, and risk is ambition's natural bedfellow.

Luckily, I've been on the receiving end of some stellar advice over the years that has helped me navigate the risky waters of entrepreneurship:

1. Step out of your comfort zone.
It's important to be willing to test ideas that don't follow your usual way of thinking. Not only will this help your business to continue to evolve, it will allow it to outstrip the competition by finding new ways to stay ahead.

When my company was seeking a new way to boost income, our president recommended that we introduce a paid VIP membership. This made many of us uncomfortable, as the whole idea behind our website was to offer free e-books. After a good deal of pressing, he convinced us to try it, balancing a limited free membership with an unlimited VIP option.

Today, roughly 60 to 70 percent of our revenue comes from VIP memberships, and the backlash against the change was minimal. I had initially been concerned that we might offend existing and potential members, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Speaking of which....

2. Don't be afraid to offend people.
It's natural to come out of the gates thinking you've got to please everyone, but if you aren't willing to try new ideas that might put off potential customers or other team members, you'll pass up unexpected opportunities for growth. Staying open to criticism is essential to making improvements.

Let's be realistic--you can't please everyone. In fact, if you don't receive complaints, you're not doing enough business. There's never been a popular business that operated complaint-free.

3. Inspect what you expect.
Your startup might seem like a small team in which everyone knows their own place at first, but someday, when things take off, you'll be working with a much bigger, more complex staff. It's important to analyze each member's work expectations and outputs from the get-go. Instilling a system of accountability will be much more difficult later on, after your company has grown.

By analyzing your company's operations early, you'll develop a better idea of how it works most efficiently. This will allow you to gain a better understanding of why certain goals are not met, how to re-evaluate when goals turn out to be unrealistic, and how to improve team interdependence.

Overcoming the risks inherent in business can be achieved fairly easily. Of course, to do this, you have to be able to cast aside your fear of dissenting opinions and analyze and learn from your mistakes.

Without that, where would all of our great new ideas come from? 




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