Timo Paberit: A visit is a reality check for entrepreneurs

Timo Paberit is the founder and a member of the management board of Biometric OÜ, a company that produces medical supplies. More specifically, it focuses on dental implants. “I’m a dental surgeon and implant specialist by profession, and I give lectures all over the world,” he explains. “That’s why it made sense to me to stop working for others and to create and build up my own brand and product instead.” He reveals that he’s been part of national business delegations three times. “I went to Japan and Singapore with former prime minister Taavi Rõivas, and to Japan again with Minister of Entrepreneurship Liisa Oviir,” he says, adding that these visits for him have aimed to gain an understanding of the business cultures of the target countries he’s interested in. “Being in a foreign environment and gathering information first-hand is a priceless opportunity for an entrepreneur,” he says. The fact that people from diverse backgrounds make up the business delegation, providing an opportunity to learn from the knowledge and experience of other entrepreneurs, is also important to him. “As an entrepreneur, your day-to-day operations are fast-paced,” Paberit says. “It’s hard to find the time to get in touch with other CEOs and ask them to share what they know about one country or another. Your focus is elsewhere, and everyone’s busy with personal stuff. Visits usually give you the chance to slow down a bit. There are get-together events at which you can make some very useful contacts.”

Since the field of Biometric OÜ is so specific, it primarily focuses on export markets. “We’re currently targeting the South East Asian market, because its population, and the increasingly better standard of living among the middle classes, is stronger demand for our product,” Paberit explains. The company’s focus is on the Philippines, which is arguably the most European of the Asian nations, says Paberit. Besides, the country is home to around 100 million people, which makes it a very attractive market. Biometric OÜ has also found clients in Cambodia. “Right now we’re represented in both countries, the Philippines and Cambodia,’ Paberit confirms. “If we could conquer those markets and manage to serve their needs, we’d be doing pretty well for sure.”

International visits as a crash course in local business culture

Paberit notes that although his company expanded to the Philippines on its own, the process was difficult. “Entering a foreign market with a product or service is particularly hard for entrepreneurs who are just starting,” he says. “The key benefit of international visits is being in situ with high-level state representatives and getting to know the local business culture as if you’re on a crash course. Such visits are a great opportunity to acquire the initial knowledge you need before taking further steps.” He adds that Estonian companies have to think more and more about exports because the Estonian market will eventually become too small. However, expanding to foreign markets is no easy task. “Thanks to the visits, you can get more attention from your existing contacts and partners,” Paberit says. “In some cultures, being part of a national business delegation is a serious sign of quality that demonstrates an entrepreneur’s reliability. At least in Asia. If you try your luck on your own, you might not be successful, but belonging to a business delegation lends you a sheen of trustworthiness.”

Biometric OÜ has gained many useful contacts as a result of international visits. “We know who to talk to and seek advice from, if we need it,” Paberit says. “Even though our international visits haven’t resulted in any contracts yet, they’ve definitely fulfilled their purpose. We’ve established a strong network of contacts with companies and investors, and thanks to the visits we have a better understanding of different markets. We know what potential clients on specific markets are likely to expect and what the business culture there is like.” Paberit is convinced that forming important connections would be far more difficult without international visits. “There’s a huge difference between approaching people on your own with the help of your contacts and having the opportunity to attend events to which key people from the sector are invited. As part of the visits, you can meet the right people, so they can save you a lot of valuable time.”

Visit your target market before deciding to expand 

Paberit points out that it’s easy for an entrepreneur to fall for a romantic fantasy of a market or target country, but visits allow you to understand the actual situation. You get the chance to talk to local entrepreneurs and gain an objective view. “Idea and reality don’t often line up,” he says. “For me, the greatest value of the visits lies in the fact that they allow you to step out of your imagination. They help you rid yourself of that romantic fantasy, which could lead to bad business decisions. You only gain an objective view when you’re there yourself.”

He says that visits have educated him as both an entrepreneur and a person in many ways. “For example, some markets don’t have a place for companies that don’t have a certain history behind them and whose products aren’t globally known,” he points out. “A visit can be a reality check for entrepreneurs. As a result of a visit, a smart entrepreneur understands whether there’s any point in expanding onto a certain market or if it’s pointless trying to force your way in there.” He adds that international visits are important to rank your export markets. “It’s clear that the purpose of exports is to sell your product everywhere and as much as possible and to be as successful everywhere as you can be,” Paberit says. “But the order in which you go and conquer markets is important. During visits, entrepreneurs gain an understanding of the expectations that potential clients have of a product or service.”

In conclusion, Paberit recommends visiting a target market of interest at least once before deciding whether it makes sense to expand there. An international visit is a great opportunity for this. “In the case of Japan, for example, our company decided that our product wasn’t ready for that market,” he says. “That’s really useful feedback! The same goes for Singapore. Thanks to our visits, we understood that it was too soon to be entering those markets. We need more history behind us and more positive feedback. In other words, we need to justify ourselves with our product. Only then it would be worth entering the markets. Japan and Singapore also have huge bureaucratic entry barriers erected around them. Thanks to the visits, I got a much better overview of the regulations and additional costs involved. That information helped us make the decision not to enter those markets just yet.”

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