In a world where women entrepreneurs are rare, most especially in Europe where only 10% of women are entrepreneurs compared to their 90% male counterparts; some unusual women still manage to keep their heads high passionately in pursuit of their entrepreneurial dream. One of such women is 50 years old Sandra Berbee, the founder of EventPlannerSpain; an online directory of Spanish event industry suppliers which she started 6 years ago.
Join me in this exciting edition of the unusual entrepreneur interviews as I invite Sandra to share her unusual entrepreneurial story and business insights with you. Enjoy!
If you are just joining us for the first time, this is the unusual entrepreneur interview series. It is a parade of unusual entrepreneurs who are changing the world and profiting from purpose. Profiting from purpose by changing the world isn’t an impossible dream as many tend to think of it, but a realistic one as many unusual entrepreneurs have extraordinarily proven. Click here to read more unusual entrepreneur interviews.
Take it away Sandra!
Interview Questions Part One
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Awakening the Spirit of business
1. Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your business? What do you do?, how do you do it?, why do you do it and who do you do it for?
My name is Sandra Berbee. I am Dutch and was born in Amsterdam 50 years ago. After studying and working in Germany, France and Switzerland, in 1986 I decided to go south, to Spain, the year it entered the European Union. I then spent 20 years working for others before setting up my own business in 2006, www.eventplannerspain.com, which is an online directory of Spanish event industry suppliers and an interesting information and news resource. Available in 8 languages, international event organizers can find all they need to organize meetings and events in Spain and Morocco. Event Planner Spain currently has 750 event supplier members. Per month, the site receives 250,000 visits from 160 countries, 1,000,000 page views and generates around a 1,000 business leads for its members.
2. How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Were there any key incidents or life changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
The most important reason for setting up my own business was to be able to do the job in my own way. Before setting up my own company in Spain, I worked in different marketing positions both in private and public companies in Malaga, Andalusia, the most southern part of Spain. But the 12 years I spent working for the public sector were a bit deceiving because, strangely enough, in the public sector politics are more important than customer satisfaction. Working for private Spanish private sector was not too motivating either because of a general lack of entrepreneurial culture and superior management. That’s why, sadly, most Spanish people want to get a job in the public sector because they think it’s safer and better paid (not anymore, though). I suppose that I could have taken the plunge earlier but, as they say, better late than never!
3. When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force?
Key driving ideas have always been to be independent economically, while selling a useful product/service that helps other people do business. And maybe also bringing a bit of order to the Spanish and Moroccan MICE industries by centralizing information on a logical and attractive international b2b platform, useful both for sellers and buyers.
4. What is your take on the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around what they naturally love to do?
I think people should always try to work in what they naturally love to do and it is essential to start thinking about it when you are young. And if no one stimulates you, try to stimulate yourself. I say this because I feel I should have started sooner with my own business. As soon as you feel you should quit your daily job and start your own business, go for it!
5. What is your personal life mission as an entrepreneur? That is; what contributions do you want to make with your life or what would you like to be remembered for as an entrepreneur through the businesses you create when you die?
I have to admit I have always been terribly idealistic about how to make the world a better place. Also, I have always thought that successful businesses should actively participate in achieving a better world by being exemplary and acting responsibly. But, lately, I have become more pessimistic and I don’t like the way politicians and the others that rule the world behave at home and abroad. Successful businesses are too often just shamelessly greedy and there is an enormous lack of “real” democracy, and not only in Spain.
The crisis has shown us the division between classes has not been solved. On the contrary, social divides widen every day and the poor and defenseless, or just “normal” people, are definitely loosing quality of life. Through my business, my aim is to contribute to improving this world, by being useful, helpful, humble, honest, responsible, stimulating and respectful towards people and the environment. For instance our website is the first event portal in Spain that is already offsetting its CO2 emissions. Furthermore, we also publish a lot of articles encouraging the event industry to shift to a more sustainable path in which corporate social responsibility should play a more important role.
6. What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship? That is; what role do entrepreneurs play in the world?
Entrepreneurs, especially when they are successful, can stimulate others to create new businesses and help people to be more independent economically and emotionally and to live life in a more creative and satisfactory way. Entrepreneurs should act in a responsible way and be exemplary both socially and professionally.
Interview Questions Part Two
STRATEGY: The unusual execution of business best practices
7. How do you identify business opportunities and what metrics do you use to measure their viability?
To identify business opportunities, I read as much as possible and to measure viability I do market research online in different countries. Long live the internet, search engines and knowing 5 languages! Then I discuss my ideas with my business partners, friends and family, but in the end it is basically down to your own intuition.
8. Do you have mentors, business coach or external consultants that you work closely with to grow yourself and your business? If yes, to what extent would you describe their impact on your business? If no, are there any particular reasons?
My best mentor was my mother’s second husband. When I met him he was 50 and had just sold his former business, which had been a great success to start another one from scratch, just because he wanted to work with his hobby. It turned out to be a very successful business.
9. How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs use their time for?
I think the best strategy to use time is to find a balance between learning from books and learning from people, between being alone and being social, sitting behind the computer and doing sport or be in contact with nature, between under-eating and taking time to make a delicious dinner, between variety and boredom…
10. How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
In order to generate profitable customers, our company has to be able to generate new business leads for them. Instead of limiting these to Spain, where due to the crisis, corporate and private event budgets have been drastically slashed, or Morocco, Event Planner Spain is available in 8 languages, enabling member sites to reach top positions in several search engines, such as Google, in 8 languages, helping sellers and buyers to communicate and overcome cultural and linguistic barriers.
11. Many entrepreneurs complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
Today, in Spain it is very complex to get funding from banks. Anyway, the last 25 years it has been more interesting for banks all over the world to invest in other types of more lucrative opaque bubble money-businesses that have nothing to do with stimulating the birth and growth of new SMEs. I think banks should be obliged to go back to that core business. It’s interesting to see how new fundraising initiatives arise online, although for now they seem to be limited to the new technological startups of younger people. Micro credit schemes (most of them geared to women, curiously enough) are another great initiative. It could be a good idea for Spain as well right now where, as in most countries, entrepreneurship is a word that is mostly associated with men.
12. When starting out a new business, who are the likely possible partners or professional service providers you would recommend every entrepreneur work with?
Try to find the best professional suppliers, but never depend totally on them. I think it is really important to be as self-supporting and expert as you can be in all the aspects of your business, in order to not lose control and get the most out of your suppliers. The more you know about your business, the better the service they will deliver.
13. The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs, what unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
The most important factor in terms of pricing is not just to know the value of your service, but also to understand at every moment the changing environment and market. For instance, as we are facing times of crisis we innovate offering special offers, discounts and combined packages, while at the same time improving our website and services. It is always important to be flexible.
Interview Questions Part Three
MISCELLANEOUS: Resourceful Recommendations, tools, books, and ideas for entrepreneurs
14. Since you became an entrepreneur – someone who solves problems for people profitably; what has been your most outstanding accomplishments in the context of business?
Our most outstanding accomplishment maybe has been giving more value to the event industry in Spain and Morocco, promoting these countries and their companies and professionals all over the world, while striving to offer quality content and service. Despite having a very small team, our website is already the most visited event web portal in Spain and our traffic continues to increase every year. We strive to provide a top-quality service and pay great attention to detail as regards both our website and our external and internal communications. I am very proud to say that most our clients are very happy with our service.
15. What would you describe as your major setbacks and what lessons did you pick from them?
My major setback has been the crisis that started in 2007/2008, when marketing budgets started to decrease and we had to adjust our expectations accordingly. The lesson I learned is that prosperity is very fragile and that we always have to be flexible and capable of reacting immediately. In our particular case, we have managed to overcome the financial crisis thanks to a detailed control of overhead costs, which we always try to keep as low as possible.
16. Were there any particular questions you expected me to ask that is beneficial to entrepreneurs and I didn’t? Kindly share with us such questions and their relevant answers here.
I think your interview was well structured and covers the most important aspects of my business and entrepreneurship. Overall, I would like to encourage everyone to attempt to start their own business. In the worst case, it is a great learning experience both professionally and personally. Besides, despite the crisis, there are a number of advantages: everything is cheaper and everyone is willing to work for you.
What more would you like to know about the Unusual Sandra Berbee? You can ask her further questions below in the comment section and I will be sure that you will get an answer directly from her.
Also, what did you learn from this unusual entrepreneur? What lessons, what philosophy of her strike you the most?
Sandra has shared her unusual story with you, now is time to hear from you. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!