Geographically speaking, it’s not that far from St. Louis, MO to Guatemala – about 1650 miles (2660 km) as the crow flies. Culturally speaking, the distance between Maryville University and Guatemala’s northern highlands spans centuries. For Nicole, the distance wasn’t a consideration and the culture was her reason for traveling. Having graduated the university with dual BA degrees – Humanities and Environmental Studies – Nicole was set on becoming an anthropologist.
She decided to do follow up research to studies of indigenous Guatemalans, known as the Mam people, done fifty years earlier by Maud Oakes, a globally recognized ethnologist. Nicole moved in with an extremely poor, single mother of three in the same village as had Oakes, to study these Mayan descendants. The elders hung on to and passed on traditions and customs which were thousands of years old – Nicole wanted to understand them. After months of living in poverty, nearly a skeleton (as a vegetarian, there was little for her to eat), she decided to head to the closest town for a respite and hopped on the top of the chicken bus headed that way. It was atop that bus that Nicole realized anthropology wasn’t her calling.
Returning to the States, feeling defeated, she began to take on odd jobs and taught yoga a few times a week. It occurred to her that if she would be resigned to teaching yoga – there were far more appealing locations to do so. Hello St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands! Arriving just before the busy tourist season, her business thrived. It didn’t take her long to realize that hard work and initiative were rare and valued traits in the Caribbean – and traits that she certainly possessed. Partnering with Lotus Yoga Retreat Planning, Nicole began a yoga retreat business.
Nicole soon realized that running yoga retreats in the Caribbean, just like anthropology studies in Guatemala, was not where her future lay. However, those two experiences provided her with clarity as to her passion and her purpose. She learned that she loved the thought of helping people, teaching them new things – and she wanted to do so globally. Nicole also discovered that she had the heart, mind and will of an entrepreneur.
Initiative and hard work created a yoga retreat business – and the same characteristics would drive Nicole’s new-found passion and purpose. She earned an MBA in International Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Subsequently, she moved to Silicon Valley, where she helped to start High Street Partners – which provides services for payroll, tax filing, bookkeeping, human resources and legal compliance – eventually becoming managing director. Oh, and she got married – to Ned Sahin.
In 2011, she and Ned sold everything they owned to travel the world. More than just the love of travel, both Nicole and Ned knew they each wanted to start a business, so as they journeyed, they made terrific connections on both a professional and personal level.
Finally, in 2012, Nicole launched Globalization Partners (GP), a global PEO (professional employer organization). Its vision was to help companies expand internationally without setting up foreign branch offices. GP business would source qualified employees, facilitate legal and immigration considerations, and manage HR, payroll and benefits on behalf of its clients, allowing those businesses to expand globally faster and with fewer challenges.
Would the concept work? Nicole worked alone for two years, hiring her first employee in 2014. By 2016, Globalization Partners had revenues of over $40 million, was number six on Inc. magazine’s list of Fastest Growing Companies and was the fastest growing women-led business in America. Their growth continued to the point that in 2017, the company ranked thirty-third on Inc.’s list.
How could a company achieve such stratospheric success so quickly? There are many reasons, not the least of which is that Nicole Sahin is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands show initiative, work hard, and pursue their purpose
Achieving such success is not easy and does not come ‘overnight’. Nicole Sahin’s journey began as a child, when her parents raised her to believe she could do anything she wanted to. Seeking – and finding – her purpose and passion took her, literally, around the globe. Her experiences shaped and sharpened her skills and vision of success. Along the way, she maintained her drive for helping people, co-founding the Sweet Life School in Cambodia – its purpose to allow children living in poverty to accelerate their education by providing much needed basic resources including internet access – even electricity.
Launching a successful startup has countless challenges – finding customers, capitalization, balancing growth with resources such as when and who to hire. As is the case with most woman-run businesses, Nicole faced added challenges, bias, and doubters. Upon launching the company, she encountered questions such as “Is this your husband’s business?” (No!) As the all-female employee business grew, it was common to hear “There are a lot of women on your team.” (Yes!) Regardless, it’s still a matter of running a sound business.
Nicole Sahin, her COO Debbie Millin (whom she first met at High Street Partners), and her board do just that. The company has been on a tremendous growth trajectory and has doubled in size in 2017. Their client list includes several highly recognized Fortune 500 companies and does business in over 150 countries. There’s a great deal to learn from Nicole Sahin about building a business and building a personal brand.
Cultivate great relationships – In business – heck, in life – pretty much everything boils down to relationships – people. People do business with those that they know, like, and trust. That same philosophy carries over into every facet of our lives. Whether as an entrepreneur, an employee, the boss or any role outside of work – build strong relationships.
Take the leap – To paraphrase Nicole Sahin – Sometimes you have to walk away from something that’s “OK” to pursue something that is beyond what you can dream of. Well, we can think of it as “walking away” or we can look at is as “striving for better” – either way, we can’t be afraid to pursue “better”. We have to stretch our comfort zone – even blow it up.
The obstacle is the path – Globalization Partners’ has a motto – “The obstacle is the path.” It’s one of the critical elements of their success. Nicole Sahin and her team realize that solving obstacles for their clients is the best way to build business. Meeting obstacles head on, finding solutions, overcoming barriers is, as Sahin says, “A killer strategy”.
Most of us won’t live with the Mam Indians in Guatemala, teach yoga in the Caribbean, start a school in Cambodia or establish a truly global business – much less all of those things. That’s perfectly fine. We need only embrace our passion, discover our purpose, show initiative and work hard at our dreams and visions to build our fearless brand and achieve the success that we desire.