Levi Strauss never actually wore a pair of his famous blue jeans.
Although his iconic name has been plastered on the back pockets of millions of people, Strauss himself was a businessman. And in the 1870s, jeans were strictly for laborers.
Those jeans, of course, made him famous… and very, very wealthy.
Sure, Levi’s product was good. But the real secret to his success was his willingness to chase opportunity.
At 18, he left his native Germany for America. He learned the merchant trade in New York City.
Soon after, he moved to Kentucky to peddle wares to pioneer settlers.
Then Strauss followed the crowd to San Francisco for the California Gold Rush.
But he wasn’t looking for the yellow metal like everyone else. He just wanted to sell them the products they needed to work and survive (everything from bedding to mining tools).
Then one of Strauss’ customers, a tailor, approached him in 1872 about a pair of pants he had created with rivets at the stress points. One year later, blue jeans were born.
The willingness to go where the crowds don’t go, and to seize unusual opportunities, is one way to gain success in business.
And it’s particularly important if you’re doing business in frontier markets, like Levi Strauss…
Like Strauss, my friend Andreas grew up in what he calls the “backwoods” of Germany.
From a young age, Andreas wanted to get out and expand his opportunities.
He started by working as a banker in Hamburg. But that didn’t scratch the itch.
Now Andreas lives and works in the Southeast Asian nation, Myanmar — formerly known as Burma.
Sandwiched between India and Thailand, Myanmar spent decades nearly as cut off from the world as North Korea… its economy was suffering under decades of socialist, military rule.
Then, about ten years ago, Myanmar looked around and realized that while its neighbors China and India were on an economic upturn, it was missing out on the party.
So it decided to overhaul its government and open up to foreign investors.
Andreas took a job there in 2011. And since then, he has had a much bigger and more varied career in the Wild, Wild East than he ever could have had as a banker in Germany.
Why? Because Myanmar — just like Kentucky and San Francisco in the 1850s — is a true frontier market.
Coca-Cola didn’t exist there until a few years ago. Neither did a decent, Western-style hotel. Or Western-style coffee shops.
But today, the business and investment opportunities are taking off. Andreas jokes that he starts a new business in Myanmar every year, simply because there’s so much demand to meet as the market expands and opportunities arise.
For example, there’s a rapidly expanding digital/fintech market.
Nearly 36 million people in Myanmar live in houses with smartphones. At the same time, most of them don’t make enough money to open a traditional bank account.
The solution? Skip the banks and dive straight into fintech.
That’s exactly what a Norwegian telecom operation called Telenor did. They came in and teamed up with Yoma, a Burmese private lender.
Their joint venture, Wave Money, got its license in August 2016 and became the first non-bank to provide mobile financial services in the country.
Now, Wave Money is THE way that people in Myanmar send money back and forth. The company went from zero customers in 2016 to some 1.5 million in 2018.
And this is just one example of foreigners making money by solving problems in a frontier market.
There are too many opportunities in Myanmar to list in this one piece. (We recently wrote about them more extensively in Sovereign Man: Confidential.) In short, the country needs basically everything from a business and services perspective.
And it’s still difficult for foreigners to invest in the country. If you want to open a business there, you need a local partner (Andreas agreed to speak with our premium subscribers that were interested).
The country’s tiny stock market (with only five listed companies) is still closed to foreigners – though that may change in March.
Don’t get me wrong– I’m not suggesting anyone get up and move to Myanmar… or that the country is without any problems. Myanmar has a laundry list of them, just like every other country in the world.
You also don’t have to start multiple businesses to take advantage of key growth opportunities abroad; there are plenty of other ways.
Buying real estate is a great example; there are certain markets where property prices are shockingly cheap, rental demand is strong, and future growth prospects are white hot.
That’s how I ended up starting an agriculture business in Chile back in 2014: land prices (at least, back then) were literally 90% cheaper than what it costs in the US.
Five years in, the company has become a regional powerhouse. And the value of the farmland has soared, with everyone from major endowment funds to investment banks trying to buy up huuuuge tracts of land.
Even outside of real estate, sometimes it’s possible to benefit from a foreign country’s growth dynamics merely by opening a bank account.
Some places are growing so rapidly that the demand for capital is incredibly high.
This means that local banks will often pay MUCH higher interest rates on deposits than you’re accustomed to.
(And you might also find that a foreign bank is far better capitalized than the Bank of Smoke and Mirrors where your money is currently held back home.)
The key lesson here is that there are a lot of different approaches. But it all starts with expanding your thinking internationally. Doing so can bring you big rewards, both personally and financially.