Anyone who has been an expat has probably thought about, at some time or another, starting up a business to help ease other expats into the notion that they are now international residents. But how many of us have the knowhow and the guts to act on these thoughts?
Sharon Lorimer, a Scot who lives in New York City with her American husband, did not think of herself as having an entrepreneurial mindset until she went to business school. One thing led to another, and almost before she knew it, she’d founded doshebu, a business providing services to various kinds of clients looking to go global.
Now let’s meet Sharon and talk to her about this turn of events in her life. We know that the force of love took her to New York, but what swept her down the path of launching her own business venture?
* * *
Hi, Sharon! It’s always good to talk to a fellow New Yorker, especially a displaced one! What brought you here from Scotland originally?
I fell in love with an American. After a long-distance love affair, we had to have the big talk about where we wanted to live. We were both just out of school and thought there would be more opportunities in New York than in our hometowns of Edinburgh (mine) or DC (his). So I came to New York to get married.
What was the first chapter of your life in the Big Apple?
We joined the dotcom boom: I worked for an Internet advertising agency, and my husband, Kim Khan, has done a variety of jobs, including establishing a bureau for CNBC.com in London. We were in our late 20s and had a vibrant, creative life, with lots of international friends. But then came the dotcom bust, and we started to reassess our lives and the extent to which the dotcom model aligned with our values. I searched for the right business for me but couldn’t find a fit. In 2004, I decided to get an MBA and after graduation in 2008 I started doshebu.
What kinds of services does doshebu offer?
While still in business school, I conducted primary research in International Human Resource Management. The services doshebu provides—to corporate leaders, individuals and families, businesses (human resource units), governments and NGOs, and importers/exporters looking to go global—are based on the gaps I identified in the market. I’ve designed an individual program for each market sector. Expats who are interested can find more information on our Services page. And our online learning site has lots of free resources. We want to build a community there and are continually adding information that you can access for free.
You’ve been out of Scotland for some time. Do you ever feel “displaced”?
I feel most displaced in the places where I’m supposed to be feeling most at home. I find it tough to relate to people who don’t have similar life experiences. Sometimes other Scots don’t even believe I’m Scottish. How do you convince someone you’re not pulling their leg and are actually from the same place as them?
Do you feel more comfortable abroad than in the UK?
Usually when I strike up a conversation with someone who’s traveling the world or living abroad, I find we have lots in common. My husband is the same way. If we encounter foreign tourists in the city, we always want to tell them about really cool places to go and the history behind those places.
Expats as “warriors”
Where did your idea for “doshebu” come from?
Doshebu is an expression of my life experience. When I first moved abroad, I had no idea of how difficult it would be. I packed my suitcase, got my flight, and turned up at my fiancé’s house. It took me a while to realize how unprepared I had been. While I didn’t think of myself as an immigrant, I experienced the loss of status that immigration causes. Lots of expats approach international assignments in that way. Whenever I reach out to talk to others, I can see there is a lot of work to do to help us all understand what moving abroad has done to our lives. These days, I like to think of myself as a pioneer and imagine myself living in a “boundaryless” world, where people live where they want and do what they feel is meaningful to them.
I understand the name for the business is based on the Japanese samarai moral code, Bushidō?
Kim is a black belt in the martial arts. Both of us have experienced the trauma of moving countries (Kim is from Virginia originally but has lived and worked in the UK and Singapore), and we think that living abroad requires something of a warrior mindset. While most people anticipate having a change in lifestyle, they are unprepared for the idea that not everything will be straightforward. For instance, some locals may not appreciate you or your values. Warriors are trained to go into hostile situations, and doshebu’s products address that possibility by educating you and discussing methods of coping. Thus the “way of the warrior” has become the “art of the expat.”
Was opening up your own business something you always wanted to do?
No, I was totally daunted. Although I’d witnessed my grandmother and mother start businesses, and admired them for that, I always shied away from taking that kind of responsibility. But now I feel the desire to build something of my own that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my efforts and dedication.
What has been the biggest challenge?
There are two main challenges I face:
1. Limited resources. It’s always tough no matter how big the company is, but it’s really tough when you’re a start-up.
2. Motivation. When you have to motivate yourself and there isn’t a reward at the end of the day, it’s tough to figure out how to keep going. I have to keep reminding myself of how far the company has come—it is no longer a research project but a living company; and I dream of a future when other people think it’s a great company, too.
Expats as artists
The most fulfilling aspect?
Doshebu is an Internet business and there is a lot of technical work behind the scenes. But we called it the “art of the expat” because we find that people who go abroad tend to become more creative and have more diverse interests. I enjoy trying to foster a sense of this in our clients and their families. It can be an advantage to their companies—for instance, if they make a more creative presentation on their work; but it can also be about one’s personal journey, connecting you with your creativity.
If you could do anything else, what would it be?
I’d love to make movies. I wrote a screenplay a while back, and as a photographer and writer, I love movies.
I see that you’ve created some cookbooks and photobooks under the Art of the Expat brand. My favorite is The Global Scottish Kitchen, with recipes for things like Cock A’ Leekie Udon.
Yes, my next book will also be a cookbook, called Coop du Monde. It’s a step-by-step guide to spicing up the traditional British Sunday Roast. It’s also about helping you be creative in the kitchen by explaining how to experiment with flavors.
In addition, I’m working on another photography book—about graffiti. I want to explore the idea of street art, the photographer and the graffiti artist as being the same person.
You can check out my various books on Blurb.
What’s on your bucket list?
I want to buy a small island and build a house on it. I like the idea of being able to build an environmentally-friendly house. But we’d have to have liquor—Kim and I have also written a book about home-style cocktails, based on our world travels and conversations with bartenders, bon vivants and drinkers. Hmmm…maybe I could sell moonshine in the local market?
* * *
Ah, said like a true entrepreneur, Sharon! Thanks so much for talking to me about your work. I must say, I find your take on “going global” truly refreshing. Readers, any questions for Sharon on what it’s like to be an expat doing a business on behalf of other expats? Fire away! Or if you want to recommend a home-style cocktail for her collection, I’m sure she’d appreciate that, too. For that matter, aren’t cocktails part of the recipe for a successful expat adventure?!
STAY TUNED for the next episode in the online expat novel, Libby’s Life, to appear tomorrow.
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!
Images (clockwise from left): Sharon trying out her Bushidō technique(?!) outside of Gaudí’s cathedral in Barcelona; being a tourist in Venice; enjoying a stein of beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich (on the cover of her photography book Oktoberfest); and how the table looked for her and Kim’s 10th-anniversary celebration (note the tartan tablecloth!).