You may recognize Nicole Sahin, CEO and founder of Globalization Partners, from the cover of the Boston Club brochure. Or, perhaps you heard that her Cambridge startup has garnered major attention--she is a regional finalist for Ernst & Young's EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Q. What does your less than three-year-old company specialize in?
A. We employ people in other countries on behalf of U.S. companies. In the traditional business model, if you want someone to work for you in a particular country you have to set up a subsidiary in that country, figure out the local labor laws, tax regulations, legal compliance and so on. Depending on the country, the process could take six months to a year and cost $50,000 to $100,000. We eliminate that hurdle by putting the new hires on our payroll. You pay us, and we pay them. We can have an international employee on our payroll within a few days.
Q. Does this help companies that just need a few employees in a country?
A. It is economical until they get up to five to 10 employees in a country. We also work with major companies like Samsung, General Dynamics, and iRobot. We work in China, Saudi Arabia, all over Asia and Europe. And when a company buys an existing company and wants to keep some or all of the employees and they need to be able to pay them right away, we can help.
Q. How long have you been at this?
A. I started the business in 2012 and spent the first year or two laying down the foundation so that we would be able to grow to scale when we focused on sales and marketing. We currently have fewer than 15 HQ employees between our offices in Boston and California, and we’re growing quickly. So far, we’ve gotten “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” in every category of every client satisfaction survey submitted. Our clients love us!
Q. You grew up in St. Louis. How did you wind up founding a global company and living in Boston?
A. I always loved to travel. In college, I did Semester at Sea, and lived on a boat that was turned into a university – the Institute for Shipboard Education. We visited 12 countries in 100 days and went around the globe. I loved it. We went to Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Japan, and back to the United States. When you do something like that you make amazing, lasting friendships.
After college, I went to the Caribbean and opened a business outsourcing yoga retreat planning, and spent two years doing that. I found I was very successful at selling but I needed to learn a few things about managing a company. Also, even though it was fun to live in the Caribbean for a while, I didn’t want to stay there forever. People go there to drop out and live on a boat. I like to plug in.
I went to Monterey Institute of International Studies (now Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey) in California and got an MBA. And then I moved to Silicon Valley and helped start High Street Partners, which provides services for payroll, tax filing, bookkeeping, human resources and legal compliance. That’s where I met Debbie Millin, and when I moved to Boston, she connected me to The Boston Club.
Q. What was your pivotal moment?
A. When I decided to leave High Street. We had built the firm from the ground up and it was such a great experience. I had learned how to be entrepreneurial. When I decided to walk away, it was a leap of faith away from security and something I loved.
Q. So why did you do it?
A. I think it’s really hard to walk away from something that’s 95 percent right. I felt like I was leaping off the cliff. It took every ounce of courage I had to leave that job. I had a great life, a great job, a beautiful home. I’m sure our parents thought we were absolutely insane. I didn’t say I was leaving to start my own company, I said I was leaving to go travel.
So, in 2011, I took that one-way leap. My husband Ned and I sold everything we owned and traveled around the world. We went all over, mostly India, all over Asia and all over Europe, a little bit to the Middle East. While I traveled, I met future business partners and basically set up the company.
Q. What surprises you looking back on your journey so far?
A. My parents raised me to think I could do anything I wanted. I had no idea that gender discrimination existed in the workplace. It never occurred to me. When I got out in the world, I did see those roadblocks. But I find that it’s important to be a part of a group of strong women who are interested in working together, playing together, and collaborating. We’re working to promote women, to promote each other and to have the chance to share ideas.
Q. Have your parents come around to see the wisdom of your leap?
A. My Dad and I are about to walk across the north of Spain and we’ll have time to talk about all of that. I left home at 18 and he worked so much. Recently, he had a near-death experience and had to retire from banking. He couldn’t walk for six months because he broke his back.
As he was recovering, he started walking--first to the mailbox, and then a bit more. He got up to walking 15 miles a day, then 20. So I threw it out there that we’re going to walk across Spain. He’s 65 and he’s going to kick my ass on the trail, but I’ll make it.
Q. Is there advice you would offer to others who are 95 percent comfortable yet contemplating a change?
A. I would say to anybody who feels “I would love to do this but I’m scared,” to say what you think and do what you want. Make it happen. You have to force yourself to do it. We’re capable of so much when we put ourselves in situations like that. I’m happy to say it worked out really well for me.