Happy New Year from M74! Reflections on Our First Six Months
By Philip Dubow
In a typical year, the Algarve region of Portugal is teeming with tourists. However, since last spring, Faro (the capital city of this southern coastal region) has been largely deserted due to pandemic-induced lockdowns and restrictions. At the start of Portugal’s first lockdown, in March 2020, I was wandering the aisles of Faro’s main supermarket and my eyes happened upon the origin labels of the products on the shelves, which revealed that a majority of these foods and household goods had come to Faro from abroad. At that moment, I had a simple revelation that would ultimately give rise to the Meridian 74 Group: “No matter what is happening in the world, people will always have consumption needs—and those needs must be met.”
In the days and weeks that followed, I noticed that fewer and fewer products on that store’s shelves were coming from China and Italy—the two places with the highest rates of infection at the time. This presented a major issue, seeing as many of that store’s products came from or transited through one of those two countries. At first, the result was empty shelves and panicked customers. However, after a short while, the retail conglomerate that oversees this franchise devised a solution: diversify its supply chains. Products that this store had previously sourced from China or Italy were now coming from other countries—including ones that did not traditionally export much to Portugal. The chance to sell their products to a Portuguese retail giant represented a valuable opportunity for those lucky businesses in these other countries, especially if demand in their domestic markets was in decline. However, not every business has a foreign big-box chain on speed dial that it can contact in times of crisis. That is why I decided to create M74, so that way companies of all sizes and types can remotely do business with reliable overseas partners (pre-vetted distributors, wholesalers, retailers, factories, etc.), and reap the benefits of internationalization in both bad times and good.
In early June 2020, when I started writing the initial business plan for M74, I (like many residents of the Algarve) was unemployed. The tourism industry that had sustained this region for decades had collapsed overnight, and few companies anywhere were hiring at the time. Accordingly, I viewed M74 as a way to take back control of my professional life, while offering innovative market-entry and partner-matching services that would empower small businesses and fellow startups to thrive in the face of adversity. Later that month, I invited Adam Ninyo, Max Sterman, and Daniel Lewitz (close friends of mine from my hometown, New York City) to help me establish M74. The three of them were experiencing professional uncertainties of their own, so they eagerly came aboard. I’m sure glad they did, because I could not have undertaken this venture without them and their expertise.
Nearly six months ago, on 27 July 2020, we launched the first iteration of our website—and, with that, the Meridian 74 Group was born. A couple of weeks later, we posted an advertisement to recruit an intern or two to help us with research and marketing tasks. We expected to hear from a handful of candidates, if any at all. Much to our surprise, our inbox quickly filled with dozens of applications from highly-qualified university students and recent graduates from our target markets (the United States, India, Spain, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, and Guyana) and beyond. To date, we’ve had over 30 interns work with us. Their efforts have been indispensable to the rapid development of our organization, especially in terms of spearheading our Blog and social media operations. Most of our interns have earned course credit by participating in our Remote Internship Program, and many have since been hired for full-time positions by prestigious companies worldwide. A few have even joined our National Case Teams as Business Development Managers.
In mid-October 2020, our paperwork to incorporate in the State of New York was finally approved, and the Meridian 74 Group became a registered corporation. Later that same week, we signed our first client: a South Asian clothing maker (with over 20 high-volume factories in its network), seeking to export to the United States and European Union. As a startup, we understand that we must earn people’s trust—which is why we don’t charge this client or any others unless and until we achieve successful transactions between them and their chosen partners.
Since late October 2020, though, a variety of challenges have presented themselves. New waves and strains of the novel coronavirus have led to the reimposition of lockdowns and restrictions worldwide. Travel and gatherings during the holiday season (which M74 was closed for) have exacerbated the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, instances of civil unrest have not only hindered our operations, but also undermined the credibility of certain markets in the eyes of our client base. From the brutal crackdown of peaceful protests in Nigeria, to the violent storming of the United States Capitol in response to a baselessly disputed presidential election, the situations in these two markets do not inspire confidence (to phrase it kindly). To top it all off, there has been extreme weather to contend with in the United States, the Philippines, Spain and Portugal. In fact, last week, the Portuguese island of Madeira (where I just moved to from Faro) experienced severe flooding. As a result of these circumstances (among others), issues and emergencies have arisen among our team that have delayed several key projects—ranging from the launch of our redesigned and updated website, to the release of our educational video series (both of which we anticipate will take place very shortly).
In spite of these setbacks, our dedication to our clients and each other has not wavered. In fact, our resolve has grown even stronger, seeing as the challenges mentioned above have made internationalization more important than ever to the survival and growth of businesses. My Co-Directors and I truly believe in our company and our team—and, together, we are as determined as we are excited to make the most of this New Year!
At the moment, we are continuing to expand our National Case Teams, as well as recruit additional clients. Also, in the coming weeks, we plan to start offering a slate of new “a la carte” services for businesses that are interested in entering one or more of our target markets, but, in light of recent events, would like to get their feet wet before taking the plunge. These services will likely include: Market Entry Guides to inform clients about the dynamics of their sectors in the context of national economic conditions; Public Health Bulletins to help clients understand how the pandemic may affect their entry into a given market; Political Risk Briefings to prepare clients to navigate any civil unrest they may encounter; and Security Dossiers to equip clients with the knowledge and knowhow to stay safe in unfamiliar locations. These forthcoming “a la carte” services represent just one of the many ideas we intend to roll out this New Year, in order to propel our humble startup to new heights. So, stay tuned to our Blog and social media pages for the latest developments!
We would like to thank you for your support and engagement over these past six months, and we hope you stick with us for the next six! Perhaps, by then, our clients’ products will fill the shelves of that supermarket in Faro that started it all!
Philip Dubow is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Meridian 74 Group. He is currently based in Madeira Island, Portugal.