Ever heard the saying, “Your network is your net worth?”
Historically, business transactions were made face to face, in a meeting room, or at fancy networking soiree. But now with the accelerating pace of digital globalization, we are witnessing a trend of global cross-transactions.
Let’s imagine you own a digital agency, you might have some team members based in Florida, while others in Kenya or Vietnam.
This is the reality of how businesses will hire and run their operations moving forward.
In some ways, this offers entrepreneurs exciting opportunities to source the best talent, instead of choosing based on locality.
When Karima-Catherine Goundiam, entered the digital transformation business in 2014, she saw the challenges in doing cross-border work, as well, for a new startup to find leads and clients within the first six months.
This is indeed a pressing issue for many of those that do decide to hop on the entrepreneurial path.
How do you meet the right opportunities?
Many might flock to LinkedIn as the immediate response. And although LinkedIn is fantastic for making new connections in a desired niche, or keeping in contact with someone you met in real life— it lacks certain features that can make B2B connections more meaningful.
One, you have go through probably hundreds of connections, start conversations, which most of them either don’t get opened, or leads no where.
There’s no clear intent when it comes to ‘connecting’ on LinkedIn, when your efforts are being convoluted by the hesitation around automation tools, cold sales pitches, and lack of warm up before the introduction.
This is why Karima-Catherine brought B2BeeMatch to the market place, essentially a match making platform for businesses powered by AI.
All businesses that sign up have a clear intent— to offer their services or to receive them.. B2BeeMatch has international partnerships with global companies like the International Chamber of Commerce, which has over 45 million businesses in its network. For businesses that are looking for legitimate ways to do business in a digital world, B2BeeMatch offers that solution.
We sat down with Karima-Catherine to talk about the inspiration behind B2BeeMatch and the evolution of networking and business development to become not only an international platform open to all types of businesses in the world but to become more inclusive to women and other minority populations.
Interviewer: Tell us your path into entrepreneurship.
Karima-Catherine: I started my first company in 2015. Before that, I worked in corporate with Deloitte, KPMG, Ford Canada, Bell, and Cirque du Soleil.
I started tinkering with the idea of doing something in digital transformation (at that time, none of this was really big like it is now) and I felt I could do a better job than big agencies to serve clients because I was more nimble and flexible.
I knew the business and I decided to open my own agency where I could be in the driver seat and probably offer more personalised service to clients.
I had no idea what entrepreneurship was and I found it very complicated to sell services because Canada is such a small market. I guess in a way, you could say I stumbled into it.
Within six months of setting up Red Dot Digital, which is the first company I started to have more traction outside Canada. So I started to get clients from France, where I’m originally from and the U.K, which is where I got leads through online connections.
Interviewer: What inspired you to create B2BeeMatch?
Karima-Catherine: I started traveling a lot, and I was out of the country nearly 50% of the time. And this went on for years, and every single time I thought to myself “there has to be a better way”.
And one day after multiple conversations, the response I got was very negative. It was because I wasn’t one of the Big Four, and I didn’t sell anything tangible because it was a service, that people didn’t feel inclined to help me.
But I wasn’t discouraged, I was more pissed off actually.
It didn’t logistically make sense, when over 90% and more of the global economy is supported by service-based business or small business enterprises.
So from my frustration came the inspiration to build a platform like B2BeeMatch, which is essentially like a dating site for businesses.
Interviewer: Can you go deeper into the problem you were trying to solve at scale?
Karima-Catherine: One of the things you must do when you start a business and enter a new market, is that you have to spend a lot of time finding and nurturing relationships, and connecting continuously. You have to get out there and visibility for your business and brand.
You spend a lot of time trying to forge those connections.B2BeeMatch solves this issue because it connects you with the right people in international markets based on services they are looking to hire or offer.
Personally, it was important that B2BeeMatch was built for international audiences from the start. My team was also completely remote from day one.
B2BeeMatch is in over 70 to countries and over 150 industries now
We also recently launched features that include to best cater to enterprise, institutional and government clients.
Interviewer: What has been the overall response?
Karima-Catherine: I meet a lot of the people who join B2BeeMatch because on one hand, it’s an AI platform where we connect companies based on certain metrics, but there is also a marketing arm which onboards companies. There’s a team dedicated to making sure the users’ profiles are well done and that they’re aware of the benefits they get
One the challenges is weeding out illegitimate businesses when you go on the international level, where some countries aren’t governed by the same law and practices as North America.
We vet and verify the information from every profile that signs up. This is crucial to ensure the overall quality of the platform. We want businesses to know we do some of the heavy lifting to verify each company that signs up.
Very early on we’ve formed contract partnerships with different organizations and industries around the world. One of them is the International Chamber of Commerce which has a huge network of 45 million companies.
Interviewer: What sparked the idea to create a separate program of B2BeeMatch specifically for women?
Karima-Catherine: When I launched B2BeeMatch I started noticing patterns, specifically in how women-led businesses around the world were behaving.
Nine months into launching the platform, I immediately decided to monitor that even closer and very soon, it was apparent we needed to have a program specifically for women, which we launched and called Nyx.
The whole purpose of Nyx, answers the question of how we can make it better for female entrepreneurs.
We wanted to create a solution that kept the core of B2BeeMatch, which is the matchmaking, and allow institutions/governments who provide a concrete solutions to women businesses be able to reach them and support them.
There’s also another slew of opportunities we are tackling. Like how do we address the challenges for other underrepresented groups. We talk about women, but what happens to LGBT groups, black-owned businesses and Indigenous communities?
So, we try to be as inclusive as possible and as universal as possible.
Interviewer: How have your entrepreneurial pursuits led to roles in the Government of Canada and other global initiatives?
Karima-Catherine: As for the GOC, I’m on two federal boards which was through a selection process. Canada is very focused on improving diversity within various of their industries, including tech as well as my expertise with small and medium businesses. To that regards, I think we’re very lucky to be Canadian.
For other opportunities, I am quite passionate about what I do, the impact I can have and the opportunities I see that come in my direction, and it creates somewhat of a ripple effect. I don’t leave a lot of things to luck, as I do everything with sheer determination and grit.
Interviewer: What challenges have you personally met in the tech space as a woman?
Karima-Catherine: One example is the disbelief I get when people find out I’m behind B2BeeMatch. They attribute a platform like this to a male founder/creator.
When we initially launched, I intentionally didn’t want to be connected to the brand. It took me months to update my profile because I wanted this platform to have a chance to fly without bias.
Very rarely did I use my name in marketing material or emails. And in the few times I have sent out material with my name as the CEO attached to it, we saw more people unsubscribe, and surprisingly from other women.
But, I also feel like it’s my responsibility to address these things. Like It’s okay to be a sports star or rapper if you’re a Black person, but somehow it becomes unacceptable to people if we pursue something intellectual or someone in tech. They don’t see it as making sense.
It took me a long time to correct the narrative around what I was building. For example, when I started Red Dot Digital, it was crucial to me that people understood that my services were for everyone and any business out there, not just for my own “community”.
Interviewer: How do you personally overcome those biases?
Karima-Catherine: I try not to pay attention to the trolls, or people that leave the platform because of who I am as a person. In fact, I rather not have people that think that way on here at all. I’m going to own this space, and move forward with the vision that there are 600 million small and medium sized businesses that can benefit from this platform and focus on how I can best serve them.
A lot of the entrepreneurial journey is also based on how you grow as a person, despite the roadblocks.
Interviewer: As it pertains to marketing, what strategies have you found the most effective?
I just use all the practices I was telling my clients on the Red Dot Digital consulting side. I used the whole suite of capabilities in business strategy and digital marketing ranging from content strategy, to advertising, SEO and everything else in between.
In terms of marketing, one thing that a lot of people don’t think about are partnerships and collaboration which allowed us to grow and provided us insights.
I also do a lot of speaking and I say yes to most opportunities that come my way that allow me to spread the message.
Even if I can touch one additional entrepreneur, it’s worth for me.
I also write for The Globe and Mail which I talk about different subjects within business and funding.
Also, when people see the tech and IT capabilities we have behind B2BeeMatch, they actually come to us at Red Dot to ask if we can build something like that for them, because they see the scope of our capabilities.
I haven’t reinvented the wheel. These marketing strategies that focus on the top three: paid, earned, and owned media has been around forever. I just listen to my own advice and keep the vision!
Interviewer: What’s your personal definition of success?
Karima-Catherine: Success for me is freedom. Every freedom in every sense—work, lifestyle, and purpose.
The other one is impact. It’s great to achieve great things for myself, but am I able to help others through my work, and help them achieve their own legacies? One question I ponder on is how can we enable the next generation to not have the same struggles and barriers we’ve had.
Conclusion: Tough lessons often craft the best results
Entrepreneurship is not easy itself, but it’s especially difficult when there are external circumstances that try to limit one’s potential—either through racial and gender biases.
It’s a reoccurring theme that comes up often in underrepresented groups across the board in any industry or sector.
However, entrepreneurs like Karima-Catherine that choose to look beyond their limitations, tend to have a better chance of succeeding in this space.
Undoubtedly, there are moments where it’s intensively frustrating to not have your capabilities acknowledged because of inherent bias, but the determination to keep pushing on for a greater vision wins on most days.
B2BeeMatch is an embodiment of this entrepreneur’s values to bring more equality, prosperity and peace to future generations and business owners.
With every person that is positively impacted by either the platform, or any of her public initiatives, we can only foresee that the fire is lit even brighter.