In Conversation with Matthew Lee Sawyer

Photographer ©Peter Serling

Matthew Lee Sawyer is an American business and marketing strategist, consultant, and author. Currently, Matthew is managing director of the strategy consulting firm Rocket Market Development that helps companies identify opportunities and gain traction in U.S. markets. In addition, Matthew is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University and New York University teaching graduate courses in strategic marketing and communications.

Matthew started his career at Backer & Spielvogel Advertising where he won Gold and Silver Effie awards for most effective advertising.

Then he moved to the “client-side” in management positions at BIC USA, Chinet, Pitney Bowes, and Snapple Beverages. Later Matthew gained experience at a digital consulting firm and two AdTech startups in NYC.

Matthew recently wrote Make It In America, How International Companies and Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Enter and Scale in U.S. Markets, which is being published this Fall.

What motivated you to write this book?

In my work as a consultant and teacher, I meet people from all over the world who want to do business in America. Some are foreign-born entrepreneurs living in the United States who want to start companies here. They’re attracted to the United States’ huge economy, wealthy consumers, abundant investors, and pro-business legal system.

Many say they’re attracted to the American Dream which promotes the idea that any person—no matter their background or social status—can find a fulfilling and rewarding life here.

However, most worry about the business and financial risks in the United States, as they’ve heard that international companies often struggle and most startups fail after a few years. These non-U.S. Nationals also worry about navigating our complicated legal and immigration systems. Therefore, I wanted to help international business people and entrepreneurs overcome their fears and be better prepared for doing business in my country.

How does the book address these issues?

Make It In America provides valuable explanations, insights, and useful tools to develop one’s playbook for success. There is information on how to establish a U.S. business entity, how to finance U.S. expansions, how to navigate the legal and immigration systems, and how to establish a market presence. There also several checklists for preparing companies and startups’ Go-to-U.S. Market strategies and plans. In addition, the book has over a dozen case studies of international companies that tried to enter and scale in the United States. For example, it presents the story of the Australian startup, Rokt, which expanded to the United States two years after developing and proving its eCommerce optimization software in its home country. They successfully managed their rapid U.S. growth, and today it is valued at almost $2 billion.

How did your start in advertising influence your career?

I was fortunate to begin at a highly creative agency with clients who believed in the power of advertising. The agency was a wonderful place to start my career. It was filled with people who cared and fought over words and phrases, headlines and images. We were measured by how well those words and phrases in advertising performed in creating awareness and generating sales. Importantly, I learned to separate ideas and concepts from the person delivering them. The agency was led by a creative genius, Bill Backer, who is most known for having written “I’d Love to Teach The World to Sing” for Coca-Cola. Bill believed that every business problem can be solved with a creative idea. The bigger the problem, the more innovative solution needed to be. When an unknown Korean company wanted to enter the U.S. automobile market, we created advertising to prove Hyundai was a world-class manufacturing company that also made cars. Their first year U.S. sales were the highest ever recorded in the automobile industry.

Advertising also taught me to be a “quick study” and adapt to new industries and situations. After 18 months of working on a computer account, I was shifted to consumer packaged foods. Later I worked on financial services and telecommunications accounts. This experience gave me the confidence that I could learn anything quickly and thrive in virtually any industry.

Name one person who has greatly influenced you.

I got a chance to talk several times with Clay Christensen who was named one of the world’s most influential business thinkers by Thinkers50. The Harvard Business School professor was a leader in the subject of disruptive innovation and authored the seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma.At the time, I was head of marketing for a FORTUNE 500 company, and we employed Clay as a consultant and speaker at a business conference we sponsored. In our conversations, Christensen explained his views on the importance of having a clear purpose in life. A purpose, a worthy goal, that would guide important decisions and the allocation of one’s time and resources. He asked, “How do you want to measure your life?” By the money accumulated, career recognition, the family raised, or some other metric? Christensen measured his life in the number of people that he positively impacted.

He was most proud of the accomplishments of his children, his students, and his consulting clients. His thinking made a big impression on me, and it led to my decision to become a teacher, consultant, and author where I could interact with many more people.

What does the future hold for the marketing and advertising industry?

The future is bright for people with creative, problem-solving, and communication skills. There are so many issues facing the business world, societies, and our planet. Marketers and advertising people are wired to bring their curiosity, creativity, and optimism to these problems. They also are natural leaders in the sense of being able to motivate people to action by painting a picture of reality and then showing them a path to a successful outcome.

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