5 Lessons CEOs Can Learn from Entrepreneurs Who Have Been Successful in the Emerging Markets


Entrepreneurs in emerging markets have the unique challenge of starting businesses in places lacking proper infrastructure, knowledgeable staff, and an already established sector. They are often forced to be trailblazers in their industries, creating the innovation their countries need. 

There’s plenty to be learned by CEOs in developed countries through observing the success of entrepreneurs in these environments. Key business people such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Indiabulls and Clivedale’s Sameer Gehlaut, and Telmex’s Carlos Slim Helú have all found their strengths in the emerging markets. Here are the top 5 lessons CEOs can learn from entrepreneurs who have been successful in emerging markets. 

Sense of purpose

According to the Harvard Business School, a strong sense of purpose is central to the success of many high-flying businesses in emerging markets. Typically, these entrepreneurs feel a real sense of pride for their work and understand their companies as part of the country’s development efforts. This allows them to both appreciate the impacts of their business on local communities and have a clear moral compass when making decisions.

Indian-based IT company Infosys continues to stay true to its roots despite its global success. In the face of a growing skill gap in the industry, it remains committed to upskilling students across India with its Infosys Springboard programme. The platform is even open to students in Europe, the US, and Australasia. The message is clear on the Infosys website. ‘Our Purpose: To amplify human potential and create the next opportunity for people, businesses, and communities’.

Solving real problems

It may seem common sensical that filling gaps in the market is a way to ensure success. But entrepreneurs in emerging markets have a uniquely perceptive eye when it comes to identifying the problems that need solving and continually monitoring consumer behaviour to find ways to expand and improve their services.

One key example of this is Go-Jek in Indonesia. With traffic proving a huge issue in the capital of Jakarta, it was clear something needed to be done to make sure ordinary people could travel around the city quickly and conveniently. This is what inspired co-founders Nadiem Makarim and Michaelangelo Moran to create the ride-hailing app in 2009.

This is something that Indiabull’s Gehlaut was keen to do with his business. In the past, applying for mortgages in India was an unnecessarily difficult process, and the lack of online options meant that mortgages became inaccessible for those who lived rurally. This is how Gehlaut knew it was time for an online option in 2000. By listening to consumers and filling a gap in the market, Indiabulls has become the country’s biggest mortgage provider.

Deep understanding of the market

Thorough market knowledge is important for all good businesses and is essential for both founding and expanding a company. Makarim of Go-Jek even suggested not listening to experts, and rather to work from gut instinct and real-life experience of the issue your company is trying to address. When expanding to Vietnam and Thailand, he was confident enough to allow local teams to take control of the branding, resulting in the names ‘Go-Viet’ and and ‘Get’ in Vietnam and Thailand respectively.

Paul Srivorakul, founder of multiple successful start-ups in Thailand, used his extensive knowledge of the Thai advertising market to build a sorely needed media company in the country. Combined with his expertise in tech, he was able to expand into the Philippines despite a very small starting budget and a lack of resources – he even rented desks in larger companies to convince clients to sign with him.


Co-founder of Go-Jek, Nadiem Makarim, believes that understanding the role luck has to play in success and prioritising your people and the wider objective over yourself are the keys to avoiding complacency in business. This idea of humility might not be traditionally associated with successful CEOs, but Forbes agrees that a healthy level of humility keeps your staff engaged and on-side. It also helps keep leaders aware of the weaknesses that require attention, encouraging constant improvement and reflection. 


Experimentation and bravery to try new things are at the heart of innovation, and entrepreneurs in emerging markets are particularly good at harnessing these attributes. Given that many startups in these countries are dealing with difficult working conditions caused by poor infrastructure and a lack of funding, leaders need to be creative and bold in their ambition.

GB Agboola, founder and CEO of the Nigerian fintech company Flutterwave, argues in his interview with McKinsey that businesses need to be prepared to take the leap of faith and put forward ideas that are out of the ordinary. This also involves admitting that failure is a possibility, and recognising that failure is sometimes a better lesson than success.

The emerging markets can be some of the most hostile environments to start a business, yet they also have huge potential waiting to be unlocked. Entrepreneurs in these regions are constantly innovating, challenging the status quo, and bringing the best out of their communities. The energy and passion they bring to the table offers a host of valuable lessons for CEOs across the globe.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.