I sat down with New Jersey native Matt Landau, a 24-year-old entrepreneur who claims that becoming an industry expert is far easier than it sounds. With experience beyond his years, Landau believes that becoming the authority on a subject is less about personal talent, and more about meticulous planning: a strategy that has landed him President and CEO of Oropendula Outsourcing Inc. and its subsidiary The Panama Report, one of the nation's top travel and investment resources.
The International Entrepreneur Magazine: Matt, to give our readers an idea, can you briefly give us your educational background?
Matt Landau: Well, I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and graduated from Princeton High School with a 3.2 GPA. I then attended the University of Richmond in Virginia where I studied, among other things, cheap alcohol and the phenomenon of young adults thinking they know more than they actually do. I graduated with a major in International Economics and a minor in Spanish. 3.1 GPA.
TIEM: So, what was it about the USA that made you so quickly fly the coop?
ML: The rat race wasn’t something I was very interested in. I don’t like rats. Or races. Through various internships and jobs over the years, I realized that working nine to five and climbing the corporate ladder were things that just kinda made me depressed. The amount of quality talent in the US is staggering and when it came to going up against that work force, I realized my odds at success were probably greater somewhere else. Central America happened to offer a terrific climate, friendly people, and good infrastructure for doing business.
TIEM: So in just a few short years since your graduation, you are now the expert on Panama. How did you come to know everything about travel and investment in that short time?
ML: You see, I think that’s a misconception. To be an expert, you don’t necessarily have to know everything about the subject. You simply have to know more than most people.
TIEM: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to maybe break out of their shell and start a business on their own? What’s a good first step?
ML: Well, my advice would be to work really hard in order to identify a problem; to identify a gap in a market where something (whether it’s a product or a service) is missing. That is to say, find a niche that’s not yet been tapped. Sometimes, this niche exists just one industry over. Sometimes it’s one state over. For me, that niche was a lack of good written information on travel and investment in Panama. There was simply no quality resource for people looking to vacation or buy real estate. You need to use a little intuition here: obviously, there may be a lack of good trampolines for goldfish, but once you’ve determined there could be a demand, you’ve made headway.
TIEM: Once establishing that first step of identifying a problem, how did you so seemingly effortlessly leverage your way to the top?
ML: It certainly wasn’t effortless. After identifying my problem, I had to devise a solution to that problem and accordingly, find a vehicle to market my solution to those who needed it. This part takes some creativity, but I decided that my vehicle would be a simple website. I figured I’d create a website dedicated to quality information on Panama without any sales pitches or annoying hype. The last piece of the puzzle was the most laborious. I traveled the country inside and out, did a ton of research, and wrote a few hundred articles I thought readers would find useful. It was difficult compiling all this information, but most things worthwhile always are. Granted, I wasn’t reinventing the wheel: this sort of thing is done in all travel destinations, it just hadn’t happened in Panama yet.
TIEM: In consulting, do your clients ever discredit you because of your age?
ML: You know what, that has never ever happened and I actually thought it would. But it turns out, when you put yourself in an authority position, meaning you have information other people want, age is completely out of the equation. My clients range from 25-78 years old and their average investment is somewhere around half a million dollars. I’ve realized that smart consumers don’t care about personal details, such as age, if they can acquire a useful product. I think I’ve proven myself in enough regards to have age permanently out of the equation. Maybe until I’m 90, drooling and saying things that don’t make sense. But that’s another story.
TIEM: How do you distinguish between work and pleasure? When did you know to draw the line and say, you know what, I’m going on vacation?
ML: I think having abandoned that work-all-your-life-until-you-retire mentality, I managed to spend most of my time doing things I really enjoy, so it really didn’t seem like work at all. I think this is essential to be a good entrepreneur; figuring out how to make your time and responsibilities flexible and mobile enough, so that “work” is only a compliment to an enjoyable lifestyle. At times I would say the line between work and pleasure was very much blurred. With regards to The Panama Report, everything was so new that there was a level of excitement which drove the entire project and I’m someone that loves new and exciting challenges. I suppose this is the kind of excitement and satisfaction people yearn for in retirement.
TIEM: Now that you’ve built your website, what’s next on your plate?
ML: Well, I just recently took over a small boutique hotel in the Panama City’s historic district. It’ll be a labor of love, something new and interesting and something I’m passionate about. Again, it was the same concept of identifying a problem, devising a solution, and figuring out a way to deliver that solution to consumers. The problem was that there were no places to stay in Casco Antiguo, perhaps the most beautiful neighborhood in all of Panama. The solution was to offer a small bed and breakfast-like service. And the vehicle was, of course, a website. I’m no Hilton, but I think we offer a pretty neat product.
TIEM: Thanks for your time Matt. Is there anything you’d say, in parting, to entrepreneurs out there and feel like doing something similar?
ML: I’d say find something you’re passionate about, and learn as much as you can about that topic. By becoming an ‘expert’, doors will open and the money will come. Be creative. It’s far more powerful than knowledge.
Kara Winters is an editor for The International Entrepreneur Magazine (http://www.internationalentrepreneurship.com). In her spare time, Kara enjoys skiing and spending time with her family.