Marko Dimitrijevic is an entrepreneur, investor, photographer, author and frequent public speaker. He’s spent close to 40 years pioneering investment in emerging and frontier markets, which he defines as the smaller, developing countries that will become the emerging markets of tomorrow. Frontier markets have proved a lucrative source of untapped potential for Marko Dimitrijevic, and his success led him to author the book Frontier Investor: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets, which has been praised widely by the financial community, including by Michael Spence, a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, who hailed it as “brilliant” and a “tour de force.” To date, Marko Dimitrijevic has invested in 150 countries, including 120 emerging or frontier markets, and he was an early investor in China, Russia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia.
Marko Dimitrijevic is the founder and chairman of the investment groups Volta Global and Volta Digital Brands. Volta Global is a private investment group specializing in venture capital, private equity, real estate, and public markets. Volta invests in a wide range of companies, industries and geographies, and across all stages of the typical capital fundraising cycle. He recently launched Volta Digital Brands as an avenue to support and develop socially conscious consumer companies around the world.
Traveling to over 100 countries for his career has also fueled Marko Dimitrijevic other passion: photography. While his photos range as widely as his investments, he especially enjoys wildlife photography. He currently resides in Miami with his family.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I was born in Yugoslavia, and have always been a global citizen; someone intensely interested in traveling and exploring other cultures. I speak six languages and my interest in business is shaped by a desire to explore international markets. I came to my career as an investor with the belief that growth companies and markets around the world, particularly those that are often overlooked or dismissed by others, are worthy of investment dollars and that this brand of investing can not only yield more lucrative results, but also help to bolster the emerging economies of the future.
I founded Volta Global after identifying a fundamental flaw in the business models of existing investment firms. Firms specializing in particular asset classes would raise funds requiring them to offload their investments after a given period of time, an arrangement that isn’t ideal for most companies. Meanwhile, firms with diversified portfolios (and liquid securities) tended to avoid the types of businesses we seek out. Volta has a hybrid business model that allows us to hold our investments, yet readily invest in any public company we feel strongly about.
We’ve also recently launched Volta Digital Brands, which is a new platform company of Volta Global. Volta Digital specifically acquires and incubates digital-forward consumer brands in the health, beauty, jewelry and fashion/apparel categories. These are high-growth companies with a keen interest in promoting healthy lifestyle choices and positively impacting the world.
How do you make money?
We’re a private investment group that partners with companies we trust. We invest widely across a spectrum of asset classes, industries and geographies. We make money by fostering the growth of our partner companies, which we can readily do by providing them access to capital, as well as our robust in-house resources in the areas of finance, marketing and operational improvement. We’re able to hold our investments despite market fluctuations, and we can be very flexible in the way we partner with companies, always taking a collaborative, individualized and long-term approach that’s tailored to their specific needs.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Some of our investments yielded returns in the first 12 months, others will take years as they have a different growth pattern and risk/return profiles. We look at each investment on its own merit and don’t have a “formula” or cookie cutter approach to what we do.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Everyone is susceptible to doubt, especially in the beginning. When I began my career as an investor and entrepreneur, there was no shortage of naysayers lining up to offer criticism on my pursuit of emerging markets and frontier investing. Unfortunately, there are always more people willing to say that something can’t work versus those who say it can, especially when your endeavors involve a higher risk profile. This would rightly give anyone pause, especially when the objections are coming from experienced and successful businesspeople. I think I moved beyond my fear by recognizing that most people – even brilliant ones whom I greatly admire – are risk averse and that any trailblazer will naturally face a high degree of negativity. So, yes, I had my moments, but chose to leap anyway.
Now my most vulnerable moments happen in relation to my photography because, although I’ve seriously pursued the interest since I was a teenager, and have managed to win some awards and publish my photographs in several magazines, I still feel like a relative newbie. I think that most fine arts take a lifetime to perfect, so insecurity tends to be a common feeling among artists of any tenure.
What’s one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I spend quite a bit of time researching new topics, trends, and industries. In fact, I often spend six or more hours each day reading, because you simply can’t invest widely like we do without being incredibly well informed on just about everything. Rather than relying heavily on referrals, I use my research to identify new companies and business owners that I’d like to work with, and I’ll reach out to them directly. Understanding the nuances of their markets very fluently will help me pinpoint many of their possible challenges and pain points and anticipate ways that we can likely help. Since I know what types of opportunities we’re looking for better than anyone, it makes sense for me to seek them out rather than expect a lead source to regularly deliver them to my inbox.
I also make a point of meeting with prospective partners face-to-face. I’m a big believer in this. In-person discussion has become increasingly less common in our wired world, and I’ve found that taking the time to seek out live interactions can lead to a wealth of benefits that most people are no longer taking advantage of. Not only is it more efficient by a long shot, it also helps to build trust and foster a more honest, open and complete channel of information-exchange. This allows me to qualify opportunities very quickly, ultimately resulting in higher revenues.
What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Every decision is tough, especially when you’re weighing investment opportunities in startups. You’re gauging a company’s growth potential, the degree to which you can help it evolve, the strength of its leadership, its stability, its competitive advantage, changing market conditions, social and political factors, and so much more. That being said, if a decision is too difficult, it’s usually a sign that a particular investment isn’t a good fit for us. There’s a good deal of science that goes into understanding an investment’s potential, and those factors must always be carefully analyzed, but we also assign a lot of value to our ability to trust and work alongside the portfolio company leadership as partners. If we don’t feel strongly that we can collaborate well with a company’s leadership, we won’t invest. And if we do feel strongly, we’re more willing to take chances.
What makes you successful?
I believe it’s a combination of things, two of which we’ve already touched on. Being curiosity-driven enough that I can invest hours of research and reading daily certainly ensures that I’m up-to-speed on economics, markets, technology, and whatever else I’m investigating at any given time. Also relevant is the fact that I’m willing to take the time to meet with other businesspeople in-person, and, if I’m considering an international opportunity, to visit the country and invest the time to conduct boots-on-the-ground, comprehensive due diligence. Both of these factors ensure that I’m fully vetting opportunities prior to making commitments.
The other factor is that I’m very serious about creating uninterrupted spans of time for myself on a regular basis. I often disconnect my phone and spend time paddle boarding or meditating because I firmly believe that a distraction-free environment leads to a better functioning mind. Whether I spend this time thinking about business or not, my mind is able to reset and becomes primed to problem-solve, think creatively and access the bigger picture, rather getting mired in the details.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
There have been many. The moment when I know an investment is panning out. Each time a possible portfolio company seeks me out. Every foray into a new country, market or industry. I love proving to myself that I can replicate success in wildly different configurations.
Over the years I’ve had a lot of internal and external validation, but perhaps nothing has hit home for me quite as much as the publication of my book, Frontier Investor: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets. It was surreal to wake up one day as a published author. It’s also strange to find your name in all of these unexpected publications because word is spreading and people everywhere are reviewing your book. But the most gratifying part of the experience was literally sharing my knowledge on frontier investing with the world. I do think that everyone in the business community should put in the time to familiarize themselves with these markets, as they represent 20 percent of the world’s GDP, a number that even trumps the economy of the United States! So it was satisfying to provide a rundown of the international investment landscape and how it translates to successful decision-making in any market.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Our future involves continuing to stay abreast of market changes and opportunities and invest accordingly. At the moment, I’m very excited about our work at Volta Digital Brands. I’ve always been a healthy lifestyle advocate, so it’s been fun to work with this group of socially conscious individuals and companies. Each of them offers a range of truly superior products that actually benefit the health of consumers, society and the planet. I’ve always gravitated toward meaningful projects, and it’s been an honor to support brands that are actively working to empower women by providing them with safer products that are largely designed by other women.
What business books have inspired you?
There are so many, but one that I particularly love is Dan Ariely’s Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. The idea of how we motivate ourselves and others is fascinating to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the insights and case studies that the book explored. I also found the book to be useful in thinking about ways to better motivate my employees and others with whom I regularly collaborate.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I tend to value experiences over “things,” so I recently purchased tickets to several art museums on a visit to Paris. Viewing works of art by Rodin and Monet and other legendary artists is an inspiration and a great privilege. It also speaks to my belief in the importance of creating uninterrupted space in one’s life to quiet the mind, think through problems, and draw unexpected associations between seemingly unrelated things. Just as I often see parallels between photography and investing, other artistic pursuits and disciplines can shine a light on my questions du jour, as well. A thorough understanding of art history can prove surprisingly helpful when thinking through the future trajectories of companies, products and business leaders.
What’s the relationship between photography and investing?
People like to refer to both disciples as arts, and this is quite true. But no art thrives without a foundation of craft and science. So just as successful investment stems from a foundation of analysis, scientific methodology and financial theory, photography is unlikely to elicit an emotional response in the viewer unless the results are achieved through careful consideration to aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, exposure ranges and composition. In both instances, the best results yield from a balance of artistic sensibility and craft. Likewise, both photography and investing require measured risk-taking. Just as a photographer will risk exposure to dangerous situations, whether they stem from wild animals, extreme weather, or political unrest, investors – particularly those specializing in emerging markets or frontier investments – face a set of risks that can derive from politics, macroeconomics and microeconomics.
With photography, I often look for patterns that have produced successful outcomes for me in the past. I can adapt these patterns to fit new situations. In this way, photography functions as an analogy for investing. It’s constant reinvention based upon lessons learned applied in new and different ways.