In 2012 Michel Issa was 24, unemployed and in massive debt. For the last 10 years up until that point he had devoted his life to becoming a munk and studied theology at the Nottingham Hill University in England. In 2011 he realised that his dream no longer was to become a monk. He then returned to Sweden and looked to get a job. After months and months of agony and not being able to find a job, that last drop was when McDonald’s told him they had moved on with other applicants. His self confidence hit an all time low.
He describes how he had to use this alienation to turn it around into entrepreneurship. He got help with acquiring a cheap conference facility in Östergötland that nobody wanted. There he organised Christian camps. The money was very tight. Michel realised he needs to seek out people outside of religious and non-profit associations if he was to get a chance to have his company go with profits.
There he was in debt and a failing company that he started when he was 24.
“I felt like a complete failure.”
But by chance he got in contact with the organisation Greenpeace that booked their annual meeting there. That contact gave more introductions and soon the calendar was filled with bookings for his conference facility. It was then and there he realised the importance of a network and contacts to succeed in business.
Michel recalls this as a big turning point moment.
“I wanted to get to know other successful entrepreneurs and so I wrote a long letter about who I was and what I stand for. Then I started googling names – lists of successful business owners, millionaires and entrepreneurs. I added them as friends on Facebook, but few accepted. More people accepted my contact request on LinkedIn, and I emailed all of them and asked if we can meet.
One person said yes. It was the serial entrepreneur and investor Gunilla von Platen. They booked a meeting at her office at one of the most expensive streets in Stockholm, Strandvägen. Michel recalls not even being aware that this was a big deal to meet at this particular street. At one point during their meeting, Gunilla asked him what he wanted. His answer was simple.
“I just want to get to know you.”
Their conversation lasted about an hour and they took a picture together. That picture would then become something that opened up many doors and new opportunities for Michel Issa.
“I put the picture on my Facebook wall and got many likes. I then sent this picture along when I was contacting other successful entrepreneurs.”
That picture from Strandvägen led to more meetings. Michel began going to networking events where top industry leaders would attend. He walked up to them, introduced himself and started talking. It was this way he met Sweden’s richest and most powerful businesswoman Antonia Ax:son Johnson and other powerful people from the Wallenberg family.
“About 2 years ago I was invited to Spegelrummet at Grand Hotel for an event. He found Marcus Wallenberg, one of Scandinavia’s most powerful financiers, standing there. He walked up to him and said “Hi Marcus, you are a big role model to me. I would like to invite you out for lunch.” He seemed a bit amused by that approach and gave his personal contact information. Two weeks later they scheduled a lunch meeting.
As a 15 year old he wanted to become a munk and devote his life to serve others. It was then he began studying theology.
It was in 2011 that he realised he didn’t want to become a monk and that he could make a bigger impact as a civilian. He started his first company and didn’t go well at all in the beginning.
Now as an international speaker, he says one of his biggest keys to his success is his network. By systematically networking he has been able to get into powerful rooms in business.
“The way to get a powerful network is that you have to meet people and become a person that others want to meet. The industry leaders don’t care about your education, the only care about who you know and who knows you.
Michel often speaks about why it is important with having a powerful network.
“By networking you build up your own character. You meet a lot of people and build valuable contacts that can be of help for you to reach your goals. And in addition to that you learn a lot from other people. It creates opportunities.
He continues to speak to audiences all over the world about his story and run many successful companies, along with his charity organisation World Aid Active. Many of his organisation’s supporters are globally known celebrities, high level executives and very successful entrepreneurs.
Indeed, Michel believes that a strong network is one of the biggest keys to success.