“Hi I enjoy your blogs, I am African-American from the States and would like some information about your experiences in Cuenca and if it is a big challenge for blacks to start a business over there. You stated your experience and I thought that was great. I want to experience the life of Ecuadorians and especially Cuenca, what must my expectations be? Is it really true that $300.00 can get you a nice place to live? Your help will be greatly appreciated.”
I am one of those people who does not know how to take a true vacation. Laying around beaches or passing the days completely self-indulged is an absolute challenge for me (which is one of a number of reasons why I hate cruises). While my travel may seem random to an outsider, those in the know, know that there must be a specific interest I have in that country or city and that it is in some way tied to a business idea.
So when I travel to a new place, be it in the United States or anywhere else, I always have an eye out for the business environment and opportunities for entrepreneurship. I also have a personal principle of not wanting to work for anyone other than myself and my clients, so I definitely try to consider all the possibilities.
That said, over the years I have realized some universal truths for doing business abroad:
- Take your time. Doing business abroad can be a slow process and you want to make sure not to sink everything you have into a business proposition that is unteste;
- Travel with an open mind and have no preconceived notions, because they are probably wrong;
- Get to know a place before you start thinking of business there because what may work where you currently are, may not be feasible in another environment (this requires time);
- Get to know the people before you put plans in place because their needs and desires may be completely different based on culture, religion, region, etc. (this requires time);
- Keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth closed (regarding business plans).
On this last point, the minute you voice that you are interested in doing business in a place, everyone will (1) immediately know that you are not from there i.e. you are a “gringo” and (2) everyone will present you with a “great” business proposition.
On the challenge of being black and starting a business in Cuenca – No one cares what color you are…black, brown, purple, neon blue. As a North American foreigner your money is green (yes, you too Canadians), and that is all that matters. Anyone who runs a business has to hustle and take care not to be hustled, especially when working in developing countries. You could be in the blackest country in Africa, surrounded by folks you think look like you…but they know you are a “gringo”, “toubab”, “pumoy” foreigner from the West, and trust that they will be first in line to take advantage of any naiveté. Now that I think of it, that sounds just like New York.
So are there any particular challenges with being a black, North American, person, starting a business in Ecuador? Not particularly because you are essentially a black gringa/o. What will present a challenge is language. You will always fare better if you know the language enough to get around and to ensure surrogates are not leading you by the nose. The second challenge is finding trustworthy surrogates, which takes time because everyone has their own agenda.
Next, travel with no expectations, just go… you will never be disappointed and will almost always find something joyful. Okay, correction. I had no expectations when I went on that cruise and I was still thoroughly disappointed…actually revolted. So maybe “never” is too absolute, please substitute, “almost never”.
Finally, yes it is possible to find a place in Cuenca that I think is nice for $300. The operative phrase being “I think”. I like to be comfortable but I have simple tastes, I appreciate zen decor and I like living with locals, like a local. Yes, I have been known to hand wash the family laundry, but I also require things to be clean, secure and welcoming. Normal Cuenca apartment pricing means not living in the expat buildings or neighborhoods, negotiating stated prices, and having the ability to speak just a wee little bit of Spanish (you’ll have more leverage).
In the immortal words of Jay-Z and Pharrel (yes..I am going there)