To kick start the new year, Diana Jimenez gives us an overview of her life as an Expat Entrepreneur running a gourmet pet shop in Medellin, Colombia.
Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?
My husband and I have always been expats. I am originally from Costa Rica and he is from Colombia. Both of our dads worked for the United Nations while we were children so we left our native countries when we were one and four (respectively). For the past six years we had been living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn. We came here to Medellin to visit my in-laws in April and fell in love with the city. For the next couple of months we unhappily went to work thinking what can we do to move to Colombia? Juan took a month off work and looked into what was missing in the market in Colombia. He noticed the pet products and pet food were not readily available online and the quality of the products was pretty bad. So we decided to create an online store and a physical store here in Medellin where we can sell gourmet products.
If you could give one piece of advice to other expats setting up their own businesses, what would it be?
We talked to my brother’s roommate, who has been an entrepreneur for over a decade, and he gave us really good advice before we left. He said it is going to take double the amount of time, effort, and money to get where you want to go… but it is worth it. For us this has been true. I also think it took a bit longer than what we expected because we moved to another country and are learning about the cultural differences, which we hadn’t anticipated. We both speak Spanish (Juan was born and lived here for four years) and we still think the cultural changes are hard to adjust to!
What challenges did you encounter when setting up your business and how did you overcome these?
We encountered tons of bureaucratic road blocks along the way. Legislation that contradicted each other caused us to shift the focus more from importing to the online/physical store. The best way to overcome these types of problems is to adapt and change. My husband read some books on startups which suggest that you have to test, test, and test and then change to what the market demands to what is actually feasible. This is what we have been doing… now we are in the process of making a grooming salon in our store. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I thought this was what we would be doing I would have told you NO WAY! This might change after we open the store this week!
What common mistakes do expats, in general, make when setting up their business?
I think that we as expats expect everything to work the way they did where we used to live. We, personally, keep thinking that we are in the US and that people work during Christmas/New Years. In Colombia, and in Costa Rica/Brazil, it is really hard to get anything done in December and January. This is a nice benefit once you live here, but DO NOT start your business during this time.
What resources did you find useful or tapped into to get your business off the ground?
Talking to neighbours, people with pets, family and acquaintances have been really helpful. The people who have lived here longer really understand the culture here and have helped us develop a strategy that works for where we live. I also have asked entrepreneurs I know about their business. Our friend that is a physical therapist told us about hiring and firing people and the financial and emotional toll that takes if you do not find the right person. I highly recommend talking to everyone you can to find out more strategies that you can apply to your business.
What would you do differently if you could do it again?
We have only just started but right now the biggest problem is that we moved here in December, I would have moved here in May instead. The vacations have really slowed down our business.
About Diana Jimenez
Diana Jimenez is the co-founder of Cuatro Patas S.A.S is a gourmet pet shop in Medellin, Columbia. Find out more at www.cuatropatas.com.co or follow @cuatropatasco