Friday, 5 April 2013

Expat Entrepreneur: Kristrun Hjartar founder of social fitness app, Starters

In the latest of our Expat Entrepreneur series, Kristrun Hjartar gives us an overview of her life as an Expat Entrepreneur and brains behind Starters, an app which helps people to exercise – no matter how busy they are!

1. Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?

When I arrived in Shanghai, China, I had lost my community of friends to exercise with, was juggling a lot of work, and there was lack of high quality gyms near me. So I decided to design a solution for myself. At first I just designed prototype workouts for me and my friends who were also struggling to exercise, but when one of my best friends in the US with a bad back sent me an email telling me about how he improved, tears came to my eyes and I realized this is what I want to do – help get people healthy and happy. Starters grew from there.

 2. If you could give one piece of advice to other expats setting up their own businesses, what would it be?
Be patient and find people you trust, even if this means taking longer or paying more (if you can). It can be hard to find people right away, especially if you have recently moved to a new place. Usually, you start out with a very small team, so capable people can make you or break you - I have been very fortunate to find people to work on my app. They all joined because our purpose aligned; we are all interested in helping people make a change to feel better and to live longer.

3. What challenges did you encounter when setting up your business and how did you overcome these?
There were few different challenges. One, I had never worked in this type of medium before – designing an app is very different from designing physical objects. However, I applied the same methodology. The other big challenge is speed of development. As a small bootstrapped company, speed and nimbleness is important but hard to maintain due to lack of resources.

4.   What common mistakes do expats, in general, make when setting up their business?
Expats or not, I think it’s as important to prototype your brand / message as it is to prototype your product. The two is intertwined. Start it early. Start a blog, get on social media and have a conversation with the world. Also, take time for yourself. It’s easy to get wrapped up 24/7 in what you are developing and you treat it like your baby. However, getting out of the office, learning the native language and getting to know the local people is important to not miss out on important experiences that will certainly influence you and your business.

5. What resources did you find useful or tapped into to get your business off the ground?
I was really lucky to have very experienced co-founders next to me – they’ve been super inspiring and helpful on many fronts. I also talk to my friends who have experience building a business. There are so many great blogs and books as well, but it will only guide you, it won’t teach you – you have to do and learn and iterate.

6. What would you do differently if you could do it again?
I would have started conversations with the world from the beginning to build awareness and engage with lots of different people earlier. I would also do more bare bone prototypes for a little longer with a small group, and build from there. Another thing I think all expats should do is take advantage of local entrepreneur organizations and events to tap into the local network to advance personally and professionally.

About Kristrun Hjartar
Kristrun Hjartar is the founder of Starters, a social fitness app for busy people who don't have time for the gym or don't know where to start. For more information visit:

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