Starting Up is Hot in Chile

Everything you want to know about doing business in Chile

Everything you want to know about doing business in Chile

Businessmen and women friends. Go to Chile. Now. You could be a student or native entrepreneur. Go. South with your partners. Silicon Valley dreams are  giving way to the lure of Chilecon Valley, declared the Economist last year. According to an article, despite several other nations’ attempts to replicate a Silicon Valley and failing, Chile’s has been an incredible attempt to capitalise on the weak spot of the Silicon Valley dream — the murky waters of US immigration policy. In what has fast gained currency as the most disruptive initiative in public policy in recent years, Chile has opened its doors to the world, setting out to achieve a realistic goal of becoming the innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America. I found out about StartUp Chile while surveying  story possibilities for a fabulous international education e-zine about the rise of foreign student entrepreneur migrants, a demographic that I felt existed even if it was not often written about or analysed outside of say, the Silicon Valley context.

Set up in 2010, Start Up Chile has now inducted over seven generations of foreign born entrepreneurs (not just students, even if the age of the typical SUPChile entrepreneur falls between 18-40) . The program is open to all/foreign entrepreneurs of any age, offering incentives to applicant winners of 40000$ equity free capital, office space and an initial year long visa in Chile (that is extendable, depending on how well you have capitalised your opportunities) and serves as an equal inspiration to locals too, who get tremendous exposure to some of the world’s most dynamic entrepreneurs and work ethos.

Nate Lustig is a prolific blogger who advocates Staying Out of the Cubicle for all, but started out as a superyoung entrepreneur who ended up in the pilot round of SUPChile and was so impressed by the experience that he wrote a book on his time there, hoping to help out several entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-aspirants wanting to test their dreams on new international shores. The beauty of his book is that it is exhaustive and yet so concise, sometimes he veers off so concentratedly into other aspects of Chilean life, you realise why finding a traditional mainstream publisher for such a book (or digest) would be very hard/pointless. He is candid about his observations but offers generous awe in return:

In my initial round, the Chilean government spent $ 920,000 on entrepreneurs, plus likely another $ 300k on offices, salaries, promoting the program and travel. So for $ 1.25m, Chile got three big things. First, it’s the best PR campaign in history … Chile appeared in The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, NY Times, BBC, Financial Times and every influential tech blog in the world as an innovative, safe, forward thinking, entrepreneurial country. A half page ad in the Wall Street Journal costs $ 250,000 for one day and that’s an ad! Chile got its money’s worth just from the good press alone. [Lustig, Nathan (2012-12-17). Start-Up Chile 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About Living, Working and Doing Business in Chile (p. 134). Nathan Lustig. Kindle Edition].

Personally as an ex-commerce student and having worked a lot with startups and private businesses, the topic of entrepreneurship is interesting if only to understand the complex relationship between businesses and the markets they serve and in observing how long ideas stay with the market before they change/pivot. StartUp Chile is appealing to the entrepreneur-tourist, the kind that may not necessarily think Chile is forever and may not necessarily stay on long enough to earn citizenship, but would love for a helipad for some whacky international venture in life. If you want to set up a publishing house/franchisee in Chile, though, you would think twice; digital publishing might be the only hope, yet if you’re thinking of setting up something with ebooks, you will have to consider the rampant piracy in a region where there is a very nascant (if non-existent) market for books, more so for non-Spanish language books. Keeping that in mind, ebooks for Indian literary fiction in Spanish language was the idea I pitched to Nathan Lustig. When I mentioned  Argentina or Brazil (a common guest of honour at recent international book fairs) both with a more thriving book publishing scene, I learned the connection was futile; Brazil was a different beast altogether being almost separate from the rest of LatAm owing to separate language and culture, Brazilians themselves got pretty rich attacking their own home market, leaving no proper place for foreigners. (In terms of the type of book publishing markets, would it be fair or naive to compare LatAm with India?)

When I asked Nathan why he chose to self-publish this eminently readable book, he said, it was the easiest most straightforward way out, as he expectedly reaped the good royalties Amazon offered on a book that was best discoverable online through algorithms. In fact, Nate intends to do another version of this book that talks about tourism and culture, rather than be specifically aimed at Chilean entrepreneurs.

A lot of my MBA friends are wondering what to do as their next big step. I am pointing them to Chile. And with some proud help from local and alumni partners, my friends may just find big success if not small relief. I’ve even tried talking my employers into setting up some operations in Chile and have me man it there. Although, for now, it would be a big thing if I even get to exhibit at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Such. is. Life.

On Reading Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People

I tried to video myself on a stupid blackberry to vary the format, and although I’m very barely 100p into this book, I know there’s a world more of what I’m dying to say about this novel, in actually proper, breath-uninterrupted words. (I can safely say, to be continued…)

A Beautiful Mind

Em always wanted to be a writer, her son tells us. Through her letters according to him, she was always “demonstrating her charm, her effortlessness her skill.” Nobody took her seriously as a writer, not even her word-wise son, who thought, “she wrote as she broadcast without much effort, without much thought,” with the reasoning that effortlessness is not easy to achieve and its weightlessness is in direct proportion to the effort put in. Em or Imelda, hence lived a difficult life as the mother of Tsu (Susan) and the nameless little brat who actually is quite a discerning, yearning little boy grappling with his mother’s truth and fictions. To him, she is also a writer “who lifted off without effort”, and seemed to have no reason to write other than her sheer will for it, no audience but her children.

The story of his parents’ love is the story of Em and The Big Hoom, consummated by “codes and rituals , almost all of them devised by her”. Em for Mommy (and rightly, for who in their right heart calls their mother mother?) is the vengeful Muddhah who always wanted to be a writer, but worked in different jobs and before marriage brought home the bacon as the single wage earner in her family, which she palmed off to her mother Mae wordlessly each month.  In this book Em is made immortal through the eyes of her smart and silly son through spurts of their interactions and some of Em’s diary entries and letters to her friends and her beloved husband Angel Ears (also Limb of Satan or LOS).  She also called her husband Mambo and Augie March but never his real name Augustine. He on the other hand, just called her Imelda, and sometimes in classic male style,  “Beloved.”

They are not the perfect family, and they don’t pretend otherwise. Em is mad madder and Muddhah (where the superlative for mad is mother no less) and she knows it. And she teaches her kids to live fully, earn their own little joys and freedoms, to listen to your heart and head and with the least lies it takes to live a simple, gratified life. Yes, these are lessons, chronicles from her growing up, adolescence, dating, financial learnings, marriage, motherhood, the novelty of her firstborn, and the weariness and doom with her second, the several almost-borns she confessed to bumping off in the her hot ever-ready  ‘oven’ itself. If her stature is middleclass, her demeanour always rebelling against it. She lives by the virtue of living freely and with abundance, holding on her ideals of staying strong through thick and thin with sick and kin.

This is a story of a child’s despair and not just his mother’s,  of growing bonds between a mother and her family in the worst of times. Although the son tells us the story, we are seeing it through the mother’s droopy, hazed but no less scathing eyes.

Em was always ill after marriage. The kids try getting to the bottom of her despair to understand where she came from, what it was they could un-do. They realise they often hungered for more of themselves in her, in search of a question to their own guilty curiosities: would they outlive her illness, and would her illness become theirs? How could they ever know for sure?

If despair ran deep, compassion hit deeper.

“I don’t know how to describe her depression except to say that it seemed like it was engrossing her. No, even that sounds like she had some choice in the matter. It was another reality from which she had no escape. It took up every inch of her. She had no time for love or hate, fatigue or hunger. She slept ravenously but it was drugged sleep, probably dreamless sleep, sleep that gives back nothing.”

Em was in a bad shape, but couldnt be bothered. She was completely herself till the end. She was not shy or afraid of being herself, wanting her way. Her life was remembered as divided into darkness, Lithium Carbonate and then darkness. Her two year dawn was when Lithium showed up on her doorstep like a miracle drug, but one requiring proper administering, as excess of Li2CO3 accumulated like poison in the body. Always at home at the hospital, she would dole out advice to co-patients and their partners who returned her cheeky candid comments for cures with affection and mainly condescension. She would offer pointed  advice, and be hated. Indian women fall ill so that their husbands can hold their hands, she said.

Her depression would make her beg, “Kill me.” But if her life didn’t make sense, could her death even begin to compete with the nonsense floating about in the world? To ease the pain, her son would sometimes give her five orange Depsonils when her prescription said one.

A feisty little mousy doll she might have thought herself, even as she fondly gazes back at the hot item she was in her youth, the ‘buttercup’ of her husband’s (then colleague) eyes.

Em did everything, spared nobody.

She always was wary of being (spits venomously) a muddah and loved and resented it through her every action, gesture and thought. Her confessionals were little fond lessons in life she took great joy in sharing.

The story grows on you like an illness until you know it inside out and are holding your breath to break free of it. Jerry Pinto writes with passion flair and humour about the ills of growing up and growing close to the ones you know most but understand the least.

Living with illness is hard. Harder for those who suffer it in second and third person, every single day, unbeknownst to the logic of your ailments, unsure of whether a cure exists in anesthesia or in the persistent atheism that allows for others to agnostic in their beliefs, while living a life without god which despite all its bleakness is easier to accept than the presence of a divine force.

Em lives hard. Em loves harder. And hallucinates the hardest.

For her “Rejoicementation is the opposite of lamentation.” I still don’t know what Em suffered from. She was constantly being shifted from one hospital to the next mental asylum, diagnosed with bipolar depression but never given a concrete name or specific condition, perhaps a statement on the health system that exists in our cities for niche and fringe illnesses that Western countries seem to have more provisions and care giving structures for. Was it Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or another hybrid mental disease? The memory of Em, is the memory of all things just and noteworthy. In the book Em wants to donate her eyes before dying; in reality she has donated her eyes to everyone who reads this book including her son, who also gives us glasses.

This is the best novel I have read in so long. The physical hardback is a beautiful one with purple coated page edges.

Aleph Book Company (2012)

Aleph Book Company (2012)

How to Get Filthy Rich for Asian Asians


Penguin (2013)

Mohsin Hamid deftly guides you into his world of making it big in Asia. And by which I mean South Asia. East Asia is a different subject altogether, and better left to experts from outside this great mess of a subcontinent.  How to Get Filthy Rich… is an essential book for every modern young urban migrant without the baggage of memory, exile, partition, bloody wars, disasters, calamities of the recent past.

The roving You, is the centre of this novel, quickly shifting from boyhood to old age, from one phase of life to the next. What is your clutch? Nationality? Memory? Money?  Or cumulatively, time? Diasporic Asians are no more diasporic, they have ditched their hyphens, in this English speaking, maiden name loving, globetrotting, commercial oneness, achieving that synchronised identity upwards. Hamid is Pakistani, but you could just as easily be Indian or Bangladeshi.

And although this book could easily be targetted at anyone (including Westerners) who want to strike it big in Asia, his self-help strategies are aimed more directly at the Asian Asian. The Asian Asian is someone who lives in Asia, and wants to make it big in Asia, in a world where Asia is the centre of the universe. You are the millennial’s parent, the baby boomer, who sends your kids to North America or elsewhere to study and become citizens of another land. You are staying on, digging your tunnel to wealth, sitting on the goldmine that is Asia.

The book is a ten step or ten chapter lesson to improving yourself, and (like all good Asian advertising) nothing as grandiose as the title suggests. In the clutter of nonsense that is everyday living, Hamid brings us back to the basics with tips like: moving to the city, forging an identity, befriending the capitalists, begrudging the idealists, greasing the bureaucrat’s palms, getting educated, staying out of the trap and burden that is true love, taking up a mentor, dancing with debt (risk taking lessons), doing whatever it takes, befriending all sorts, banging on the basics and hitting the ESCAPE button.  There is a lesson or two tucked in, “Entrepreneurship in the barbaric wastes furthest from state power is a fraught endeavor, a constant battle, a case of kill or be killed, with little guarantee of success.”

You can manipulate your own mortality:

“With borrowed funds, a business can invest, gain leverage, and leverage is a pair of wings. Leverage is flight. Leverage is a way for small to be big and big to be huge, a glorious abstraction, the promise of tomorrow today, yes, a liberation from time, the resounding triumph of human will over dreary, chronology-shackled physical reality. To leverage is to be immortal.”

Aging is graceless, thankless:

“You have encountered the reality that with age things are snatched from a man, often suddenly and without warning. You do not rent a home for yourself or buy a secondhand car. Instead you remain in your hotel, with few possessions, no more than might fit in a single piece of luggage. This suits you. Having less means having less to anesthetize you to your life.”

The books ends in mutual consent between the reader and writer, the thinker and the living person, you or your progeny.

Hamid perhaps makes you expect a Slumdog Millionaire, dreamy realist story, but moves beyond. And what you forget is his nationality. There is never a dull word about the Asian neighbourhood nor the immediate political and social forces that cloister everyday living. His blissful pragmatism, is easy to disappear into.

Also there is not a single show or talk of skyrises versus the slums, an image we are much worn down by. It  is equally entertaining that he merrily skirts around the issue of forward mobility (the idea of moving forward, rather than moving higher) in times where society’s next trend  after upward mobility is exodus, moving outwards inwards, connecting, being socially outfitted post the rise of information networks. With better material disposition, you are bound to inhabit a better mental disposition too; However, better mental health is not necessarily the outcome of having become filthy rich. We are easily deluded from the consequences of this rags to riches or riches to rags tale as it may be. (Without wanting to drop any spoilers).

Belonging to the ilk of Teju Cole’s Open City, this book is also a rumination on solitude in the city. The voice originates from the same fragmented (or in Hamid’s case: segmented) age we are living and burning our livelihoods in.

So, I read this ebook on a Kindle app on my Mac, which did little to add to the weight of the novel. I found it light weight, easy to finish, leave off, and pick up again. Which made me wonder again at the physicality of the book; can physical weight ever match the weight of words? If a digital book is light on verdict, do you feel less cheated?

I loved the genre specificity and yet open endedness of this ever ready self-help novel; if you want to help yourself in a most enjoyable way, you have to read this book. If you are a baby boomer parent, you have to read this book too. If you are a Millennial child, go on and send this to your kindle. If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll probably be more deeply struck by how similar your life is to those around you.