Editor’s note: I first connected with David a few years back in Buenos Aires, when I became a fan of a fun and effective Spanish language course that he helped to develop, BuenoEntonces. While he may be humble in this interview, he must have been a wildly successful networker because his name came up absolutely everywhere I went, and not one person had a bad thing to say about him. He struck me as an expat entrepreneur that I had a lot to learn from. It always came across that he had figured out how to balance being a driven, hard-working entrepreneur with remembering one of the reasons he moved abroad in the first place – to actually enjoy life to the fullest.
When was your first move abroad, and what inspired the move?
I moved to Cusco, Peru in August 2001. I had just sold a little tech company and thought I wanted to be a writer. I lived there for a year and wrote every day. My writing was terrible, but I got the bug for living abroad and never went back.
Explain some of the businesses or projects that you have been involved in overseas. Is there a common first step that you had to take to get each off the ground, to get them from an idea to reality?
I have always been an entrepreneur, so it was a natural fit for me. The first business was a vineyard and winery in Mendoza, Argentina. It was supposed to be a little real estate project – half time for a year or two. It turned into a big deal and was 80-hour weeks for 5 years. My second business was a technology business making mobile apps that has grown fairly rapidly as well. The big thing they have in common was buying things cheaply in the domestic market (vineyard land and software engineering) and selling them in richer, foreign markets.
You have a track record of networking really well, and making great contacts wherever you go. Any tips for readers who move to a new place who may have a hard time meeting people to do business with?
That’s funny, I don’t think of myself as much of an extrovert. The key is really persistence and drinking a lot of coffee. I try to make sure I am meeting at least one new person one-on-one every week. I don’t like networking events very much because I don’t like competing for attention. I’d rather email someone to meet for a coffee. And super important – always pick up the check!
How do you feel like being an entrepreneur abroad differs from being an entrepreneur in the US?
Every country is different, and has different rules and customs. If you expect your employees, partners or customers to adopt a US-centric style because it is “better,” you are going to have a bad time. Figure out what aspects of the local market are flexible, and which are inflexible, and proceed accordingly. Use judo, not blunt force.
What advice do you have for someone still living in the US, unsatisfied doing the 9-5 thing, whose heart would prefer that they get on a plane and start a business while attempting life as an expat…but they feel that they have too many responsibilities or obligations to do something so ‘crazy’?
You have to be willing to give up everything you know – most importantly security – in exchange for freedom and amazing experiences. Putting obligations and responsibilities behind you is a journey of self-discovery. More often than not, you’ll find that they are security blankets posing as “serious concerns.”
Any future moves planned?
Barcelona! My favorite city in the world.Hopefully in early 2013.
On a final note, you and your wife have a darling little girl. Has having a child changed your views on expat life – either make you believe in it more or begin to question it a little? In what ways do you feel your daughter will benefit from growing up abroad?
Most of my favorite people in the world have grown up in multiple cultures. My 18-month old daughter understands English, Spanish and Mandarin. I want her to grow up in an environment where she understands that the world is full of lots of different kinds of people and a million ideas. I think the happiest, healthiest, most productive people are those that live their life with more desire and less fear. The more open your mind, the less you fear. I think raising my daughter in an international environment is the best gift I could give her.
Last question: What is one situation you have found yourself in abroad that you never could have imagined– a random memory that makes you laugh at the strange and wonderful places that life takes us?
When we moved into our apartment in Hong Kong, I was setting up Penelope’s crib when I realized that in her 15 months (at the time) she had lived in 6 different homes on 3 continents in her short life. And then I counted 30 different homes that I have lived in over the last 30 years. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
You can follow some of David’s recent projects here: