Have you ever had an awesome idea? One of those ideas that you gladly stay awake for to the wee hours of the night? One of those “the world needs this” ideas?
Trying to bring good ideas to life in Nicaragua is not easy. The process sometime feels like, “Awesome idea, meet your doom.”
I’m not a stupid person. I made it through high school, graduated from a top U.S. college and have a Master’s degree from one of the best international business schools in the world. I’m 25 years old and full of ideas about how to improve my country. Yet I still can’t seem to navigate the Nicaraguan entrepreneurial landscape without a boatload of money and ethically questionable decisions.
The first few months of a small business are probably the hardest. There are many setbacks, most of which make no logical sense. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
As I worked to establish my small technology startup company in Managua a few months ago, I faced so many ridiculous rules and regulations that my head was spinning. Just registering the name “Marca Labs, S.A.” as a company was a journey I never want to relive. If the direction of the company or anything related to its name ever changes, I vow to never venture back into the legal hassle of public registries and lawyer-speak.
But that wasn’t all. I calculate I’ve lost thousands of dollars and maybe 10 hours of my life due to a lawyer who never answers the phone and disappears/reappears quicker than Harry Potter. Deadlines shmeadlines! Who came up with such foolishness?
Now, after finally clearing that hurdle, I am confronted with a bank that refuses to recognize that the startup is registered legally! Four months in to this process and I still have no checkbook, forcing me to pay my staff with small bags of cash. I feel like a drug dealer, when all I want to do is make iPhone apps.
Here’s what I’ve learned, though — it is possible to make ideas happen. Making it through the legal and financial jungle in Nicaragua isn’t easy, but it’s totally possible. If you are going out on your own to explore Nicaragua’s new business landscape, you can learn from my headaches.
Here are some common blunders that I recommend you watch out for. If you can learn to manage these, the rest might fall into place.
Multiply by two and add a week
Timetables and deadlines in Nicaragua don’t adhere to the same rules that the rest of the world lives by. After a few years of working in Nicaragua, this is something I’m relatively accustomed to, but my business partner found tardiness and late work extremely frustrating. Instead of letting missed deadlines mess up your project, account for that time in your project calendar. Lower your expectations and assume everything will be done late. And don’t forget to reward (and keep!) any team members that deliver work on time.
If only I had paid based on incentives and deliverables, my projects and iPhone apps would be ready for you to download right now! I learned this lesson a bit late, so the world will have to wait a few more weeks for my masterpiece.
Don’t go cheap on legal advice
Most small business are focused on building a great project, and they’re good at it, too. What they’re not good at is everything else related to starting a new company. Legal issues are the tangle in which that I got remarkably lost. If there is one piece of advice I’d give to a burgeoning entrepreneur in Nicaragua, it’s this: Spend the necessary money on legal advice. Bad and cheap legal advice will be much more expensive in the long run.
I figure I’d have a checkbook and more financial security if I had paid for quality legal advice from the start. More importantly, though, I’d have peace of mind that the startup company in which I’ve invested thousands of hours and dollars is secure and stable.
As with most things in life, there is a definite upside to the difficulties. Navigating the entrepreneurial world in Nicaragua does have its bright and fascinating benefits, some you wouldn’t even imagine. Here are some of my favorite things I’ve learned about this beautiful country:
Great (and underappreciated) talent in abundance
At my startup, we are determined to build everything we are working on with Nicaraguan talent based in Nicaragua. We could choose to grow outside of the country, but we are committed to seeing what can be done here. There is amazing talent throughout Nicaragua, and it isn’t necessarily concentrated in Managua. I found my star designer on Twitter—he lives in Estelí somewhere. When you find talent here, hold on to it.
Everyone knows someone who knows that other person you need
Nicaragua may be a small country, but it’s a strong one in its sense of community and social network. At every turn, I met people who happily connected me to clients, mentors, and even competition that proved crucial in my journey. Most people are eager to help, once they know what you’re up to. (Note: Beware the naysayers and the grumpy old men. They exist, but they’re also easy to ignore.)
Most people I’ve encountered are relieved and excited to hear about something new and innovative ideas happening in the country. And most will try to help as much as they can. I found that, as long as you are helpable and explain your needs, people are happy to lend a hand — and a connection.
The good comes with the bad, however, so it’s up to each person or team to tough it out. Making it through requires a dedication to the project that outlives any setbacks and delayed deadlines that are unfortunately all too common in Nicaraguan culture. Whenever I hit one of those roadblocks, I return to Jefferson’s wise words: word harder, find more luck.
So to all the burgeoning entrepreneurs and small businesses out there, keep on truckin’.
Marcella Chamorro recently released a book on authenticity in marketing, titled To Be or Like to Be, and she also writes for her blog on lifestyle & marketing. She is a blogger, speaker, and consultant based in Managua, working on developing technologies to help people be more creative.