8 Rules For Young Entrepreneurs In Panama
If you're reading this and you're older than 40, you must leave now! I'll be using phrases like "sup B" and "OMG" and "mo-fo" that you're destined to not understand. "You see, when I was your age, the closest I ever got to Central America was a crummy Spanish textbook" I imagined my mother nagging in my ear as I reclined on a balcony in Casco Viejo overlooking a beautiful plaza and drinking a glass of Chilean wine.
I became fascinated with the idea of working for myself soon after I moved Costa Rica and my belief became cemented soon thereafter by fellow alumnus who complained at length about a life in NYC of ironing shirts and corporate lunches just to sit in a cubicle and report to some retarded boss named Stan who said corny thinks like "Seeya later alligator!"
I am part of a new generation: one of tech-savvy travelers and risk-taking diplomats. We, as a group, only vaguely remember the days without internet, thinking painstakingly back to the evenings of Netscape browser which took forever to load and the family computer base which was roughly the size of a small fridge. We are a curious, well-culture bunch attracted to exotic cuisines and international films. Many of us consider the iPod to be an officially-recognized appendage. We don't mind paying extra for imported beer, we tend to think outside the box, and because we have creativity up the wazoo, we are a generation that's primed to break serious entrepreneurial ground in Panama, Central America's hottest bed for success.
Because the country has long been dependant on trade and banking, many industries in Panama which might otherwise emerge with the evolution of a nation, have lay dormant here. Weighed against a slowing economy in the USA and increased competition in the workplace, young entrepreneurs are moving down to Panama to find comfort in an open-canvas-like myriad of business opportunities. Embrace the unknown. For the young entrepreneur, testing these new waters is replacing grad school in delivering not only an education, but in many cases, a hefty payout to those crafty enough to get in at ground level.
The 8 rules below may serve as a manual to youngsters who seek to move to paradise and start their own business like I did. I have been inspired by the amount of opportunities witnessed in Panama and humbly, the accomplishments I've achieved before my 25th birthday. These rules are not terribly different from elsewhere in the world, but thanks to various factors at play in Panama, finding success, adventure, and self-worth may be easier than you think.
1. Be the first in the game: Finding your niche in the market is the imperative. Take equally into account your skill set and your field experience, but perhaps mostly your passion. Going with the grain on this one is ill-advised as you'll fall right back into the rat-race you tried to escape at home. Be revolutionary and uncompromising: don't let anyone at home or in Panama tell you your idea won't work. Chances are they're simply jealous of your ingenuity. Identifying a successful endeavor in the States can work, but be sure to research heavily upon arriving in Panama to confirm you'll be an expert as the first kid on the block.
2. Master the art of mobility: Build your business model around the goal of never being there. As cited by Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Work Week, the easiest and lowest-maintenance businesses are the ones that work while you're sleeping and this especially holds true in Panama where secluded beaches and teeming rainforests are regularly calling you out to play. Choosing an internet business can be ideal as high-speed services are offered throughout Panama, while similarly effective is the process of outsourcing, seeing as though labor here is cheap and English is fairly widely spoken. Focus not only on coming up with a good idea (as good ideas are commonplace) but on implementing your good idea. You're a big fish in a small pond down here.
3. Seek out the perfect match: Network your ass off and meet as many potential business partners as possible. This is not unlike finding a personal mate. Search for a trustworthy person of a strong work ethic with whom you might share a common vision. Going with your gut instinct here, as you will frequently see elsewhere in Panama, is crucial. Joining forces with another entrepreneur will allow you to accomplish twice as much and play off each others' strengths. There's increasingly a large pool of young entrepreneurs coming to Panama and meeting prospects will be a direct result of your ability to make friends: settle only for the perfect business partner and someone you admire. Participating in expat banter and creating enemies will hold you back drastically.
4. Head of the class, my ass: Almost every successful entrepreneur I know in Panama left the States with a less-than-flawless academic record. While that's not to say that paper whiz kids won't do well here, it is meant to show that sub-par GPAs and unremarkable CVs are common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs in Panama. Legitimizing yourself has never been this easy; find any lawyer in Panama and have them build you a custom corporation (should cost no more than $1,000). Award yourself 100 shares of the corporation (or split evenly between co-founders), then have business cards printed ($30) with the name of your corporation followed your name as Founder or President. This subliminal confidence boost of being your own (retarded) boss will be a huge stepping stone. Seeing your name on paper is instant proof and will get the ball rolling.
5. Avoid all shortcuts: No one said it would be easy so don't expect to arrive here and have a successful business handed to you on a silver platter. While the atmosphere in Panama is ultra-conducive to success at a young age, it also requires a lot of bitch work. Read as much about your chosen industry as possible; sign up for RSS feeds and bloglines to be delivered directly to your email and stay up-to-date and informed. Write as much about your industry as possible. Exhibit foresight and be prepared to start the company from the ground up using your vision as the final objective and avoiding (tempting as they can be) all shortcuts. Set goals and reward yourself when you reach those goals. Luckily, if you've chosen the right business, it won't feel like work but rather an exiting sense of momentum.
6. Minimize costs: Focus on low overhead. Not many new, young entrepreneurs realize the list of costs associated with a start-up in Panama. Splitting electricity, internet, and rent costs with another group of young entrepreneurs will free up much-needed cash and compensation for common positions (like secretary) should be divided as well. Sharing an office is an act that will simultaneously function as a breeding ground for competition and a carving station for the perfectly-honed business plan. Try to stay away from business ideas that require large capital investment as they're unfortunately no more difficult to dig yourself out of south of the border than they are at home.
7. Plan to fail: Making mistakes in your Panama industry of choice should be expected, but if prepared correctly, you won't have a) any competitor up your ass ready to take your spot or b) any law suits to deal with. The result of failure as a whole is comparatively friendlier in Panama than in the US, generating an atmosphere where you can learn from your slip-ups. There's no better way to become the best in an industry than by recognizing what everyone else is doing wrong. Try to bounce your idea of people who are not involved in your project and accept criticism with open arms.
8. Be a student of the game: Finding a mentor in Panama will greatly accelerate your learning curve. The properly chosen mentor will steer you around costly mistakes and catapult you over traditional timeline milestones, especially because of Panama's closely-interwoven social network. Contact them on the internet and take them out for drinks: they may prove more influential than a paid education. Solicit advice from anyone who will give it and synthesize all this information in a balanced manner.
Hopefully the wave of young entrepreneurship in Panama will begin and my generation will go after new markets in Panama for all the right reasons: not only to live a great lifestyle and enjoy the tropics, but also to be challenged in the pursuit of a passion.
Hopefully we'll utilize our creativity, energy, and viewpoints as young people to create a nurturing environment for each other in Panama, perhaps different from the standard which has set by older expats prior. Hopefully we won't start a business just for the sake of starting a business, but rather to bring a truly good idea to the table; one that can make Panama a better place.