Chasing Your Dream – Starting Your Own Business in Costa Rica
For many of you, moving and starting a business in Costa Rica is the ultimate dream. Chasing your dreams takes dedication and a bit of work, and I’m always thrilled to hear the stories of fellow expats who have made their dreams come true and become successful at opening up a business in Costa Rica. Last week I sat down with Michael Brown to hear his story.
Interview with expat Michael Brown, CEO of Mead Brown a vacation rental company
Michael, what brought you to Costa Rica?
Like many people, our first trip to Costa Rica was for a vacation. It’s a big world; we figured we’d make one visit, cross it off our list, and continue exploring this fascinating planet of ours. But we were immediately captivated by the stunning natural beauty of the rain forests and the beaches, and by the monkeys, marlin, and orchids, as well as by the friendly and happy people.
What compelled you to move to Costa Rica and start a business?
We were living in Washington, DC, and had made multiple visits to the Pacific Northwest, with the intention of either buying an existing business there, or of starting one there. During our vacation in Costa Rica, we were having a friendly lunch with a real estate agent. Just making casual conversation, I asked, “What businesses are needed here? If someone were to move to Costa Rica, what do you suggest they do for a living?” His second suggestion was a vacation rental agency.
What was his first?
A drycleaner! Needless to say, we had no desire to move anywhere so we could inhale chemicals all day!
Did Costa Rica really need yet another vacation rental company?
Yes. We had been renting a high-end condo in Los Suenos Resort and the service was really bad. Virtually non-existent. We are not high maintenance or demanding, but we could not get liners for the trash can. Every time we’d call, they’d say someone would be right over with a supply. We never had liners during our entire week-long stay. That’s a small detail, but God is in the details. It was annoying all week to put trash into a can without a bag; we really felt like we were being disrespectful to the housekeepers.
On departure day, we called the rental office to ask what to do with the keys. They said they’d send someone over to check us out. By “check us out,” they meant that two people spent an hour counting all the spoons and forks and everything else! Unreal. We had been renting villas and condominiums for vacations for 20 years, and had never experienced that. I mean, who travels to a foreign country to steal the flatware?!
How did you go about starting and growing your business in Costa Rica?
Rather than merely publishing a web site and hanging out an “open” sign, we spent nearly a year researching every aspect of the business. This included half a dozen trips to Costa Rica. We wanted to have all the systems in place before we opened, rather than figuring it out as we went along.
There was still a learning curve after we opened, but we really had a pretty good idea of what was required to be successful. The vacation rental business has several key aspects: Marketing, reservations, housekeeping, maintenance, concierge services, transportation, and bookkeeping. We strive to be the best at what we do. Conde Nast Traveler magazine has just 40 villa rental specialists around the world. There is only one for Costa Rica, and it’s Mark Mead my partner (Conde Nast Traveler names individuals, not agencies, to their list). He was named to the list of villa experts in 2011 and again in 2012. He was carefully vetted through the magazine’s rigorous screening process, and found worthy. What this means for our guests is that we are reliable and trustworthy; these are important attributes when traveling to a foreign country, or anywhere for that matter.
What advice would you give to those wanting to move to Costa Rica and start their own business?
Do your homework first. Know what resources it’s going to take to be successful (and having those resources is no guarantee of success, but without them you’ll likely fail). Be committed to doing really well whatever it is you choose to do, as we already have many poorly run businesses in Central America and do not need another! If you are truly committed to performing and delivering to a North American standard—difficult anywhere, and particularly challenging in a developing country—then come give it a go.
Be realistic about what it’s going to take; ten or twenty thousand dollars is enough to get into trouble, and not enough to succeed in business. You don’t want to buy yourself a job; the goal should be a successful business, one that can generate a good income without you having to do everything yourself.
If you are interested in starting a business here in Costa Rica, our Escape Artist partners are in the best position to help you work through the fog and haze of a foreign country. Lisle Head has been working with investors and expats for years and can assist you in most areas that can make your dream come true. Get in touch with Lisle today by using this form or you can call 866-403-1345 and ask him yourself.