Andy Trattner

March 16, 2022

A Tale of Two Business Cultures

The United States has a highly developed culture of business. Folks think transactionally, and the system is geared towards economic growth. There are reasonably many regulations and relatively good enforcement.

And yet...why did I know that Delaware was the best place to incorporate before I understood what it really meant to make something people want?

It's strangely easy to live within a culture of business and never learn how to create a new one. Education systems are not yet oriented in that direction. (I like the critiques articulated in Stop Stealing Dreams and The Case Against Education.)

But even if one does create a company, as I did with Lean On Me in college, it likely won't achieve life-changing growth and profitability. Unmet needs are hard to discover and address; businesses are easier to start than sustain. And starting is not easy!

Yet another thing I love about Ecuador is the underdeveloped business culture here. People and projects always run late. Regulations are so poorly designed and enforced that people tend to ignore them.

It's common knowledge that starting a restaurant entails the following, no más:
  1. Renting a space for $200 month-to-month.
  2. Printing a menu.
  3. Serving people food.

Only now, a year after launching our restaurant, are we finally getting the permits in order. This is not illegal; it's actively recommended by officials of the municipality! I'm not sure that would fly in the States.

Maybe even more enabling than the latino attitude or governmental posture is the ease of seeing the future here. It's already happened elsewhere, so the building blocks are more obvious.

I'm starting Senseg because I've used Venmo before, the payment apps here suck, and the online bank transfers are OK. I could not create the same service + rapid progress starting from scratch.

Also, a livable salary (and GDP per capita) in Ecuador is around $5k per year, an order of magnitude lower than the U.S. The income one needs to justify a new business here feels much more manageable. 

I never thought of myself as a serial entrepreneur because I never had a  ramen-profitable business venture in the States. But here in Ecuador, I can view my side projects developing a property, publishing a couple books, and managing some family friends' investments as legitimate work (or at least semi-serious funemployment).

As a sophomoric youth leading our humble project beyond HackMIT six and a half years ago, I had a poor grasp on the systems I was operating within, incorrect life priorities at the time, and suboptimal self-awareness. My goal leaving college was very explicitly to get "a PhD in life" as opposed to continuing with grad school.

It's a tough degree to complete, always work-in-progress, but I'm happy to report that researching a couple different business cultures (by immersion) has been enriching and enlightening.