Date: Mon, 20 May 2013 09:39:10 +0200
So, how about Chile?
Almost one month has passed since I arrived in Chile, and as Startup Chile Round 2 approaches, more and more people send me emails asking the same thing: so, how do you like Chile?
Being a Brazilian, it’s quite ironic that all I know about Chile is that it does good wine. In fact, after talking with a few fellow brazilians, that does seem to be the “de facto brazilian knowledge” about Chile. Hell, I didn’t even know Easter Island belonged to Chile!
In a nutshell, Chile is divided in 15 territories/regions, each one with different weathers, economies and beauties. They comprise everything, from warm, tropical climates down to artic (yes, they have Penguins!).
Admitedly, the only thing I saw in Chile so far is a tiny part of the capital, Santiago. Which in itself is already fully packed of things to see and places to go.
Oh, and did I say the taxes are around 10% (versus ~40% in Brazil)?
The capital of Chile is the cultural, economical and administrative center of the country. It’s a big city, with diverse neighborhoods and a combination of climate and charm that makes you wonder if you’re actually still in South America. Although, differently from european countries, things DO work after past 6pm (you can have dinner at midnight). In these first 3 weeks, I’ve been pretty much confined to Santiago Centro, with rare (walking) expeditions to nearby neighborhoods such as Providencia (which resembles some regions of São Paulo a lot) and Recoleta, a (seemingly) newer part of the city that kinda reminds me Barra da Tijuca (in Rio).
Santiago Centro looks much like the center of any big, rich city, with a LOT of restaurants, bars, cafés and office buildings and A HUGE LOT of people walking around. And when I say HUGE, I do mean it.
One point of caution that ANYONE must take in Santiago is with Taxis: taxi drivers seem to be known for cheating, and in the few times I had to take a cab, it kinda confirmed the theory (stories hang from “oh, I don’t know this region” to the more elaborate “I was so concentrated talking to you I forgot where you were going and decided to drive very, very far, you idiot”). The general advice is to avoid Taxis. The subway and bus services are excellent anyway, and if you’re into walking, big, wide sidewalks and paseos (pedestrian-only streets) will do the trick.
So far, Chileans have been generally very receptive (both to me and to some fellow startuppers). Asking for informations is easy and people will even go out of their way to help you some times – as long as you speak (at least a bit of) spanish. Forget english – it won’t help you communicating with ANYONE down here (not even people in professional services, such as banks, seem to dig english very much). That said, their spanish is a lot more understandable (at least to my ears) than, say, a Catalan or Madrileño speaking.
One certain category of people that really, REALLY astonished me is the public workers. It might even sound odd to say this, but public workers DO WORK in Chile. It’s NORMAL to see an officer from a government bureau or any other public service pulling extra hours, and guess what – they’re not there to drink coffee and talk by the water cooler. That alone was enough to blow me away…
Extra props for the police – the Carabineros – present everywhere (it’s relatively common to find one in the streets), which kinda improves the general feeling of safety. According to some locals, the police in Chile is among the least corrupt in the entire South America – quite a relief if you come from Brazil, where it’s actually better to bump on a robber than getting approached by a police officer.
By the way, PROTESTING seems to be the national sport in Chile: there seem to be at least one public demonstration every single day, mostly complaining about education (which is not free), service fares (busses, etc) and environment-related stuff. It’s sometimes scary, but it clearly shows how politically involved people are (a far cry from Brazilian’s “I complain on Twitter so I’m good” attitude).
I’m guessing most people will simply skip the 3 paragraphs and come straight to this topic, so I’ll start with a bit of story to bore you to death, fellow reader. I first came in contact with StartUp Chile (“SUP” for short) a few months ago, during the selection process for another incubation program, this one in San Francisco. Back then, the team from CORFO (the Chilean’s FINEP) was conducting its first experiment, with a handful of selected companies. They decided to open an official “first call” back in May, and amidst all the turmoil that is the day-to-day of a startup, I decided to give it a shot. Why not?
The selection process was oddly simple: fill in a few forms, upload a few documents, a video pitch and that’s it. In a bit more than one month, the 92 selected companies where announced and given two months to come over, present yourselves at CORFO and start rocking. It’s really as simple as it sounds. Of course there IS competition – the applicant/vacancy ration was around 3:1 in the first selection and will certainly be higher on the coming selections – but ultimately, what makes or breaks you is your own product, team and vision.
So what is SUP after all? In short, it’s simple: it’s a big open room with tables, desks and free wifi, a lot of people working their asses of to build their own thing and, once a month, a guy that collects spreadsheets to reimburse you from expenses you had in the period (of course they won’t reimburse ice cream or pizza, which is a shame, but they do cover all business-related costs, which include the most expensive aspect in a tech startup – hiring people!). Not to mention the easy access to legal support, public relations and a camera dude always trying to catch your english slips on video.
The most important aspect of the entire program is not the 40k USD they offer you to cover expenses (although that’s NICE and really helps a lot – if anyone from CORFO is reading this, please ignore that last phrase! We need more money, more money!) – the contacts with other entrepreneurs from all over the world, with different cultures, and of course, potential investors, customers and partners. That is most definitely invaluable.
The funniest thing on all this is that a few weeks ago, I was one of the guys looking down for the blogs of people that came to SUP in the beta team and saying “what the hell, these guys are getting paid to say all that about a f*ckin’ government thing!”. And now look at me. Wow.
So is it only roses, then?
Chile is not a perfect country. Hell, after living in Switzerland and concluding it’s no paradise either, I came to Chile with very low expectations. The things that will most definitely bother any Brazilian in Chile are prosaic: the food is weird (they put avocado and mayonnaise on EVERYTHING – yes, even McDonalds). Housing is a bit expensive and apartments are usually a bit too small. It’s cold mostly all the year (I find this to be a blessing, but anyway!). There IS violence, you CAN get mugged and the local TV shows SUCK BIG TIME. All in all, small thorns for such a great adventure.
And up we go, for month two in this story – in which our hero has a nervous breakdown due to so much work, work, work, work…