After 17 years of living in the US, last month I moved to Barcelona together with my family. For many years, I have led Belatrix’s efforts, as a Latin American software development company, to penetrate the US market, providing services to some of the most important companies in the country, such as Disney and FIS. This has been an incredibly fulfilling role, taking Belatrix from a small company no-one had heard of, to being one of the most important Latin American service providers. So moving to Barcelona represents a new era for Belatrix, my family and myself.
As a result, in this article I want to depart from my usual focus on business and technology topics, and instead share a bit about my experience as an expat and entrepreneur. I want to explore the reasons behind the move, why entrepreneurs are often seemingly drawn towards taking such “risks”, and how we can learn to derisk such moves.
The reason behind the move was threefold, blending professional and personal motivations. Firstly, my son is an excellent football player, and he received the opportunity to play and improve his game at one of the top European academies. I want to support him, and give him every opportunity to be the best he can be. Secondly, it is a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to have a once in a lifetime international experience – it’s an opportunity for all of us to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. I remember when my father, Luis, lobbied his company many years ago to let him bring his family from Argentina to the US. This experience literally changed the lives of my brother and myself, as we learned a new language, met new people from a different culture, and created memories that will last a lifetime – I would even venture to say that if we hadn’t had that experience, Belatrix wouldn’t exist. I want the same for my daughter and son. Finally, it’s a professional opportunity to expand Belatrix into Europe. While Belatrix has worked with European companies in the past, our primary focus has always been on serving the North American (and more recently Latin American) market. This is a tremendous opportunity to form new relationships and build Belatrix’s European business, as we become a more global organization.
From a personal perspective, becoming an expat again means the chance to find new ideas. Even in this situation, where we are moving from one developed economy to another, there are still inefficiencies that you see, or ways to bring best practices from one country to another. Such ideas may not be immediately apparent, but over time you start to see things from a different angle. I read somewhere, many years ago, that moving from one country to another and facing all the challenges that it entails, raises your IQ by 20 points – I am not sure whether this has ever actually been proved (and my Google searches to find the article were fruitless). However, dealing with everything from the bureaucracy and paperwork, to getting a new life off the ground, is quite daunting. Then of course there are the little nuances of a different culture and language. All of which helps challenge your existing thinking and mental models, and pushes you to consider new and fresh perspectives.
Just as it first happened when we decided to move from Argentina to the United States 17 years ago, when I first discussed the idea of moving to Spain, I admit there was surprise among family, friends, and business advisors. There is, of course, some risk to this move, both personally and professionally. However, entrepreneurship is all about “risk” and I don’t see this as a risk per se. As Linda Rottenberg, the founder of Endeavor, talks about in her book “Crazy is a compliment”, it is possible to “derisk risk”. She writes about how to take risks, without risking everything and how entrepreneurs have the ability to maintain multiple lines of options, which are open at the same time and which may not be apparent to others. I fully agree with her, and it’s a perspective I’ve tried to follow in my career and my private life. Entrepreneurs manage risks. We have multiple options and learn to keep them open. While from the outside, it may look like these decisions are just a leap of faith or even a little crazy, internally they are actually pretty well thought through. There are dozens of what-ifs and scenarios for if, or when, things go wrong.
As mentioned earlier, I believe moving to Spain presents new opportunities to expand Belatrix into Europe. I’m looking forward to establishing new strategic relationships in Spain and the rest of Europe. In a very similar way, this is what happened when we first started Belatrix, and I moved to the US with my young family. Being based in the US, while my co-founders were in Argentina, meant we could work closely together to reach new customers. It was easy for me to travel from my home in Florida to meet personally with prospects in the US, and little by little, we were able to build the business. This role was key in the early days of the company but became less critical as we built solid management and business development teams, allowing me to step back from that business development role. Having done this once, gives me a confidence in being able to do it again, albeit this time in Europe.
One of the most interesting aspects of the move is how it will force me to continue learning how to delegate more to our management team, team leads, and key individuals throughout Belatrix – a journey that I’ve been on for a couple of years now, but an area where I admit I’m still learning. Over the past few years we’ve worked hard to put in place a top-class management team, with seasoned executives, to reduce reliance on the founders. This is an important part of a company growing up and becoming a more professional organization. It helps remove the founders from the daily grind of running the company, and provides some breathing space to think more strategically about how to grow the business. But more importantly it prevents the founders from becoming the bottleneck that prevents the company from reaching its full potential, which is a typical challenge of founder-led corporations. However, it’s a step that is easier said than done. As a founder, I’ve of course been with the company since its inception, but now I have to learn to “let go”. Learning to delegate to the management team is a struggle that many entrepreneurs experience, but it’s vital if you want to continue to grow.
If you’re an executive in Barcelona reading this, and would like to know more about Belatrix and meet for coffee, please drop me a line. I’m looking to meet new people and make new connections!