Expat Interview with a Global Entrepeneur
Posted by Dannielle Noonan
At Medibroker, our team of dedicated international health insurance advisors assess the market for people moving overseas for work to find the most appropriate plan for your needs. We are increasingly being contacted by entrepreneurial expats building their businesses abroad who need a medical insurance plan that performs.
We chatted to Chris Osborne from Founders Grid, a remote bootstrapped team creating products for entrepreneurs and start-ups all over the world.
"I've been building startups while traveling, predominantly in Asia, for 9 years. I've spent a lot of that time in Thailand, can speak fluent Thai (along with Laos) and with a new born on the way, I'm preparing to setup base in Japan. Running a business while traveling is hard - it's not for everyone. I personally prefer to move in modes - when I'm in growth mode, I like to base myself in Thailand as overhead costs are low. When I'm in traveling mode, I travel and basically "maintain" the business - i.e fewer hours are spent on growth. This balance works well (for me), and keeps me sane."
What made you leave your home country for expatriate life?
A combination of things: it was the right time for a change (I was working in a 9-5 job back then) and craved adventure. I was always planning my next trip, and finally had the guts to say "let's give it a go!"
You've spent a lot of time in Thailand. What attracts you to the country?
There's so many great things about Thailand; great food - both Thai and international (in Bangkok), great weather, nice people (especially outside the tourist areas) and low cost of living - perfect for when I'm focused on growth and my company.
In your opinion, what are the most challenging aspects of living abroad?
I've always been laid back and like to "go with the flow", and over the years I've learned that traveling/living in Asia becomes so much easier if have these personality traits. You kind of need to embrace challenges to stay sane :)
As for challenges outside of my control, it's definitely visa issues. Now I'm looking to build a base in Japan, long term visas there are both time consuming and expensive for my personal circumstances.
What are the most rewarding aspects of expat life for you?
Getting to learn new things every day. From food, cultural taboos to languages, I find it fun learning new stuff all the time.
Your mode of travelling while working is interesting. Do you have any other tips for people running a business on the road?
Find a system and schedule that works for you. I've tried everything; from long term travel to short term travel to working from co-working spaces to working from hotel rooms. There isn't a one size fits all when working while traveling.
For me personally, I like slow travel - and when in traveling mode (as apposed to growth mode), I get up super early to get my day's work done as quickly as possible. I can then go out and enjoy the new city/area I'm in.
What are the main benefits of running a business overseas? What about the main downsides? How would you compare running a business in your home country to your way?
This is a hard question to answer as it really depends on the nature, needs and location of the business.
I've personally set up my business whereby we embrace remote working (naturally). This means we can tap into a global pool of talent instead of restricting our search to one geographical location.
There's also huge tax benefits for some (I wrote a book called the Offshore Handbook), especially for Europeans who are based outside of their home country for a minimum of x days of the year (it differs between country to country). I'm a huge advocate of incorporating in Hong Kong - it's inexpensive, business friendly with stable economy and if you don't do any business in Hong Kong, it's also tax free.
As for setting up a company to target local markets, the challenges and benefits differ greatly depending on where you setup your operations.
For example, in Thailand the regulations are filled with red tape and many expat entrepreneurs have problems with recruiting talent. An hour or two away in Singapore, overhead costs are extremely expensive and you'll be competing with blue chip companies and banks for talent.
You're expecting your first child - congratulations! What made you want to move to Japan for your child’s first years?
Education and culture. Japan is easily the friendliest place I've ever visited, and we fell in love with a city on the Southern island called Fukuoka. It's just the right size - not too big like Tokyo, but not too sleepy either. Having had the luxury of visiting most spots in Asia, I really do think it'll be a great place for a kid to learn the basics - respect for others, values, passion and what's important in life.
With a baby on the way, healthcare has presumably become an important issue for you. Can you tell us about your experiences with healthcare abroad? What kind of health cover do you have, if any?
Until now, I've always fell into the 'bulletproof' category, and thought I could survive without proper cover.
Now we have a baby on the way, we will definitely be purchasing an insurance policy!
I do have one crazy story:
I fell ill while in HCMC, Vietnam and originally thought I had serious flu. The medication that I purchased from the local pharmacy was not helping and having not eaten anything in 3 days and with zero energy, I knew I needed professional help.
I got into the first taxi I saw and said "Hospital!"
The driver took me to a local hospital that had a junk yard at the entrance. There may have been chickens. Most of the windows in the building were broken. It was easily the dirtiest hospital I've ever seen and I remember thinking, "there's no way I'm going to find sufficient help here".
I then said to the driver: "Internet cafe"
I searched online and found a French/Vietnamese international hospital and we were on our way again.
This happened at the same time H5N1 was breaking out. I barely remember walking into the hospital and within minutes I was ushered into a private room and in came doctors with fully protected clothing and masks. It was really scary.
Thankfully they quickly figured out I had dengue fever and after a two night stay, I was okay to leave.
I went straight back to the hotel, explained why I had went missing for a few days and headed straight to the airport. HCMC is a full-on crazy city - not the ideal place to be when recovering from dengue. I remember looking up at the departure board and thinking "where next?". I got the first flight out to Bali.
Finally, what advice would you give somebody considering starting a business abroad?
Be prepared to learn a lot and make sure you do your home work.
Contact Medibroker if you need an international health insurance plan that covers your entire family. We can guide you to a plan that includes cover for the costs of maternity and childbirth.