Three month ago, on my 25th birthday, I took a flight from my hometown of Jieyang, China and arrived in Santiago, Chile two days later, after 32 hours in the air, and joined the Magma Partners team.
I never imagined that one day I would be working in South America, let alone Chile. But now when I look back, everything makes sense. During the first 18 years of my life, I followed a very traditional path. I lived with my family in Jieyang, a small (by Chinese standards!) city of 6M in Canton where I was born. I studied hard and got good grades. Next up university. After the extremely competitive entrance exam, I was accepted into Beijing Foreign Studies University and hopped on a plane to study economics.
It was my first time away from home, 1100+ miles away from my home town. I had a great year meeting my fellow students from different backgrounds and experiencing huge differences between southern and northern China in terms of languages, food and lifestyles. After meeting new people from different places, I was hooked. I wanted to see more. After my first year, I started traveling and haven’t stopped since.
My first stop was Bulgaria, a small country in eastern Europe, where I for an cultural exchange program for 6 weeks. Next, I flew south to Queensland, Australia for a semester abroad, where I studied management and learned a bit of Aussie English. After I finished my undergraduate in Beijing, I went back to Australia, settling in Sydney for a Masters Degree in Management.
I knew I wanted to go abroad again. One day, I was handed a list of 28 universities to pick from for my exchange semester. Chile immediately stuck out because of their natural beauty and because nobody I knew had been there. Chile and Brazil were the only two South American countries on the list. I remember thinking, “hmm Chile is definitely far enough away, and it seems safer than Brazil,” so I applied!
In February 2016, I arrived in Santiago, Chile and started my Latin America adventure. I managed to survive with very limited Spanish, and got to feel my first few earthquakes, including a 7.0 one when I was in Costanera Center, South America’s tallest building.
Everything was exciting and fantastic. I enjoyed the music, the BBQs and the vibe. Latin Americans follow a totally different life philosophy than Asians.
I really like how Latin Americans open up to strangers and are always warm and welcoming. Yet I was also bothered by how slow business moved, and how bureaucratic things could be. For example, there was no way for me to get a bank account, not to mention a credit card. I saw lots of ways Chinese and US technology could help improve things. As my semester came to an end, I started doing an internship with Andes Property
, a property company that helps foreigners buy, sell, rent or invest in Latin American property, which is where I met Nathan and Magma Partners.
In addition to real estate, I got to learn a bit more about the Latin American entrepreneurship ecosystem because Andes Property shares offices with Magma Partners and 10+ startups that work from Magma’s shared offices pace. It was obvious to me that Latin America is on the verge of a tech transition. I really believe that there is a big opportunity and Nathan and team showed me that I stood a unique position to help take advantage this trend, given that Chinese companies and investors are starting to look at Latin America more deeply.
In December 2017, I graduated, left Chile and went back to China. I was a bit lost. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I had been trained to be a business manager but I was so unmotivated by the idea of working in the big corporate world and being a perfect screw, or small cog in a big gear. I wanted to do something different. Something that made an impact. I felt my opportunity was in Latin America.
But my parents were freaked out about the idea because it is so far away from home and perceived as an undeveloped, dangerous place. But after a few months, it became clear to me that I had to come back to Latin America to work with Magma and Latin American entrepreneurs. I knew I had a chance to make a difference and I couldn’t afford to miss it. So, in mid 2018 I came back. It has been only three months and I have no regrets! I am learning new things every day and excited to help Latin Americans, Chinese and US create new businesses that help people change Latin America for the better. I’m excited!
What I Learned from Crossing Borders
After listening to Crossing Borders,
I have a more realistic view of startup life. All the overnight success stories of Mark Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley and entrepreneurs like Ofo’s Wei Dai in China have created a fantasy around start-up which is most definitely not true. Starting a startup isn’t easy and overnight successes are more likely to take years. It’s anything but rainbows and butterflies.