Doing business in Chile
First impression of doing business in Chile from Bettina after two months at Startup Chile, you can read the full article HERE
What I love most here in Chile are the people, blossoming relationship and their idea of ‘The friends of my friends are my friends’ (los amigos de mis amigos son mis amigos’) but I realised just now that this also means that if you do not have one friend here, it will be hard to find any. I’ve been in Santiago for almost two months now and slowly, slowly I’m understanding how it works.
These are just my very first impressions of meeting people and doing business here in Chile. It’s the perspective of a newbie who has not been working outside of Europe yet, who’s set foot for the first time on the Latin American continent and who has a lot, lot to learn!
Tough to get into circles, a very exclusive and closed group
Now, I’m more sensible to how chileans greet each other and how they move in different social settings. I have the feeling that circles are actually pretty closed and that you are granted access only if you have a friend inside, someone who vows for you. The friends of my friends are my friends – it works kind of like a screening. If you have a friend it means he has approved you, you are now wearing a stamp on your forehead stating you are ok, not a crazy person, no danger in hanging out with you and this way you get to meet more people. When meeting a new person, one of the first questions they ask are about the last name, the quarter of Santiago the other grew up in and the school he/she went to. High School not College is what tells most about your social status and your parent’s wealth.
But once you get into a circle of chileans, you’ll be passed around and helped a lot. Once you enter a circle, a network of contact opens up to you. Startup Chile has been so helpful in this sense and opened so many doors for me and all other suppers. The program is well known throughout the country – especially in the capital Santiago – and we are greeted with open arms and lots of curious questions. All interactions have been very positive! It feels like being an ambassador of your country being able to talk to so many different people from all backgrounds and nationalities.
The startup Chile community is huge and there are lot of ways to get in contact with someone in your industry or in a position able to help you answer a question, the mentorship program is a great source and last but not least thanks to the RVA program we have met so many local entrepreneurs that have helped us in every way possible.
Facetime and personal contact matter a lot
Personal contact matter a lot and is based on your personal relationship, even in a business meeting it is the general understanding that two people are meeting and not two companies. This means an important part of the meeting is the small talk about your family, education and in case of us foreigners our knowledge about the beautiful country. On countless occasions I have been asked for personal meetings and I have found that I could not advance much through mail or phone calls. Everybody asked to see me, not because my matter was so critical to them, but I believe to make sure I was real and not playing with them. To make sure I am a trustworthy person and my proposal is to be taken seriously.
Not all companies coming to Startup Chile are setting up local operations here but if you do, this is certainly an important factor to take into account. Make time in your schedule and discover the different districts from Santiago!
The fact that personal relationship matter a lot, also means that you will quickly find people to count on. I remember the first meetings I had with an account executive at a big company in order to use their services. From a completely work relationship a personal relationship has evolved with invitations to dinner, to weekend outings and so much useful info about chilean culture.
Business cards, an initial act of meeting someone
When you start a new conversation, after the initial handshake or kiss on the right cheek, it is time to exchange business cards. Business cards are very important and you should take some time to admire the respective other’s card. Memorise his / her title. Oftentimes, I have received from people I have merely exchanged three words with but in the end, it is a way of staying in contact or creating a new one.
A business card seems to be the initial invitation to speak to each other or to continue the conversation. In the beginning it seemed like a hassle always having a stack of business cards with me but I have come to really appreciate it! Such an easy way to remember to stay in contact.
One fundamental difference was this availability that I had never encountered before. Everybody seems very nice and open to conversation. Most proposals are heard out and evaluated! A great chance for everyone but not all proposals lead to closing a deal.
A Yes can mean a No
Another curious thing is that Chileans never say ’No’ and for me it is hard to interpret a Yes that means yes and a yes that actually means No. I still haven’t got round to that. Maybe ‘saying Yes’ is a way of being polite and of keeping all the possibilities open but for me it leads to frustration. Frustration over infinite email threads, phone calls and meetings without any tangible outcome. I have heard that this is a rather common thing in Latin America and as everything, with time I will get used to it.
I always found it useful to interchange ideas with fellow suppers at the office about these cultural differences and it is so helpful that always someone from the staff of SUP is around and that every year there are more chilean entrepreneurs working with us.
Every culture has their traditions and customs – It is important to be aware of the differences and to be flexible and open. In Germany you would be surprised at who direct people are, a Yes would never mean a No, and it might feel like a cold and sometimes even hostile environment. Work and private life hardly ever mix and people sometimes seem to leave the office and slip into a different role, the role of ‘off work’. That is something here in Chile I have never encountered, a really good surprise!
These are only my impression after almost two months of working in Chile, I am sure that with time I will understand better how relationships work.