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Expat Entrepreneurs | Expat Dream Team #7

If expats know one thing, it’s how to be savvy. Facing new obstacles on the regular is the yoozh in expat life (and unfortunately unavoidable). This is how expatriates become adaptable and resilient. When passion and ambition are added to the mix. Thoughts of business pursuits can quickly rise to the surface.

This is the cross-section where expatriates and entrepreneurship meet.

In this Expat Dream Team. I learned about two inspiring expat women who went global and expanded their cross culture experience into entrepreneurship. I truly admire these women’s ambition and vision. And what’s really impressive is the value and happiness they are bringing to their communities.

I asked both, the following 5 questions about their expat entrepreneurship;

  1. What’s your business, what motivated you to start and where do you envision it going? 
  2. What was your start up process like? As being a foreigner, did you have any extra challenges than a local e.g. certain visa requirements, partnering with a local, etc.
  3. Have you taken on / learned any new skills? If so, how did you go about it?
  4. Has there been 1 person(s) or group that has really helped you in the process? 
  5. Any best advice you received for starting your business? And what different best advice would provide for someone who was thinking of starting their own company?

Natalie in Mexico

Meet Natalie, an Aussie who’s currently living in Mexico who has created a Reframe Pilates Studio. Her message of, “empowering expat women to move their bodies and feel amazing” resonates throughout her social feeds and website. And I’m loving her YouTube channel. Natalie takes you through movement exercises that can be done in the comfort of your own home. Her Push up Prep vid and her Ab workout are spot on. Nudge, nudge, start doing them now in preparation for the fast-approaching holiday season.

Check out Reframe Pilates Studio on YouTube, Instagram and on her website.

Hi! My name is Natalie! I was born in Australia but moved to London England shortly after university. I lived in London for 13 years and despite being on the expat trail for over 5 years now, I still call London home.” 

What’s your business, what motivated you to start and where do you envision it going? 

”I am a Pilates teacher and private Pilates studio owner. I help expat women go from feeling overwhelmed to empowered. From unsettled to balanced! My aim is to empower women to feel stronger, more confident and happier within themselves.

My motivation for starting my business is so complex! haha! In short the reasons for starting my own business was that I was seeking a career change, I wanted to be able to work anywhere in the world and after major knee surgery I was desperate to find a way to move and rehabilitate my body.

At the moment I only teach one to one which I love but I would like to specialise and work with people in sports and sports injuries.

What was your start up process like? As being a foreigner, did you have any extra challenges than a local e.g. certain visa requirements, partnering with a local, etc.

”Starting the business has been a nightmare! But I don’t regret a thing. I was already partly certified so my first task was to complete my training. In Mexico no one speaks or offers things in English! Unlike Europe where you can get around a bit more even if you don’t speak the language.

Here I couldn’t do anything by myself. For an independent career focussed woman this was beyond frustrating. In the end I had to go to Canada several times to complete my training but I’m so fortunate and grateful that I had that option close by.

Have you taken on / learned any new skills? If so, how did you go about it?

Finding a rental space, setting up banks and visas was a very challenging and painful process. Mexico is an unregulated and developing market. Being a foreigner meant that everything was twice as expensive and twice as difficult. I spent a lot of money with suppliers who helped me sort this stuff out, but they didn’t make things super easy either. In fact I’m still sorting things out to this day. I’m so sorry I don’t paint a good picture do I! hahaha. If it was easy everyone would do it right?

Has there been 1 person(s) or group that has really helped you in the process? 

”I was very fortunate to have found several people that helped me in my business journey. Maria is another expat living in Mexico City that I met in Canada on a Pilates training course. She is my rock and the person I turn to often for moral support.

Of course my husband Oliver has been there every step of the way helping me where he can. I also met another amazing local entrepreneurial women. Her name is Fernanda and what a blessing! She helped me with my studio lease agreement, business set-up and everything in between (especially navigating Mexican cultural differences).

Any best advice you received for starting your business? And what different best advice would provide for someone who was thinking of starting their own company?

”My advice to anyone wanting to set-up their own business is to go for it and accept there will always be challenges. In return you learn and develop so much as a person and I believe that this is a great thing.

I recommend reaching out and accepting support – don’t go it alone. If you’re on an expat assignment as a dependant (like me) make sure your partner’s company supports you. Make sure there is a budget for you and you alone. A budget that gets you the work visa you need, and a set of local contacts to support. Because if you don’t know your way around or speak the language it’s likely you might give up and that would be such a real shame for everyone.

On top of that make sure you do your research of the market and above all stay calm (hahha) and positive and keep fighting for your dreams.

Kari in New Zealand

Kari is from originally from Texas, USA and is now living in New Zealand. Before moving overseas, Kari spent time living in multiple US states. Since arriving in New Zealand, Kari quickly identified a need for delicious salsa. Instead of importing salsa, she leveled up; made her own and created Tex As Salsas. As a side note, as someone who loves Tex Mex. I can truly relate to living in a country that is lacking in a certain area (this is my subtle hint to Kari to expand to Singapore).

Check out her FB page and Instagram. Stay tuned for their website.

** Fun fact about Kari: ”I have a passion for aerial silks and yoga and I am a certified Antigravity fitness instructor (aerial yoga, pilates, etc).

Howdy!  My name is Kari Highstead. I am from Texas originally, but left the state in 2006 and lived in Washington D.C., Iowa City, IA, and Myrtle Beach, SC prior to moving abroad.  I live in Palmerston North, New Zealand with my husband, Grant (who is actually Canadian), and daughter, Jordan.  We visited New Zealand in 2014 and were really short on time, as most Americans only have a couple of weeks of paid holiday. My husband and I are both in healthcare and were experiencing some burnout at that time. Despite being a holiday, we were also traveling about the north island of New Zealand scouting out various places that might seem suitable to live and raise our daughter. Needless to say, Palmerston North was not on our stop, as it isn’t really a tourist destination for New Zealand. After this holiday, we really wanted to come back and evaluate if New Zealand could end up a permanent move for us. It took 2 ½ years to find the job best suited for our family and in October 2016 we returned on work visas.  It only took a couple of months to realise we didn’t want to leave and desired to make this our new home. We did have to return to the U.S. for about 9 months to tidy up the lives we left behind, sell our home and other property, and organize our immigration back to New Zealand on resident visas. We just celebrated our 2-year anniversary as New Zealand residents and have now applied for permanent residency.

What’s your business, what motivated you to start and where do you envision it going? 

The name of my company is Tex-As Salsas, which is a play on my home state and a Kiwi colloquialism – “as” that places emphasis on the preceding word. I also have an umbrella company to Tex-As Salsas, The North American Kiwi Company.  As mentioned, I left Texas in 2006. As we relocated to several areas over the years, I could never find the exact type of salsas and hot sauces that I grew up eating. So, I began making my own shortly after leaving the state. The shortage of Texas-style salsas was exponentially worse in New Zealand, as one might expect. We are far from Texas, and North America as a whole for that matter. Coincidentally, Palmerston North has a large number of North Americans living and working and no sign of Tex-Mex anything. As I started making salsa for personal consumption, I would gift out jars and bottles. The feedback I received set my mind in motion and I decided to form my company, Tex-As Salsas, and set up at local farmer’s markets. 

Markets were moving right along, I had added my first retailer, and then Covid came along and really put the brakes on everyone’s lives. During our strict, 6-week lockdown, I did all I could really do, and that was market the hell out of the company via social media and direct emails to potential retailers. Like most of us, I wasn’t sure where we were headed with Covid and it’s restrictions, so I didn’t want to rely on farmer’s markets and food shows to sustain my sales. I was fortunate enough to convince other retailers to take a chance on my wee business. Some even reached out to me to supply stock. I also had an amazing response from individuals who emailed or messaged me requesting products, but unable to locate in their region. Thank goodness for courier services!  Today, I have 10 retailers across the North Island of New Zealand, 2 in my current city. My goal is to be in each region of the North Island and also start adding cities on the South Island.  Other tasks in the works are setting up a website, upgrading processing equipment to streamline production, and development of new products to add to the Tex-As Salsas line.

What was your start up process like? As being a foreigner, did you have any extra challenges than a local e.g. certain visa requirements, partnering with a local, etc.

The actual start-up process was a bit overwhelming at times, but not difficult to achieve.  I was very fortunate to have certain advantages, such as time, my resident visa (although there are several other visa options for entrepreneurs), financial ability, connections I had made in the food service community, and a supportive family.

I decided to dive in and set up everything as complete as possible from the very beginning should the company experience a greater success than I imagined and take off in the future.  I hired an accountant to set up the companies.  I actually own two.  The “mother” company of Tex-As Salsas is called The North American Kiwi Company and serves as an umbrella for other ideas I have stirring around in my brain at 2 am !  

Once registered and assigned tax identification numbers, I began the process for registration and verification with the Ministry for Primary Industries.  Again, not a hard task, but prior to this, food health and safety was completely foreign to me, and on the surface, a bit daunting. As a food consumer, one is reassured that health and safety processes are in place, so you don’t ever have to think about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into obtaining and maintaining those standards. 

Over several months, I was able to dive right in, digest, and complete all my steps to have my home kitchen and production processes verified as safe. The online guide provided was very helpful, easy to understand, and broke each step down to make the whole process less intimidating. During this time, I was also perfecting my recipes, converting to weighted measurements for accuracy, and recruiting taste testers left and right.

Have you taken on / learned any new skills? If so, how did you go about it?

As I mentioned, my professional career thus far has been healthcare. Starting this company brought many new skills to try and learn, some of which I am still working on! For one, I have never owned a business. This is a work in progress for sure. Also, learning how to coordinate supply, production, and demand, especially this year with all the uncertainty of the pandemic. Balancing two careers has been quite an act, too. I am a nurse practitioner, but working as a clinical nurse specialist in New Zealand. I am juggling many roles, which I have done in the past, but never as a business owner. Targeting my market and customers was another skill to adapt. For instance, I wanted my product to stay true to form, which is a Texas-style salsa and hot sauces. Some of the palettes here prefer a milder, often sweeter flavour, so I offer a mild version of my Salsa Roja.

I must take time to lift up our community and New Zealand as I feel both were instrumental in giving me that extra push to jump! The amount of innovation here is amazing and many speak of Kiwi innovation. It is apparent and the “give it a go” culture can give you the extra confidence to try a new endeavour. Additionally, the cultural diversity cannot be matched, in my opinion.  Just in Palmerston North, over 90 languages are spoken. I belong to Global Parent Support, which is a small group of volunteers that have immigrated here for one reason or another. We hold workshops, cooking classes, and other culturally themed events to promote and share our individual cultures with our community. Starting Tex-As Salsas was my way to share a bit of my culture and Texan pride, whilst filling a niche in the market.

Has there been 1 person(s) or group that has really helped you in the process? 

As a family, we have always been proactive with our immigration to New Zealand. We make it a priority to become involved with volunteering, assisting and forming relationships with neighbours, and supporting our local businesses. I cannot stress the necessity of assimilation, forming relationships, and the simple act of starting conversations and asking questions.

By having these discussions, I was able to find a program at our local university, called Food Pilot, that assists with new product ideas, development, and implementation. I pushed this commitment even further by interacting and consulting with food service business owners and other members of the community that are invaluable resources when starting a company in a new country.

Besides this support, our city council’s environmental and food safety department gave me far more advice and support than I feel I deserved, since I emailed them 1,000 during the process. Even during my in-home verification, the representative was calm, reassuring, and helped me problem solve any lingering issues that needed remedy prior to licensing.  I try to support small, specialty markets and retailers with my products. 

I am truly grateful for the ones thus far that have taken a chance on me and welcomed my products with open arms. Some of these opportunities were made possible by a blind email initiated by me. I must also recognize my fellow producers and makers that I have met along the way. Most were at market interactions amongst stall holders that were members of my community. They were quick to take this newbie under their wing and offer advice on other markets that could be beneficial, tips on organization, critique of my products, and simple, unconditional camaraderie and meaningful friendships. I remain in awe of the kindness and support here from every integral piece that helps Tex-As Salsas succeed. Just this week, a local café has asked to serve our products with a special they will have available for Father’s Day this weekend.  Whilst dropping off the products, the café owner provided resources for a small business mentorship program and a regional organization offering start up grants. How great are connections and simply having conversations?!?

Any best advice you received for starting your business? And what different best advice would provide for someone who was thinking of starting their own company?

Best advice for someone starting a new business in a foreign country….  First, don’t be afraid to fail. I am not sure if I felt more at ease with this concept in New Zealand because of the innovative environment and culture here, the fact that no one really knows me here, or the ease that comes with age and wisdom. Reach out to other business owners, even if they are your competitor. It is ok to go slow and be frugal. For example, I hired a someone to design my labels, but to counter that cost, I (and family), hand cut labels to adhere to products. 

Attend smaller markets with lower cost stall hire fees. It is too much pressure heading into an event knowing you must sell an exorbitant amount of product to just break even on fees. Lastly, use your new home as a chance to reinvent and recreate yourself! Now, go put yourself out there!

Cheers to Natalie and Kari for sharing your story and to transforming your passion into a creative economy whilst making impressive strides along your expat journey.

Outdoor enthusiast thriving in the expatriate traveling lifestyle. Looking to connect with your sense of adventure.

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