Friday, February 22, 2013

The Brazilian Temptress

Five years.  Come next week that's how long I will have lived in Floripa.  I still can't get my arms around it.  Five years.  Honestly, it seems more like six months, or perhaps one year at the most.  Time is a funny thing though.  When you wake up in the morning and hit the snooze button, those ten minutes feel more like a microsecond.  Yet, when you're in class or at your desk, twenty minutes will seem like five hours.  It's just the way it works.  These five years in Floripa feel much more like those ten snooze minutes.  The strange thing is that it's somewhat counterintuitive in the sense that Floripa is an island full of beautiful beaches, a stunning ocean, and plenty more natural beauty.  People always say that being on an island creates some sort of time vacuum where everything slows down.  While that may be the case for vacationers and perhaps others who are passing through for a few months, I can't say that it's true for the rest of us.  As they say, time flies when you're having fun, and in Floripa there are plenty of avenues for fun.  However, for those of us trying to make a living here, it also has its challenges, to say the least.  I have always said that Floripa is a dichotomy of very high highs and very low lows.  It's the Matterhorn of life.  After five years of this crazy roller coaster, I figured that now was as good of a time as any to sit back and reflect.

When you move to some place new and different everything seems so innocent in the beginning.  You are simply enjoying the new place for all of its simple beauties.  There is no looking behind the curtain, per se.  Essentially what you are doing is surface living, as I like to call it, which essentially is going through life as you would but without having any real and deep understanding of the place in which you are living.  You may have made new friends in this place, but do you really understand their morals and values?  You may have visited a particularly charming neighborhood in the area, but do you understand the history of the people that live there?  You may even have already started a business, but do you really understand the work ethic and values of your employees or colleagues?  It takes time to get a real understanding of your local surroundings and until you do so, you are just surface living.  That first innocent phase after you move somewhere new is the easy part.  It's full of new everything, and your senses seem to be constantly, yet positively, overwhelmed.  It's the second part, the real transition to your new place, that is difficult.  It requires great effort, such as learning a new language and trying to comprehend the nuances of the people.  It requires reading and studying to understand the history and culture of the place.  It requires adaptation and acceptance as you must quickly understand it is you who is the outsider and therefore and it is you who must accept how things are, even if you firmly believe there is a better way.  You need to accept that you alone are not going to change some esoteric belief or some bureaucratic ridiculousness even if you find something so absurd that you can't believe it's possible.   And mostly, it requires perseverance as you will certainly find yourself incredibly frustrated, skeptical, and perhaps even regretful at many times along the way.  I've seen so many people arrive and quickly leave Brazil over the past few years that I lost count a long time ago.   To say the least, it's not an easy transition, and it's certainly not for everyone.  I have seen all walks of life come and go while here, and I can safely say that there is no correlation between someone's intellect and their time of stay here.  It's all about ability AND willingness to adapt.  Some people come to Brazil, realize quickly that it's not for them and quickly head home.  At the very least, I respect that person for evaluating the situation and being decisive.  I have seen others come down here, spend a few years drifting around, and then eventually heading home.  To me, that seems like a waste of time.  In order to take the time and energy that it requires to survive that second phase, there has to be something in that place that you believe will make it worth your while.  For me, that was always two completed uncorrelated things: (1) a business opportunity and (2) the chance to experience something totally different than everything I ever knew and to allow this experience to help me grow as a person.

When I initially decided to move to Floripa, I had in my mind a time frame of six months to a year.  I wasn't really thinking that I'd be here much longer than that.  I figured that I would be back in the states after that first year, but I also wanted to keep my options open in the event that something would work out and allowed me to stay longer.  It turns out that I created some businesses that did allow me to stay longer.  It also happened to coincide with an unhealthy economy in the US at the time that gave me no real reason to head back to the US.  I ended up focusing a large majority of my time on one specific business, Cactus Mexican Food.  Over time it became apparent that there was a real opportunity with this idea.  However, to make a very long story short, it unfortunately hasn't worked the way I had hoped it would.  During this time, I obtained the all important second phase of understanding with regard to business in Brazil, and I'm sad to report that a large majority of my feedback would be very negative (apparently there is a reason Brazil stands at #130 on the World Bank's annual "Ease of Doing Business" report behind such countries at Ethiopia and the Republic of Yemen).  That's not to say that I was perfect along the way, as I certainly made my share of mistakes.  While I would be happy to share all of my experiences with Cactus, I don't think Google allows for the amount of space it would require to tell the whole story and I would need to do so in order to do it justice.  What I can say now is that when I was getting into this business, I never in a million years would have imagined that I would have seen what I have seen.  The stories are both incredible and endless.  Just recently, we even had a guy purchase two stores, pay for them, and then completely disappear, never to be heard from again.  I mean, who does that???  I honestly couldn't make up the things that I have experienced, and one day I will take the time to sit down and write about them.  It's just that now is not the time.  The story of Cactus is still unfolding, and I truly hope that there is a happy ending.

When I look back at my time in Floripa, I will always be grateful of the personal growth that I believe I have obtained while living here.  If you ever want to really get to know someone, it's best to do so when he is completely out of his comfort zone.  As for me, I don't think it's possible to have been any more out of my comfort zone.  I will always be utterly grateful for my upbringing and everything that came after.  I feel as if I have lived a blessed life.  It's safe to say, however, that I never (or perhaps rarely, rarely, rarely) ventured outside of my comfort zone.  For those of you who have known me for a long time, I think you would all agree.  Therefore, it was quite a shock, in so many different ways, to have picked up my life in San Francisco and move to a small island in the south of Brazil.  Again, who does that?  However, regardless of some of the hardships that I have endured while here as well as the absolute absurdity of the many things I have experienced, it's impossible to put a price on developing as a person.  It's arguable that in many cases the hardships are required in order to develop.  I feel that today I'm a more understanding person, a more open person, a more patient person, and generally just a more well-rounded person (I'm not trying to toot my own horn, either. I'm just trying to make my point).  Would I have gotten to this point if I had stayed in San Francisco pounding away at my old job day after day and living in my bubble?  It's possible as I saw my old boss do a complete 180 and become an amazing person during the eight years that I worked with him (I can't say that about him in the beginning).  However, in my case, I highly, highly doubt it because I was just so damn stubborn.  So thank you Brazil for getting me out of my comfort zone!

At the end of the day, it's safe to say that living in Brazil can drive any normal man to insanity.  One day you'll experience something so unbelievably amazing that you can't even believe it.  Yet, the next something so annoying or awful will happen that you will have quickly forgotten about the previous day.  This sequence literally happens to me all the time.  The companies making Prozac and Propecia are probably making a fortune in Brazil for all of the anxiety and hair loss that living here can create.  But, at the very least, you can NEVER say that life is dull here.  So here's to you Brazil - you are a sly little temptress constantly teasing us with your beauty but never quite putting out.  I love you deeply but loathe you immensely, and as such the roller coaster continues on....

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Search

Well, if that wasn't a blog hiatus, then I don't know what is. It's funny how life sometimes just consumes you with meaningless little things. I can't count how many times I have wanted to sit down and start writing about what's going on only to end up spending two hours on Facebook perusing all of the incredible nonsense that is out there. I read awhile back how most people are now finding it useless to go to high school or college reunions these days because with Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media outlet, everyone is constantly in touch with each other anyway. So what's the point of an uncomfortable reunion when you can just Facebook stalk anyone you want anyway in the comfort of your own home? I live thousands of miles away from most of my good friends and I can tell you where a large majority went this weekend, who they went with and even who they hooked up with (and I've probably already seen the profiles of these poor innocent girls). It's truly amazing but it can be wildly distracting. I don't know how in the hell kids find the focus to study these days. Social studies? No thanks. I think I'll spend the next hour watching videos of dudes lighting themselves on fire. And porn? Forget about it. Teenagers must be going absolutely apeshit these days. Back in my day if I caught a nipple in a Victoria Secrets magazine I'd be pretty pumped up and you might not have seen me for a few days. But these days I can't search for "massage on the beach" on Google without wondering if I just accidentally typed "Thailand hooker." I don't know what kind of algorithms they've got running over there in Mountain View but it's some twisted shit. I'm thankful as hell that I didn't grow up with all of this stuff. I don't think I would have ever gotten anything done. Anyway, I'm digressing but you get my point. The online distractions are far and wide, but it's time to let them go and start blogging again. Just keep me away from Google please....

What keeps me very busy these days is Cactus. Since my last post a few lifetimes ago, we've opened two franchise stores. I certainly wasn't expecting opening a franchise store to be a cake walk but like everything I find in this country, the openings were much more difficult than expected. I look back on opening our first Cactus store and I always said that I never wanted to go through that again. However, because of the franchise model, every time we open a store it's like we're opening our own store again. Therefore, it seems that I have committed myself up to doing something many times over that I swore to never do again. But, such is life. It's an adventure and you've got to roll with it. The two new franchise stores are located in Blumenau and Florianópolis at another mall about 10 minutes from our own store. Currently, we are in the construction process of two new stores, one in Blumenau and one in São José. There is so much work to be done and so many improvements to be made that each day is a huge challenge. I wake up each day wondering if my work days at Merrill Lynch were less stressful than my days now. The responsibilities are so great on both sides that it's hard to compare. It's an amazing thing to have someone invest in your idea but with that comes a tremendous amount of responsibility, and that is something that doesn't disappear. If anything, I'm thankful that my experience at Merrill Lynch gave me the tools to be prepared for what is happening now. All in all, we've got some things to work out but we're heading in the right direction, and I guess that's all you can ask for giving what we've gone through. The next goal is getting a Cactus open in São Paulo and Rio and if I can make that happen, I'll be a happy, happy man....

Outside of Cactus, life continues to be great. This is an absolutely crazy time of year for me. As Florianópolis is a city heavily based on tourism, it's very important for the stores to focus on maximizing the high season so there is lots of work to be done. Meanwhile, I rent my house quite a bit during this period so I'm constantly moving in and out of my house and this year with a girlfriend and a cat, it's even more cumbersome. Add all of this to the fact that for basically three months there are friends or friends of friends who are in town and want to go out for drinks or whatever every single night or need tips on doing this and doing that. It can get tiring to say the least. I swear one day when I have the time I'm going to set up a travel/consulting company but for now, it's a constant stream of answering questions. The upside to all of this is that I get to meet some really cool, interesting people. I can't even begin to describe the different people I've had the pleasure of spending time with here in Brazil. It's a pretty wild list. I remember awhile back I was at El Divino having dinner with a group from San Francisco. The group included Sean Parker (for those who don't know him he was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the Social Network), who was still flabbergasted by what he saw at a party at my house the night before, but what I remember most from the night was having a conversation with one of the other dudes at the table. It went like this:

Dude: So, what do you do in Floripa?
Me: Well, I own a sushi lounge but I'm starting a fast food mexican restaurant (I'm not sure why but I thought that this sounded interesting). And you, what do you do?
Dude: I build spaceships....

I had already had a few cocktails by this point but it wasn't the alcohol that made me pause for a response. I mean, how do you respond to that? "Spaceships huh? Yeah, I wanted to do that but I thought MIT would be too cold in the winter time." It was a pretty classic conversation, and with it came one more great experience meeting someone really effing interesting in Floripa. So if you ever make your way down here, look me up. We can sit on the beach, have a few caipirinhas, and I'll fill you in on what happens to a NASA engineer, who has probably spent 99% of his life in a library, is suddenly surrounded by hundreds of hot, young gyrating Brazilians (hint: Google search "spaceship premature malfunction").....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life Imitates Soccer

Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish writer, once said that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life." I am not sure if I am in agreement with him, but who I am to judge? Wilde felt that he belonged to a culture of male love inspired by a certain Greek tradition, and if I know one thing, it's that gay guys and Greeks know a lot more about art than me. Now while I myself would never consider soccer "art," at least not in the classical sense, there are some parts of the world where this argument has been made. This loose connection between soccer and art came to me one day while watching a Brazilian league game. The realization occurred suddenly and I could only think of Wilde's famous quote, only in a slightly different sense. I realized with absolute clarity that in Brazil, life is simply imitating soccer. Allow me explain. As opposed to popular belief, Brazilian soccer, especially the league soccer which is what I was watching at the time, is really a mess. There is shockingly little organization. I strongly prefer to watch England's Premier League, which is heavy on tactical organization, teamwork, passing, etc. As I was watching the Brazilian game, I realized that the teams had none of the traits that I love about English soccer. It's because Brazilian soccer is the total opposite. Basically, it's just a bunch of guys doing their own individual thing with zero planning, yet every once in awhile something beautiful will happen. And that's when it hit me. Life in Brazil is exactly like the game they love. Everyone is sort of doing their own thing while running around somewhat aimlessly. Their is very little strategic planning and absolutely zero organization. Each person happily keeps the "ball" for himself to show off his individual skills. In order to get the "ball" for yourself, you might have to do something "dirty" to get it. And if that doesn't work, you can always fake it by acting like you just got stabbed in the leg by a pitchfork and hope that the ruling, if you will, goes your way. Yet, every so often, a few magical things are strung together and there is an undeniably beautiful result, usually at the very last minute. Is this not life in Brazil? I say yes, and thus I believe in the following: in Brazil, life imitates soccer....

As the World Cup nears, it's interesting to follow the preparations. Not surprisingly, things are already far behind schedule and over budget. The stadium in São Paulo, which is set to host the opening game, still has no approved project and initial estimates put the price at THREE times the original estimate. They are even building a stadium in a city where the only local team plays in the D League. That's like if the NFL decided to build a stadium for the Super Bowl in Albuquerque. Sure, people will go there for the Super Bowl but what the hell are you going to do with the stadium after it's over??? Even the soccer legend, Pele, is worried saying "Brazil is running a great risk of embarrassing us in how it runs the World Cup." Many friends and family members from home have asked me if I think the country will be ready by the time the WC arrives in 2014. It's kind of like asking if I know what Apple's stock price will be in a year from now. I just don't have a clue. What I can say is this. I think many people will be shocked by the infrastructure, or lack thereof. Most people think that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are on the cutting edge because of how fast they are growing. That couldn't be further from the truth. The countries are growing so fast that it's impossible to keep up, and it doesn't take much at all to get reminded that these are still third world countries. I was in São Paulo last week and was astounded by two things, the traffic and disparity in wealth (as is typical in emerging countries). In one area I saw 20 new buildings being built at least and not a single new road being built all while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of a Saturday. As for my hotel, it was located a block away from an area with more prostitutes than Charlie Sheen's tour bus. On top of that, not once but twice was I in a taxi where we were approaching the hotel (I'm talking 10 seconds away) only to arrive 30 minutes later because the taxi drivers got lost right before the final turn. It wasn't that the taxi driver was trying to screw us. The roads area literally that confusing. We had to break out the GPS to find our way back. On the upside, I saw a lot of hookers. After four days of non-stop work and the stress of the São Paulo logistics, we were all dying to go home. After our final taxi ride (of which we had to take two taxis at R$80 each because it's illegal for a taxi to take 5 people - you can snort heroin on the sidewalk but 5 people in a taxi? Absolutely out of the question!), we arrived at airport to a scene that was not unlike what I imagine JFK airport looked like on 9/11. I was absolutely shocked as I had never seen such chaos in an airport in my life. There were hundreds of people shuffling around fighting for space as lines were disregarded entirely and any semblance of order was thrown out the window. I was certain that we would not get out of there for hours, if not the next day. I was already evaluating the shady hotels across the street for our night's accommodations. Somehow, our manager talked to one person, then another, and then amazingly arrived at the ticket counter within 5 minutes (I knew she was a good hire!). She then brazenly called us to the counter. With several bags full of the traditional franchise fair leftovers (flyers, manuals, business cards, etc.) and a trail full of angry people, we incredibly made it to the front. To this day I don't know what happened but somehow we were changed to an earlier flight and were politely asked to get the hell of out there and on to the gate by the check-in attendant. I was in no position to question her authority. After the security screening, which I love because Mr. T could walk through without the sensor going off, and the traditional bus ride to the plane (passenger boarding bridges have apparently yet to arrive in Brazil) we were comfortably in our seats and on our way. It took me a few minutes to digest what the hell just happened and only one thought came to my mind: in Brazil, there is always hope....

Monday, April 4, 2011

You Might Be A Brazilian If...

- you eat chocolate pizza
- you wait in line for half an hour to pay your electricity bill
- you say "eu já estou chegando" (I'm about to arrive) but know that you'll really be there in about 45 minutes
- you've never bothered to set up your voice mail on your cell phone
- you've watched the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and recognized three girls from your high school
- you meet someone new and immediately send them a friend request on Facebook
- you consider getting home at 4AM an early night
- your girlfriend calls and immediately hangs up....not because she's mad but because she wants you to call her back so she doesn't have to pay for the call
- you think David Guetta is a God
- it takes you 15 minutes to get of the phone with someone: tudo bem, combinado, obrigado, falou, até mais, tá bom, tchau, beleza, abraço.......
- you wear high heels to the mall
- you carry around more than one cell phone
- you have a wallet the size of a notebook with enough documents to authorize a space shuttle launch
- you eat chicken hearts regularly
- you've ever been hammered and crashed your car and decided to just leave it there and took the bus home. Upon entering the bus, you started to hit on a group of girls on the bus and even invited them back to your house in Jurerê, only they didn't believe you had a house in Jurerê because, well, you were on the bus....
- you consider drinking in the parking lot a "pre-party"
- you have ever been making out with a girl at a club, looked away for 15 seconds, and then turned back around to find that she was already making out with someone else
- you think Jesus Luz is a real DJ ;)
- eating sushi in a cone (temaki) is a part of your daily diet
- you've ever traded your house for an apartment, a car, a surfboard, and tickets for the next David Guetta show
- you think Kim Kardashian's ass is too small
- your idea of catching up on today's news is logging on to MSN chat
- you wear a banana hammock to the beach
- you can sing every word to Moony's "I Don't Know Why"
- you think Lionel Messi should die a slow, painful death
- your idea of dating is meeting a girl at the night club every Saturday
- you've received 15 Facebook invites this week and they are all for parties
- you've ever heard a cop say, "don't tell me the girl who hit your car is drunk. She'll lose her license and her insurance won't be able to pay for the damage to your car."
- you've ever bought gum for the sole purpose of re-attaching camarote (VIP) bracelets to get your friends into the camarote
- memorizing pi would be easier than memorizing the passwords for your online bank account
- your local supermarket charges 15 reais for Heinz ketchup
- you have ever had dinner at the gas station
- you have ever bought a pair of shoes and paid for them over a twelve month period
- your Dias dos Namorados (Valentine's Day) date includes a stop at a motel that charges by the hour
- you're starting to go deaf at an early age most likely because you have been listening to hard core house music since you were 12 years old
- you know what Orkut is
- you can successfully online chat with 15 people at the same time
- you drive like an absolute maniac but yet randomly stop to let oncoming traffic take a left to help ease traffic
- you have ever driven to a party in the middle of the jungle two hours away in a car full of people and never heard one complaint

Friday, April 23, 2010

Survivor: Brazil

I survived. That's all I can really say. My first summer in Floripa (2009) was merely a warm-up. This one was more like hell week of Navy Seals training where at the end you're just happy to be alive and have all limbs intact. Summer in Floripa really has it all: beaches, surfing, parties, sun, yachts, more parties, girls, churasscos (the Brazilian version of barbeques only taken much more seriously), sports, more girls, more parties and on and on and on. The hard part is through all of this somehow you need to find time to get your work done and stay somewhat productive. Since we opened Cactus in December and were running a strategy based more on trial and error than on experience (probably not what they teach in restaurant management), this summer was all the more intense. Between working at two restaurants, including many 12 hour days at Cactus, constantly moving back and forth between my house and apartment, and trying not to let the summer pass without enjoying it at least a little bit, it really is a miracle to be alive. All things considered, I shouldn't be surprised at how fast it flew by. Three months felt more like a week.....but what a hell of a week it was!!!

One of the highlights this summer was again Carnival. Last year I spent Carnival up north in Salvador so this was my first Carnival in Floripa. There is an incredible amount of energy in the Brazilian culture and during Carnival that energy skyrockets, which really you have to see to believe. It's parties 24 hours a day: day party, night party, after party, after-after party (this was a new concept to me but I loved it nonetheless). Honestly, it's mindblowing. In those four days alone I saw Sharam, Kaskade, Steve Angello, and Erick Morillo play in some of the best, energy-filled clubs in the world. It was really spectacular. Sharam played at Warung, my favorite club in the world, for 9 1/2 hours. I arrived at 3am and left at noon and he still wasn't done. For music lovers, it was one of those rare "I can't believe I just saw that" moments. These are the things you only see at Carnival in Brazil. Luckily, I made lots of videos and took lots of pictures because one day I'm going to need help remembering all of this so thank God for my Canon.....

The good news about living in Floripa is that the sun sticks around for a few months after summer is over. With the sun out and the madness gone for the most part, those of us who live here can enjoy some more peaceful time on the beach in our "recovery mode" (sort of like Betty Ford on the beach). We like to call it "locals' summer." I've said it here before and I'll say it again, March and April are absolutely wonderful months to be in Floripa. Things at Cactus have calmed down quite a bit so I'm enjoying it even more, and I must say it's nice to get back to a normal schedule. The only downside is that as the summer slips away and fall takes over, that means winter is just around the corner. Winter in Floripa is hard. It's cold and, quite frankly, there isn't much to do. The joke in Floripa is that guys ditch their girlfriends right before summer and go on a mad girlfriend search right before winter because that's about the only thing that's going to keep you busy in winter. I still haven't perfected this strategy and as time ticks down I might need a buzzer beater, but in Floripa a buzzer beater is a wife in the US..... ;)

My two year anniversary in Floripa passed in early March and like summer, it's amazing to think how quickly the time has passed. I'd like to think I have accomplished a few things in this period, but really it's just been more of a learning process for something bigger (I hope!). I've definitely made some mistakes along the way, but the learning curve in a country like Brazil is demanding to say the least (I think you need a master's at Harvard just to understand the tax code alone). The key, as we all know, is to learn from these mistakes, and I like to think that I wouldn't be in the position that I'm in now if I haven't learned from those mistakes and moved forward. Now it's time to take advantage and see what the next thing Brazil has in store for me....fingers crossed for a prosperous 2010!!!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

South of the Border

It seems like I now start out every post now with an apology regarding the length between posts so I'll say it again. I apologize for being absent for so long! At least this time I have a legitimate excuse. It turns out that I remember how to work hard, and I have been doing exactly that. As a mentioned awhile back, I was about to embark on a new business down here (one that I wasn't ready to announce yet). Well, after six months of hard work, that business is finally up and running. The business is a gourmet fast food (Mexican) store in a shopping mall (Iguatemi). How the hell did I get into this you ask? Great question. On my first trip to Floripa back in 2007, our group kept craving Mexican food. As someone who has spent the last twenty something years between California and Arizona, it's safe to say that burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas are my version of the four food groups. Amazingly, we were unable to find any Mexican food here. As a matter of fact, most of the Brazilians we were with had no idea what a burrito even was. That thought literally blew me away and actually still does (we get customers all the time who ask what a burrito is). Anyway, to make a long story short (or at least I'll try to keep it short), I started discussing this idea with my good friend and business partner at Tatsuya earlier last year. The idea really started to get momentum and then one day I thought the following. Somebody is going to do this here and we're going to look back and say, "well, that was our idea but we just didn't make it happen." Seriously, in life how many times have you thought that about something? I think I've heard that about a million times and I didn't want this to be one of those things, especially considering that we had the time to do it and we were really looking for a new idea. We basically found an architect and one thing just lead to another. Six months later Dave, my partner, was in the kitchen flipping tortillas and I was washing dishes in a sink without a disposal and we looked at each other and said, "who's God damn idea was this anyway?"

On the bright side, things are going really well. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I would say that overall we are very happy. The downside is that we are practically living there. This is about as hands on of a business as you can get and, unfortunately in this country more than most, you really have to keep a close eye on your employees. I've heard so many crazy stories about employees here (not to mention what happened at Tatsuya with our waiters) that I pretty much would believe anything these days. Also, since we are in the summer season here in Floripa, it's nearly impossible to find employees. When we started we would schedule something like 15 interviews and literally two people would show up. And now it's shocking to see the corollary between it being sunny out and employees deciding not to show up that day. Quite frankly, it's mind blowing. However, this is the life we chose and now we must deal with it. Therefore, for anyone tired of the sh*tty job market in the US, we are hiring. The pay is terrible but you get free burritos and, really, how can you argue with free burritos?

My favorite story so far was during one of our first days of being open I was running around the store doing everything possible to help: doing dishes, making burritos, you name it. And let's just say that there might have been some sweat involved. Anyway, up to the counter comes a girl I used to date and she looks as me like I'm a cow with three heads and says, "Chris, you work HERE?" I think she was questioning how she could have dated a fast food attendant (hey, we have feelings too!). I kind of just laughed it off and explained it to her and the color returned to her face. Dave said I should have told her that things just went really bad after we broke up and I ended up having to take this job, but I didn't have that much foresight at the time. I would have loved to see the look on her face with that one. It would have been priceless....

The good news is that sometimes with this job there are perks that you would never imagine. One day I was sitting in front of the store on my computer and guess who walks by but Alessandra Ambrosio (for those that don't know who she is google her and clear your schedule for the next 8 hours or so). Her husband ends up eating at our place (by the way, the name is Cactus Mexican Food). He asks the attendant who the owner is and ends up talking to Dave. He later comes over to my table and we end up chatting for 45 minutes. He introduces me to Alessandra, which as you can imagine, was right up there with birth, my first car, graduating college, etc. Then he asks me for my number because he said he doesn't have a lot of dudes to hang out with in Floripa (hanging with super models must be such a tough life). I then ask him for his and he says to me, "I don't have a local number here so just take my girl's number." It's not exactly how I pictured it in my dreams but let's just say that I'm not losing that number. In Floripa, I always say that "surreal is my new reality" and this was just more proof of the truth to that statement....

During the craziness of trying to open Cactus, my Mom came out to visit me for the first time. It was difficult trying to balance everything while trying to show her around Floripa, but we got it done. It was really great having her down her so she could finally see what pulled me away so far from everyone. Her comment was that she couldn't believe I had the balls to move to somewhere like this because she saw how difficult life can be at times here, and I must say I had to agree with her. During this process, I really experienced how much bureacracy exists here and how difficult it is to do something as simple as getting internet installed at the store (I couldn't even begin to explain this experience). Anyway, we had a wonderful time and it was very hard to see her go, but now I think she will be much comfortable returning. I just hope that before her next visit she finally understands that "gracias" is Spanish and Brazilians speak Portuguese. Baby steps....

Everything else here is going great. New Year's passed without and serious problems and I guess that's all you can really ask for. From December 26th to about a few days ago, the whole world arrived in Floripa just like every year, and it was as crazy as you can imagine. I was trying to find that balance of working at two restaurants, seeing friends, being the local nightlife guide, trying to enjoy my life a little, and sleeping whenever possible. The traffics was, as usual during that time of year, horrific. However, I ended up renting an apartment in the Centro for six months and was able to avoid it most of the time. But for that week I continue to think that Floripa must be one of the craziest spots in the world. It's just party after party after party with as many beautiful people as you could imagine. But for us people who live here I must say that I'm happy it's over. It's nice to have our little Floripa back, and now this island serves Mexican food!!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

It's a funny thing that you must learn as an entrepreneur, discipline. I've always had a strong sense of discipline since the time I was very young, but the real test doesn't begin until you've grown up (is that too much of a stretch for me?), been through a serious job or two, and then been re-released into the wild to figure it out on your own. There is a simple routine in a corporate job: you wake up, head to the office, and wait for the work to come to you. Sure, you have to come up with ideas here and there and creativity is sometimes required (haha), but for the most part you just sit tight and wait for the work that you know is heading your way. This whole entrepreneur thing is the polar opposite. If you sit tight waiting for something to come your way, it's going to be a lonely journey (and one where you'll end up on the streets!). Nobody is looking out for you, and you better be willing to go out and get yours. It's kind of like what I would imagine would happen to a gorilla, for instance, that has lived his whole life at the zoo and then one day is released into the jungle. In the zoo, everything the gorilla wants is provided for him: food, shelter, companionship, etc. Then one day he is sent out to the jungle to figure it out on his own. I can only imagine that this would be an extremely difficult transition, if not an impossible one. The gorilla has to find ways to acclimate to this new world and, most importantly, find a way to survive. He no longer sits in the big gorilla playland with regular meals being fed to him. In the unknown world, he has to go out and make it happen on his own. Now, from a business perspective as a human, it's one thing to find that idea to make to make it on your own but you have to turn that idea into reality. I live on an island full of beautiful beaches and even more beautiful girls so it requires an even deeper commitment to discipline. You can easily get distracted here, and it's something that I see every day. There are lots and lots of people here that have just settled into the easy routine. If you're searching for a great quality of life, Floripa is definitely the place for you. But if you're still young and searching for the next great opportunity in Floripa, you better dig deep for that idea and you must work very, very hard to make that idea a success. There are hundreds of distractions every day and you're not confined to an office. The world is your oyster but you need to swim out to sea, search the ocean for that oyster, find the oyster, nurture the oyster, and then just hope that this oyster is the right one. Perhaps the oyster was not the right one so you need to cut your losses, forget about it, and move on. It's not a simple task by any stretch of the imagination and with all of the distractions, it's even more difficult. Discipline is definitely the key. A wise man once said that, "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments" and he couldn't have been more right. I'm living in the jungle, baby, and it's time to go hunting for some food....

Bureaucrazy continues to be a hilarious obstacle every day. As I prepare to open my new business, I've unfortunately had to get my hands dirty again. We've been in contract negotiations for at least two months with a shopping center here, and I would argue that we have been as agreeable as possible with our terms. Did you know that all shopping centers in Brazil charge double rent for the month of December? In any universe, does this make sense? My favorite part of their contract is that very last clause that they so conveniently place in the contract. I'm paraphrasing (and some words might be lost in translation) but more or less the clause states "You can ignore anything written above as the shopping center can decide what to do when it wants with no notice whatsoever." It's definitely my favorite part. We're also working with architects, contractors, designers, and God knows who else. Sometimes we'll send a simple question to our graphic designer and we won't hear from him for four days. It never ceases to blow my mind. You'd be out of business in a week if that happened back in the U.S. Also, we've been opening up new companies and dealing with the funding of these companies with international wires. These things all seem so easy but here in Brazil it's like climbing Mt. Everest every day. A funny anecdote - the other day I was having lunch with a few American friends who have a business here. One of the partners was discussing how he just opened a LLC for the company in the states so they could start exporting to the US. A Brazilian guy who was with us asked how long it took him to open the business. My friend responded, "About 45 minutes." The Brazilian was literally dumbfounded and I mean DUMBFOUNDED. We all started cracking up and at the very least, this moment of laughter made us all forget how crazy some of this stuff really is.

I've come to the conclusion that the bureaucracy is the Brazilian government's way of employing as many people as possible. Everyone here seems to work for the public system in one way or another, and it seems to me at least to be such a strange way of going about business as it completely lacks efficiency. And the more people working for the government, the more hoops you have to jump throught. Based on how many hoops I have jumped through in the past few months, I would estimate the number of government employees in Brazil to be about 750 million.

Outside of all of this, all is good here in Floripa. Spring time has arrived along with its best friend Sr. Chuva (Mr. Rain). I can only hope that we don't see the amount of rain that we saw last year. That almost killed me. You can only spend so many days in a cafe drinking coffee. I was more wired last spring that Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch. Everyone continues to anxiously await for summer. As a business owner, your whole year relies on what happens in the summer months so I'm making sure that Tatsuya is completely ready to rock. It's going to be a wild one, and I couldn't be more ready. May God be with me....... ;)