An Entrepreneurship-Driven Future For New Brunswick Depends on Migration and Travel
By Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo
Announcement! I’ll be coming to New Brunswick the third week of January 2019 and will be announcing talks in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton. To learn more, sign-up here.
In my last post I spoke briefly about the idea that migration is often a motor of entrepreneurship, and that a purposeful entrepreneurship-driven future depends in part on New Brunswick taking advantage of the immigrants who have come to call our province home. I want to tease that idea out a bit.
First, my own journey with entrepreneurship is a direct result of being an immigrant. Allow me to explain.
When I was 20 I was desperate to explore the world. My Spanish professor at St. Thomas suggested I go to Mexico to focus on developing my language skills. He recommended a small-town called Oaxaca where he knew of a Spanish School and a family that could host me. Just before departing he said to me, “being so alone, you’ll either find God or yourself”. He was painfully correct.
How my time in Oaxaca / Chiapas formed me will have to be the subject of a different post. Suffice to say that I did find myself, and after four months I became conversant in Spanish, and most of what happened in my life afterwards was a direct result of pushing myself far out of my comfort zone and facing some of my greatest fears.
Fast-forward 13 years later, my Ecuadorian-wife and I decided to move back to her home country. We wanted to be closer to her grandparents who had practically raised her and were turning the corner on 90 (as of writing they’re still alive, still active, and a major source of joy in our lives).
We also knew that the 5 years that had passed since we last lived in Ecuador had changed us in such a way that we were going to struggle to function in traditional Ecuadorian companies.
Though it’s hard to generalize as Ecuador is a vibrant and diverse place, Ecuadorian companies tend to be conservative and hierarchical places.
Michelle and I are dyed in the wool non-conformists. If we were going to survive we were going to have to start our own businesses and create the contexts in which we and people like us would thrive.
So I started my own marketing services company and I soon realized that few people in the local market thought about digital marketing the way I had been taught to think about it.
For many companies, digital marketing was considered an add-on service provided by traditional creative agencies. Digital marketing strategy focused on social media and tended to be based on the whims of the agency’s creative director.
So I started looking for companies who had a strong economic incentive to get digital marketing right. When I met them I suggested we start analyzing data to guide our decision making process.
My first clients were the businesses that belonged to my business partners, a group of local entrepreneurs who had had a lot of success building the country’s first web portals. Together they had disrupted classifieds, insurance, and real-estate. Their companies were a sandbox that allowed me to start working out the details of what a hired service would look like.
My second client was a local tour operator that had to compete with international industry giants. My third client had a CMO that lived in the US and wanted to replicate services he saw there but at a lower price.
When I could finally afford to hire some staff, I sought out some former colleagues from Google to train them. The training cost me an arm and a leg, but it was the foundation of our initial success.
As a new company we focused on doing one thing, managing Google AdWords, better than anyone else. Once we got a few more clients we added Facebook advertising, then search engine optimization, then Hubspot management, and so on and so on.
As a naturally risk-averse person, I wouldn’t have started my own business if the circumstances hadn’t demanded it. Once I did, I realized that my experience abroad allowed me to bring a skillset and a mindset that didn’t exist in my local context. Four years later, we have clients in seven different countries, including North America, Latin America, Oceania and Europe.
For the longest time New Brunswickers and Atlantic Canadians in general have referred to anyone from abroad as “from away”. The term in itself is not derogatory, but it does suggest a certain ignorance of and lack of curiosity about the rest of the world. Whether you’re from Bangladesh or Bolivia it doesn’t really matter, which on one hand is a good thing, but on the other it should matter: it’s part of who you are.
Immigrants from abroad who choose to stay in New Brunswick represent a special class of person.
The easiest decision for a recent migrant to Canada would be to move to Toronto or Montreal where one can find any number of diaspora communities.
Diaspora communities are important for immigrants because they represent support groups that help with everything from finding a doctor that speaks your native language to finding work to finding a worship community.
I’ve experienced this: Some of my earliest friends in Ecuador were other Canadians I met playing pick-up hockey (yes, we have hockey even in Ecuador, though you’ve never tested your lungs like you do when skating at 9000 feet of altitude).
Migrating to Canada and staying in New Brunswick often means flying solo, having no option but to integrate, and making friends and finding work in a foreign language. It’s definitely not the path of least resistance.
At the same time, there is so much we lack in New Brunswick and that we are blissfully unaware of, and the things we don’t know we need represent a gold mine for immigrants.
Food is the most tangible and accessible example of this. Growing up in New Brunswick we had no Indian or Thai food, for example. East Saint John had one ubiquitous Chinese take-out, and exotic fare was limited to a few Greek restaurants and Italian restaurants run by Greeks (true story).
Now in Saint John the desire for spicy food from away is unquenchable.
Similarly, whenever anyone comes to visit me in Ecuador I immediately have them try out of our most emblematic juices, tomate del árbol, which translates as tree tomato, though it tastes nothing like a tomato.
I watch as a look that of skepticism turns to a look of wonder as my friends and family process a new taste that is different from anything they’ve known in their adult lives. Their first response is always, “how can I get this back home?”.
I have an Ecuadorian friend who studied bread making in Canada, and now runs one of Quito’s most up and coming bakeries.
Ecuadorians in general consider themselves bread connoisseurs. Most would consider the Superstore bread section to be a vulgar representation of a supreme art form, like pornography trying to pass itself as high art. It’s not only that each street corner has a bakery: it probably has three.
Nonetheless, my friend learned new techniques and recipes in Edmonton and returned to create a new type of bakery that combines the best of both worlds. After being deprived of pecan pie for many years, thanks to her I can now have it for breakfast (if you want to start your day well, try pecan pie for breakfast. Life is short).
As a final example, Netflix recently filmed a cooking competition called The Final Table. The Canadian participant couldn’t be a better example of how travel breeds entrepreneurship: Calgarian Darren Maclean would appear to be a Molsen-drinking prairie hay bale chucker: instead, he’s a world-class chef specialized in Japanese cuisine. His passion was born from a trip to Japan. Now he runs Canada’s foremost Japanese restaurant.
The idea that immigration promotes entrepreneurship is not just an argument I’m building on the back of a few anecdotes. The Yale professor Amy Chua published a book in 2003 called “World On Fire” in which she looks into the existence of what she calls “market dominant minorities” or minority groups in different countries that exercise disproportionate economic influence.
Despite the conspiracy theories that ignite nutballs round the world, most of these groups owe their affluence to a similar story: they were forced to leave somewhere, they developed tight-knit and self-supporting communities in the places where they arrived, they began importing and exporting goods based on what they found/what was missing, and they built empires that grew and evolved in innumerable ways.
New Brunswick and Canada have a massive advantage over the rest of the world. Unlike places that have a contentious relationship with migrant groups, aside from a few noisy grumps that use the internet to amplify their views, we see migrants as a positive addition to our society. Rather than seeing diversity as a threat to something, we see it as a contribution to something, like a delicious soup that gets better with each ingredient added.
This positive attitude towards migration is not just a novelty; it may actually be the key to building our future prosperity. While other countries tie themselves in knots fighting with old ideas such as nationalism, we have the opportunity to take advantage of a naturally occurring phenomenon: people all over want to be connected and integrated, and the migrants who call New Brunswick home have already demonstrated the independent spirit and chutzpah to navigate the stormy waters of entrepreneurship.
We have things that other people don’t know they’re missing. Other people have things we don’t know we’re missing. We can build a new future economy based on that simple, beautiful and time-tested idea.
In other words, we already have everything we need, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more we celebrate, the more we get, but let’s not put the entire burden on our most vulnerable population. Let’s get out there and get to know the world and find the opportunities that will guide us towards our future economy.
In the meantime, If you want to come visit, I can offer pecan pie and a juice you’ve never tried before that will completely blow your mind.
Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo is a former Google, Twitter and World Economic Forum Manager, and current CEO of Céntrico Digital. He’s a contributor to tech publications such as TechCrunch.Com and TheNextWeb.Com. Visit Centrico Digital here.