About three years ago, David Alfaro and I launched on a great adventure together, building AgilityFeat into an international boutique software development firm. I was living in Virginia in the US, and David built up our operations in Costa Rica. Now we also have team members in Boston, Nicaragua, and Honduras, and last week I moved to Costa Rica.
When I talk to potential customers about AgilityFeat, they sometimes ask why we are based primarily in Costa Rica. The short answer is excellent technical and design skills, strong English skills, easy travel to our customers in North America, a relatively stable political and economic system, and time zone equality with the United States (which enables us to follow a very agile and collaborative process with our customers).
The farmers’ market in Escazu, near where I live
Now the question my friends and colleagues are asking me is “why are you moving to Costa Rica?” It’s asked naturally with a touch of jealously, since Costa Rica is a beautiful tropical country with a variety of great beaches, mountains, volcanoes, rainforests, and diverse wildlife. There’s no doubt why people would want to visit here. But as the head of a technology company with a customer base primarily in the US, why would I want to work from Costa Rica? Here’s why…
#1: To be closer to our team
For the last several years I have travelled regularly to Costa Rica to work with our team in person, for team building events, and to bring clients here. In addition, we’ve brought many of our team members to the US to work with clients too. It’s well worth the travel expense, and it makes us stronger as a team.
But while living in the US, I missed out on the more spontaneous get-togethers. I’m looking forward to spending more time in person with the amazing team we’ve built.
Part of a project kickoff team from last week with a new AgilityFeat client
#2: To focus on side projects
Not all of those get-togethers will be over beer. Alright … most will. But we will be talking business too, especially several ideas that we are working on to create profitable “side businesses” for AgilityFeat to supplement the income we make from our core services business, and to hone our own entrepreneurial skills.
This is something we’ve talked about several times in the last few years, and failed to apply the proper focus or incentives to make it actually happen. Earlier this year we took a more disciplined and lean approach, and we are making good headway on several promising ideas. Not all of them will survive the profitability test, but we are taking a solid approach to figuring out which ones will.
I am looking forward to being here more because I see this as a very important strategic goal for AgilityFeat and me personally. Being here in person will help me to keep those projects moving forward and to work closely and efficiently with our team members working on them.
#3: To improve my sales tactics
AgilityFeat COO Ford Englander and I have spent a lot of time over the last year or so fine-tuning our marketing and sales practices at AgilityFeat. While we still have a lot to learn, we are definitely getting better. So why in the world would I take the risk of moving further away from our potential customers?
Other than the personal risk of driving a car on the streets of San Jose (you have to see it here to believe it sometimes), moving away from our customers is the biggest risk of this move for me. But I am approaching it from a “theory of constraints” perspective.
If I cannot meet potential customers by attending meetups in person, how can I sell the quality of our team and work remotely? While I still will regularly travel to the US to speak at conferences and meet customers, being here means I have to do a better job of keeping the AgilityFeat website up to date (note to self: still needs some work), and utilizing other educational channels we offer like RealTimeWeekly.com and our book at RealTimeBook.co.
I am looking forward to the challenge of improving my sales tactics from a distance. By constraining the sales channels available to me, it forces me to become better at remote sales.
#4: To become fluent in Spanish
A big personal goal for me is to become fluent in Spanish. I have spent a lot of time the last couple of years on Skype with an excellent teacher from Ecuador (happy to share her name if you want lessons too). But there is only so much Spanish I can learn from a distance. Already in the last couple of weeks I have picked up more Costa Rican slang and become better at hearing, understanding, and yes, guessing, conversational Latin American Spanish.
Our team at AgilityFeat all speaks English. Costa Rica is a country heavily dependent on tourism, and so English is a very common second language here, especially in the tourist or expat areas. So the truth is I could get by without improving my Spanish beyond it’s current levels.
But I don’t want to. I started this adventure in Costa Rica several years ago in part because I wanted to expose myself to other cultures and the global economy, and a big part of the “success metric” for that is to become bilingual.
A silly video in Spanish by a Costa Rican about how when they give directions to a Gringo using Costa Rican slang, he has no idea what they mean
#5: For the family experience of a lifetime
It’s not just about giving myself that global experience though. I have my family here with me, and my wife Lauren and I are very excited to see them grow personally from this experience too.
We have enrolled our sons in a bilingual school, and they are already making friends there and starting to learn Spanish. I fully expect they will reach fluency before I do, and the experiences we are giving them here will help them to thrive in a world that is only becoming more globalized.
Every friend I’ve ever had who lived abroad as a child has told me what an amazing life-changing experience it was for them. No matter the difficulties they also had at times, it was an experience they would never trade because it has made them into more successful and well-rounded adults.
I am thrilled to be able to give that opportunity for personal growth to our children.
It’s not all coconuts and palm trees, but it’s worth it
Life here in Costa Rica is not all “Pura Vida.” There are traffic jams, good internet providers are hard to find, buying cars is a pain, private schools are expensive, many things are actually more expensive than the US, and I am suffering from “Amazon Prime Withdrawal” because I have to actually go to stores for things I want now. No more 2-day shipping, or shipping of any kind for that matter.
I don’t live on the beach, it’s not sunny every day, and I have not drunk nearly as many tropical fruit smoothies as I should have by now.
But I live an hour from the Pacific and 2 hours from the Caribbean. I can see a volcano from my bedroom window. We can go ziplining among howler monkeys on the weekends, or whitewater rafting in a rainforest. And the pineapples here are absolutely amazing. Life here is great.
We are all part of an amazing adventure here at AgilityFeat, and as always, we invite our clients to be part of it too. Every day that I spend here I become a better tour guide for you – so come visit us in Costa Rica!