Staffan Elfver, start-up founderSaturday, June 21, 2014
Pros outweigh cons
For The Herald
Born: Ängelholm, Sweden
Education: International finance at University of Brighton
Profession: Founder of QueSeCome.com
Book: The Steve Jobs biography
Film: The Wolf of Wall Street
Gadget: My Sonar music system
Although the first time he touched down in Argentina was in Iguazú in 2005, it took another seven years for former stockbroker Staffan Elfver to return to South America. But when he did, it was with a particular plan. Eighteen months on and that aim has come to fruition: his company QueSeCome.com is now up and running.
Staffan says: “I came here on December 5, 2012. I’d had a business back in London, where I’d been living for the past nine years, but I had closed it down that October as I decided to follow my intuition and my heart, which said go to South America. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but I just knew I was going to do it. I consulted my friends and family and they all said I should do it. And when I left London, I had a plan: that I was going to set up a business in six months’ time and speak decent Spanish.”
“My goal was South America rather than Argentina, but I did some research via the World Bank and found out that Colombia or Panama have booming economies and destinations where I should set up a business.
“I’ve travelled around the world and been to 47 countries so I’ve visited all the continents. I used to be a broker so by looking at the financial markets, with Spain, Italy and Greece crashing, I thought Europe would be stagnant. I felt I’d learnt so much in London that I could take that skill set to South America, where one language is mainly spoken and is a growing region. I felt that growth, combined with a unified language, meant that if I could come up with a concept or product, I should be able to go into other countries. Asia didn’t appeal as there are too many languages, and Africa wasn’t on my map.
“Buenos Aires was my first destination and I fell in love with the city at once.”
The Swede immediately got stuck into studying, determined to become fluent in order to meet his goals. But he didn’t just stay in the capital city. “I had a few weeks in Buenos Aires, then I decided to move to Córdoba as there’d be fewer people speaking Spanish. I stayed in a house where people didn’t speak any English then I moved to Mendoza to continue with that same plan.
“After those two months I decided to give Buenos Aires a try. A guy I met in Mendoza then got in touch with me with some business ideas and that led to what exists today, QueSeCome.com.
“I absolutely love it here and Buenos Aires offers a lot of things that are similar to London: the nightlife, buses, beautiful parks except they are much bigger here, and you can do things seven days a week.”
While it might seem strange that Steffan put all his eggs in one basket so fast when it came down to Buenos Aires, he simply puts it down to the mysteries of love. He says: “Sometimes, when you fall in love, you can’t explain it – there was a connection! My parents came to visit for three months this year and while they loved it, they also had a lot of criticism, as do I. But you have to weigh up the pros and the cons, and the pros are working out better. If you’re an ‘expat’ then everything is done for you, but I actually have to deal with all the bureaucracy because I’ve set up a company. I didn’t want to set up a consultancy – when I came here to invest my time, my life and my money, it was about setting up a big business.”
The climate does have a small part to play in this love story, however. “I lived in Hawaii for a year, and it’s summer all year round. But I’m like a flower when it comes to sunshine – if there’s a clear blue sky, I’m happy! And now I’m wondering why I spent so many years living in northern Europe and England!”
Despite the language barrier in the early days, Staffan says it has been easy to adapt to Argentina. “London is such a big international city so I have a lot of international friends, plus I’ve also lived in the US, so I wasn’t scared as I’ve been exposed to so many things. At 17 I was an exchange student in Washington state, so that was my first step out of Sweden and when my life opened up. From then on I never looked back, and I went to Hawaii after undertaking compulsory military service, then went travelling after working in Norway. I’ve always earned the money myself but I think I’ve done it the tough way – and I’m living my dream, which makes me a very privileged person.
“I’ve started to notice cultural differences in the past six months, things you’d never see unless you worked for a local company. As a tourist or expat, you’re just scratching the surface, which is beautiful but once you dig deeper, you see the fundamentals are missing, which is a bit scary. I worked in the City of London, which is very efficient, plus I’m Swedish and everything works in Sweden. I never imagined that it would be any different!
“It’s tough when you send an email and you don’t get a response, or you make a phone call and someone hangs up on you. All of these are things that would never happen in a professional world.
“But if you asked me now, back in London, if I would come here knowing that, I’d still say yes. The pros are still outweighing the cons and I’m creating what I want to do, even if I have more grey hair.”
Setting up shop
With regards to founding a new company, a food produce and recipe delivery enterprise, Staffan put a deadline of six months, which he admits is quite aggressive. “If you’re going to give yourself time frames, then you need to make it happen. And we started research after five months. Registering a business here isn’t any more complicated than doing it in the UK, it’s just there is more administrative work and stamps to obtain. It’s more standardized in Europe, but here they want to keep the difficulties of that administrative work for themselves. In England you apply online and it costs £50 to register a business but here there are a lot of entry barriers – it costs 10,000 pesos and most Argentines don’t have that in their pocket. New companies create jobs, so I think things need to change here. I don’t like the two words ‘es así’.”
Although his office is in Parque Centenario for logistical reasons, Staffan lives in Palermo although he has also resided in Belgrano and Recoleta. “I’m close to the Rosedal and I love that park so I go running or rollerblading there. And I love all the restaurant area by Honduras and Malabia – everything is so close.
“I have one Swedish friend here, the head of Nokia, but I have a mixture of friends, although I speak more English than Spanish in my spare time. I speak Spanish all day long at work so I get into the business side of speaking, but the social side is more difficult as there’s a lot of slang. I still haven’t reached the level where I feel very comfortable socializing.”
Besides friends and family, there isn’t much he misses from Europe, he says. “If you look at England and Sweden, it’s grey skies most of the time, which I don’t miss at all! And it would be nice to have more variation in restaurants too, which is why I’ve set up the business I have – to cover that gap.”@sorrelmw