Kristie Robinson was a 26-year-old from the U.K. with virtually no savings when she landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, intent on producing her own newspaper. Within 10 weeks, and with only $6,000, she pulled off this crazy idea off by printing the first 2,000 copies of The Argentimes, a twice-monthly publication which became the second-largest English language paper in Argentina.
The newspaper was free, but generated revenue by selling ads, which it did very successfully because of its wealthy reader demographic—largely made up of expatriate American and British, as well as young educated Argentines—who were attracted to the the focus on current affairs, social issues, culture, and travel. Within a short period of time, the paper had 10,000 copies per edition, which Robinson estimates reached over 30,000 readers. The paper eventually had 70 people involved in its creation, including a small full-time staff, and many contributors, photographers, designers, commission-based salespeople and interns. The newspaper gained enough traction that she was able to attract a local Argentine business partner who invested in the company. They ended up selling the newspaper to a regional media group, less than three years from founding it.
Robinson’s story is a great reminder that persistence and passion are often the only things you need in order to launch your business idea. Having said that, Kristie was able to achieve a fairly seamless transition from an uncertain job seeker in the U.K. to successful business owner in Argentina by doing some specific things.
Let’s take a look at them below because they provide useful lessons for anyone thinking of pursuing a business idea abroad:
Robinson backpacked around Latin America for long enough to know what she was getting herself into by starting a company there. She knew she liked the culture and people. It’s pretty important to like where you intend to live and know that you will be happy there, so do the research ahead of time and there will be less surprises. Resources like these can be helpful before you book a plane trip.
Robinson managed to convince four of her friends and colleagues to move with her to Argentina to set up the newspaper. Each had a specific skill set that was needed in order to make the business a success and all of them were willing to initially work for free to get the business up and operational.
Another way that Robinson gained free, talented labor was to set up relationships with nearly 20 universities in the U.K. and the U.S. who sent journalism students to Robinson’s office where they would help with producing the publication. Robinson saved a huge amount of money (hundreds of thousands of dollars) by being able to convince friends and volunteers to help her with the newspaper.
Robinson had only $6,000 to spend, and by bootstrapping and pulling in favors, it was enough money to get through the first two print runs of the newspaper. When The Argentimes was up and running, Robinson kept her overheads low by heavily relying on freelancers who contributed to the newspaper at no cost. She kept these freelancers hyper-engaged by creating a strong community, facilitated through frequent social events she organized such as pub quizzes and cultural fairs.
The lesson here is that money is really no barrier to entry. Get creative and think of ways to get the same result without it.
Prior to leaving the U.K. for Argentina, Kristie attended a bunch of mixers at the Argentine Embassy, and also reached out to prominent Argentines living in London. As expatriates, these Argentines were often excited to talk about their home country, and regularly made introductions to friends living back in Argentina. Although this was a little bit of extra work up front, it meant that Robinson had a large number of people who were willing to support her immediately upon entering the country. An example of one of the people she was able to connect with was Francis Mallmann, who is the Argentine equivalent of Jamie Oliver.
Finally, as Robinson mentions in the podcast; her lack of experience with business actually helped her start the newspaper. This seems counter-intuitive at first, but her point is that if she had known more, or had she listened to the people who were "experts," she never would have thought of starting a newspaper in Argentina. It just would have seemed impossible.
Robinson has now been in Argentina for eight years, is married to a man she met there, and runs the online English language newspaper, The Argentina Independent. While it’s fair to say that she has had plenty of ups and downs, she feels like she made a great choice by taking a risk to travel to the other side of the world and try her hand at something different.
So the question to you is, what’s stopping you from following your passion? If you are jobless, stuck in a rut, unhappy, disillusioned, or just plain bored, starting a business overseas might just be the answer. As Robinson’s story shows, lack of money and experience are clearly no barriers if you have the initiative to try to make things happen.