Everyone has a story to tell. It can be an experience, a failure you learn from, or a fun adventure. With such a diverse community of entrepreneurs, coworking spaces are full of interesting anecdotes, stories and insights from great professionals.
This time, in Focus, we learnt about Elliott’s journey as an expat and entrepreneur in Barcelona.
☝️ Let’s start with a small introduction. Who are you? Where are you from ? And, how did you end up in Barcelona?
My name is Elliott.
I’m originally from the United States, but I’ve lived over half of my life abroad. I first moved to Belgium back in 2002 (before it was “cool,” although to be fair, I still don’t think it’s considered “cool” to move there🙃). I was in Brussels for almost 14 years before taking a year off with my wife to backpack around Southeast Asia.
When we finished our trip, we realized we were still hungry for adventure and new experiences. That led us to Barcelona in June 2016, where we’ve been ever since. It’s been an adventure pretty much from day one — for better and for worse — so mission accomplished in that regard.
What are you passionate about?
As I say on my WhatsApp profile: “Hot dogs are my hobby, but peanut butter is my passion.” I think it’s still an accurate statement.
Besides my decidedly American food choices, I enjoy cooking, traveling, snowboarding, and scuba diving. Once upon a time, I was into high-intensity interval training (the type that makes you vomit).
💳💰 What do you do for a living? Tell us about your experience.
I’m the co-founder and CEO of a startup called abroaden. We’re currently bootstrapping (although that’s changing soon), so “for a living” is a bit of a misnomer. However, it takes up all of my time, so I think that counts as “for a living.”
Aside from that role, I’ve worked as a freelance content writer in the FinTech industry, which helps me keep the lights on.
What’s the story behind abroaden?
As I mentioned above, I’ve spent over half my life living abroad. My studies and most of my professional career focused on banking and finance.
As an expat, I realized that it’s far from easy to invest in your retirement and efficiently save your money when you periodically change countries.
I thought to myself that this problem shouldn’t exist in a (mostly) borderless world.
I dove into the “why” and started exploring how to solve this pain point for the approximately 90 million professionals living abroad.
This quest set me on this long, sometimes strange journey.
After a bit more of a year of studying European financial law, getting investment advice certifications, learning to code, and hosting “beer, pizza, investing” talks in La Vaca, I was convinced this problem was worth solving.
Together with my first co-founder, Juan Ruiz (more on him below), we officially formed abroaden in mid-2020.
We heard you were selected for an acceleration program? Can you tell us about it? Where are you now?
Yes! Late last year, we were accepted into the inaugural Barcelona incubation batch of the F10 Fintech Incubator and Accelerator program.
F10 is originally from Zurich and is part of the SIX Group (the company in charge of the Swiss stock market and the national payments infrastructure).
In 2020, SIX acquired the Spanish stock exchange company Bolsas y Mercados Españoles.
As part of this acquisition, SIX wanted to grow the Spanish FinTech scene. As a result, they expanded F10 to Spain.
Our batch ran from March to late July of this year.
During the program, I split my time between La Vaca and the incubation space at Tech Barcelona’s Pier 01.
The program was incredible. I accomplished more in five months than I did in an entire year. In short, we refined our business model and tactics using the Lean Startup methodology.
More importantly, we got introduced to the Spanish startup, fintech, investor, and banking ecosystems.
People often ask me what’s the most valuable takeaway from the incubator.
For me, it’s a toss-up between the incredible learning experience and the network you create.
What are your next objectives?
Right now, we have a few key goals.
We’re not quite ready to launch as we’re still awaiting final regulatory approval. While we’re confident we can get it, getting the greenlight is a drawn-out process.
In the meantime, we’re focused on growing our early-access list.
To do so, we’re creating content (guides, videos, blog posts) and giving talks.
We know a lot of people who need our help are in coworkings. This fall, we’ll be hosting talks about the economy in various coworking spaces in the city (pandemic permitting).
We’ve done this before here in La Vaca, which has always been a blast.
Second, we’re improving our product.
We have a functional demo but have tons of ideas on how to improve it.
We’re taking advantage of the regulatory approval process to build more features before officially launching.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, we’re fundraising.
Unless you’re sitting on a considerable amount of cash, it’s nearly impossible to bootstrap a fintech to market.
Due to these regulatory hurdles, launching a company like ours costs a lot of money.
Our goal is to close the first part of our round in the next two months, with an eye for completing it shortly afterward.
As a financial expert. What advice would you give to someone that would like to start investing for their future?
Without knowing you (the reader), it’s impossible for me to give you personalized advice.
That said, there are some general guidelines worth knowing.
First, never invest in something you don’t fully understand, or, at the minimum, with money you can afford to lose. The last thing you want to do is blow through your financial safety net or stress over your money.
Second, each person’s goals and risk profiles are unique. Just because others are making or talking about some trendy investment doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
You generally need to ask yourself four questions:
- What are my goals for investing? (i.e., retirement, planning for a trip, paying to put your child through uni, etc.,)
- How much risk am I comfortable taking to meet these goals?
- Where (which country) do I need my money to be at this time?
- What investment products and strategies meet these parameters?
People often overlook the second point, yet it’s by far the most critical variable in the equation.
After all, if you take more risks than you’re comfortable with, it will start eating at your mental well-being, often keeping you up at night.
Recently, numerous studies show that financial distress can diminish our IQ and EQ by over 10%.
No one should become an insomniac or damage their mental state to reach an investment goal.
Third, you always want to have a safety net before investing.
Advisers will always recommend having 3-6 months of living expenses in a savings account before you start investing.
This money should stay in those low-interest, unsexy bank accounts, ready at a moment’s notice.
You never know when you’ll have an emergency or, heaven forbid, a job loss.
If you’re a remote worker or a freelancer (like many people at La Vaca), you’ll want to have closer to 6 months of reserve, thanks to the uncertain nature of your work.
If you’re a person living abroad (expat, remote worker, etc.), there are some additional points you’ll need to consider. For one, you need to make sure whatever you’re investing in can go with you whenever you move to a different country or even back home.
Not all investments are created equally. Many retirement funds sold by local banks and insurers can’t cross borders well (if at all). That means that if you invest in one, you might lose access to it when changing countries.
These funds have a couple of tax benefits here in Spain. For example, Spanish banks make and sell pension plans to their clients. However, the banks only register them domestically. That means that they can’t sell or offer them to residents of other countries. If you own one and you leave Spain, you’ll lose access to your investment.
International taxation is another central area of concern for expat investors since no two countries have identical tax rules.
If you’re not careful, you could make an investment that winds up losing money or, at the minimum, is less efficient than other options. The rules and parameters get complex fast. It’s also one of the main reasons I co-founded abroaden.
Finally, and I speak from personal experience, don’t bootstrap a FinTech startup unless you have some weird fetish for long-term pain. Getting a company in my industry off the ground takes a minimum of a year-and-a-half if you’re lucky.
How did the pandemic impact your business? How did you adapt?
We were ready to form our Spanish company and begin the fundraising process in late February 2020.
Right before we signed all the documents, mid-March happened.
Both myself and our first co-founder have small children (through separate partners ;p).
When everything shut down, we had to dedicate a lot of our time to parenting.
We both survived, but obviously, it wasn’t optimal.
We finally got the legal entity formed in September last year.
That said, it wasn’t all bad news.
As La Vaca went virtual last Spring, I offered to host some webinars for fellow vaqueros, covering “what the fuck was going on with the economy.”
Not only were the webinars a success (we did them in the evenings and with drinks, just like an in-person event), but it also led to us creating a weekly newsletter.
So far, we’ve published 64 issues.
The newsletter is one of our core pieces of content marketing that also helps fill our blog.
In that sense, the pandemic helped us out.
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How is the experience at La Vaca going so far?
As one of the oldest current members, I joined La Vaca on July 30, 2018, giving me Platinum Elite Vaquero Status® in the coworking space. Although I’m still waiting on Dimitri (the co-founder) to create the underlying awards program and give me my benefits card.
So far, so good. It’s been fascinating to watch the office evolve. If you go through the Instagram account, you can see the evolution. The team has done an incredible job growing and adapting the space to a changing world.
I’ve also seen waves of people come and go, which is a part of life here if you’ve never worked in a coworking space.
There’s definitely a different crowd since the lockdown of 2020, but meeting new people and hearing unique stories is one of the most valuable perks of coworking.
What do I like the most about coworking? And, why did you decide to land here?
Community and a dedicated workspace are my favourite parts of being in La Vaca.
Before coming here, I tried working from home.
I’ve never felt I can do my best work in the same space I eat, sleep, and live, going back to when I was a student.
I love being here in La Vaca as it enables me to be more productive and focus on work.
Having a dedicated place with a community of fellow entrepreneurs, freelancers, and remote workers makes a huge difference.
As we all learned in the past year, being sequestered at home is a lonely experience.
We’re social creatures by design, and a coworking space with a fantastic community like La Vaca facilitates that need.
I’m also convinced that coworking spaces will play a crucial part in the “future of work” for those very reasons.
I wound up coming here thanks to my co-founder. Juan and I met at a startup pitch event way back in the summer of 2018 (the event offered free beer, which was the main selling point for me).
As it turned out, we were both living in Poble Sec at the time.
He told me about La Vaca as he was working here and giving weekly yoga classes.
I joined later that summer as it was close to home, a beautifully designed space and air-conditioned.
It’s been my home ever since.
Read more inside stories of the coworking in our blog!