I am beginning to become quite familiar with a certain sequence of events in my life. First, find my way into doing something exciting, but distant from friends and family. Second, promise myself and others that this time, no really THIS time, I will keep in touch. I will write a blog and we will chat often and it will be like I never went any farther than right across town. Finally, fail to do any of that and settle on trying to explain whole chunks of my life in bits and pieces of conversation that don’t bore too quickly. I’ve been in Chile for two months, and so far I’m right on track. BUT! Here it is. An update on where I am and what I’m doing.
For starters, let’s get into the basics and answer any “Chile? Wait, what?!” questions that just popped up. I moved to Santiago at the end of March with two friends from New York, Ale (ah-lay) & Alex, to start a new company in the wine industry. We looked at wine, something most everyone loves, but that has an intimidating culture of condescending experts and impenetrable vocabulary, and were convinced we could make it better. Finishes with a tannic citrus peel fade? Right. A bittersweet medium-bodied palate with wet hay and fruit stones? Ah yes, fruit stones. I’ll take two. It just so happens that Chile, one of the more exciting new world (read not Europe) wine producing countries is also home to a startup incubator program called Start-Up Chile. In 2010 the Chilean government trumped the innovation programs of every other country everywhere and started offering entrepreneurs $40,000 of equity free seed capital to move to the country for six months and work on launching companies. Today something like 250 companies have taken part and kickstarted the process of transforming Santiago into a technology and startup hub. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has tagged along, launching initiatives like Startup America, Startup Britain, Startup Spain, etc … As you can tell, they all celebrate wonderfully creative names.
So here I am, a full blown, Chilean ID card carrying, tax office registered, terrible Spanish speaking resident of Chile. I landed in Santiago at the very end of March after a flight where, naturally, I was seated next to another Start-Up Chile (SUP for short — SUC doesn’t sound so nice…) participant. A few friends of Ale’s were finishing the last days of their time as SUP’ers, so we were able to take over their lease and lucked into the best apartment situation I have yet to see in Santiago. Central location, huge windows, beautiful views (when the smog lifts…), awesome Chilean roommate, right next to a park, and above what seems to be the most popular ice cream shop in Santiago. You should see it. For real. Come visit.
Our SUP orientation kicked off almost immediately, and we were off to the races. We had left the states with the plan to test some ideas we had about the industry by launching a small wine club for other SUP’ers that would help them discover Chilean wines and find what they liked. We wanted it to run for as much of our six months as possible, so the first order of business was getting customers, a website, and, oh yes, wines to give them ready as quickly as possible. The next week and a half was a mad rush. We launched a website for people to subscribe to the club in a matter of days, visited vineyards to find the wines we would offer, and started signing up customers by our second week in Chile. There were a few sleepless nights, and a lot of ups and downs, but when all was said and done we had cranked out a real deal wine club in two weeks.
The pace has steadied out a lot since then. There has still been a good deal of work to keep the wine club running. Visiting vineyards and tasting wines isn’t the whole story, and even those days get long. Not that I can really complain. We’ve discovered some amazing wines, met some awesome people, and I don’t have to make up everything I say about a wine anymore. I’ve been able to spend time meeting a lot of the other SUP folks, who tend to be amazing, and explore a bit more of Santiago and Chile. Mainly, though, we’ve been turning our focus to taking what we’re learning from the club here in Chile and planning our US launch. We’re aiming to be live this summer, which probably means some more sleepless nights lie ahead, but I’m really excited about what we’re going to be rolling out. We’re taking a much different approach back home than the wine club, but I’m going to leave you guessing for now.
What’s next? June is going to be mostly packed with building the technology behind our US launch, but I’ll be sneaking in some travel next week when I head to Temuco in southern Chile for a series of talks and workshops SUP is running. I and a group of other SUP’ers will talk to college students about technology and entrepreneurship, and teach classes on the skills involved. I’ve never really cast myself as someone who tells college students much about anything, but I’m looking forward to the trip and to seeing what I can offer. I also have the best intentions of finally buckling down and learning more spanish than what it takes to order lunch. I’ve embarrassed myself enough times that taking a class or two is starting to sound real nice.
And who knows, I might, MIGHT, find the time to keep things in order around here. There are some topics besides the life and times of myself I’m interested in writing about, so don’t be too surprised if things get schizophrenic. Who knows, you might like it.
If you want to stay in touch, I sometimes tweet as @nckpark and occasionally post photos to Instagram and Facebook. To all those friends I’ve been ignoring but are great people and read through this rambling mess anyway, let’s be in touch. I miss you all.