Having been based in the UK for over 15 years, IoD 99 member Rafael dos Santos has just started working again in his native Brazil. Here’s what he’s learned about trading in the nation of over 200 million people.
Having co-authored the IoD’s well-received report on migrant entrepreneurs, Rafael dos Santos knows a great deal about achieving success in a foreign country.
When he arrived in the UK in 2002 from his native Brazil, he initially worked as a kitchen porter and glass collector. However, within years he’d built a £1.2million-turnover business, which managed and rented accommodation to young professionals.
For his new venture, Dos Santos is going international, which means reacquainting himself with the city he left as a 21-year-old: São Paulo.
His marketing and PR agency High Profile was launched last year, aiming to “give entrepreneurs access to the media and raise their profile so they don’t have to pay thousands for a PR campaign”.
Having already established a foothold in London, dos Santos is currently building High Profile’s membership database in São Paulo.
Assisting him is a full-time employee based in the Brazilian megalopolis, who is currently, “looking at areas of São Paulo, what the [business] costs will be, and how Brazilian media works.”
The experience has reminded dos Santos of some of the administrative challenges that bedevil Brazil, especially its complex tax system (“over 90 different types of tax!” he says, exasperated) and the country’s vast distances:
“If you travel north by south by plane, you can end up wasting a whole day. You need to take that into consideration when starting a business.”
He’s also grappling with currency fluctuations. “The biggest barrier is that the pound is super-expensive right now,” he says.
“Even though the UK is world-famous for services, when you try to sell that to Brazil, you’re also competing with America.
“People will instinctively buy from America rather than Europe because it’s less expensive. It’s great for Britain that the pound is so strong, but how do you sell to a country that can’t afford it?”
Despite this, he notes Brazilians have an increasing passion for British businesses. “Anything to do with the royal family or British culture sells well,” he says. “There was a fever recently in Brazil for English cupcakes.”
Working again in Brazil has also given dos Santos chance to immerse himself in the country’s sociable networking scene, with its long lunches and willingness to divulge private information that would leave many British people crimson-faced.
“In Brazil people talk about very personal things,” he says. “… don’t be shocked if somebody shares information about their private life with you on the second occasion you meet them.”
Being the economic pulse of South America, dos Santos is convinced São Paulo is the logical next step for High Profile’s expansion, plus for any other British firms thinking of expanding to the continent.
“It’s much like London,” he says. “In São Paulo, people have more disposable income. It may have the highest salaries and biggest brands, but if you want international talent, it’s where everybody wants to be.”
To read expert advice on setting up in Brazil, see the International Report in the July/August edition of the IoD’s Director magazine, out now.
Click here for a host of Director magazine articles on trading overseas
Learn more about our community of entrepreneurs and start-up co/founders, the IoD 99, here