BR EXCLUSIVE. Far and away: Running a local business from abroad

Newsroom 02/01/2019 | 10:59

With local entrepreneurial spirit and initiatives thriving, many Romanians have chosen to move abroad and run their local businesses remotely. BR sat down with three young entrepreneurs who have taken this path and heard about the highs and lows of being split between Romania and the countries where they run their companies and live their lives.

By Anda Sebesi

When the new wave of young Romanian entrepreneurs emerged on the local market, it reshaped the way of doing business here. Extending operations abroad became a common thing – a natural step for a business aiming to become a major player in a specific sector on the mid-term. However, some Romanian entrepreneurs had a different approach and vision and have chosen to run their businesses while living abroad.

So is this easier or harder than the conventional way? That is the big question. Today’s technology makes running businesses remotely much easier. “The new technologies greatly ease communication and allow you to be in constant connection with your team and clients,” says Ruxandra Serban, general manager of Erka, an independent omni-channel advertising agency. She founded the company back in 2004, after graduating from the Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, and decided two years ago to run her business from France. Having a strategic role rather than an operational one and yet being the sole shareholder of the company, Serban says that it is her who thinks about the future of her business and she organizes her work accordingly.

Another Romanian working remotely in that part of Europe is Paul Cosmovici, managing partner at Cosmovici Intellectual Property (IP) law firm, an entrepreneur who runs his business from Geneva. “It is difficult and not just because in my case it is about the frontier between France and Switzerland. It is very important to have a capable employee who works in your local office and who can help you to manage a team with its specific problems,” says Cosmovici. He finds the lack of human contact challenging, mainly from the psychological perspective. “People you work with sometimes need to know that you are there. Some tensions between the team members cannot be perceived via email,” he says.

As for Mihaela Berciu, leadership breakthrough specialist at Essential for Excellence Ltd and founder of Spark Your Bloom Ltd, running her business from the UK suits her down to the ground. “I spend on average a week a month in Romania and the rest of the time I have regular calls with my team. Part of the team I work with is based in Italy and in the UK. I also have clients in Moscow and suppliers in China and Spain. Trust is probably the key in such situations,” says Berciu. Essential for Excellence Ltd was established in 2011 and extended its activity to Romania in 2017. Its main activity is leadership progress for senior executives. In Romania she also runs open seminars on leadership of self, called Leadership Inside Out. Her second business, Spark Your Bloom Ltd, which was set up in the UK in 2016, is an online mindfulness platform that brings together a subscription-based magazine and an affiliate shop. It also makes its own products, most of which are manufactured in Romania.

The challenges…

All businesses have challenges, regardless of whether they are international or local. As Berciu says, having to deal with a high level of complexity is the biggest difficulty. “It’s more to do with having to deal with an eclectic mix of issues every day and keeping on top of things. But when your team is motivated, they know what they have to do and they do it. Working with people from different cultures, time zones and various native tongues, definitely makes it interesting and complex, but fun and exciting,” she says.

As for Cosmovici, he says that you need an informatics system through which every member of the team knows what they have to do. “You need to avoid direct conversations or phone calls or an endless series of emails. More importantly, you need people who can set aside one’s physical presence and who are able to understand a process that begins and ends using technology alone. Last but not least, you need autonomous employees who are motivated to make some decisions,” outlines Cosmovici. According to him, one of the biggest challenges is to offer Romanian services to sophisticated foreign clients.

… and the advantages

But those running their local businesses from abroad say there are also upsides – otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. “There are logistical, financial and cultural advantages. You can manage some things much more easily. A team located in Bucharest will generate lower final costs than one in Munich or Paris, for example,” says Cosmovici. In addition, he says that in such a context, the customers come mainly from abroad. “The fact that you live next to them or a one-hour flight from their head offices, in their cultural environment, gives higher confidence. However, these customers generate confidence in Romania too. You are more credible even though you don’t live in their city or country,” adds Cosmovici. His company works for companies in sectors such as food, software, construction, banking, luxury, and pharmaceuticals, based in countries such as Switzerland, the US, France, Germany and the UK. “Considering the specifics of the IP industry, we represent customers from about 70 countries. We cover all the regions that are relevant for trademarks worldwide,” he says.

Berciu shares his assessment, noting that there are many benefits to running your business remotely. “If I were to name the ones that I find make the most difference, it would be staying objective, since we are not all in one office every day, so we are not engrossed in mundane issues; keeping communication short and focused and staying updated on the latest trends.” The UK market is much more mature than the Romanian one, and keeping up with trends is mandatory for the success of a business. She adds that the fact she lives and works in the UK is a competitive advantage as the information she delivers, the techniques that she uses and the news that she is exposed to give her a different perspective, which is reflected in her offering. “My approach is also different due to the maturity of the market I studied and work in, positioning me distinctively on the Romanian market. I’m not saying my offering is better, I’m saying it is different,” adds Berciu.

Back on the continent, Serban of Erka says that the French market is much larger and there are plenty of opportunities there. “Paris is tireless when it comes to inspiration, both professionally and personally. Entrepreneurship is an ongoing learning process and the expectations are high in France. If you go wrong once, you are not allowed to do it again. You had better start doing something else,” says the Erka head.

How France supports entrepreneurship

  • Many organizations and associations facilitate networking for entrepreneurs;
  • People are more dynamic, compelling and demanding;
  • Higher effectiveness;
  • The “playground” is larger for a business;
  • A diversity of human resources: You can meet people from all over the globe who studied at the most prestigious universities in the world (Harvard,
  • Sorbonne, MIT, Ecole Polytechnique);
  • Cultural differences and diversity are a huge advantage;
  • The legal framework is very precise;
  • A high level of innovation and technology

How the UK supports entrepreneurship

  • The UK is known as the most supportive country of entrepreneurship in Europe;
  • You can register a company in less than an hour, open a bank account, and file accounts all online, fast and simply;
  • VAT returns are filled online every three months and if you are owed money, you’re paid within three days of filling. You also have to pay ASAP if you owe money, but the authorities are business friendly and focused on helping you if you have difficulties paying;
  • The wellbeing of the entrepreneur takes precedence over a payment, as the system focuses on long-term revenue, rather than short-term;
  • Helping an entrepreneur recover from a bad financial situation means the authorities will receive more money in the long run, not only in the form of VAT, but also corporate tax, dividend payments, etc;
  • The system is based on trust and designed to help people succeed. But if you take advantage of it maliciously, the penalty is severe and can include prison, on top of having to return the money.

How Switzerland supports entrepreneurship

  • A completely different social and cultural environment;
  • A different approach when it comes to difficulties, financial, cultural and administrative levers;
  • Higher confidence in young innovative individuals;
  • Easier access to financing sources;
  • A tradition of family businesses.
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