Doing Business in Santiago

Santiago, Chile | BCBusiness

A thriving metropolis of six million, the Chilean capital can come as a shock to British Columbians expecting to touch down in a sleepy, developing economy  

Lonesome Startup

For Simon Papineau, founder and CEO of Crowdsourced Testing Co., the startup community in Chile offered a stark contrast to Canada’s. As a participant in Start Up Chile, he received $40,000, a one-year visa and access to Santiago’s social and capital networks. “I had envisioned a program that consisted of extraordinary networking activities daily, incredible mentors and coaching, and being taken by the hand by a generous angel investor,” he recalls. But when the big day came for his introductory pitch, he faced an indifferent crowd: “It’s just you and your PowerPoint in front of a crowd mostly focused on their iPhones and laptops.”

Yes Means Maybe

Karina Briño, president and CEO of the Mining Association of B.C., is well acquainted with Chile: not only is she frequently there representing B.C. mining companies, but it’s her native country and she visits family there whenever she can. “The one thing that took me a while to get used to,” she advises business travellers to Chile, “is that ‘yes’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘yes’; it means ‘I understand your point of view.’” Chileans are very polite, Briño adds, and tend to avoid confrontation: “They won’t call you out in a meeting; they will go quiet and skirt around the issue.” As a result, meetings can go much longer than we’re accustomed to. It’s worth packing a power bar or two, she advises.

Life in the Big City

Chileans would laugh at wimpy British Columbians complaining about Vancouver traffic. Ninety per cent of Chile’s population lives in urban centres, six million of them in the capital city of Santiago. “If traffic is gridlocked, rapid transit is not the answer,” warns Papineau. “Whatever you do, avoid the subway during rush hour; it’s inhumane how many people are packed per square foot.” And always beware of your surroundings. “It’s a big city and you do need to be careful,” Briño confirms, adding she wouldn’t wear good jewellery when walking down the street. “You have to be streetwise and guarded, but I wouldn’t say you need to be afraid.” You will stand out, though, she warns, especially if you’re tall.