For expat entrepreneurs in Mexico Michael and Pierre the story began in Europe when two young men of similar backgrounds but different nationalities decided to explore the new world, first America and then Mexico. They connected at university in Guadalajara and developed the seed of an idea to start a new business that would help travelers experience the wonders of Mexico.
Expat entrepreneurs in Mexico Michael Aring and Pierre Verstraete, both 23, first met on the campus of Tecnológico de Monterey in Guadalajara several years ago. Although from different countries, both were raised in upper-middle-class families and experienced living abroad in high school through the Rotary Youth Exchange program.
Aring was born and raised in Bonn, Germany but had his first experience living abroad in his junior year in high school when he lived with an American family in Anchorage, Alaska for a year. He attended Maastricht University in the Netherlands and graduated with a degree in international business.
Farther south in Lille, France, Verstraete also participated in the Rotary program, living with families in Tennessee, Texas and Oregon before returning to France to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration at the ESSEC Business School near Paris.
As part of their university studies, both had the opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad and both chose Guadalajara.
“Michael and I were neighbors in our apartment building and we both fell in love with Mexico and its culture when we were at school,” Verstraete said.
The two became close quickly and decided to take a one-week road trip through Mexico to germinate ideas for a new business and to see if they could develop a close working relationship. During their last few months in Guadalajara, before returning to their respective schools in Europe, they decided they would come back to Mexico after they graduated to start a business.
Both budding entrepreneurs had some experience with start-ups while at university, Aring with a software application company and Verstraete with a hospital services company.
“I didn’t really like having a boss,” Verstraete said. “When I worked at the start-up I knew I would become an entrepreneur.”
They had discussed many entrepreneurial opportunities in Mexico while at school in Guadalajara and decided to leave Europe and start their new business there.
“The strongest of all the factors we looked at was the network we already had in Guadalajara,” Aring told us. “There was the ease of coming there and entering into contracts. Secondly, the infrastructure in Guadalajara is better than most of the cities in Mexico, and the sheer market size. It’s the second largest city in Mexico and everything is here.”
Business connections through their well-networked university professors helped Aring and Verstraete get their business off the ground, but their youth played a part, also.
“Being young is an incredible advantage in Mexico because young people are considered the future of the country,” Verstraete said. Aring added: “We made a list of things we thought might go wrong and one of them was our age. The opposite turned out to be true, which is completely different from Europe.”
Both felt that Mexico is far more welcoming to young entrepreneurs than the more rigid business practices of Europe.
One of the first business ideas the two had was a chain of French bakeries but that idea was abandoned after thoroughly analyzing its potential.
“The market opportunity was there,” Aring said, “but it required a large amount of investment and we had no expertise in this area.”
The two business majors finally settled on a business concept they were sure they could execute, and they both enjoyed: Providing travelers with an easy way to access the many experiences Mexico has to offer.
“We started the business in August, 2015,” Verstraete said. “We created a brand called GoOut Mexico. We branded it with a logo and everything and then we went to our university and tried to sell the experience packages directly.”
Offering unique experiences for travelers throughout the country is not new, but GoOut Mexico is an online service that pulls together many disparate and unique experiences in one place online. Experiences range from a Taste Tour in Guadalajara (US$28) to Swimming with Whale Sharks in San Blas ((US$101) to the My Mexican Ranch Day outside of Mexico City (US$64). Travelers can purchase their experiences by the dates they want on GoOut Mexico’s website.
From its inception, the business was founded on lean start-up principles, employing people part-time in programming, marketing and other functions as needed.
As young entrepreneurs, Aring and Verstraete log many hours seeing to the success of their new business but they still have time to enjoy la dulce vida that Guadalajara has to offer. They live in an apartment in the Chapultepec area of the city, which has a very busy restaurant and nightlife scene that attracts people from all over Guadalajara. Their office is nearby, also.
“The people are super open and really happy here,” Verstraete said. “The climate is good and the food is really interesting, although I really like my French food. Luckily, there is a French restaurant just one block down the road. I get all my wine there so I’m happy with that.”
Both are far from fluent in Spanish but decided to spend most of their time with Mexican friends to help them discover the Mexican culture and learn Spanish well.
“There’s a big difference between being an exchange student and really living in the country as a businessmen,” Aring said. “Now we meet people that are not our age anymore. We always want to connect with Mexicans of all ages, so it really makes us feel at home.”
The idea that bubbled up during a one-week road trip while Aring and Verstraete were still at university in Guadalajara has flowered into a growing, successful business for the two entrepreneurs.
“GoOut is a lot bigger company with experiences all over Mexico now,” Aring said. “Soon, we will launch unique experiences all over Latin America. What is important to us is that we stay true to our original vision: Offering unique experiences to Latin America online, in a convenient way. We want to promote authentic and impactful travel experiences. The number of local guides that work with GoOut is growing strongly week-by-week. GoOut is providing a means for international travelers to connect with locals and vice-versa, all in complete safety.”
We asked the two expat entrepreneurs in Mexico what the future holds for them.
“We’re really at the beginning of our professional careers,” Aring said, “and we really like Mexico. We moved to Mexico to build a business and we want to learn from this and create value, sustainable value for our business.”
Still in their early twenties, the two have a lot of life left to fill. Although they love Mexico, it’s not their goal to remain in the country forever.
“We did not leave Europe because we hate it,” Aring said. “We wanted to live in Mexico because we saw an opportunity here. If an opportunity presented itself in Europe, we would move back.”