If You Think Ad Agency New Business is Difficult, Try Living in Venezuela

But in any economy, clever entrepreneurs find opportunity where others see only problems
by Todd Knutson

Imagine running your agency while fearing imminent kidnapping of a family member.

I spent the Memorial Day weekend with family. We are quite a crew of different nationalities and cultures. One of my step-sisters brought along a cousin who lives in Venezuela. He's a very successful late thirty-something guy from a prominent family; let's call him call Juan (no real names - you'll see why in a moment).

Juan's life is quite different from ours. He can trust no one but himself and his wife because of the threat of kidnapping. Every family member has multiple body guards, and he must have different sets of guards at his country home and house in the city. He can never tell his guards where he's going in advance, because any routine or advance notification presents an opportunity for guerrillas or members of the government to infiltrate and grab a family member. He carries a revolver on his hip and an automatic pistol at his ankle. He sleeps with a hand grenade.

One of his wife's family members was kidnapped a few years ago and it took millions of dollars to get him released, fortunately alive.

You'd be right in thinking that doing business in a country like this is challenging. 50% inflation is one thing, kidnappings, government corruption and the threat of industry or company nationalization are altogether different. At the same time, instability can create opportunity.

We heard about a friend who builds houses for people related to the Chavez government. One customer insisted on a marble roof for his house (it formerly had dirt floors), despite the fact that the weight was impossible to support. This client paid in cash, with money stolen from the oil companies, which they pulled from bags containing bundles of wrapped $100 bills.

Juan told us a story about a some polo ponies he purchased on a trip outside the country. When they arrived in Venezuela, someone from the government was at the airport, suitcase in hand. He'd heard about the ponies' arrival and wanted one for himself. Recognizing that not selling one of the ponies to this guy was not an option, Juan suggested a price 60 times more than he paid a week before. The unsophisticated, newly wealthy 'gentleman' opened the suitcase and paid the asking price with hundreds of thousand of dollars in cash.

What dysfunction do you see in our current economy? Which of your clients or prospective clients are poised to take advantage of them - and might not even realize it? Could you bring a good idea to them or even create some intellectual property of your own to take advantage of an opportunity only you see?

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