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Your best business development ideas in Colombia

Hi everyone,

As a foreign entrepreneur, launching a business in Colombia is a fantastic project and an exciting challenge. Some ideas are likely to succeed. Some others are promising but may not work as well as intended.

In your opinion, what kind of business or industry is likely to succeed in Colombia? What kind of industry or service currently unavailable or underdeveloped in the country would meet local needs?

On the other hand, what are the most common business types foreign entrepreneurs would be eager to launch in the country but with very little chance of success?

Thank you for your insights.
Priscilla

Priscilla et al, I've been involved in resturants, bookstores, woodworking, organic farming, fair trade(helping people in poverty get their products to market and receive a fair wage) real estate remodeling and commercial diving. Yes I'm tired but am now in a tourism business and semi retired at 61 years of age. I'm well travelled, self educated but since I was raised in the 1960s I think at this time getting involved in marijuana would be very smart and timely. Pot is soon to be legal in many more states and countries. Everyone should be invested in it because it's going to be bigger than when alcohol was legalized.

Pot has many things going for it.There are different parts to the plant. CBD Is medicinal- can be used for skin cancer and other cancers, Parkinson's, PAIN, happiness, seizures etc. There are so many different kinds of pot, they all offer something different.

Then the THC part you can use it recreationally to relax. Or the sativa variety is more energizing.

Then with hemp (no THC) which is a billion dollar industry making strong clothing, carpet , rope etc. The oil is nutritional.

Pot has always gotten a bad wrap from uneducated brainwashed politicians, The drug war in USA cost trillions then come to find out it cures everything !!! What a waste! And big crime with it.

So looking at Rio Negro where I live it would be an easy transition from flowers to pot. And I'm sorry this would only be a successful business. I'd be happy to be a helper if anyone is ready to cultivate pot and knows a lot about the business. I know some things not everything, but I'm making $$$ being invested in it which makes me very happy😄😄😄😄🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉yes you'd need guard dogs at your grow house

What do Gringos need, especially the 90-plus percent whose grasp of the Spanish language is weak?

Your business could provide....

1.  Translation services.

2.  Obtaining housing / real estate services.

3.  Touring services.

4.  Visa services for those willing to pay for assistance rather than deal with bureaucracy and finding the location of government offices.

5.  Teaching of useful Spanish phrases, including situation-specific Spanish.

6.  Assistance in obtaining health care / insurance.

7.   Shopping assistance for anything more complicated than buying fruit.  For instance:  furnishing an apartment, possibly including ordering of custom-made furniture.

cccmedia

cccmedia: Based on your profile photo it looks like you might be doing Elvis impersonations (or Roy Orbison?)  I told my wife that I always see the same gringo actor playing DEA agents on Colombian telenovelas, and maybe I could get a job as a gringo actor in Colombia.  She said (in Spanish) "Not only 'No', but 'Hell No'".  She doesn't want me on set with the Colombian actresses.  :-)

They don't have basil, cheese, Chinese food, or real steaks. I'm guessing the first person to do any of these things would be rich.

Basil is used in Colombia, perhaps you've just never encountered it:
http://www.colombia.com/gastronomia/asi … n-albahaca

And they do have cheese although not much compared to many countries:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cheeses#Colombia

Chinese food places are all over Cali, although they are not what I'd call great...

And steaks?  In Cali there's Restaurante Sabor Llanero which has excellent meats, and other regions, notably in los llanos like in Villavicencio, also have good meat.  Although I agree they just don't compare with what's available almost anyplace in the USA...

They do technically have cheese, but it's all bland. I'm not sure if the more flavorful cheeses would even sell in Colombia unless you sold it in a Gringo area like Poblado. Their cheese reminds me of that rubbery cheese sold alongside a meat stick as a snack in US convenience stores. It's just there and doesn't taste like anything. I tried Costeno because a Colombian told me it was salty. And it was. It still tasted like nothing but with salt added. :)  I think perhaps Velveeta might sell well there. I know it's not the epitome of cheese, but it's mild like they like but it still has a bit of flavor.

I ate at various Chinese places and they were just regular Colombian food with store-bought sweet and sour sauce and soy sauce on the side. You can't just serve Colombian fried trout with sweet and sour and call it Chinese! I walked into this one "Chinese" place with a Colombian girl. I knew what to expect already. I said, "Everyone working here is Colombian. I know I'm going to be disappointed, but let's try it anyhow." She says, "Who else would be working here besides Colombians? We're in Colombia!" I guess it's no use in arguing with that logic. :P  If you want Asian cuisine, oddly, the Peruvian restaurants have Asian stirfries that are quite nice. Peru has a lot of Chinese immigrants and they made "Chifa" popular there. I had some nice Peruvian-Asian fusion dishes at various places in Bogota and Medellin, so it's not super hard to find.

Still couldn't find basil, even in the upscale markets in the city. I made it a mission to find some, even the dried stuff, but I never could. Every time I'd go into a market I'd go look for it. Whoever I was with would say, "Why do you need basil right now?" I'd say, "I don't; I've just made it my mission to find some in Colombia." I never did.

And I could never find a nice steak, either. Not a tender marbled cut like you'd get in the US. I didn't see any ribeye or t-bone or filet. I'd had lomo several times hoping that loin meant tender loin. But their version of loin is very lean and chewy like the rest of the beef. And they tend to overcook it which makes it even tougher. I know they have cows in Colombia. I saw lots. And I don't figure their cows are genetically different from gringo cows. Maybe they sell the nice cuts to other countries like they do with their best coffees for max profits.

I know I sound piddly about such trivial matters. And these things are indeed trivial. But we were talking of business opportunities, and I figure if there's a void in the market, the first person to fill that void could possibly do well.

I have an idea for a business that I'm not going to share here. I think it's brilliant. It's something they do not have whatsoever or have even heard of. But they would love it. I have no doubts. It's my personal plan for whenever I can sock away enough money to make it happen. Wish me luck!

Oh, and it's hard to find great Mexican in Colombia, but it's possible. The trick is to find a Mexican shop with Mexicans. Not a real shocker, I know.

This little hole-in-the-wall is in Parque Lleras near Eco Bar (the bar where you sit outside on the tree stumps). Very good authentic Mexican street tacos.
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_ … tment.html
https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/04/1b/a0/e2/jacinto-taqueria.jpg

If you live in Eje Cafetero, and make it to Filandia, this little shop is owned by a young Mexican guy. It's very good.
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_ … tment.html
I gave him his very first review on TripAdvisor in January. :)  I tried to post a link to a food picture, but I'm seemingly not bright enough.

BrandonBP :

I think perhaps Velveeta might sell well there. I know it's not the epitome of cheese, but it's mild like they like but it still has a bit of flavor.

Velveeta gets a bad rap in the U.S. ... considered unsophisticated.  But it’s delicious .. and, when fairly fresh, it has a delightful texture.  I would be thrilled to find boxes of Velveeta at the cheese counters where I shop in Colombia and Ecuador.

Brandon :

If you want Asian cuisine, oddly, the Peruvian restaurants have Asian stirfries that are quite nice. Peru has a lot of Chinese immigrants and they made "Chifa" popular there. I had some nice Peruvian-Asian fusion dishes at various places in Bogota and Medellin....

Peru has gotten a reputation as the gastronomical center of South America.  I found restaurant food in the Miraflores sector extremely tasty during my trip to Lima this year.  A modest Chinese restaurant near Kennedy park had food tastier than any chifa I knew in Quito.  The staff was definitely Chinese.

Brandon :

And I could never find a nice steak, either. Not a tender marbled cut like you'd get in the U.S.... their version of loin is very lean and chewy like the rest of the beef. And they tend to overcook it which makes it even tougher...

I know I sound piddly about such trivial matters. And these things are indeed trivial. But we were talking of business opportunities.

Nicely cooked food is not trivial to me or a lot of other Expats in South America.  The over-cooking of pork is a real issue.  I sometimes ask for it to be cooked jugoso, or rare .. but the best most places seem to do is what I consider less-leathery, but not tender/rare, not by a long shot.

cccmedia

You can find basil - albahaca in Spanish - at the La 14 shopping centers which are in many Colombian cities.  Do a search here for albahaca and it will show what they carry:

http://www.la14.com/Tiendala14/Default.aspx

I think the problem with opening a food vendor or restaurant in Colombia is making prices competitive. For example, I think if you had a burger cart where you sold 100% beef burgers for $2.00, they'd still go to the burger stand down the street selling fake soy burgers for $1, even though it's a crappy tasting fake burger, they'd still buy it because it's cheaper.

Most gringo type places I visited in Colombia just had gringos as customers. Like Brunch in Salento. It's nice food that N. Americans and Europeans appreciate, but the prices are a bit high for the locals. I've eaten there perhaps 8 times and never remember any Colombians there.

There was an exception... There's a great burger place in San Gil called Gringo Mike's that's pretty pricey for Colombian standards, but I saw quite a few Colombians eating there the times I went.

So, I still don't know what to think about it all. I'd love to come live the dream and open a  restaurant in some small Colombian town, but it's very scary. It's a very difficult thing to create a successful business in your own country, but then to come to a foreign land not knowing the regulations, labor laws, and food preferences of the local people makes it even more difficult. You could open a shop and import the finest cheeses and meats, only to find out the Colombians would say, "I don't recognize what that is, and it's way too expensive."

I guess that's why Gringo Mike's and Brunch do so well. They cater to the people they know (Gringos) in touristy areas. And there are still a lot of little towns where gringos frequent that still don't have any non-Colombian dining options. I think tourism and expatriation will explode in Colombia like it did for Costa Rica and Panama. If you could get into the scene first, you could maybe do well for yourself.

I wish some attorney would call me today and inform me that I had a long-lost uncle that just passed and left me a couple hundred grand. :/

cccmedia :

Nicely cooked food is not trivial to me or a lot of other Expats in South America.  The over-cooking of pork is a real issue.  I sometimes ask for it to be cooked jugoso, or rare .. but the best most places seem to do is what I consider less-leathery, but not tender/rare, not by a long shot.

I don't want to hijack the thread, but since you live in Ecuador, I wanted to ask you something that perplexed me while I was there. Maybe this is just a Banos thing, I mainly just hung out in Quito, Cuenca and Banos, so perhaps it's just a local ordinance or something.

In Banos, they will have shop after shop on a single street selling all the same thing. Like grilled plaintains with cheese. Another street a few blocks over will all be selling sugar cane products and candy. Across town, you can find carts selling grilled meats all on the same street. All these places are in a single line with the same exact products. I found it odd.

Because why would you stack up your shop with 15 other places selling grilled meats when you could go park by the grilled banana carts and sell meats on the side of town where no one is selling meat? Maybe someone wants a chuzo with their grilled bananas... I don't understand if it's the Ecuadorean mindset or if the law requires it.

I saw the same thing in Guatape, Colombia. All along the lakefront, there are 20 something restaurants all selling the same exact Colombian food. Fried trout, Sancocho, chuzos, etc. Why wouldn't one of them say, "There are 25 restaurants all around me selling my same product. Maybe I'll learn how to make some nice tacos..."

The practice of similar businesses locating in close proximity to one another is common in Ecuador -- the two mom 'n pop shops on my block in El Centro are right next door to each other -- and other countries too.

Take Manhattan in New York City.  My uncle and grandfather had a diamond dealing business on W. 47th Street.  The whole block is chock full of diamond, watch and jewelry businesses.

Same type of thing in the Garment District, the Fulton Fish Market and upscale Fifth Avenue fashion/shoe shops.  New Yorkers know where to shop for something .. and they like the convenience of going next door to see more/different/better offerings of the same category of goods.

cccmedia in Quito

cccmedia :

New Yorkers know where to shop for something .. and like the convenience of going next door to see more/different/better offering of the same class of goods.

Well, that makes sense for jewelry, but what if I just want some meat and all they have is 12 carts with grilled plaintains? I was always like, damnit, now I have to walk across town just to get some meat on a stick.

I just thought it was odd.

BrandonBP :

what if I just want some meat and all they have is 12 carts with grilled plaintains? I was always like, damnit, now I have to walk across town just to get some meat on a stick.

Have Carulla or a restaurant deliver whatever you need.

Colombian culture is famous for delivering foods and products of ‘all kinds,’ though this may be truer in Medellin than in Popayan.

cccmedia in Quito

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