“Think global, act local”, the saying goes.
This phrase was intended to get us all to think about the broader consequences of our actions, and to do whatever we can within our own sphere of influence… whether tackling huge global problems from climate change and sustainable development, to setting an example of how to treat people in business or personal life. But it’s a useful paradigm for interacting with any testing situation. Such as setting up a new business, for example.
For me, the greatest challenge in establishing a globally-trading microbusiness has been the political and economic structures, which are fragmenting the world increasingly day by day. Whether that manifests in legacy financial infrastructure or a surge in political populism driven by a click-bait manipulated “news” agenda, as our technological ability to communicate, connect and share value from one side of the planet to the other continues to scale at an exponential rate, so it would seem does our species’ perverse ability to create barriers from trade wars to regulation in an attempt to frustrate it. Welcome to 2019!
Well, actually it was 2018, when I was seeking a solution for business incorporation.
Having lived and worked in Spain for over a decade, I was well aware that operating a limited company in my home of choice was a cumbersome and expensive administrative burden - a previous experience I was not keen to repeat. Spain is a wonderful place to live, but not a good place to do business... Yet, as I was working with emergent tech startups and handing contracts on behalf of a range of freelance associates, I really needed the legal structure of a business entity. It was a challenge. As I explored my options, I also talked to a couple of Spanish accountants about the options for accepting business payments in long-established and internationally-traded cryptocurrencies, and was met with hand-wringing horror… at the very least, I could see it was going to be impossibly expensive to make it workable.
But that’s OK, I was flexible. I was sure I’d find a way.
I knew a lot of people who lived in Spain but operated as a UK limited company, a far more affordable and straightforward prospect than a Spanish SL. Yet as a long-term Spanish resident and native Brit, I was watching (and continue to watch) in horror as my home country continued on its calamitous path toward political and economic isolationism, and feeling increasingly certain that the future for my family and myself certainly did not ever include a return to the UK. About to be stripped of my EU citizenship and freedom of movement, it was more important than ever to find a way of working legally and safely in a completely location-independent way, which would allow me to work with clients from anywhere in the world (paying in any currency, whether sovereign or digital), even if we needed to relocate to a third country.
So discovering Estonian e-residency was a critical missing piece of the jigsaw from a business incorporation point of view, and it was straightforward and easy, with the help of LeapIn, to get BlockSparks OÜ set up as a company very quickly.
Still, I faced obstacles related to olde-worlde financial institutions. I set up a payment gateway for the receipt of bitcoin and ether, and I was writing about clients building cryptocurrency and blockchain based solutions to tokenizing and transmitting value around the world in a heartbeat… But then dealing with the reality that I could not release funds from my Paypal account to my challenger-bank ‘business’ bank account, and spent months operating the fledgling business with two siloed pots of funds which I could not interconnect. It’s hard to sound serious and professional when you have to say to a supplier ‘do you mind if I pay you via Paypal this month, as that’s where all my cash is stuck!’ And having to travel to Estonia just to complete a 10 minute face-to-face ‘know your customer’ procedure felt as antiquated as Spain - even though I now operate it 100% digitally using my e-resident’s ID card, (and I did have a lovely visit to Tallinn in the end. Possible third country? Hmm, I am not sure I’d survive the winter though…)
As we move into our second year of operation we see the same tension between technology and politics, in everything from security concerns around the 5g infrastructure rollout, to continued uncertainty over the “B-word” that shall not be named (we have a virtual swear jar in the BlockSparks online chat, our small team comprising variously climate-exiled Brits, and we’d never get any work done if we indulged our ranting too often).
The visionary blockchain projects we represent are increasingly barred from advertising on popular social media platforms, who are happy to take advertising dollars from hate groups to fake news but are scared of anyone trying to educate and inform people about life-changing technologies (which they are themselves working to implement - funny old world). We’re seeing regulation of digital asset classes evolving in a balkanized way from one jurisdiction to another - with a fascinating increasing of the balance of power towards smaller and nimbler countries from Estonia to Malta to the Marshall Islands - and we’re seeing growing threats to net neutrality and the increasing power of surveillance culture (and a growing acceptance that you frequently have no idea which corporate or state actor is surveilling you in the first place).
So the challenge remains to keep facing outwards and maintain a global overview and connection, to threats and opportunities, as well as to trends and possibilities. It’s never been a more exciting time to be in business on the world stage in however small a way, and the Estonian e-residency programme has been a complete game-changer for entrepreneurs seeking flexibility, internationalism, and forward thinking.
Advice I wish I had known? Nothing’s that different from a year in business, to general good life advice. There are few original problems - so whatever you want to know, google it (but check the source, and dig beyond the first result, to find the best answer). There’s probably already an app for that, or at least one you can integrate with, to solve whatever you’re up against. If not, the best person to fix it might well lie on another continent, but that’s not a problem - just be clear, persistent and selective about the help you need, because it’s out there somewhere.
Oh, and another thing you might be encouraged to know, that I have also learned.
Thinking globally allows you to act in all sorts of creative ways, once you realize that it truly means removing all limits. You don’t need permission - to solve your own problems, to create new solutions. I thought I was setting up BlockSparks to be a writer and marketer, but in recent months I’ve launched a successful podcast, spoken at international events, and am about to release a creative project which takes a completely unexpected direction - one I might never have taken had I been operating under the old-world blinkered business mindset.
It’s incredibly liberating, and it can make you unbelievably excited about the future. So embrace it, keep thinking globally… and doing whatever you can to connect and make things better right where you are too.