Apart from my mom and dad, I’ve had a few people whose influence has changed the course of my life completely. Joel Duncan is one of them.

In this blog post I’ve interviewed Joel about being a black traveler settling down in Medellin and running a business.

Before Joel, I had a few others. After much thought I wrote down the ones that stand out, in chronological order.

1991 – Brett Heimstra

Andrew Macia and Brett Heimstra
Andrew Macia and Brett Heimstra, Halloween 1992

I was 10 years old when I met Brett in Mission Viejo, California. As an immigrant kid in an all white neighborhood, I was out of my comfort zone; regardless, from the very first day I met Brett I knew that we were kindred spirits. We were pretty inseparable from that day on.

Knowing him and his family shifted my whole life. I went from the new “Mexican” kid on the block (although I’m Colombian, everyone in SoCal assumes that you’re Mexican if you’re brown), to Brett’s best friend. He and his family taught me that love transcends race, color, creed, and economic status. Brett shaped my life.

2003 – Daniel Lobo

I was 22 when I was locked up for…for a while. I had fallen to the lure of drugs and alcohol and hit rock bottom. A quarter of the way through my stint I met Daniel Lobo. Again, I instantaneously felt a bond with the guy.

Lobo was in jail for yet another probation violation. He was a 55-year-old heroin addict, going on 70, whose longest bits of sobriety, since the 70s, were whenever he was locked up. Lobo was incredibly wise and had a very gentle soul. He taught me that “life is not the events that happen, but how you react to those events.” Lobo shaped my life.

2005 – Alan Montano

Alan Montano

I answered an ad in the paper (freshly out of jail mind you) for a job. I was invited for a second interview and it turned out to be a group interview for an MLM. As soon as Alan, or “Boss” came in, I knew that I had to be around him.

Over the course of 2 years I went from living in my car and selling cheap, knock-off perfume from the trunk, to owning my own office with a team of salespeople selling it for me in San Jose, California. He taught me how to sell and how not give a fuck about what people think. Boss shaped my life.

2008 – Mark Wot

Mark Wot

I met Mark at a speaking event in Newport Beach, California. The home mortgage industry had crashed in 2007 and people were losing home left and right across the country. Mark was selling real estate from the Midwest, for pennies on the dollar, to investors in California.

He was a 56-year old real estate and bankruptcy attorney. I was so hungry to learn about real estate investing that I showed up to his office just to hang out and ask him for work.

He didn’t hire me. Instead, he told me, “go out and get me some investors for these properties in the Midwest, and I’ll pay you.” In 2 months I got him 10 investors. More importantly I proved myself to him, and he took me under his wing. I learned what a real entrepreneur is and how to invest my money. Mark shaped my life.

2011 – Joel Duncan

Joel Duncan

I met Joel at a Medellin Entrepreneur Society meeting. Back then we were a small group of expats getting together to share business ideas, network, and form friendships.

Joel was born in British Guyana, but raised in Toronto, Canada. He graduated from the University of Toronto, and worked for a big communications company until he quit to travel the world in 2011.

We pretty much became friends instantly, and over the course of 8 years have become brothers.

Joel Duncan in Medellin

We’re The Same, But Different

We are similar in many ways, and different in many ways.

We’re both workaholics.
We both like to go the gym, every day.
We both like women.
We both eat healthy.
We’re both clean and organized.

I’m a white-washed Colombia.
He’s a white-washed Guyanese.

I’m pretty good at sales and bringing in money.
He is great at accounting and economics.

I’m reserved
He’s naturally outgoing.

I fly by the seat of my pants.
He over analyses.

I’m a white-washed Colombia.
He’s a white-washed Guyanese.

I’m pretty good at sales and bringing in money.
He is great at accounting and economics.

I’m reserved.
He’s naturally outgoing.

I fly by the seat of my pants.
He over analyses.

Roommates First Then Business Partners

In 2013, I needed to move out of my apartment in downtown Medellin, and Joel needed a roommate, he was living in an apartment in El Poblado. So I moved in.

In 2014, we started to work together on digital marketing projects.

Today, we run a 12 employee digital marketing agency, catering only to U.S. clients.

Joel’s journey in Medellin is different from mine. I decided to ask him a few questions.

Q: When did you arrive in Medellin?

A: I first came to Medellin while traveling through Central and South America in September 2011.

Q: You were traveling through Central America before you got to Medellin. What made you decide to stay in Medellin?

A: From the first day I arrived here, I felt ‘different’ – comfortable in a way. There was something about the city that made me imagine myself living here. It was definitely a combination of a few factors including the amazing weather, the beautiful women, the relative closeness of everything and most importantly – the opportunity to create something that didn’t exist.

Q: As a single, black foreigner, what’s dating like in Medellin for you?

A: In general I would say that dating here is great. As a black guy you aren’t as ‘marketable’ as blonde hair, blue-eyed white male, but still there is no shortage of women in the city. There’s something and someone for everyone in the city.

Q: You are the top interior real estate photographer in Medellin. What was your biggest struggle at the beginning?

A: My biggest struggle was selling my services to Colombian real estate companies. In 2011, using and paying for professional real estate photos just wasn’t part of the business culture here.

Photos were taken with cell phones – that was the norm. Additionally, local Paisa businesses didn’t trust a foreigner with no reputation in the city. They gave all of their business to family and friends. I was neither.

First I had to target the foreign business owners (who by the way were also pretty hesitant to pay top dollar for photos.) Once I built trust among the foreigners, I then started to publish my work on social media so that the local businesses could see what I was doing.

Q: What would be your top 3 tips for someone looking to come live in Medellin?

A:

1) Have Cash Flow: Meaning, have a source of regular income before coming. Either a virtual job that pays an hourly rate in dollars or a local company in Medellin that has already agreed to hire you for whatever service you offer.

2) Experiment: Live here for a few months before making the bigger decision to move for an extended period. While this may seem obvious, many people decide to just move here based on what they’ve read online. I highly recommend seeing how you feel in the city and not just basing your decision what other say.

3) Understand your Visa Options: Chances are, you’ll come on a tourist visa and want to stay longer than the visa term. I recommend knowing the rules and regulations. Know what you have to do to get a visa extension, how much it costs, how long you can stay in a calendar year, and what visa options are available if you want to stay beyond the tourist visa allowance.

Joel Duncan - Photographer in Medellin
Joel Duncan – Photographer in Medellin

Q: You were first here on a tourist visa. How did you get your long term visa?

A: I started a photography and video business and applied for a TP-7 visa which is a business owner’s visa. In previous years, this visa was renewable yearly and offered residence after 5 years. Today, you’re granted 3 years at a time with this visa.

The requirements have changed over the years, but basically you’re required to show a combination of cash or assets equivalent to about $25,000 USD. Starting and maintaining a business isn’t necessarily the easiest route for a foreigner and I only recommend it for people we are genuinely interested in running a business and settling for at least a few years in the city.

Downtown Medellin by Joel Duncan
Downtown Medellin by Joel Duncan

Q: What are your top tips for a foreigner starting a business in Medellin?

A:

1) Find yourself a solid accountant that understands the laws and speaks English if you don’t speak Spanish

2) Have a good buffer of cash in case business doesn’t pick up as you expected OR have a foreign source of income to float your new business

3) Work on your patience and tolerance: Understand that business is very different here than in North America and Europe. Things take a lot longer to get done – everything from paperwork to getting paid by clients. Don’t expect things to flow smoothly and routinely – Chances are they will not.

4) If you are going to hire people, know the law. Colombian law really works in favor of the employee, so make sure understand your legal requirements, even if you’re just hiring a cleaner that comes in a few times a week.

Q: Final question, what’s your favorite club in Medellin and why?

A: This is a tough one but I would probably say Bolivar on Calle 10 because it attracts a very good-looking crowd, it has excellent urban music, the location is prime and the venue is beautiful.

Andrew & Joel
Joel & Andrew

Doing Business with a Friend

I remember attending a corporate law seminar by attorney/CPA Mark J. Kohler back in 2008. He said that many businesses between friends and family fail because of lack of communication and, more importantly, not planning for worst-case scenarios.

Doing business with Joel is fairly painless because we adhere to a few rules.

  1. We must communicated.
  2. Business roles are defined
  3. Business goals are clear
  4. Our personal lives do not carry over into business
  5. Deadlines must be met

What’s Your Plan?

I’m really glad to be sharing Joel’s experience here on my blog for you. And I’d like to ask you about your plans. You can write me directly or answer in the comments below.

What are your plans in Medellin?

About the writer – Andrew Macia

Hello, my name is Andrew Macia and the Medellin Buzz is my blog.  I moved to Medellin in 2010 and fell in love with the city. I taught advanced level English for four years and then started a digital marketing company.

I love Colombia, and Medellin is my home. I like to write and I want to give back to the community. This is the best way I know how. I hope you enjoy my blog!

Andrew Macia - Medellin Graffiti

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