Rafael is a serial entrepreneur, author and a fantastic example of migrant business success, so much so that he recently launched a Migrant Business Accelerator that provides a platform of information and insight to others starting out on a similar path. He explains more about the aims of the accelerator and some of the key challenges faced by new migrant entrepreneurs.
Welcome, this is a transcript of the 20th edition of the LawyerFair Daily Podcast, hosted by LawyerFair CEO, Andrew Weaver.
Andrew Weaver: Hello. Welcome to the Lawyer Fair Daily Podcast. My name is Andrew Weaver and today we have a great guest. I’m really interested in the journey of this guest because we have a real proper authentic entrepreneur and not only that, but a chap who landed in England about 14, 15 years ago and has created the brilliant track record of entrepreneurship so welcome Rafael Dos Santos.
Rafael: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Andrew Weaver: Not at all. Perhaps I should say… Bem-vindo. Is that correct?
Rafael: Very good.
Andrew Weaver: Thank you very much. Rafael, we had a brief chat before we did the podcast. One of the groups of people that are using Lawyer Fair quite a lot are migrant entrepreneurs, particularly from Eastern Europe. We’ve had quite a few people coming in who started businesses and they have no space. They have no incumbent lawyers or professionals. They’re finding lawyers in particular is quite useful so I’m really interested. If you wouldn’t mind giving us a quick background to your journey and perhaps some of the challenges you faced in doing what you’ve done.
Rafael: Sure. I arrived in the UK 14 years ago. I came to study English so I came as a student. Opportunity came up and then I started my property business in 2003. I was basically subletting properties so I was renting on long leases and then dividing the house into rooms and then renting room by room for migrants moving to London. Long story short, from 2003 to 2012, I grew the business from one property to 50. Had 15 members of staff. I went from a loan of 5,000 pounds to 1.2 million pound turnover. Sold the business in 2014 and now I started a social enterprise called This Foreigner Can, which is a social enterprise who’s mission is to improve the lives of migrants by helping them to start and manage a business.
It’s all about migrants who are here, you want to get things done. They want to improve their lives and they want to work hard so we give them the tools. The first pilot we are running, it’s called MBA which is migrant business accelerator and it is a 16 week program that we have a few mentors on board so some are British. Some are successful migrant entrepreneurs and they are donating 2 hours of their time per month. We have about 18 so we’re looking for more. If you’re interested in mentoring, which is basically … People will come up and say, “I have this problem or that problem. How would you solve this?” Helping, if you are experienced, helping them to think how they would solve their business issue.
Part of the program is that people also will attend 16 workshops in marketing, finance, operations, so it’s learning about social media for a small business, bank reconciliation, things that you have to do to manage at your start and run a business and we’re also looking for people to fund so if you want to buy shares in small business. The money that you invest will help to run the program and also 4,000 be giving as funds to kickstart those migrants who want to start the business. In exchange, they will trade 7% of their business. The investors will be helping with social change as well as having a return, buying shares.
Andrew Weaver: Listen, that’s some really interesting projects. What are the key challenges that you’ve faced or perhaps we are talking about a different era now from when you started. What are the challenges that migrant business owners are finding or start up business owners?
Rafael: Well, the number 1 is actually access to finance because when you move, when you’re a migrant, you have no credit history so it’s almost impossible for you to go to bank and say, “Can you lend me the money?” Because the bank will say, “We don’t know anything about you. We don’t have any record.” The issue is if they disappear, if they get the money … Let’s say that they get a 4,000 pounds loan, they can just take the money from the account and disappear which happened a lot unfortunately. Access to finance is a huge issue. I’m working now on working partnerships with companies that do lending, for example, Virgin startups, they lend money on a very low interest rate but because people are going through the program, they have to create a business plan, they are serious, it would be easier … We can’t guarantee that they will be able to get the money, but at least through Virgin can see that it is a serious program. People are serious about launching their business so it will help with that.
I think funding is number 1. 2 is knowledge in that work. That’s why we are doing mentoring. It’s not just about the knowledge that the mentors will share but also the network. You never know … You can speak to me and I know James Caan or I know Richard Branson. I have people in my network that will say, “Well I can’t help you with this but I can send you an email introducing you to someone that I know.” It’s that as well. When you just arrive in the country, it’s not just about not having friends. You have no network. There is no reference. There is nothing about you or your business so it becomes twice as hard to build your business when you’re a migrant.
Andrew Weaver: That’s really interesting stuff. Are their any particular sectors that the accelerators specializes in?
Rafael: No. It’s always more business so different from … Most accelerators, if not all, is all about tack. They want high growth, they want companies that are going to scale 300% in a year, that kind of thing. I’m being much more realistic. While there are 1,000 companies that are tech, we have 5.1 million small business now so the majority, if not only 90% of business in the UK are small business so this is what we want to help. We have people … We had an event at Google campus on the 15th of June. We had 110 migrants who want to launch a business and we have all sorts. There were marketing agency, people making selling cakes, people selling pizza, people doing decoration for parties. Name it. Hair dresser, makeup artist. There is a whole range but if you think a small business is pretty much the same, you always have someone who needs to create the product, the sales person, and you need the client.
It’s pretty much putting together that formula and getting everyone together and during your events, people also network.
Andrew Weaver: Tell me this. Were all those beardy techies at Google campus, were they comfortable with real business coming into the tech zone?
Rafael: Sorry, say that again?
Andrew Weaver: I’m being cheeky. I said were all those techies at Google campus … These real businesses were coming into the tech zone. Were they comfortable about real businesses that make real money? That’s really interesting. As I mentioned to you, we need to actually talk offline I suspect here, Rafael, because there’s some crossover.
Andrew Weaver: This is a rather a possibly a flippant question but I wonder there’s any stats on whether migrant startups have a better chance or a likely to be more successful because of the type of people that start them up?
Rafael: Yeah. Well, funny enough. I know you’re British so I don’t like slugging off British people.
Andrew Weaver: Half Scottish, half English.
Rafael: My husband is English so I know English people are hard working but because of this situation, there are stats now from the Center from Entrepreneurs that says migrants are twice as likely to start their business compared to British people but it’s not because we are more entrepreneurial. It’s simply because we do not have access to the funds and to the resources that British people have. Sometimes we don’t know how to apply for benefits and not everyone wants to apply for benefits. They want to have real money. They don’t want 60 pounds a week. That is the difference. One of the differences there is not because we are more entrepreneurial. We are forced to be if we want to have more money, which was the case with me. I had to start my business because no one gave me the job that I wanted. I always wanted to work in marketing but nobody wanted to give me the job so I started the business.
Andrew Weaver: Yeah. My wife is Spanish and she’s got a great job now but it took a while. The challenges she faced were cultural and language etc., which I’m sure every migrant faces in a similar position.
Andrew Weaver: Listen, Rafael, you’ve been a star. Thank you so much for talking so openly about all of this and with so much detail. I’d like also to refer people to your website because RafaelDosSantos.com is just a great website. I’m looking at it now. Rafael has written a book, he’s organized an international conference. I mean, there’s so much on there. If you want to look at how to create a personal branding website, I would actually suggest that you look at Rafael’s website. Thanks so much. If you’re a migrant business owner or even if you’re not, how should anybody get in touch with you or get in touch with the accelerator?
Rafael: We have a website called ThisForeignerCan.com. I wanted to play with the word because the word foreigner there, people think of it as negative. You’re a foreigner. I want to prove that foreigners can be positive and they can add to their economies so that’s why it’s called This Foreigner Can and it’s this because it’s individual. Every single one of us has added or will add to the economy, especially if they work with us. ThisForeignerCan.com
Andrew Weaver: Yeah. I like the title very much. Rafael, thank you much for joining us.
Rafael: No problem. Thank you.
Andrew Weaver: All the best. Good luck. That was the Lawyer Fair Daily Podcast. Thank you for listening and we’ll speak to you next time.