Lockdown in an Entrepreneurial Community with María Lucía Bermúdez Oviedo

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Anna Lucia

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, María Lucía, the co-founder of the company 7days2go and the movement Here2Start, talks about the importance of the community, being there for each other, having the support of fellow entrepreneurs and the right tools when dealing with the crisis. She adds that when it comes to dealing with uncertainty it’s all about your personality, mindset and attitude. Her flight from Columbia to the Netherlands got cancelled due to the lockdown so she had to transfer all the business activities online, which only improved their quality and reach. So it is here to stay in combination with offline events.

Watch the video version of the interview.

What brings you to Colombia? Maybe you can tell me a bit about your business and why you chose such an interesting location.

Maria: I’m from Bogotá in Columbia but have been living in the Netherlands for over nine years. I went there [to the Netherlands] to study but I already had a marketing agency in Colombia. So I thought, why not expand my business and find myself some clients in Europe. So, with that intention, I started growing the business. But I quickly realised that a lot of international entrepreneurs and businesses need to have access to a lot of expertise. So, I went from having a marketing agency, to having a pool of almost 50 experts on a range of topics, around the globe. With this, I could consistently provide a one-stop-shop service to help entrepreneurs in a really 360° away, to make sure that everything is successful. That’s how 7Days2Go started.

What kind of entrepreneurs do work with? What size?

Maria: Normally starting entrepreneurs, people who are in the ideas phase or people who are ready to scale up and they’re wondering what’s the next step in business. And that’s not only for people located in the Netherlands, but also internationals that are looking to expand their business in Europe now, or in Latin America. I serve as a ‘business bridge’ for both communities. That’s also linked to the reason why I started Here2Started up 7Days2Go because it is really for international entrepreneurs. With the experts, we serve every type of entrepreneur. But we know as internationals that we have an extra struggle to the whole thing about getting your business started. So that’s why we started the whole movement around supporting each other as a community.

So did it start from a community-based in the Netherlands, but with the focus on international business enthusiasts that come here and want to make it happen?

Maria: The Netherlands was just the beginning for us; It was the pilot project we launched last year in June. There was a complete success. We did it off-line, with regular events gathering the key players within the Dutch start-up ecosystem and also Internationals in the Netherlands (the Netherlands is very international, especially in Amsterdam). But we saw that there is an opportunity to replicate this everywhere, everywhere there was an active entrepreneurial community. So that’s the whole intention of Here2Start — you plant the seed and then it’s there for everybody who is starting a business away from home.

So basically you are an entrepreneur yourself and you have a business that helps and entrepreneurs as a service. And you also have a community that serves the same function, somewhat. How did lockdown reflect on all of those dimensions for you?

Maria: 100% from the perspective of not being able to go out as in Colombia it was way stricter than the Netherlands. So the only thing I could do was to get this as an extra push to involve all the international experts that we count on because our mission with the expert pool is to improve access to knowledge via experts.

We had to switch to online anyway as we had been hosting regular events and meetups in Amsterdam. So, this time was a perfect opportunity go online and replicate what we were doing with all of our experts on a recurring basis every week.

So that’s what we started doing and it’s going amazing, just with organic effort, and without paying any anything. We’re adding a lot of value to the community and growing from there. And we have the same inspiration at Here2Start because we promised we were going to do a big annual event to celebrate International entrepreneurship, called the Here2Start Fest. This year, we said we have to do it online and now it’s even bigger than what we hosted in Amsterdam. So for me, the impact of Covid 19 on my business has been positive so far.

That is so nice to hear. You mentioned that your marketing business, 7Days2Go, has moved from mostly off-line to online. Was it a difficult switch for the experts, or for the entrepreneurs that you serve? What was the reaction, and how fast could you do it?

Maria: The main benefit was to reach. We could reach way more people. We could go beyond Amsterdam and what we were doing around the Netherlands. But at the same time, you always miss face-to-face contact, you can’t replace it. So I’ve been creative about the format of how we host events. I’ve planned in So we’ll be having ‘Coffee breaks with Maria’ during the Hear to Start festival and we want to include online business speed dating. We’re trying to innovate in a way that makes us feel more connected. But we’re are also aware that we need to go back as soon as possible to do this both online and off-line. It’s not like when this is over, that we’ll only go back to off-line, though. We’ll continue doing both, now that we’ve opened that door. It’s been a really good change.

So it’s going to be a combination of both worlds. How are you going to do that? In the Netherlands, the regulations are a bit more relaxed. I think a lot of people are starting to meet, but how are you going to do it from Colombia? Maybe you can tell the story of how you ended up in Colombia this time?

Maria: I can do it from Columbia thanks to the Internet. The only thing I need is connection. Here it’s 100% strict. You’re not really allowed to go out to let you have specific permission to do it. It is a bigger country, a different culture, so people need to get punished more to make sure that everything turns out ok.

Columbia has been in lockdown since mid-March. I was actually about to go back to the Netherlands, but they cancelled my flight that week. They said, you’re staying this side of the Atlantic and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that’s an example of something we do all the time as entrepreneurs; I’m used to situations changing, out of nowhere. That’s what happened to me, I was supposed to be going back to Amsterdam and suddenly I couldn’t go back and there have been lots of delays in knowing what’s going to happen next. I think that by 1 September I can think about going back to the Netherlands, but in the meantime, I just enjoy what I have. That’s it.

Speaking of uncertainty. You mentioned as an entrepreneur, sometimes you don’t know what’ll happen next weekend or next month. And that you can only start thinking about going back in September.

Can you tell me a bit about your clients, the entrepreneurs that you’re helping? How are they dealing with the lockdown? Was it as positive for them as it was for you?

Maria: It’s really about your personality. And your mindset. You can have any type of business and you can be in any stage of business. But it’s about attitude. If you think that this is the end of the world, then it’s going to be the end of the world. That’s it.

But if you see an opportunity at this moment where so many things are moving and so many businesses have reinvented themselves, then this is the right time to be. I think the best time to be is now and I’ve seen people who have been depressed, enthusiastic, and everything in between. I’ve seen all types of entrepreneurs, but how you react is as a human being, to the crisis.

If you have uncertainty — which we normally have as internationals living abroad and dealing with all the things on top of what locals have to deal with to just find one client — that’s what happens extensively for everybody in the community, so I think that people just need to get the right tools and to be in the right community, to feel that they’re not alone in this. Then they can relate to each other and help each other.

Of course, it is human to feel weak or feel trapped in this house in lockdown — I love this country but I can’t go out for coffee. Of course, this affects you, but it’s about dealing with it in a way that you can accept that it is not easy but move forward. And you can always find ways to make small changes or find that really amazing friend or fellow entrepreneur that can give you some insights on how he or she is dealing. Which is basically the reason why you’re doing this amazing interview. These spaces make a difference.

Were there any special events that you set up as a community online? So, not part of the business but really for the community?

Maria: Actually, everything that we do is community-based. Even if people decide not to hire one of our experts from 7Days2Go or so, we are hosting regular events every Monday and Thursday via 7Days2Go channels. Everything that is appealing or important for international entrepreneurs, we co-host with Here2Start and 7Days2Go. It’s all about gathering people and being there for each other. As you mentioned, the core of Here2Start is the community itself. We just want to give access to people — not only to meet experts — but also to meet other community members and understand where they stand now. That’s the whole spirit of it.

That’s a really nice, comforting feeling to know that there is something like that out there. I’m sure that some people will look it up, after watching this interview.

Do you know anything about your competition? And how it is dealing with the lockdown and all the challenges. Maybe it’s more or less prosperous. What do you know about it?

Maria: Well, I’m wearing two hats here. If I need to talk about consultancy agencies, there’s a bunch of them. I think that people usually specialised in certain sectors, while my approach with the expert pool is to give you all of the range of different experts that they will serve many different types of purposes and even target niche groups, as our portfolio is segmented with start-ups, starting entrepreneurs and scale-ups. That’s why we have an expert pool. There’s a lot of competition, but the difference is that we are not a crowdsourced talent pool.

We really know our community. We have strong relationships with our experts and our community, so we can really compete from the angle of knowing everybody by the name. And handpicking the right experts to meet the entrepreneurs and the needs and interests, that’s 7Days2Go.

And for Here2Start, there’s nothing that works like this globally. Especially in the Netherlands as our pilot country, when I look to all the initiatives that are happening in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, etc., I see that there are lots of community leaders, but nobody doing the whole work of moving everything out and telling everyone what’s happening, or trying to get some exposure, or to give a voice to internationals who are starting their business here.

I think that that’s really our unique value proposition. We gather we show; With the idea of not only created this strong community around it but also with the intention of influencing policy making. To make the whole struggle for us easier, so we land into a new ecosystem that is smoother, in the end.

And since you mention the intention that the objective of the organisation, I’d like to ask you about the outlook on the next few months for that organisation, for 7Days2Go. What is the future for you and your businesses?

Maria: It’s keeping moving forward with the organic growth of our community online. We are hosting events. When you do something consistently, you see the outcome. If you don’t see, change your plan. But you just need to do it.

So that’s what we’re doing with 7Days2Go. I hope that by now some months from now, we’ll understand our audience better from getting direct feedback from the events that we’ve hosted with our experts. Then this helps us build a stronger community.

We’re mapping out the possibility of doing an accessible subscription with membership so we can be more in touch with people, and that our members can access the experts directly. Not just through events, but also from one on one sessions.

So a lot of things are going to come up from 7Days2Go in terms of content, access to experts and access to the knowledge that you need to succeed as a business owner. As for Here2Start, on the 1st and 2nd July we’ll be hosting a huge event called Here2Start Fest. It’ll be eight hours of program finishing with an online business speed dating and online party for the first time. Colombia is the guest country was going to have some salsa playing and some dancing and some live performances from artists from all over the world.

Overall, we’re curious about what the outcome is going to be from this. If you take a look at who is joining as partners within the key both environments this time around, we’re not only showcasing key players in the Netherlands or what the Netherlands is doing, but also what Colombia is doing. And both countries are perfect gateways for a business landing in Latin America and Europe. We want to put this all together and see what comes out of it in terms of synergies, business getting done, and our community growing. Not only from access to experts or top people within those systems but also access to entrepreneurs, to international entrepreneurs based around the world. Especially in Columbia and the Netherlands.

About the Guest

About the Guest Maria Lucia is a professional in communication and advertising with a specialization in business communication and digital media. She is a natural leader and entrepreneur, with experience in planning and implementing communication strategies for diverse fields such as education, travel and tourism, NGO’s, and business development. She moved to the Netherlands since 2012 and leads an international entrepreneurial community.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/malubermudez/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.