Startup Diaries from Argentina: Adapting to Entrepreneurial Life

Dutch entrepreneur Sabine van Ditzhuijzen describes some of the cultural differences she's encountered whilst launching her business in Buenos Aires. Part of The NextWomen LATAM Theme.

When I finished my master studies in film and television, I started working for big companies (DDB, Evangelische omroep), producing commercials and television programs. But it didn’t feel right.

Working on only one part of the whole production was not my ambition. I wanted to do everything. To be creative and to be part of the organisation at the same time. To discuss with the clients exactly what they want. I always made amateur films as a hobby alongside my work. I started with films of family trips, vacations with friends etc.

In 2011 I made the decision to quit my job and started working full time on my own film making company. Two years later, my business has expanded to Buenos Aires.

In 2005 and 2009 I studied in Illinois and in Tel Aviv, Israel. I always dreamed of living abroad again. So I decided to move to Buenos Aires. Why there? Because it’s Latin America, so they speak Spanish. Although it’s Argentina, it still has a big connection with Europe. All the Argentineans have a grandmother, father who is from Italy, Russia, Germany and Holland. Besides that Argentina has 320 sunny days a year. More sun in life makes a person happier. Next to these facts Buenos Aires has a lot to offer for creative people. The ‘portenos’  (people who live in Buenos Aires) live by the day and they don’t take the rules for granted. This makes a lot more possible, business-wise.

An Argentinean never says no. Unfortunately this can also be a bad thing… 

My first time in Buenos Aires was in 2011. This was inbetween my job and launching DitzTV. I went there to see how my business opportunities would be. I immediately realized it was not easy to do business when you don’t speak the language that well. And, more importantly, if you don’t have the contacts or know how the people work, it’s even harder. The Argentinean culture is very different from mine in both personal and business lives. As I mentioned before, an Argentinean will rarely say no to. They always say how great the idea is and that they love it. But then when they have to pay, they are gone. OK this is not always the case, but I have had some situations.

Next to that, the line between doing business and being friends is often not that clear. For example, it's a habit in Argentina to kiss everybody you meet (the only people you don’t kiss are the people who fix your house; I found out the first time I made this mistake, awkward). That means that the first contact is already more relaxed and less formal.

For a woman it’s even harder because you don’t know when the guy is interested in your work/product or in you. Especially when you are blonde and tall like me.

In this case it’s hard to recognize the people who are really interested. Here is an example: I had a meeting with a guy once, he said he was really interested in films. But after we talked I got this message from him: 

"Sorry I haven’t answered before. Please, we are not allowed to have personal business while we work for the company, so let’s keep it away form the office. Next Thursday they are making an official video, inside the office, for the company. Maybe you should come and visit me, "coincidentally". Hey, who knows? Maybe you get to meet the famous film director and have a little words with him. Plus, you must understand that you, as a European citizen, from Netherlands, have the perfect European point of view for promoting the company abroad. Get it??? Most of our clients are from abroad but our videos are made with the Argentinean point of view". 

As you may understand, I found this really weird. Of course I wanted to do business with him, but why outside of the office?

I wrote back to let him know that I was only interested in an official meeting and not this mysterious way of working. I never heard from him again. 

These things are hard for me to deal with. I want to get new projects, but where is the line not to cross? In my own country I know exactly about the dos and the don’ts. But here in Argentina it’s really different. 

In the meantime I still have my business in Holland (I work together with Lars de Rooy, a very talented director and cameraman) and I recently did a project with a Dutch company here in Argentina. I also do co-production for Dutch television. Now that we have an Argentine queen in Holland it’s getting more interesting every day! 

One of my projects here in Buenos Aires is wedding films. This is a good field for me, because Argentineans love to have a film with a European vision.

As a female entrepreneur, one has to be creative to find one's way in a different country. But day by day I learn more and I get better at what I do.

I get to understand the Argentineans better and better. My friends and I even started a documentary project: www.IamBuenosAires.com, which documents ‘video portraits of the real Buenos Aires’. And this is also a way of getting to know the culture better. Only a few more years to learn more about their way of working and I will know exactly what to expect? I think you will never know what to expect. In the meantime I enjoy working in two countries and earning money with what I love the most: filmmaking.

Originally from The Netherlands, Sabine van Ditzhuijzen runs her own video company: DitzTV. She moved to Buenos Aires at the start of 2012 and now lives in Palermo. Sabine is also the filmmaker/editor of I AM BUENOS AIRES, a project in which video portraits are made of people living in the capital city.  

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