My last post of the year from Cuenca, Ecuador

Tony Zeoli photo In Cuenca trying on panama hats at the Passe de Niño parade.
In Cuenca trying on Panama hats at the Passe de Niño parade.

What a year it has been. Last year at this time I was trying my best to lead an inexperienced start-up on a failed music project, which today still has no traction to speak of. It will never succeed, because everyone wants a show and no one wants to address the fundamental problems inherent in the business. Fast forward to today and I celebrated my one-year anniversary with my beautiful wife, Missy, as well as Christmas and New Year’s in Cuenca, Ecuador. That is a pretty amazing change of environments. Who knew I would be in Ecuador today, far from the whining, finger-pointing and nepotism? Not me, but I’m thoroughly enjoying this break from having to deal with a somewhat skewed work culture in the United States, which has affected me in my last two positions. On a positive note, I both learned a lot and I know that many people learned from my organizational, creative and management ability.

Today marks one month and a day that I’ve been in Cuenca. One of the most important things I’ve noticed is that people are not rushed here like they are in the United States and while people buy products and services here, there isn’t a heavy culture of consumerism that leads to selfishness and a me first attitude.” Some people would say that when you’re on a vacation, you’re not going to experience the same things you might if you actually lived there. They might be right, which is why living here for two months gives you a broader perspective. You take the bus. You negotiate the taxi fare with the driver. You make friends with the locals and expats who you will see again, because you go to regular places and not tourist haunts. You live every day like the locals live and that experience helps you on the surface to understand the culture. Of course, you have to really immerse yourself for months to appreciate the small details, but for two months, you can certainly get a strong idea of how people treat each other.

What I’ve learned on this trip is that the Ecuadorian people like the way they live. It’s lower stress. Shops close for lunch. 3:00 pm may mean 3:30 or even tomorrow and you’re expected to know this and not get stressed about it. People are kind and helpful. Just because the country is socialist doesn’t mean people are lazy. They work for money, but they also work for pride.

Of course, there are those who value time in the same way we do in the USA, but the way they value time is different. I’ve met some Ecuadorians who lived in the U.S. and they returned, despite the financial gain they may have realized in the United States. They realized that it is very expensive to live in the northeast and that it would be very difficult for an immigrant without a U.S. education or trouble speaking English to survive. There are those who went to work for cousins and uncles, but when things got bad in the U.S. a few years ago, they realized it was much better to return to Ecuador where the economy is improving. You can see how that is happening here in the public and private projects.

There’s a lot of commerce in Cuenca. Far more than I ever imagined. While it’s a smaller city with only 500,000 people, there are more restaurants and cafés here than in most major cities. The difference is that there are not as many huge chains that occupy every corner. They have chains, but it’s not like their is an Ann Taylor, Gap or McDonald’s on every corner. People shop at the “mercado” and not at Whole Foods to get their organic meats. Even the chains that are here many Ecuadorians know are growing to serve the rising middle class and over 4,000 to 5,000 expats (depending on who you talk to) in the Cuenca area.

That’s not to say that they are not motivated. That is not the truth. Everyone I’ve dealt with work hard, they just don’t work with as much stress as we do in the U.S. They’re economy does not seem to run on meeting demanding quarterly profits expected by Wall Street and investors. Many families own businesses here, including the many small, local Ecuadorian restaurants operated by mothers, fathers and their children. The culture of U.S. consumerism, while somewhat affecting the young, isn’t a strong as in the U.S. or Europe. For Christmas, children open one or two presents, not ten or twenty. And, the celebration of Christmas is not around Santa Claus coming with gifts, but around the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, as shown in the picture below of two young boys riding through the streets of Cuenca on horseback and dressed as the three kings that visited Jesus in the manager.

Photo of two men dressed as wise men on horses. Relgious symbolism at the Passe de Niño in Cuenca, Ecuador
Religious symbolism at the Passe de Niño in Cuenca, Ecuador

My wife likes to point out the difference to me. Yes, I am still tied to the American way of doing things. I work a lot and there are many Ecuadorians who work as hard as I do. I do value the way we work in the U.S., but I can see where the parallels end between here and there. in the U.S., we put timelines and deadlines on everything and if it doesn’t work out, regardless of fault, the finger-pointing ensues and people are fired or removed, only to be replaced with less experienced people, because the person(s) making the decision really don’t understand what they’re doing. The make those decisions at any cost, because they have been taught not to care about what happens to the other person. They’re taught they instead of working together, that anyone is disposable except themselves, even if their ideas have no legs and they have not knowledge or formal training and everyone can see that but themselves. I can’t say that I have any experience here with work and how people are given jobs, what their motivations are or how they are treated. I’m sure there are issues here and I am not forgetting that. I don’t want someone who reads this to think I believe the grass is greener. No, it’s not greener, it’s just a different shade of green. But, it’s a shade that we might be able to learn from back in the U.S. about respect for the other person. That is something I’ve always had. I rarely, if ever, have fired anyone, because the point is to find the right person and give them training and support. When we don’t do that, we fail the people we hire and we fail the systems we’re building.

In 2013, I saw my friends at 8tracks really grow the platform into the many millions of users. I see a very strong organization who have effectively and efficiently planned and strategized for that growth. I’m very proud to be an advisor to that company and from time to time, I contribute my knowledge in the hopes that my knowledge helps the project continue on its upward track. With Neighborbee founder, Anthony Lobosco and developers Jeffrey Marx and Michael McNeill, we finally launched a very cool social network that helps neighbors connect with other neighbors and talk about their neighborhoods. While we were busy building the web application, we missed the boat on mobile, but that’s not to say that we’re not going to be there in 2014. I think we have a running start and with a round of funding and more hands on board, I think we’ll get to the point where Neighborbee is a viable business. I play an advisory role at the moment, but am looking forward to the day I can join full time.

As far as full-time job goes, well, I’m looking…and looking. Applications are out and responses are slow due to the holidays. In the meantime, I’m working on developing my Digital Strategy Works consulting company, which has launched four major projects this year. We’re in a little lull at the moment, but we’re hoping to pick up in 2014. It’s important that I continue to look for full time employment and if that doesn’t work out, then it’s full force on DSW.

I have also been developing wireframes for my project. I’m hoping that in 2014, I find the time and through the help of others to rebuild into a marketplace for music production. That’s about all I can say right now on that front.

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m looking forward to a more productive 2014, where I control my own destiny instead of letting it be controlled by others.