A serial entrepreneurs guide to starting a business in Portugal

By October 26, 2020 November 12th, 2020 Blog, UK, US
entrepeneurs-guide-start-business-portugal

Looking to start a business in Portugal but not sure where to start?

Portugal is becoming more and more attractive to foreigners that want to set up a business here.  Many expats have successfully started a business in Portugal whilst living in the sun and enjoying the laid back lifestyle on offer here.

We caught up with one of our clients, entrepreneur and Lisbon based business owner Tyson Ballard to talk about his experience of running a business in Portugal and find out his views on the start up scene in Lisbon.

tyson-ballard-Potuguese-entrepreneur

Tyson has successfully launched  companies in London, Berlin & South Africa.  

He is the owner of two highly successful ventures in Lisbon – Timeless Garage and Wave Gliders with other projects in the pipeline.   

If you want to learn about the culture of Lisbon’s capital start up scene and what its like to launch a business in Portugal…read on. 

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Hi Tyson, so  I’m just going to ask you, first of all, if you can just give me a little bit of background about how you started your businesses in Portugal, because I know you have businesses in different sectors.  How long have you been living in Portugal?

Tyson:

Yeah. so I’ve been living in Portugal full time for about five years and, but part time we were kind of going between Berlin and Lisbon for about the last 10.

I guess I’ve just always been an entrepreneur. And so I’ve always kind of had many, many businesses happening all at once, all around the world. But  I’m officially on a ban from my wife now,  not to start any more businesses for at least a month. 

My main business that I run with some friends is a law company.  That’s basically headquartered in London, but our main operations are run out of Cape town. 

What’s the best type of business to start in Portugal?

Tyson:

So  my approach to doing business over here has always been to kind of find a local partner that is usually wanting to put an international twist on their business.   Or they might be looking to expand, or there’s some kind of skill that I can bring to the table that they typically  need help with, or want to partner up with. 

Interviewer : From  the businesses  that you’ve started in the sectors that you’re in, which do you think are good businesses right now with the climate as it is?

Tyson : , I guess, any business that has a lot of moving parts is not ideal.   Reliance on  other people  in the supply chain is really complex and slow here. 

Yeah. That’s where I would probably say we haven’t been so successful.

Any business that is heavily regulated or requires many approvals from city halls is incredibly frustrating and incredibly hard to get up and running. 

So any business that is simple and easy and, if it was like one product or online that you can just fulfilled with drop shipping or if it’s one thing that you’ve got control of end to end, then I think you’re onto a winner, I guess, in many different sectors.

Interviewer :

So one product or one service and online. 

Tyson:

It doesn’t have to be online, but yeah, I think anything that you could get control of end to end is where I think is probably the best. 

Interviewer:

To minimise bureaucracy. 

What’s the business culture like  in Portugal?

Tyson:

Yeah.  Slow.   

You know, I’m just encountering it on every single level. If something’s meant to take six weeks, it’s almost not a big deal for it to take three years. 

And you know, if you’re thinking I’m going to get up and running in my business  in a few weeks  and you’re sitting there three years later waiting for some permission or whatever to kind of get going. That can be tough for a start up.   That’s why I said online, simple, one product or service. 

Interviewer: 

Difficult. I think that’s really good advice just to prepare everybody mentally, even if you’re not starting a business, but just mentally prepare yourself to wait if you’re coming to live in Portugal.   Whether it’s purchasing property or setting up a business.  Be prepared to wait.

Tyson:

Yeah. Yeah, and I mean, there’s so many huge positives, right. But yeah, you just have to have patience.  But that’s one of the main reasons people want to come here because of the pace of life.   Not just because it’s a warm country. So if you can accept everything takes a lot longer and plan for that. 

Interviewer:

I think even the Portuguese get frustrated with the Portuguese system.

People coming in from New York or California or London and other fast paced business environments might get frustrated.  

I think that’s really good advice. 

So you have got various businesses that you set up in Portugal. Do you want to just tell me a little bit about them and  what’s happening with them?

Tyson :

So we’ve got Timeless Garage, which is a classic car restoration shop/space.

And so we mainly do other European sports cars or what we would call ‘adventure vehicles’  like odd land rovers and land cruisers Pajaro’s and Jeeps etc. 

That’s been going for about four years, almost five years. And it’s really good, really tough, but really good. We’ve grown from a team of two to a team of almost 10 now. And we typically have like a six month waiting list. 

We’ve got 50 projects on the  go.  I lost count, but we’ve been getting really good exposure on social media and things like that through that one. 

A lot of the businesses have a bit of a branding story/ thread around the lifestyle here.  You know, driving around beautiful scenery, surfing a lot.

So the other business we have is Wave gliders, which is a custom surf factory. 

We build and design our surf boards which have our own brand. 

Tyson-ballard-surf-portugal

We have the shop where we have other brands and things like that. That’s been going for three years and that’s going really, really well as well. I’m actually about to open a second shop downtown towards Lisbon. 

Then there is the mixer company,  the working title at the moment is Ballard audio. So I don’t know how much you know about DJs.  Between the two turntables there’s, what’s called a mixer and in the seventies, they used to have these kind of analog vintage mixes that instead of kind of sliding knobs you, it’s almost like the tones on your volume and controller they’re called rotary mixes.

Tyson:

They’re quite a niche little product and it’s kind of a very geeky thing for DJs. And so we’ve been trying to kind of launch a product to be a bit of a disruptor in the marketplace which is to kind of make it a bit more futuristic. We want to make them hand build in Portugal.  

So we’ve got the manufacturer already go in Porto.  In a  really cool factory.  We are just finishing up the prototype and for that we’ve been successful in getting the Portugal 2020 grant for on the marketing side. And so, yeah, we’re looking to launch that product probably later.

Yeah. We’re still trying  to work out what to call the product actually. But it’s a pretty cool project. Like we’ve got a super geeky Russian site sound scientist to design the inner workings of it. He’s lived in Portugal for like 20 years. He’s almost 85 years old now. And then a friend of mine who used to be  the main designer for all of Porsche. So he designed all the early 911’s and things like that.  So he designed the outside

Its got a  Porsche design elements on the outside and then it’s got this crazy Russians sound scientist on the inside  So it’s, it’s gonna be pretty cool product. Yeah.

And then the last one – we bought a property a  15th century quinta on 15 acres here in Lisbon.  

We’ve just  put in a project to city hall to make a 40 room five-star boutique hotel. 

And that’s going to be a moulding of  a lot of the ideas. So the cars,  the surf, the parties and things like that. So a bit of a spot for everyone to come. 

And we worked with one of Portugal’s  most famous architects, Vasco Vieira.   And so, yeah, that’s a pretty cool project too.

Interviewer:

When is that going to be ready? The hotel?

Tyson:

This is where we were talking about submitting plans to be approved in six weeks and we’re still waiting three years later for the approval. 

Tyson:

Yeah, so this is a pre-approval of the project, so it’s called PIP actually in the legislation. Actually, if they don’t object within six weeks, we are within our rights to go back and say, look what we submitted, we’re going with, but we decided not to, we decided to wait and it’s been much to our detriment.

What are the government agencies or companies that support start ups?

Interviewer:

So you talked about Portugal 2020, that’s a good segway into one of my other questions, which is, did you work with any other companies, government agencies that supported you to set up any of your businesses?

Tyson:

I did. Yeah. We worked with a  consultancy that did the Portugal 2020 application.  Yeah mixed feelings on how good a job they did. 

Communication to us was really bad in terms of what our obligations are. And then actually they made quite a few mistakes in terms of, for the mixer company, for example, they  submitted that we’re a consulting company. 

And so we lost another bid for  half a million on the production because they just thought that we were a consulting company and not manufacturing a product. But saying that we did get it. Yes. We’ve got  around 80 K for marketing. And yeah, really, I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom because it’s great to get money, but it took a lot longer than we thought it would as well.

Interviewer:

Yeah. What kind of time?

NOTE:  Gestluz one of our  trusted partners have many years experience supporting businesses from idea stage to start up in Portugal.  They provided us with a list of the latest funding initiatives for startups in Portugal impacted by COVID-19. 

Tyson:

So it took two  years to get a decision. And then we got it done. We got approval that we got 88,000 euros and then you’re meant to immediately get 10% as just kind of popped into your bank account before you start submitting the invoices and stuff. So then it took another year to get 8,000 euros into our bank account and we’ve submitted invoices and we’re still waiting another year later for payments to the other ones. 

So I guess my actual advice about Portugal 2020 is God, it’s,  really weird because it’s, hard because it’s a grant and it’s a great thing. And I think it’s all meant to mean well, but you just get really stuck in the, in the bureaucracy. And to be honest for 80,000, I probably would have just, and the headache headaches that we’ve gone through, I probably would have just done that without it. Yeah.

Tyson:

So looking for venture investors could have helped more.  

Or just build this myself over a long period of time with less headache and just keep investing every year with small amounts and just do it slowly that way.

What’s the business culture like  in Portugal?

Interviewer:

What would you say the business culture is like in Portugal compared to other countries that you’ve done business and the business culture? 

Tyson:

I feel like cause I’ve always tended to be in places where they’re kind of starting to get trendy to come almost like, you know, we’re in New York, like 15 years ago London, East London and then like Berlin.   I feel like there is a wave of entrepreneurs that are probably similar to me in terms of start ups and entrepreneurs.  We have photographers, artists, musicians,  surfers and all those guys. 

And I feel that it’s growing this good energy and it’s exciting and that  cool people are coming.  It’s not slowing down, it has actually  accelerated.   In the garage, we probably  have sold 10 cars this month from people that have literally just come from New York,  and all of them are photographers. It’s really weird. 

It’s just starting to happen here in terms of that entrepreneurial energy and start ups, , you know, sole operators. And I think then as this grows it  will start to bring more new things as these kinds of entrepreneurs  want the things that they have in New York.  Fancy coffee you know, like nice restaurants, good places to go out on the beach on the weekends and things like that. 

So I kind of feel like we’re in the beginning of that gentrification part and that will foster and support a lot of small to medium businesses. I just hope that it doesn’t push out the really cool ones that are already here that cause you know, rents and things like that, don’t go up too much.

 

timeless-portugal-garage

Do you employ Portuguese staff or ex pass or both?

Tyson:

No, pretty much all Portuguese. Yeah. I mean, in the garage, we’ve got a lot of old guys and their English. Isn’t that correct. But the majority of young Portuguese are fluent in English. 

Interviewer:

How did you find the legal side of setting up businesses and running a startup? 

Tyson:

Oh, that’s completely. I mean, that’s my background, so I’m completely okay with that. Actually I think the process of starting a business,  the shareholder things and then going to get, the silly name that you get given, because you can’t register in a proper name and things like that. I kind of love that. Like that’s an exciting day. And it’s not difficult to do.  

Interviewer:

So, to summarise:   find a local partner to keep it really simple, one product or one service online business.  So that you’re controlling the business end to end and work with reputable consultants for funding. 

Tyson:

Also about the funding and grants – it really depends where you are located, in terms of where your business is registered it makes an impact.  

Tip:  Think carefully about where you register your business if you are looking for EU funding or grants for your start up. 

Interviewer:

Right. Good top tip.  Any other takeaways before we end?

Tyson:

Yeah. I mean, there’s lots of good things about living in Portugal and running a business here ? The people are great. The weather’s good, the lifestyle is pretty relaxed. And I think a lot of people will bend over backwards to do lots of things for you. The Portuguese people are amazing.

Despite the cumbersome bureaucracy Tyson insists that the warmth of the people, the laid back lifestyle, sense of community and passion for all things entrepreneurial  are the reasons why setting up a business in Portugal makes so much sense. 

If you are considering setting up a business in Portugal you need a good  English speaking accountant with cross border taxation experience and an English speaking lawyer knowledgeable in Portuguese business law. 

We can help you with all legal and taxation aspects of setting up your business in Portugal. 

Contact the experts at RHJ.

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