News from Cape Verde, Angola & Mozambique

Helen Hutchings and Steve Cooling

Hi Helen and Steve, thank you for talking to us. Could you please tell the readers of Atlantico Weekly who you are? Sure! Steve is 62 and I’m 53 and we both have business backgrounds in the UK. Steve has worked in the travel, film and logistics sectors during his career. He has a good deal of experience shipping freight around the world. When he had his own freight forwarding company, he even shipped a whole factory from one country to another! I qualified as an accountant many years ago and have worked for myself for the past 30 years. I have had businesses in healthcare, property and customer services. At the moment we juggle our time between Sal and the UK, which isn’t easy while flights are still limited.

Tell us more about Blu bar! We set up Blu bar cocktail and live music bar in Santa Maria, on Sal Island, out of the desire to offer an alternative place. We wanted to create something that was new to the island and of course something we hoped people would enjoy. Cocktail bars are really popular in Europe and we wanted to offer this in a stylish environment on Sal. But we also wanted to showcase the fantastic talented musicians we have in Cape Verde. Our aim from the outset was to have a place for everyone. We worked hard to make people feel welcome and to provide quality service. We bought the property off plan in 2005 and the property was ready early 2008. We opened 13 December 2008, so we will be having our third birthday party soon. Everyone is welcome to join us!

Why did you become an entrepreneur in Cape Verde? I first came to Cape Verde in 2005 and fell in love with the islands the moment I got here. It may sound odd, but it felt like coming home. When I met Steve a year later the plan had already been formed to open a bar, so it was just as well Steve loves it here too!

Is it easy to start a business in Cape Verde? Is it easy to set up a business anywhere? There are challenges everywhere… When you are in a country with a different language, business culture and you want to start a new business there are plenty of challenges. However, I would say that everyone has always been very supportive of us. We have always worked with professionals locally and that has been a huge help. Sometimes you learn the hard way, which can be painful and expensive. The toughest challenges I would say are securing bank finance in Cape Verde. This can be a long, drawn out process. Some of the bureaucracy can be frustrating, like when you have to go back time and again to get something done. Things could perhaps be streamlined by asking for all the documents that are needed from the outset.

What were your highlights, best moments or successes? The best bit was after we had opened Blu bar. People came and then came back and liked what we were trying to do. You know when you open something new you pray that people will like it. But until you have done it you can only pray… When we have live music it makes us really happy to see people joining in singing, dancing, smiling and having a good time. Yeah, there’s nothing better than seeing people having a good time! And, ah, there was that first time we got in a taxi and asked the driver to go to Blu bar. He actually knew where it was! That was a thrill too…

We heard you are planning to expand. Could you reveal your plans a bit? Well, we hope – if things go to plan – to be opening another site on Sal at the Vila Verde resort. It will also be a place with cocktails and live music, but with a grill bar this time. It’s a much bigger project with a lot more planning to do. It’s exciting!

What do you think about the business and tourism outlook on Sal, is it good? We think the long term outlook is very positive, but we have to accept that in the short term there are challenges. The recession may hurt a bit and flights, especially from the UK, are still limited. With lots of apartments being completed we do worry how everyone will be able to get here. We need flexible, low cost flights and we don’t have either of these at the moment. These islands need to avoid the pitfall of being an all inclusive only destination, which is not good for local businesses and local people. We also need to welcome independent travellers, who thrive on flexibility and low cost flights. Cape Verde offers such a great destination from Europe at only a 5-6 hour flight, without jet lag, great all year round sunshine, no hurricanes, fabulous beaches, safety and warm and welcoming people. It’s a great alternative to the Caribbean and the Canaries!

What was the biggest problem you encountered as an entrepreneur in Cape Verde? Learning how to do business here. There are no text books or websites you can visit that tell you how to do things. So it’s a case of talking to people who have done it already, talking to professionals and – it’s all about having patience! We had and still have advice and support from some really great people and we can never thank them enough. Another thing is that in a service industry you have to also remember that the people who come to work for you may have no idea what quality service looks like. You need to find a way of showing, training and encouraging them to keep striving to get better and better. That can be a big challenge. And when you are away it doesn’t help that the internet falls over often and makes it tougher to keep in touch.

What do you recommend other entrepreneurs when setting up a business in Cape Verde? Talk to people who have done it, employ quality professional help and expect everything to take ten times longer than you think. Oh, and keep your cool, be polite and smile!

Thank you Helen and Steve.

December 11th, 2011. All rights reserved by Atlantico Weekly