How A New York Expat Gave Up Corporate To Become An Entrepreneur In The Tropics
Da Costa: What are the key lessons you’ve learned from creating a wellness retreat in Panama?
Mogensen: Doing the research first is paramount. This means knowing your market, identifying your competitors, what are they offering, and what you can offer that will set you apart. I didn’t want to cannibalize business from other established retreats here in Panama – I wanted to attract a different clientele. My target was city dwellers that, like I was, are stuck in the daily grind and crave time off to leave everything behind and reset. I offered just that: nature, sun, surf, yoga, and fresh food in an environment designed to nurture the mind and body.
Secondly, since I wanted to build a business that would serve the community, I made sure to partner with other Santa Catalina businesses to service our retreats. I began with selecting Hotel Santa Catalina as an accommodation partner and focused on building strong relationships with the staff. My goal was to create a relaxed, welcoming vibe in a beautiful place nestled in nature, which would serve as a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. I also partnered with local village restaurants, boat captains, horse-riding guides and surf instructors (who also happen to be world-class pro surfers!).
I love this business model because it serves the Santa Catalina community, while also offering our retreat guests an intimate and authentic experience.
Da Costa: What challenges have you faced with the business?
Mogensen: My biggest hurdle was underestimating the lead-time guests and yoga teachers needed to plan and book a retreat. I was initially running on my own experience: I am a last minute person, and would often book myself a vacation at a moment’s notice! For example, I incorrectly anticipated that I could advertise a retreat three months out and generate sufficient numbers of guests per retreat. I learned the hard way that most people need a much longer notice to book their vacation: a lot of people plan time off work six months to a year out. I encountered a similar issue with yoga teachers enquiring about planning a retreat with their students.
As a result of this oversight, many of the retreats I was initially running were only able to secure a handful of guests and our start-up phase was slow. I lost money in the beginning since the income earned from a small group did not cover the costs of running the retreat. Thankfully, I maintained a great relationship with my manager from my job back in New York City, so I was able to take on some freelance work to keep me afloat during those times.
Da Costa: How is your business performing now, and how many clients do you get?
Mogensen: We are now into the third year of business. We host between 10-25 guests per retreat. Since I don’t have a great deal to invest in paid media, my strongest marketing tactics are word-of-mouth and organic Google search. While leveraging these tactics takes time, I believe it’s the right approach for our small business.
It is also important to note that our business is seasonal, which means the income I earn from each retreat in our high-season needs to stretch that much further. Luckily, I no longer have the high costs of living in the city: I lead a simpler lifestyle, I’m cooking more, and my rent and utilities are only 10% of what I was paying in New York. These cost savings help stretch my income further, which helps since the business is still in its startup phase.
Da Costa: What did success mean to you while you were working in NYC, and what does it mean now?
Mogensen: While I was working in New York City, success meant climbing the corporate ladder. A successful day was one where I had worked around the clock to meet a deadline, coming home absolutely exhausted!
Now, I’m still working hard to grow my business, but the feeling of satisfaction is so much sweeter. I’m creating something that I’m so passionate about and that I know can make a real, positive change for people. I have also found balance in my life, where I can work for a few hours, surf, and do yoga every day. That, to me, means having a successful day.
Da Costa: What advice would you give to women who dream of quitting their corporate jobs, but feel powerless to do so?
Mogensen: You can do it! First, define what you want your new career path to be. Next, make a short-term goal towards it so that it doesn’t feel so scary. For example, I decided on trying out my dream life for just a year and saved enough cash to cover me for that.
I would stress to keep your corporate job until you are financially in a strong enough position to leave, and make sure to maintain good relationships with your employers. This will allow you to keep the doors open should you need to come back, as well as potentially take on any freelance or remote work that will provide you with a supplemental income in the start-up phase of your business (or whatever exciting pursuit you are taking on).
Lastly, update your LinkedIn profile with your new role. If you decide to return to corporate, you’ll be able to show future employers that you were applying yourself to a legitimate pursuit, and how the skills you learned through this experience are transferable and/or relevant to any role you take on.
Having the courage to quit your corporate job to start something that you are passionate about is incredibly scary, yet so wildly liberating and exciting at the same time. Know that you are not alone! Your work will serve to inspire others who want to do the same, and you will never regret it.
Celinne Da Costa is a travel journalist and brand strategist who recently couch-surfed around the world using her social network. Follow her journey on TheNomadsOasis.com and @TheNomadsOasis.