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Ask HN: If you could start a start-up anywhere in the world
33 points by kintamanimatt 1697 days ago | hide | past | web | 80 comments | favorite
With the one exception of the US, where would you pick and why? Are there any non-US cultures that really support entrepreneurship, embrace failure as a stepping stone to success, and don't also try to hammer down the nails that stick out?

As bad as the US is becoming in many respects, the one thing its still got over the world is that its the one place that respects and rewards entrepreneurship to even the smallest degree.

The barriers to entry in the US are numerous and much more burdensome than they should be in a free society....and are still a flat out cakewalk compared to what the man with an idea faces in other countries.

Myanmar. This country just transitioned from a military government to a democratic one and is opening up the market. Right now, they only have 5 million cell phone penetration. The government plans to have 80% mobile penetration by 2015 which means more than 40 million people will be online. Lots of low hanging fruits here. I am actually from Myanmar (been in US for 7 years) and I am going back tomorrow to start a company.

Hacker News, Quora, etc are supportive of entrepreneurship - that is your support and mentorship network.

Incorporate in a low-tax low-regulation business-friendly jurisdiction like Singapore, bank in stable country like Switzerland and live/work wherever you like.

Consider the 5 flags-theory for web-based business: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_traveler

Nice in theory, hard in practice. Especially if you're doing a startup and not a lifestyle or small business.

Edit: Ridiculous how people downvote. I've researched this area more than most and the flags theory just doesn't fit most startups as the core concept is having your tax residence and company in different countries. The only case I know of where it did or could have worked is Skype.

Agreed, ideas like that sound great on paper but just don't translate to real life in most instances.

And I encourage anyone dreaming about working abroad to go and try it for at least a month before making a big commitment.

I agree - it really dependes on if you're going for the 'home-run' or for a lifestyle/bootstrap business. I should have mentioned that. Speaking of Skype, I'd really like to visit Estonia. Low flat tax, nice capital city, part of EU but lower cost of living, forward thinking government, etc.

> Hacker News, Quora, etc are supportive of entrepreneurship - that is your support and mentorship network.

That is nice and all, and yes, you are right, those are great resources for entrepreneurs along with a handful of other sites.

Speaking as an entrepreneur that has sat on both sides of the fence - I partially live in Buenos Aires, and spend a lot of time in Boston: have done the /self served/ mentoring you hint at and had actual mentors and I'm going through my second incubator experience right now - I ought to say, the differences between a support or mentorship network is a completely different experience than when you have actual mentors, with names, faces and specific personalities.

Hacker News, Quora, StackExchange are top notch resources when you have very specific questions that need answers. Its a completely different ball game when questions you face are ambiguous, and needless to say that the effect of being able to easily tap into willing and reliable networks of contacts through your mentors is a resource that is hard to replicate in these sites. A "Show HN" thread is great (provided it reaches the front page), but being able to get in front of insightful, connected people that have a particular understanding of the exact problem you are solving, is a much more meaningful resource, I'll listen to the insights from five such individuals much more carefully than to the comments of 200 anonymous comments (not that the 200 anonymous comments are not of use, of course, but one is heavily more valuable than the other imo).

YMMV, but, all things being equal, having a handful of people you can reach out to (and just as important, that will reach out to you periodically) makes your own work much more effective.

I agree. These web resources have actually been springboards for me to discover people and mentors who I later meet with in 'real life' - so yes, actual face time is extremely important.

Singapore is low regulation, but law heavy. While businesses generally have the freedom to do a lot, the people that work for the business do not.

As long as you plan on being a perfectly law abiding citizen (or resident), Singapore is a great place. But once you have a crime on you record--including something as simple as jaywalking--it stops being such a great place.

Also, I'm under the impression that Singapore's not all that gay friendly, which is something that matters to me as a gay guy.

Singapore for business domicile - not residence. It's also a great base to all the southeast Asian countries with super low cost of living if that's your thing.

Considering this now, Singapore or Hong Kong

Well, Hong Kong's future belongs to China.


Can you elaborate on what you think the implications of China's involvement are? I mean, "one country, two systems" seems to be allowing HK to be very free.

Just a gut feeling. China is a behemoth, and territorial at that. Singapore has a really interesting free-trade independence minded history. This is an excellent documentary on the history of Singapore. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3X_xR31Rt4

One country two systems is for 50 years from 1997 as I understand

I really, really love this idea.

It's not so much about the tax avoidance - it's really about flexibility and the realization that the world is much different that it was 20 years ago. Location is less important - don't let governments or culture hold you back.

Oh I know. Being a perpetual traveler appeals to me. Colin Wright's[1] an entrepreneur (not the one on here) that's reasonably well known for living in a new country every four months.

[1] http://exilelifestyle.com/

Ah, thanks for the link. That's serious PT.

I run https://openexchangerates.org essentially "from the road", so this is hugely relevant and I'm bookmarking it to read over once everyone's had a chance to weigh in :)

At the moment, I'm based between the UK and Jersey (Channel Islands – I'm resident for tax, which is nice), around Europe (recently Amsterdam, Berlin, Lisbon, back to NL in a few weeks) and planning a move onto South America later in the year. Previously it was Hong Kong, where the project began life.

From these, I got the best vibes in Berlin, and would love to spend more time there soon.

London, where most of my business took shape and which I'd consider my practical home, is fantastic for diversity of ideas, people and places. As of now I plan to spend 3 months per year here (maximum allowed unless I want to pay UK tax!) in the warmer months to really get into the city.

Still looking for the place, though, the one where I settle in for a year or two.

openexchangerates looks useful for something I'm planning - bookmarked.

Curious, what's your technical stack? I'm researching ways to build a Restful api to be consumed by web apps and mobile apps.

Quite nice to be a resident of Channel Islands! Seems that everyone likes Berlin. Maybe checkout New Zealand?

Thanks! I have heard NZ is a top place to work from – it's the countryside that appeals most to me, though it's a bit remote. How's the startup scene?

OXR is built out with PHP and (for a bunch of processes) nodeJS. PHP gets a bad rap, but it's fastest for me to work with and hasn't presented any problems so far.

Cool, thanks. Guess I need to break down and learn about server-side javascript...

I'm always impressed by the quality of the NZ govt. websites: http://www.newzealandnow.govt.nz/investing-in-nz/who-to-talk...

http://www.newzealandnow.govt.nz/living-in-nz < I've packed my bags ; )


- Many good links here. It's not the valley, but impressive for a country of 4 mil.

We need to start a new country and call it Ycombinator. Nowhere in the world supports entrepreneurship enough.

Probably a developed country. Like UK. London sounds good, it not silicon valley but its not bad either. There is already some startup culture there. The operating cost would be a problem though. If i was short on money (ok every startup is, except maybe like color) I would do it where i am right now, in a small town in north of India. The city is not village, but it's not a metropolitan either. The operating cost will be a lot lower than say, London and I already know everyone here. The community, society and laws are all local and familiar. So I think only place compelling enough to leave the comfort of home turf is valley.

The Netherlands is probably the easiest (only?) way for an entrepreneurial American to get a foothold into Europe. There's a Dutch-American friendship treaty which makes it easy to start a business there with a small amount of money.

I'm actually British! The EU is my visa-free playground!

Well then. You could go to Australia. It depends on what you're trying to do, I guess.

I m surprised since no one has mentioned about Tel Aviv, Israel.

Number of startups have arised recently, and also considering their entrepreneurship spirit. It does seem to be a great place for doing a startup.

I can vouch for Montreal.. pretty sick entrepreneurship culture.

I'm betting on Canada now. Beats Russland hands down.

Vancouver is a great place for sushi and it has a handful of good coffee spots. But that's pretty much it as far as its relevance to the startups is concerned.

Beats Russland hands down, true, but that's an easy feat.

Vancouver sure, but you should check out the startup scene in Montreal. Lots of cool things going on.

Vancouver? Not in the winter, unless you're crazy about skiing :)

Well, it's not that bad... lol nope, couldn't keep a straight face. Yep, December is hell. Wet, dark hell. Otherwise pretty neat.

It's a wet dark place right now, if you ask me :)

Well hey, at least I knew in advance what I was signing up for :) http://d.pr/i/9Qkr

Also, <insert bane darkness quote here>

For bootstrapping, I chose India! I've been living in the beautiful Himalayas and paying $500 a month to do so. That's a $3000 investment for 6 months development time to test out your idea. The internet here isn't so crash hot, but that is not a problem when you just need to do the odd Git check in. A Hyperjuice battery is a essential investment, powercuts are all too common.

I'm in the process to make one here in Spain. It is hard, yes it is. I like it because Barcelona is a great central point, full of foreigners who embrace english and all kind of european cultures as well latin america. What I am looking for? an american partner. It will be good for various reasons as I think startups should be done.

That's great. Have you seen where people in northern Spain are finding abandoned villages and renovating them to be somewhat self-sufficient? That would make a pretty cool startup hub. P.S. I see you are a UX/UI designer - any social links (dribbble/behance/twitter, etc)? I'm sure there's Americans on here (like me) or here on the lookout of that skill set.

@minid, http://www.minid.net. My portfolio is not on behance. There's no need to move northern spain, in Barcelona we have plenty places with cheap prices to setup an startup. I do preffer remote working and go relocation when the first round is setup :).

There're many threads about this on HN. Here's one around an Economist feature:



UAE. Free market economy, law and order, easy air travel to anywhere in world via Emirates/Etihad/Qantas, majority of world's people live within +/- four hours of timezone, access to both low cost resources but also some highly skilled resources, etc

When people bring up places like this, it makes me wonder if they've considered the implications of inadvertently breaking the laws that are based on traditions/religion. Like being caught with a porn magazine in your bag or even crossing a province border with a bottle of booze (even that can be illegal there).

Neither pornography or booze are prerequisites for startup success. If someone has a predliction for either that they cannot surpress then I suppose this UAE the place for them.

Yeah, you just have to be extra careful, otherwise off with your head :)

I think London's start up scene is becoming something interesting at the moment.

Look into startup Chile. Sounded pretty interesting a few years back...

It is. And one of the interesting things is, every 3-4 months they bring in another 30 startups.

India: If you are up for a challenge, where there might not be straight forward solutions, but if you crack the plethora of problems present there, its a dream come true.

> Its a dream come true.

What are the pros besides low cost of living? Can you elaborate?

Orange County. There's a lot of talent out here that's trapped in horrible corporate jobs. Even a lot of the startups are horrible-corporate startups.

I will do this someday.

Sydney. Amazing quality of life, beautiful, great weather, and an amazing city.

Close to most of Asia, strong economy.

Definitely, Sydney.

Singapore, Norway or Denmark.

All three are interesting suggestions, but what makes them stand out to you?

Singapore has some of the world's strongest laws protecting investors, lenders and borrowers. Setting up a company there only takes 4 days. It has very low and easy to file taxes and pretty much everything they do they do it with a "high-tech" view point.

Norway is just generally all around awesome. The only draw back is their high taxes but they're ridiculously easy to file as well. They also protect their investors, lenders and borrowers very well.

Denmark's economy makes it so starting up a business costs pretty much nothing and registering it is almost as fast as Singapore. They also hire and fire laws similar to those in the US so that you can pretty much hire and fire people very easily with no hassle.

Also, I just love the Nordic culture and way of life which is a big factor for me in picking Norway and Denmark.


These are unusual suggestions! What makes you suggest them, and specifically what part of Africa?

In Africa, I would consider

Kenya: good internet speeds,

Ghana: booming local economy,

Nigeria: lots of entrepreneurial spirit,

Angola: 4G network

What about South Africa?

Well-developed legal system

4G network and high speed internet

Existing support structures, especially for funding

And one of the most beautiful cities with plenty of sun & sand in Cape Town.

I've never been to SA, but from what I've read, the high crime rate is a bit deterring.

Crime is an issue but shouldn't be a complete deterrent. The political environment is a bigger concern scares people off. The BEE/indiginization issues are very real and should be considered.

With that said, I would live in Cape Town in a heartbeat, great food, culture, people etc.

Not really an issue if you live in the right areas, in my experience. Cape Town in particular is quite safe as long as you don't go into the townships (like Rio's favelas).


Singapore's come up a few times. What makes it an ideal start up location in your view?

Five years ago I quit working for other people and started working for myself. At the same time, we decided to start traveling, to get a better idea of other cultures for our products (which are internationalized) and to see if we found a place we liked to stay.

First off, one thing you notice, once you get out of the USA, is how much of a bubble the USA is in. The perspective given by US news sources, for instance, is pretty narrow. Americans tend to think about the same things all the time and have those perceptions reinforced. Just getting out there will broaden your perspective, of the world, of the markets and of your customers.

There are other cultures that support entrepreneurship, and really, the idea that the US is sort of a pinnacle of this is at the least outdated.

The thing to remember, though, is that these other cultures are different and support it in different ways. Some better, some worse than the USA.

During our travels, we've "based our startup" in Venice Italy, Berlin Germany, Amsterdam, The UK, Mexico, and most recently Chile.

All of these are quite viable as a place to stay while working on your startup, though not all of them are good jurisdictions for your business to be domiciled. We travel on tourist visas, though in recent year's we've focused on getting year long visas.

Like others said about the PT / Five Flags strategy, jurisdictional arbitrage is a good idea. One thing to be aware of is that the IRS is getting more and more draconian every year and US government laws are making it harder and harder for financial institutions to do business with americans. It's not that the countries won't welcome you, it's that the US punishes them for it. (At least as it comes to bank accounts.) This makes a foreign bank account a bit of a prized possession for Americans.

Some notable places to consider: Amsterdam- There is a US-Dutch friendship treaty which means that Americans who found a company in the netherlands get residency so long as they keep a certain amount of assets in the company.

Panama- Recently the president of panama signed an executive order giving anyone from "favored" nations (eg: ones panama has good relations with, including the US and UK) the ability to get residency simply by setting up a company in Panama and putting some money in the bank. This isn't just a residency visa, this is permanent panamanian residency.

Chile- I'm sure you've heard of Startup Chile. Chile is a pro-business culture (though also a bit pro-paperwork and things take a bit more time than they should). The Chilean government will give you residency for living and working in Chile, you just have to earn money in the country and pay taxes on it (So you could go there as a freelancer and live.) After 2 years of doing this you can apply for permanent residency that allows you to live there indefinitely.

Singapore- Has two programs, the Entrepreneur Pass and the Entre Pass for employees of companies (it could be your own company) and people setting up singaporean companies, giving you residency.

All these situations give you a reasonably straightforward path to residency. All of them have more or less pro-business environments, though Amsterdam's taxes are kind of extreme.

As for embracing failure, etc, this is really kind of incumbent on yourself. IF you embrace your failure, great.

If you're looking to raise investor money, the bay area is the probably unparalleled for this. I'm speaking more towards someone who wants to bootstrap.

If you're a bootstrapper, you could do it almost anywhere.

It's not that the countries won't welcome you, it's that the US punishes them for it. (At least as it comes to bank accounts.) This makes a foreign bank account a bit of a prized possession for Americans.

I know that some countries (particularly some of the post-Soviet ones) make it a criminal offense to have a foreign bank account, but I thought that for the US it's just a question of sending in an extra IRS form. Or is it not?

Yes, but the tax compliance is so complex now that many foreign financial organizations don't find it worth the cost to do business with Americans due to the paperwork. This is why the number of Americans relinquishing their citizenship has skyrocketed over the past three years.

You mean American tax regulations may have jurisdiction over foreign banks? I don't understand.

FAQ: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Em...

No, just jurisdiction over it's citizens. The USA is one of the only countries that taxes and requires its oversees citizens to file a tax return. You can go to jail for not reporting a foreign bank account - pretty insane.

That's right, but why banks should worry about this? How does this regulation increase the cost of having an American client?

The potential penalties for noncompliance with the new tax laws can hugely affect the banks' bottom lines.


Wow. Forcing foreign jurisdictions to follow one's domestic regulations to help enforce compliance of one's citizens is bizarre.

I'd say it even trumps the regulations that are largely post-Soviet legacy in countries like Ukraine, for example.

Yep, this is what desperate empires do when they know it's the end of the line. The US has enacted a series of virtual Berlin walls. The only way to escape is to expatriate and relinquish citizenship at an American embassy. And to add insult to injury, the US Government takes 45% of all your assets over $2.5 million if you take this route (not that I have that problem). And this is already after-tax income, mind you. It's quite sad, really.

I don't think it's as high as 45%, or at least I can't find something to corroborate that.

Because the OECD has enacted numerous "money laundering" laws, and the IRS has regulations that require foreign banks to report information on US citizens with accounts.

Sure, the foriegn bank is not located in the USA ,but many of them have branches in the USA, or are in one way or another allied with US banks. All of them do business with US banks.

Thus, all of them are liable for "money laundering" which has been defined so broadly that basically anyone can be convicted of it.

So, even though they are non-US entities they are required to file forms with the IRS, and the burden is getting bigger every year, and if they don't they risk censure under OECD rules or being fined as HSBC was, etc.

It's easier to just not do business with US citizens.

What a great response. This should be expanded into a blog post.

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