NOTE: This interview was originally shared with my email subscribers in 2018.
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This week, I’m joined by my fellow wingman, drinking buddy and world’s-most-knowledgeable-man-when-it-comes-to-Mexican-culture-and-history, Vance from My Latin Life.
Let’s start from the beginning (sort of).
You’re from Canada.
So how the hell did a white guy from a small town in Canada end up in Mexico City?
What drew you to Latin America initially out of all the places you could’ve gone in the world?
You’re incredibly knowledgeable about Latin American culture, so where does this interest come from?
My first trip to Mexico City was around 2012, thereabouts.
I was vacationing in Guanajuato, a smaller city in Mexico, and a friend of mine asked if I’d be up for a Mexico City trip to see a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.
I didn’t know anything about Mexico City at the time (or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for that matter) but, long story short, I ended up falling in love with the city and vowed to come back for a long term stay. And, eventually, that’s exactly what I did.
I’m not entirely sure what drew me to Latin America.
Ever since I was a kid, for whatever reason, I’ve always just been fascinated by this part of the world. I remember having a world map on my wall, and I’d put tacks in all the places I wanted to visit...and almost all those tacks ended up in Latin America!
When I was young, I also did some trips down to Mexico with my parents – that may have had something to do with all this as well. I remember my first trip down to Mexico with them.
Everything fascinated me. The streets, the sounds, the people.
I recall thinking that, while the culture was certainly distinct from my own, it wasn’t so foreign that
I felt I couldn’t connect on some level. I suppose you could say that, for me, Latin America was a place different enough to be intriguing and exciting, but not so different that I couldn’t integrate myself on some level.
My interest in Latin American culture really began growing after my first major trip through the region. Before actually visiting a few different countries, my idea of Latin American culture was admittedly vague; I essentially thought every country ate tacos and only danced Salsa.
But, I quickly realized that each LatAm country has their own thing going on – from the food they eat, to the music they listen to, and even the way they communicate with one another.
Upon realizing that, I started to research the cultures of individual countries, and even individual regions of individual countries.
At the moment, I’m into studying popular culture, i.e. the slang people use, the music they listen to, the memes they find funny. It’s interesting stuff, as well as a great way to make inroads with locals.
What did your family think about all this?
Did you just walk up to your parents one day and say, “Hey so I’m going to move down to Latin America for awhile”
Did they love the idea? Think you were crazy?
The reason I’m asking is because I know families can range from very supportive to completely unsupportive when it comes to big lifestyle changes, so I’m curious about your experience.
Overall, my family was supportive. But the news kind of blindsided them.
I’d kept my interest in Latin America more or less to myself for all those years, so they were shocked when I first expressed interest in traveling and – eventually – living down here. But they were OK with the decision.
My dad traveled and lived abroad as a young man so I think he understood the calling.
Of course, they’d prefer if I was a bit closer to home, but I make a point to keep in touch with them each day, whether it’s through Skype, WhatsApp, Email etc. And I make sure to fly home to visit them a couple times a year. It’s important not to neglect that family bond.
I think I’d be doing my readers a disservice if we didn’t spend a little time talking about Latin American girls.
What do you think are the biggest differences between girls in Latin America vs. Canadian girls?
And what do you think are the biggest differences between girls in various Latin American countries in your experience?
I think the biggest difference between girls in Latin America and girls in Canada is that girls in Latin America are more approachable.
The dynamic between the sexes in Latin America simply feels more natural.
Down here, a man can approach a woman and it’s more likely to be seen as a compliment as opposed to an attack - the latter is increasingly becoming the norm in Canada, unfortunately.
A memory etched into my brain from my university days in Canada is being in a lecture hall, surrounded by makeup-less girls still wearing their pajamas. In Latin America, girls put forth some effort.
In terms of the differences between girls from other Latin American countries, well, there are plenty.
They differ physically, of course. For instance, most men I’ve met down here seem to agree that Colombia has the most beautiful women in the region. They differ culturally as well.
For instance, Ecuador and Peru are more socially conservative than, say, Colombia or Brazil.
This means there is somewhat less of a one night stand/hook-up culture in Ecuador and Peru.
The My Latin Life site is getting around 80,000 views a month which is more traffic than most blogs ever get.
I know you started it as a hobby blog and over time it’s shifted into a revenue stream and now business with multiple offers.
And this is pretty impressive when you consider that there are thousands of travel blogs that never get anywhere.
Why do you think your blog is as popular as it is?
And what are the mistakes that all these other travel bloggers are making?
I’d say the main mistake other travel bloggers make is that all of them give up too soon.
It took years before my blog got any traction. Something that helped me was that, when I started,
I didn’t even know it was possible to make money from blogging. I mean, I knew in an abstract sense that some people were doing it, but I had no idea how and I never thought I’d ever be counted among them.
And that’s the reason I stuck with it.
Writing was an outlet for me, as well as a way to make sense of some of the things I noticed in Latin America.
I wasn’t overly concerned with how many people were reading my blog, since I was writing content primarily for myself. Plus, I never thought I’d make any money from it, so my expectations were low.
A lot of people today hear about blogs that are making four or five figures a month, and they think they’ll be able to do the same after about 12 weeks of producing content. Not so. I think that’s why many get discouraged and quit.
Another mistake I see is folks not being passionate enough about the subject matter. That lack of enthusiasm bleeds into their writing and it becomes obvious. Gives it a mechanical flow.
If you’re not interested in what you’re writing about, you’ll burn out before you’ll make any money blogging. If I had started a blog about something I didn’t care about – like dog food brands or bird cages – there would be no way I’d be able to generate content for months on end.
We’ve talked about this online and offline, but it’s funny how a lot of the attention the My Latin Life website gets is from guys curious about relationships and dating in Latin America, even though you’ve written in-depth articles about everything from politics to music to e-commerce.
Let’s talk about e-commerce for a bit since I think it’s a fascinating topic.
I literally don’t know anyone else with your knowledge of e-commerce in this part of the world.
So first off, what do you think are the biggest mistakes when it comes to starting and growing an e-commerce business in Latin America?
HEAD'S UP: If you're interested in e-commerce and dropshipping, check out my interview with Kobe Gatsby and The Du Lab.
From a foreign perspective, the biggest mistake is assuming that consumer habits in Latin America are the same as in the United States or Canada.
Namely, assuming that people are comfortable with buying products online, or even know how to buy something online.
When my business partner and I started our online store in Peru, the number one question we received is “How can I buy this?”
Coming from Canada, I assumed that buying something online would be more or less intuitive.
This isn’t quite the case in Latin America.
Another mistake is underestimating the power of social proof. It’s huge in Latin America.
Our business didn’t start growing until we started paying social media influencers in Lima to promote our products to their followers. That, and Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads haven’t quite caught on down here yet. And the companies that use them use them poorly.
We found the ROI on Facebook Ads to be very good once we sorted out who to target and how to target them.
FYI - If you're interested in Facebook ads, make sure you read my interview with Ryan Holmer, who runs a 7-figure Facebook ad agency.
Everyone wants to know about profitable e-commerce niches.
What do you recommend in Latin America and why?
When thinking about an e-commerce niche in Latin America, it’s important to ask the following questions about your potential product.
1. Do rich people want this?
2. Do rich people between the ages of 20-45 want this?
3. Is this difficult to get and/or horribly expensive in this Latin American country and why?
4. Is there demand?
You need to target wealthier people in this age bracket simply because they are the only people who know how/can/are comfortable with online purchases.
In several Latin American countries, credit card penetration is less than 20%, and 50% or more of the entire population may not even have a bank account. So, you need to focus on the top 10-15% income bracket of your chosen country.
The second thing you need to look at is whether or not the product you’re selling is available in the country and, if it is, is it ridiculously expensive?
If so, why is it ridiculously expensive?
Is it because it’s imported?
Can you produce this product cheaper in-country?
If it isn’t available, do the same: ask yourself why. Is it because there isn’t demand?
Or is there demand, and does the fact it isn’t on shelves have to do with import restrictions?
Can you produce that particular product in the country?
Or, can you find a way to get it into the country?
It’s no different than finding a niche in any part of the world, really.
It’s just a bit easier to spot market gaps in Latin America than it is in the USA or Canada.
In our case, we found that there was a lack of variety in terms of fashionable, affordable clothing and tasteful lingerie for girls around the 20-30 age range; the few brands that were offering this type of clothing were charging a lot.
We found a way to bring in-demand styles to market faster and cheaper than other outlets through a combination of importing from China and producing locally.
That’s why we were able to make things work.
Who are some recent brands that are doing e-commerce right in Latin America?
What exactly are they doing well that other brands aren’t?
Why do you think they’re succeeding while other brands have failed?
What are they doing better or differently than their competitors?
Aside from the obvious ones like Linio and Mercado Libre, YaEsta out of Ecuador appears to be doing it very well.
A more boutique brand that is killing it is Capittana, a women’s swimwear company out of Peru that offers worldwide shipping.
I believe YaEsta is successful because they chose to focus exclusively on the Ecuadorian market – there was no way they could take on Linio or Mercado Libre so they didn’t try.
Also, they managed to secure huge funding right around the time e-commerce was starting to catch on in Ecuador.
Also, Ecuador’s import restrictions are pretty draconian so they don’t have to worry much about foreign competition moving in.
Capittana has excellent branding.
That’s what setting them apart.
They’ve positioned themselves as a high-end swimsuit company.
Their prices reflect that, as well as their branding.
Their site, lookbook and social media accounts are all very much on point.
Branding is where you can really set yourself apart in Latin America.
It isn’t difficult to make a better website, take better pictures or write better copy than your local competition.
The importance of the aforementioned hasn’t been realized as much down here as in the United States and Canada.
If you develop a “cool” and “trendy” private label brand, learn how to effectively use Facebook ads and Instagram shout outs and make it easy for customers to make payments in your online store, you can annihilate the competition down here.
I know you’ve done a few different things to make money online, from freelancing to drop shipping to affiliate marketing.
What have been the biggest challenges for you when it comes to:
1 - Making money online
2 - Building an online business?
My biggest issue making money online and building an online business is – and always has been – effectively allocating my time and effort.
While in Lima, I was trying to juggle an online/physical business, 4 freelance clients and the blog. All these ventures suffered because of it.
Looking back, it wasn’t the worst decision because I ended up stepping away from the business due to a falling out with my partner, but if I would have put more energy into the business (i.e. the project that had the highest income potential at the time) I’m certain I’d have made much more money.
I struggle working out what will bring me the largest ROI.
Even today, the majority of my income comes from freelancing.
Despite knowing that I’ve reached the ceiling of my earning potential with my clients, I continue to direct most of my time and energy to it because it’s the most steady/stable source of income.
I’m changing that now by directing more effort to my blog as well as pursuing alternative sources of passive income (niche sites, ebooks, etc).
My advice is this:
Focus on an income source until you’ve maxed it out, or until you feel there is no chance for upward mobility.
After that, start looking at other things.
Always be trying to replace time for money (one-off freelancing clients, for instance) for recurring income sources (dropshipping; affiliate marketing; freelancing clients on retainer etc.)
What would you do differently if you were starting an online business today, completely from scratch?
What niche would you focus on?
Which business model would you pursue (niche sites, drop shipping, affiliate marketing, etc)?
I’d still probably focus on freelancing to learn the basic skills of pitching, pricing, accounting, networking etc. But I’d try to get off the race-to-the-bottom sites like Upwork and Fiverr as soon as possible.
Once I was making a living wage, I’d move on to niche sites, since they requires little skill to figure out.
From there, I’d work on an authority site/personal brand of some kind and get to building an email list of interested people to whom you can pitch affiliate products/your own products.
Then I’d take the skills I’d learned and dollars I’d earned and apply them to a dropshipping store (logic being that dropshipping has a slightly bigger learning curve and requires a slightly bigger financial investment).
As for niches, as you often say, Health, Wealth and Relationships.
There are plenty of sub categories within those niches to play with, and they are by far the biggest money makers.
Everyone has something in their life that they’re scared of, no matter how successful they get.
What are you scared of at this point in your life? Why?
Complacency. Especially down here in Latin America, where it’s possible to get by on $1000 a month. It’s very easy to settle. I don’t want that to be me.
I’m very conscious of this because I’ve slipped into complacency before – the first time I lived in Mexico City I was just sort of floundering around the $1500-$2000 a month mark because it was enough to live off.
Although I’ve never been lazy, I don’t have the strongest work ethic in the world. And I get distracted quite easily.
This is dangerous if you’re attempting to run your own business, and you alone are responsible for your income.
We’ve talked about Latin America music a few times.
And it’s funny (and annoying) how some songs get overplayed.
Who do you think are the most underrated Latin musicians right now?
What do you think are the most underrated songs everyone needs to hear?
I think ChocQuibTown out of Chocó, Colombia are a very underrated band. “Invencible” is a great track.
They have a similar sound to Bomba Estéreo. I’m surprised they aren’t more popular.
Another group that’s underrated is Sante Les Amis out of Montevideo, Uruguay. Now, it’s more of a hipster/indie sound which I’m not personally into, but I can tell they have talent nonetheless.
They’ve got a good song called “Como Animales”.
Let’s do a similar question, but with movies.
What are the most underrated Latin American movies that most Westerners probably haven’t seen?
“El Infierno”. It’s a dark comedy that shows the absurdity and tragedy of drug violence in Mexico.
A must-watch if you’re interested in the drug war.
I’d also say “City of God” out of Brazil and “The Secret In Their Eyes” out of Argentina shouldn’t be missed.
I've seen El Infierno and City of God. Both great movies.
You and I both know that Latin America, including Mexico City, is nowhere near as dangerous as many people believe.
Of course, the narcos and cartels aren’t exactly the friendliest folks in the world either.
Can you give readers a quick 101 on the cartel situation in Mexico?
Basically, can you describe:
Who are the major players?
Where are they located?
What do they want? What are their goals?
What’s been going on over the past year?
I think it’s important for readers to have some context of the situation instead of what they usually hear, which are sound bites of some random violence.
Here are the CliffNotes: Basically, after El Chapo got captured, the Sinaloa Cartel, one of Mexico’s biggest, was weakened.
There was an internal power struggle, other criminal groups smelled blood and decided to come out of the woodwork to claim their piece of the drug-smuggling pie.
What you have now is the growth of smaller cartels and the splintering of bigger cartels (like the Zetas), which is contributing to the uptick in violence this year in Mexico.
Fortunately, Mexico City hasn’t been affected by this too much. In recent years, violence has shifted from the northern border cities to coastal cities. Cancun and Acapulco, for instance have been hit pretty hard.
Essentially, the narcos are fighting for trafficking routes – to control the corridors that are ideal for bringing drugs into the United States.
Because a lot of drugs enter Mexico from South America via seaports, that’s why you see coastal cities being hit hard by violence.
Also, once those drugs creep closer to the US border the price shoots up.
You got the major highways that connect Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to the rest of the country.
Control those drugs when they cross the border and bring them up to Chicago and New York and your profits skyrocket.
That’s why they fight over border cities.
What’s the deal with Acapulco right now?
Is it safe?
Last I heard, it’s the murder capital of the world, but then I go on Instagram and see pretty Mexican girls hanging out in their bikinis at beautiful beachfront hotels.
So what the hell is going on?
The narcos have a vested interest in keeping tourists safe…since they own a lot of the bars, hotels and restaurants that tourists stay at. It’s sort of an unwritten rule – whatever gang you happen to be in – that you don’t mess with tourists, because it’s bad for everybody.
You mess with tourists, and that puts pressure on the Mexican government to crack down.
That makes life more complicated for the narcos – more police pressure makes it harder for them to do their trade.
This all means that tourists are still able to stay safe in these destinations. But it’s not due to benevolence, of course. It’s all about the money.
That explains all the pretty Mexican girls sipping margaritas on the beach without a care in the world.
Let’s jump to social media.
You’re active on Twitter and your following is growing.
I know you recently updated your bio and made some other changes.
Can you talk a little bit about that?
What did you change?
I was never very active on social media until a few months ago.
Not because I was against it, but simply because it wasn’t a priority. I didn’t see the value in it, I suppose.
But, after some helpful tips from a friend under the name of WesternMastery on Twitter, I tweaked my bio to reflect more specifically what my site was about, changed my profile picture to something a bit more appealing and started putting out some threads that got some likes and shares.
And, what do you know, my followers doubled in about 2 months!
As a result of that, I’ve been able to meet some cool, like-minded people and have developed a bit of a network. I wish I hadn’t neglected it for so long!
Let’s talk about the future.
It’s the end of 2019, so over a year has passed since we did this interview.
Where would you like to see the My Latin Life brand by the end of next year?
And what’s your longer term goal?
What will ol’ Vance’s look like 10 years from now in an ideal scenario?
Will you be married to a beautiful Sinaloan girl, living on the outskirts of Guadalajara... and sipping mezcal from your porch as you stare off into the sunset while your 8 children play in the yard?
Will you go to the Dark Side and start shipping products of questionable legality to North American customers?
Or will you just say “Fuck it” and move to a little beach town where no one knows your real name, you go spearfishing every morning and eat your catch of the day?
I have big plans for My Latin Life.
I’d like to turn it into the go-to resource for men wishing to live or travel Latin America.
I’ll be moving into YouTube and Podcasting in addition to blog posts, you know, to keep with the times.
I also have some financial goals for my website.
I live a pretty simple life, so the income from the blog more or less covers all my expenses down here in Mexico City.
That’s nice, since I’m able to save most of what I make from freelancing. But I’d like to make the blog more professional.
10 years from now? Damn, tough to say!
I’m quite happy here in Mexico – I could see myself still being here.
Married with kids? Sure…if I find the right girl.
Maybe I relocate to a smaller city. Find a house with a garden and a terrace. Get myself a dog.
Assuming my online ventures are bringing in enough money to live a good life, I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at another private label/e-commerce business. I miss that.
I got a certain satisfaction from selling physical products that I don’t get from selling digital products. Not to say it’s “better” to sell physical products, just… different.
I guess time will tell all.
Want more My Latin Life?
Click right here to visit Vance's website.