Success Starting a Business in Cotacachi, Ecuador

Meet Yannick ,an expat from Germany who moved to Cotacachi and started a bakery.

He is the proud owner of a successful bakery called Pandala Bakery in Cotacachi. We interviewed him to find out what it has been like for him to start a business here and to find out what you can learn from him.

Deb: Where were you born?

Yanneck: I was born in Eutin, a small city in the north of Germany, one hour north of Hamburg.

Deb: When did you come to Ecuador?

Yanneck: The first time I traveled here in 2012 with a seminar group from my university. The second time was in 2013. I stayed for a year in Ibarra. Then I just went back to Germany to finish my studies and came directly back to Ecuador after 6 months in September 2014.

Deb: What was the reason that you came to Ecuador?

Yanneck: The first time it was curiosity and a fascination for South-America. The second time I came to study and do an internship at the University. When the internship didn’t really work out, I stayed to live and work in a bar in Ibarra. The third time it was for love and opportunities. I wanted to be with my loved one, and thanks to my cooking in the bar I had a job offer to run a restaurant in Cotacachi. In Germany, I could’ve done a master’s degree, or get into the internship-market, and then perhaps with luck, get a paid job. Ecuador was the easier choice by all means.

Deb: Why did you decide to stay?

Yanneck: Things worked out great for me. Besides my private life, I was lucky enough that my passion for cooking and baking was received well; especially in the expat community, and soon I could make my living by doing what I love to do.

Obviously, being passionate can also bring one to the edge of being a workaholic, and I went way beyond that edge. Seeing one’s business grow and grow just gives me a lot of energy. A rush I like to describe as “addictive”. Back to the question, I was and am still amazed by how free one can be here. In Germany, I would never be allowed to open a bakery just like that.

Deb: When did you start your career as a baker?

Yanneck: My first serious breads were the ones I made at “Gong Arte” in Ibarra, the bar where I lived and worked. Cristof, the father of the owner, taught me a lot about baking with sourdough. He now enjoys my breads a lot, often repeating that “the disciple has risen above the master”. Very flattering for me.

When I went back to Germany for 6 months, I kept on baking, knowing that I would go back and live not too far from the Gong to get enough bread. Finally, when I got back to Ecuador, I made some different kinds of breads for my family, then for the Restaurant, then for friends and clients, and soon the whole thing escalated into Pandala Bakery as it is now.

Deb: What do you like about living in Cotacachi?

Yanneck: I love the small town feeling. I grew up in a “town” of 10,000 people, surrounded by nature. Cotacachi reminds me a lot of that. If you need a break, grab your bike and 10 minutes later you have silence. Also the town itself is quiet, too quiet on weekends, but Ibarra is close. If you speak Spanish, you get into communities very quickly, and there are enough crazy people around to find some good friends. Also, both expat and local communities are open to help when needed, even on short notice.

Deb: What have been the challenges that you had to solve to get your business started?

Yanneck: Since I started from scratch, the beginning was easy. Then the growing became a problem. I needed more and bigger equipment, I had to start earlier and earlier (I once started working at 6 am… now it’s 2 am). I have to get to sleep earlier and actually sleep when everybody else is still very active. That’s still the biggest challenge, having people understand that they can’t reach me after 7 pm.

Deb: If a young person wanted to come to Ecuador to start a business what advice would you give him/her?

Yanneck: First. Do a market analysis. For example, don’t open another restaurant in Cotacachi. There are too many already, they’re closing all the time and only the best survive.

Key questions to ask yourself before starting a business:

Is there a market for what I offer?

How big is the market?

What is the competition, how is the quality of their product?

Is the market big enough for all of us, if not, can I survive competition?

What location do I need?

What investment to start?

What are the running costs like rent, water, electricity, material, helpers? You can look it up on the internet; there is all the information you’ll need.

Second.  Start small. It’s always better to grow then to downsize.

Third.  Grow slowly. Yes, taking credit might seem very seductive to grow fast, but in my experience interests and banks are always there to kill you when you’re having a hard time. Better live without any debt, even if that means to reach your goals a year later.

Fourth.  Have an emergency bank account. If the bakery burns down, I need to be able to buy all the essential things (in my case kneading machine, oven and ingredients) within a week so I can keep living.

Lastly.  Be passionate! If you don’t find the right niche for your product right away, keep looking. Ecuador seems small, but there are plenty of opportunities. It’s always better if you’re 100% behind what you’re offering. People feel that and are more likely to buy. Also, things made with love always taste/feel/smell better!