Thoughts on Running a Startup in 4 Timezones

January 16, 2012

10:01 am

Cardfed is a truly international company. It was started in Amsterdam after founder Ville Kulmala moved there from Finland and incorporated in Hong Kong. Kulmala now lives in Thailand, and his 8-person team is scattered about in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Helsinki. Kulmala tells me they have physically worked from 25 countries in the past 3 years.

Cardfed’s product is international, too: their English-language website lets tourists send real postcards by selecting designs and adding a message. These 1970s-style postcards, which cost about $3.20, depict cities from Singapore to Paris to New York. Travelers can upload their own photos to send, and artists can make money by submitting postcard designs.

Cardfed was incorporated in Hong Kong because the environment is more business friendly: Kulmala can own the business there, whereas foreigners can’t own more than 49% of a Thai company. But he prefers the quality of life in Thailand, so he stationed himself in Bangkok.

“You have beaches and mountains a few hours away, people are nice, and the culture is very easy to come to as a foreigner,” says Kulmala, who leads Bangkok’s Mobile Monday Thailand and OpenCoffee meetup.

Kulmala struggled to find local Thai talent to staff Cardfed, so he works with other Westerners living in Asia and Europe instead. But, as expected, the time differences can get tricky. They cope by meeting regularly, using a project management tool called Pivotal Tracker, and making sure employees spend at least half their time on tasks they excel at.

What has Kulmala learned from running such an international company? “Working for a startup does not have to be a painful ‘garage’ activity,” he says. “Life is too short to work for other people’s goals.”

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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