Rafael Dos Santos
The more we support migrant entrepreneurs, the more benefit to society we will have
By Mattlynn Mossberg
Rafael Dos Santos was born in Santa Catarina, Brazil and moved to London as a young adult to learn and eventually start his own business. Today, he is an accomplished entrepreneur, published author, and public speaker. Recently, Maserati and the Centre for Entrepreneurs awarded Rafael as one of the Top 100 Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs. In this interview, he discloses some of the unknown challenges of integrating into a new culture and offers advise for anyone trying to establish themselves in a new country.
You moved from Brazil to the United Kingdom at the age of 21, how did this transition affect you and influence your career?
I was very young and I was discovering life. Moving to London in such a young age has really helped me to become mature very quickly. I had no one here, apart from my best friend and my sister and we were all in the same boat – little money, little English and little knowledge! I had to quickly find a way to pay my living here. London is super expensive and my lack of good English didn’t help me to get the job I wanted. I ended up washing dishes in a restaurant in Notting Hill to start then I was a glass collectors in bars in Soho and then did a lot of house cleaning. All these experiences helped to shape my character. I never took anything for granted anymore. As well as learning the language, I had to learn the culture which is very difficult in the first few months.
Lack of language, lack of network of people and lack of money – I think these are the main challenges all migrants face when they move to a new country
What were some of the biggest challenges of migrating to a new country and how did you overcome them?
Lack of language, lack of network of people and lack of money – I think these are the main challenges all migrants face when they move to a new country, no matter where you are from or where you are going to. People think the language is the number one issue, but language hold hands with culture. You can’t learn a language if you don’t understand or know the culture well enough. The small every tasks become big challenges: it took me hours in the supermarket because 14 years ago there were no iphones, so I had to take a paper dictionary with me to translate the names of food and it took me a long time to learn what I could cook that tasted similar to Brazilian food. Opening a bank account was a big issue too and then slowly feeling like a citizen: credit card, bank card, NHS card etc. I remember how happy I was because I got a tesco club card. I felt like a local. It was a weird silly sensation of belonging somewhere.
What advice would you give to migrant women trying to start a career in the United Kingdom?
I think the more focused you are the easier it is going to be. I know it’s difficult sometimes to focus. I had a million jobs before I started my first property business. For those who are looking for jobs, your cv must be very crystal-clear about the industry you are in and the experience you have. The words you use must be local too. Make sure you don’t’ use American English and someone corrects your grammar. It sounds silly but you must analyse the following: if you are a migrant you will be competing with locals for the same job. You must be as good as the local otherwise you won’t be offered the job. Your English must be good – written and spoken. If you are looking to start business, don’t try to be a ‘one stop shop’ which means all things to everyone – it does not work. Concentrate in doing one thing and doing this one thing really well. If you are a chef, concentrate on one type of food. Why Italian restaurants are so famous? Because you know what you are going to get. They have one type of food: pasta! Be amazing at one thing and this should be enough to take your career skyhigh!
Why do you think it’s important to support migrant entrepreneurs start and run successful businesses?
Because migrant entrepreneurs contribute to the economy and people’s lives in general. Migrants open local food shops, so people can try food from all over the world. Everyone loves Indian and Chinese food, right? Their cousin only became internationally famous because they immigrated to other countries and set up businesses: restaurants, fast food shops, local supermarkets and so on: their businesses grow, more jobs are created, more tax and paid and wealth is created. Most young people in their first or 2nd jobs start their careers in small businesses. Also, by supporting migrant entrepreneurs we will also be helping their families and their home countries. A lot of migrants send money to help their families in their countries. People live better lives and this is a great reason to be helping people.
Another challenge that we have today is the word migrant itself. Because of the way the media is portraying the word migrant, the migrants themselves don’ want to be called migrants. The word ‘migrant’ comes with the stigma of miserable or poor people desperate for help, which is not the case. Migrants choose to move countries and they go back to their countries whenever they feel like it. I have been speaking extensively in the media about this subject. At the BBC, the other day I was on the radio talking about the difference between economic migrants and refugees and how we could help refugees to become economic migrants, so they can start contributing to the economy too.
The Maserati 100 award recognizes some of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs who support both the current growing economy as well future business leaders in the United Kingdom. What does winning this award mean for you and your future endeavors?
I was honoured to win the award. The list of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and supporters was incredible. I felt really privileged to be on list because of my work with migrants. Entrepreneurs don’t have a manager or director to tell them ‘well done’ and get a tap on the back for their work. An award is a great recognition of the hard work, passion and commitment of entrepreneurs to their work and cause. I met some of the entrepreneurs who won the award, including Russian entrepreneur Yuliana Seymour from OutSpace coworking space in Croydon and we shared the excitement of winning a prestigious award. The award also helps my business and my profile. Because of the award I get invited to speak at events and it gives my business more credibility which helps to get partnerships and contracts.
Who is Rafael?
Rafael dos Santos is a multi-award winning Brazilian entrepreneur who moved to London at
the age of 21. In London he started out as a kitchen porter and cleaner but before long Rafael decided to turn his experience of living in flatshares into a property business. In 2005 he launched an agency that managed and let rooms in flatshares and grew his portoflio from 1 to 50 properties. He successfully sold the business in 2014. In 2013 Rafael wrote a book ‘Moving Abroad – One Step at a Time‘, published by Panoma Press, which is dedicated to helping people who are moving to another country. The book has been translated into 5 languages and explains the 5 stages one goes through when moving to a new city. Rafael has won several awards including The prestigious Sunday Times’ Top 100 Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs in the UK’ by Maserati and Centre for Entrepreneurs, 2 awards from Virgin as ‘UK startup of the week’ and ‘Virgin Pioneer’ for his travel blog and videos. Rafael also won the European competition for ‘Best Pitch’ in Istanbul, 2014. In May 2015 he won the award for ‘Outstanding service to the migrant community’ by Global Woman magazine. Rafael’s new business is mi-HUB, a coworking space where migrants can rent desks and receive business support to develop business strategies to raise finance.