Thomas James Kelly

Thoughts on the chaos of digital marketing and research and NYC bike lanes . . . . .

Let's Move . . . Costa Rica? Puerto Rico?

Imagine, as adults, moving to, and living in, the West Indies.  The West Indies.  The region of the world you hear about in history class, sugar cane, pirates, rum, palm trees, white sand beaches, clear water - actually move there and maintain your careers tied to the New York digital media world?  

We used to live here:

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Now we lived here:  

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In 2008, after another surfing trip to Costa Rica with my then girlfriend (now wife) we found ourselves in the post-vacation zen at 37,000 feet heading back to New York, but asking ourselves, "we both work in the digital world, telecommuting is a possibility, there MUST be some way we can live in the tropics and still contribute in a meaningful way to our companies".  

At that time Dynamic Logic and Safecount were hiring Project Managers in San Francisco and New York, training them over 3 months, then losing them eventually to Facebook and other highly competitive online groups.  It was taking us 6 months to hire suitable backfills - that was not sustainable.  

At the same time I noticed that many of the hotel and tour related staff in Costa Rica (San Jose as well as Tamarindo) were college educated and very interested when I described what I did (online advertising research and data).  Why wouldn't we be able to cut down the 6 month hiring latency and save the cost of housing our project team in mid-town Manhattan or downtown San Francisco, and open an office in Costa Rica?  

The senior executive team at Dynamic Logic, Millward Brown and WPP all agreed to help and I found myself back down in Costa RIca meeting with government officials about office space and also with Schematic, a WPP owned digital agency in San Jose, the capital.  Weeks later, however, and after further conversations with the Schematic team and WPP real estate executives , it was determined that immigration issues and costs made Costa Rica less than optimal for a move.  "How about San Juan, Puerto Rico", I was asked.  

I had been to the island once in my life, for a 3 day weekend with a friend where we stayed at the Ritz Carlton, 5 minutes from the airport in San Juan.  The weather was perfect, the water clear and warm but, like many American vacationers, I didn't stray more than 2 blocks from the hotel - I just didn't need to in that three day period.  But now I knew a very important fact about the island - WPP had offices there for Mediafax, JWT and Mindshare - a research group and two ad agencies respectively.  After an initial scouting trip by myself in October, 2008, I began to fall in love with the place.  

It was only 3 hours from New York, Jet Blue had extra leg room seats for only $30 additional, nice 2 bedroom beachfront condos cost only $1,200 - $1,500/month, food was half the cost of New York food and the people, the people were genuinely warm and friendly.  I happen to believe that most people in New York are generally the same, but in Puerto Rico added a healthy dose of relaxed to the equation.    

Another scouting trip in early December, this time with Danielle, and we signed a lease on that beachfront apartment (pictured above).  It was during this trip that I interviewed 8 candidates for 4 original Project Manager positions with Safecount.  We left that weekend confident that the island was eminently livable and the digitally savvy technologists eminently employable.  

We celebrated New Years Eve, counting down at midnight en route to San Juan, thrilled to be facing a new experience in a sometimes 2nd world environment, tied to our 1st world careers.  We landed in San Juan on January 1st, 2009 with a few large suitcases and our 8 year old cat, Alice.  I don't generally fly American Airlines, but if you ever have to travel with animals who are too big to fly in the cabin, American goes OUT OF THEIR WAY to make it an easier experience for you and the pet.