From the founder of an e-discovery firm to restaurateurs, foreign-born business owners explain how they have made it in America.

CHARLIE WOO

Founder and Owner • Megatoys Co.

When did you arrive in the United States, and why did you come?

I came to Los Angeles from Hong Kong in 1968 to get a college education.

Did you intend to return to your native country at the time?

Not really; I wanted to come to the United States to study, settle down and be successful here.

Do you now?

No; I am happy where I am. My family, business and friends are here. This is my community and I can’t see leaving Los Angeles.

Why did you start your business in the United States instead of Hong Kong?

My family also immigrated to Los Angeles after I came. This is where my family is and this is where I want to stay.

What’s the worst thing about starting and running a business in the United States?

The complexity of difficult-to-understand regulations, starting with registering your business. You need to get an Internal Revenue Service number regulated by the federal government, then the state regulates you when you register for a sales tax number, then locally there’s something else. There are layers of regulations and you need to deal with them all. When I started a toy wholesale business, even the loading and unloading of trucks was regulated by the Department of Transportation, LAPD and traffic control.

What’s the best thing?

Lots of opportunities; Los Angeles is a very good place for immigrants to live and do business.

What were the biggest surprises?

It’s hard to say. You do something nice and logical and then you find out there are a bunch of rules and regulations around it. There are always regulations in every aspect of my business. You need to keep your eyes open all the time and know about the changes.

Would you tell someone from Hong Kong to start a business there or here?

It depends. There are a lot more opportunities in the greater China region in recent years.

What advice would you give someone from there about starting a business here?

Be careful. The current U.S. economy is pretty bad.

Do you go back often?

Yes; I have offices in China and Hong Kong.

What was your view of the United States when you were growing up?

Rich and generous. Very good in science and technology and the materialistic world. However, culturally and spiritually, not too hot. I came from traditional and educated China. It was the ’60s and all I heard or read about were the hippies, protests and drugs. I read about the wealthy and the young people, and thought people could be hippies and protest because they were wealthy.

Did reality match your expectations?

Yes; I also appreciate the culture and the spirit of this country a lot more. It is no longer still like the time of the hippies, with drugs and protests I read about in school. People here are rich and generous.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?

I had no business background and I studied physics in college. When I first approached a banker for a business loan, he asked me for my financial statement and I did not know what that was.

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