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

I left Peru in 1974 and came to the States for college at MIT then graduate school at Berkeley.

RICHARD KOFFLER

Title/Company: Chief executive, Greenwings Biomedical, a Pacific Palisades incubator for biomedical startups

From: Peru

At the time, did you intend to eventually return to your home country?

No, because of free speech, the technology and entrepreneurial scenes, the limitless possibilities, small government and freedom.

Why did you start your business in the United States instead of back home?

I wanted to stay here. I came to the States, got my college degree, graduate degree and had to go to the U.K. for two years because I didn’t have a green card. I couldn’t wait to go back to the States. Everything was kind of crusty and slow and a lot of talk and no action. Everything was kind of more establishment. But I found a computer company in the States willing to hire me and sponsor me. That closed and I started my first business because I was essentially unemployed.

What’s the worst thing about starting a business here?

The toughest thing is cash flow, making it one day at a time through savings, debt and revenue so you can come out of the other end successful. The toughest thing here is the toughest anywhere.

And the best?

The government works overtime to make life miserable, but relative to other parts of the world, going forward is still easy. You can start a business just by wanting to do it. Today it’s easier than ever with online legal services and a few hundred dollars. Figuring out how to keep it alive and growing it is the tough part.

What have been the biggest surprises?

The lesson I keep learning is it’s not about the idea you have, but the execution and luck. You may have this brilliant idea, but it really doesn’t matter that much. A lot has to do with how much you reach out. You’ll come across people and companies who will say, “I like you. I want to work with you, coach you, invest in you.” It’s a networking piece that facilitates the serendipity factor.

Would you tell someone from your home country to start a business here or there?

You have to be in the place where you’re happiest. Now you can start a business in Peru. Now it’s a good place. The economy has been liberalized and it’s growing pretty good. You need to like the environment, culture, location down to the weather and commute. I like being here.

What advice would you give someone from your home country about starting a business here?

Follow the local rules here. Understand how dealing with the government, vendors and customers is different. Understanding of quality and tolerance for mistakes is different, too. In Peru if you don’t pay a bill, to hell with you. Here, you get cut off.

Do you go back often?

No, I went back four years ago after not having been back for 25 years. I’m scheduled to go in April. After that, I have no idea if I’ll ever go back. My family is not there. Friends are the reason to visit.

What did you know about the United States before coming here?

It’s the most advanced economy in the world and English is the language, which I spoke before coming here, having learned it in high school. I knew that I would never want to live in Los Angeles, and yet I’ve been here since 1981. I said, “It’s too big. I don’t want to be there.”

How did that match with reality once you arrived here?

It exceeded my expectations. It was culture shock. The diversity in the U.S. is enormous. In Peru, growing up is much more polarized. A small group of folks are well off in a part of town and the rest of the country is distant.

– Marni Usheroff

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