Ben Rhatigan: ‘I fell instantly and permanently in love with Barcelona and continue to see it as an ideal location for both personal and professional reasons’
Barcelona based New Yorker discusses making the move to Barcelona, juggling international business development, strategy consulting and content marketing and why Barcelona plays a role in his 10 year plan.
14 years ago Ben made the decision to pack up in New York and move to Barcelona. 14 years later he has acquired an MBA (in Spanish!), established himself as a sought after strategy consultant, moved up the ranks of a Catalan company dealing with International Business Development and creates valuable marketing content for international companies from him sun-drenched balcony. On top of all that, he boasts an extensive knowledge of the culture and city; what to do and where to go, including Barcelona’s best kept secret for those who love Nepalese vegan food; Veggie Garden! We sat down with Ben in his neighbourhood of Barcelona, Poble Sec. We meet on Calle Parlament, a street in Poble Sec well known for its life, energy, buzzing cafes and its unostentatious bars. We find a table nestled in between others who have sat at them a blend of Spaniards, Catalans and internationals alike.
Ben, you’re originally from New York but how many years ago did you move to Barcelona? Why Barcelona?
I first came to Barcelona in 2004, quite soon after university ended, mostly driven by what I considered to be the very homogenized experience of living in the United States. I recognize that comes across as harsh, but at that age and after studying abroad in Greece and Russia and other travel experiences I had a very strong calling to plunge into a different culture and challenge myself with language, jobs, social life, etc. I was also strongly influenced by Pedro Almodovar’s films, principally “Todo Sobre Mi Madre”, which was really one of the first quirky, underground-ish Spanish films to receive widespread visibility in the United States, and which came out just before I moved here. I was super curious about the weird, exotic worlds Almodovar’s characters inhabited, and wanted to experience it for myself.
Tell me a bit about what you are doing here in Barcelona
I formalized the decision to stay in Barcelona after deciding to do an MBA here, in Spanish, at the ESADE business school, which opened up tremendous opportunities. I was a management and strategy consultant for technology organizations for a long time, but was getting a little burnt out from the crazy hours and constant travel, so decided to focus more on one specific subject area, which is the Internet of Things. Currently, I’m responsible for international business development at the Fira de Barcelona for a project focused on the Industrial Internet of Things sector. There are lots of moving parts to the project, for example a big conference that we organize in October every year, connecting organizations working in the sector, bringing investment and employment to Barcelona/Cataluña/Spain, creating a job and internship market for students studying IoT, building a knowledge base for Industrial IoT, etc. We’re also now starting to explore the relationship between IoT, blockchain and artificial intelligence, which is incredibly interesting.
In parallel, I realized that I missed the strategy side of consulting, which I’d been doing for fun for my friends and other entrepreneurs for their start-ups for ages, and also really enjoyed writing, so gradually in my free time started offering content marketing and start-up services for entrepreneurs, mostly in the tech sector but with a wide range of clients. As a side project it’s been growing really well organically and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve even worked with a company that imports sultry Brazilian gym wear to the US and Canada- not a sector I was overly familiar with!- so am learning a lot.
Is this ‘multi-channel income’ quite common amongst your Barcelona friends?
Not really, or rather, not yet. Very few people make the type of income they want from their day job, so the concept of multi-channel income streams challenges you to be creative to add to that initial sum.
Would it be possible to have set up the lifestyle that allows for multi-channel income streams as easily in somewhere say, New York?
I do think that New York has such a sophisticated infrastructure and deep market demand that it supports almost any type of business venture, but the fast speed pace of the city and the demand of the the ‘day job’ makes it almost impossible to make any success out of the side projects. I know a lot of heartbroken entrepreneurs who couldn’t get off the ground in New York or San Francisco, but who then had much better luck in a different geography, for example Barcelona. They aren’t Facebooks or Amazons, of course, but still successful, financially viable businesses that have been very rewarding for their founders.
I know 5 year plans are difficult to narrow down, but do you have one? And do you see it unravelling in Barcelona?
I always have a 5-year, 10-year, 30-year etc. plan, but they’re also always changing! I have quite a few plans actually that I’d like to roll out for the mid-term, and Barcelona plays a key role in all of them. Eventually, I’d like to be independent enough to keep Barcelona as a home base but be free to digital-nomad around the US. I fell instantly and permanently in love with Barcelona and continue to see it as an ideal location for both personal and professional reasons, but do also want the freedom to spend more time in the US.
Last question, top 2 pieces of advice for anyone making a move to Barcelona?
First, learn to speak Spanish and later, Catalan, as early and fluently as possible, and really try to immerse yourself in local culture. Given the global popularity of Barcelona it’s all too easy to have a group of international English-speakers as your principal social circle, and while of course it’s great to have that network, you really do miss out on substantial authentic, local experiences and friendships. Second, alway say, “yes.” This refers to opportunities that pop up while you’re here, both professional and personal. You can always decide to say “no” later if you don’t like whatever it is, but if you’ve made the effort to get all the way over here and start a new chapter, be open to new experiences and take advantage of whatever comes your way!
Ben is one of many who have decided to uproot and build a life on the coast of the Mediterranean in Barcelona; it is easy to see why. Ben serves as a great example of what can be reaped from Barcelona; the professional opportunities in Barcelona are rife, the pace is one that allows people to explore their passion projects, the culture is rich and the Nepalese vegan food is good.
What is the advice to take away?
Ben’s insights and first hand experience of moving to Barcelona highlights the potential the city has to offer its inhabitants, both professionally and personally. The following is a round-up of the advice to take away:
-Moving from a big city to a small city doesn’t mean a reduction in opportunities. In fact, more opportunities may present themselves in a smaller city because you aren’t one fish in such a huge pond.
-The pace and demand of some cities are more geared up to support smaller projects. Cities like Barcelona provide for the environment to allow a small project grow into something profitable.
-When moving abroad, learning the language is a sure way to open new doors and opportunities and it should be one of the top things on your list to do upon arriving somewhere.
-Say ‘yes’. Being open to new opportunities by saying yes to those presented to you is a great way to lead to more options and avenues. Even if you aren’t 100% sure of the proposal, you can always change your mind further down the path. When in doubt, say yes!