Jesper Løvendahl – DABGO & Expatride Founder’s Life in South Florida

The new Euros of Hollywood reality show has brought some new European faces to our attention, we met Massimo already. Let’s move to the other side of America. Florida – to meet an interesting Dane.

Please tell us about yourself, Jesper.

My name is Jesper Løvendahl, born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark. I am the founder of Denmark’s largest international business network DABGO with over 10,000 members globally. A network created to make a positive difference on Denmark’s international trade and Danish business peoples opportunities globally. It is a non-profit network driven by over 100 volunteers in 37 different cities.

DABGO has had such a positive impact on so many Danish people and companies that the leading independent think tank in Scandinavia “Mandag Morgen” chose me as being part of “The New Elite” of Denmark. A group of people who will be part of paving the future for Denmark. This year I was also included in “Krak’s Blue Book” 2014/2015 edition (a who’s who of Denmark). The book contains life stories of approx. 8,000 living Danish women and men who has a significant positive influence on Danish society.

DABGO is a spare time project that is completely philanthropy, so for income I have my own company ExpatRide International – www.ExpatRide.com . A company I created to assist expats with car leasing, financing, insurance and rentals in the U.S: and internationally.

My first expat experience was as a teenager where I lived with my family in Singapore for three years. My next adventure abroad was as an expat in Munich, Germany working for a start-up internet company. For the past 9 years I have been living in the U.S.

Working with expats, Danish or other nationalities, is a passion for me. All my time (minus family, friends and sports) are spend on expat related activities. In 2007 I was awarded the prestigious position as President of the Danish American Chamber of Commerce New York. The youngest president ever. A position I held until we moved to South Florida.

In 2012 His Royal Highness Prince Joachim of Denmark presented me with the honorary title “Copenhagen Goodwill Ambassador” for the voluntary work I do for Copenhagen.

What do you enjoy most about life in South Florida, now when you have more experience, how’s the quality of life compared to Denmark, other European cities..?

Quality of life can be defined in two categories when comparing Denmark and South Florida: “Happy and secure” and “Luxury and sunny”.
In South Florida we have more affordable access to luxury experiences such as homes, restaurants, cars and events. The weather is usually good or great, and coming from Denmark I highly appreciate the many sunny days. Life in Florida is good if you have a good steady income. What I don’t like is the liberal gun laws, very confusing health insurance scheme, exploitation of the poor and lower middle class and lack of trust in others.
Opposite in Denmark access to luxury is expensive (especially cars) and the weather is grey most of the time. But school is free, healthcare is free, poor people as defined in the U.S. does not exist and there is a high level of trust in other people and the government in general. This gives you a much more happy and secure feeling when raising kids, because no matter what happens to you and your income, your kids will still have the same opportunities in life.
The above is also the reason why we next summer will move to Denmark for some years to give the kids the Danish culture, language and way of thinking. Both kids (a boy and a girl) are born here in the U.S., so this will be their first expat experience.

Do you feel South Florida is a good place for you as an entrepreneur right now? Are there any areas expats like you might like in the USA in your opinion (entrepreneurs/startups WHY??

South Florida is a great place to be an entrepreneur if you are not building a company in need of venture capital money. If you have a great service and your customers are across the U.S. or globally, it really doesn’t matter where you set up your shop, so why not do it in sunny South Florida. Rent is cheap, no state tax and access to skilled labor.

When I lived in New York I was the President of the Danish American Chamber of Commerce and I often met Danish business people planning to move to New York to start a company or open up an office. My first question was always “Where are your customers in the U.S.?”. Most would say all over the U.S., and would tell them that in for example Dallas their money would last three times longer than in New York. Since new markets in general takes three times longer to penetrate than expected, their investment in the U.S. market would be safer outside the metropolitan areas of New York, LA, Chicago and San Francisco. This was not something most people wanted to hear as they had a personal dream of living in New York, but as I told them once you have made your millions you can live anywhere.

How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?

What public transportation! Here in South Florida you really cannot do without a car. Maybe as a single person you can ride a scooter for short distances if you live in Miami or Fort Lauderdale.

How did you end up starting the kind of business you do? What about your business network for Danes?

The idea for ExpatRide www.ExpatRide.com came from my own negative experience with trying to lease a car in 2005 in New York, without having a U.S. credit history. It took more than 6-7 weeks to get the paperwork ready, I paid a fortune in interest rates and got a very inflexible lease. So when the credit crunch happened end of 2008, and I was ready to start something on my own, I thought why not try to solve the expat car leasing, financing and insurance challenge for new expats in the U.S.
We now service expats with car leasing/financing in 14 countries, car rentals in 100 countries and auto insurance in 150 countries. Our services are not just limited to simple leases or financing options. In China, we service Fortune 500 clients with car and chauffeur service and in Mexico we not only offer chauffeur service, but also armored cars and bodyguards.
DABGO (www.dabgo.com) was started after reading Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Never Eat Alone”, as this book gave me a big kick in the butt in regards to making an honest effort in building my professional network. I basically created the network to make it possible for myself to locate where interesting Danish business people lived and worked in the U.S., so that I could contact them on my many business travels around the U.S. After putting over 500 hours into searching for Danes across the U.S. I launched the network, and it quickly became a success. So big that we had to branch it out to other countries/regions around the world. We now have over 10,000 members globally and can reach about 20,000 via our Linkedin groups and Facebook groups.
One thing which was very important to me when I started DABGO and I have been “religious” about, is the fact that it will never cost money to be a member of DABGO. As soon as you start charging for membership you will lose the opportunity to help many of the Danish business people who needs help the most. This is in direct contrast to how many chambers of commerce operates. DABGO is not for sale, and if I was ever to hand over the “ownership” of DABGO, it would be to give it to the Danish people and thereby the Danish government.
Since starting DABGO I rarely ever “Eat Alone”. In 2007 we launched our first “Stambord”, which is a Danish expression for a regular meet-up table, in New York. The concept is simple, we meet up every first Wednesday of the month, same place and same time. It does not cost anything to attend apart from your own drinks and food. The Stambord was created as an alternative to many other events created by Danish organizations in New York where it would cost money to attend, you needed to register and the events would be at random dates. With this concept we created a regular meet up which people could put in their calendar for years to come and we opened it up to another segment of Danes who either didn’t have the money to attend the paid events or felt intimidated by the formal set up of these events.
Stambord is now present in 37 different cities around the world, and is growing on a consisten basis. It’s all coordinated by over 100 volunteers, who give their time and energy to better for other Danes.
The mantra of DABGO is “It’s not about who you know or who knows you, it’s all about who and how many you’ve helped!”.

Do you have other startup projects going on?

I have two other expat services which I am working on. www.24expat.com is a “portal” of most of the relevant services an expat will need when moving to the U.S. It is created in a very simple way which makes the service providers come to you, instead of the expat having to chase down or locate the expat specialized providers able to assist.
My newest is www.MyCloudNumber.com as telephone number service, making it easy for family and friends to call the expat overseas. The service makes it possible to receive calls through a local number in your native country from only $3 monthly.
In my home country Denmark I have together with a good friend launched a service that offers expat kids Danish lessons while they are on vacation in Denmark. This service is offered via the DABGO network www.dabgofamily.dk.
I got many other ideas for expat related services, so there will be many more launched over the years to come.

Which are the best places/suburbs to live in South Florida as an expat in your opinion?

If you’re a single or couple without kids Miami Beach or the Brickell area downtown Miami is great. If you have kids then Boca Raton and Delray Beach are the best places.

Do you go out a lot – hobbies? Or is everything about work right now?

I took up road biking a couple of years ago, and go riding 3-4 times a week. There is a great road biking community in Boca area. I go to the gym and every few weeks I play soccer with my Danish friends in Miami. If I had a bit more time I would love to start windsurfing again, something I did when I lived in Denmark.

What are the locals like; do you feel you mix mainly with other expats?

South of Fort Lauderdale most of the locals are South Americans. North of Fort Lauderdale you’ll see a lot of people from the North East. My closest friends are Danish. I guess due to my involvement in Danish networking. All my employees are Swedish and my road bike friends are mostly Danes or Americans.

Did you think it is easy meeting people/other startups and making friends Miami?

Nothing is easy when it comes to meeting new people, it depends on your own level of activity. These days with many different Facebook groups and EuroCircle it’s easy to find opportunities to meet other likeminded people, just about anywhere.

What’s the economic climate like in Miami, how would you compare it to the Denmark? Why? How does the work culture differ from Denmark?

The economic climate is on the up, and you see more real estate investments everywhere. The economical improvements are not as evenly spread as in Denmark, but hopefully a higher minimum wage will be able to improve the large inequality in the state.
Work culture is completely different. In Florida it is very much the carrot & stick management philosophy. A philosophy that does not install much loyalty for the employer. In Denmark there is a much higher level of trust in the individual employee, pay is averagely better and with a minimum of three months notice of termination, the employees are also more secure in their jobs and therefore tend to apply more of themselves in their jobs to the benefit of the employer.

Did you have any misconceptions about South Florida that have turned out to be super wrong….or vice versa, you thought something will be great and it is exactly the other way around?

I really didn’t know anything about South Florida when we moved down here, so it was a bit like an adventure to discover our new surroundings. One thing that was a pleasant surprise was the active lifestyle and the many friends my family and I have made through sports activities either on the road or in the gym.

Do you think your career (business) would be the same in Denmark – or does this work better for you? Either way, please explain more.

My career opportunities would no doubt be better in Denmark than here in the U.S., due to my large global network which I could utilize better in Denmark. In regards to my business it works better here than it would in Denmark. This is largely due to the nature of the services we provide and that the U.S. market is by far much more interesting than the Danish market. The plan is to open up a European office to better support our European partners and customers.

What are your favorite restaurants/bars in Miami – why ?

Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Great lobby bar, home of LIV nightclub and great pool/drinks area ocean side.

Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals or contemplating a move to South Florida – especially for a startup??

A Startup in South Florida is more about combining affordable overheads with a great lifestyle. If your company is not limited to one geographic location for your customers, then South Florida will be a great place for startup. But my advice is to keep it no further south than Fort Lauderdale as the work mentality is more European/North East USA than south of Fort Lauderdale where its more South American, which of course will be an advantage if targeting the South American market.

Denmark is known as the happiest nation in the world. Danes may be difficult at first to get in contact with, but if you manage to break down the barriers, you will have a friend for life.
Nordic food culture is gaining a lot of interest after the world’s best restaurant “Noma” for 4 years is Danish and serves Nordic inspired food.
Danish world famous products are Lego, Bang & Olufson, Pandora, Fritz Hansen, George Jensen and Carlsberg.

Elevator speech about Copenhagen?


YouTube video: 36 Hours in Copenhagen | The New York Times

Jesper at Facebook
Jesper at Linkedin
Jesper at EuroCircle

WEBSITES:
www.ExpatRide.com
www.DABGO.com