The term “Buena Onda” was one of my favorite sayings I learned when living in Buenos Aires back in 2009. It means “Good vibes” and that is exactly what Madi Lang, the Founder of BA Cultural Concierge, has. I met Madi during my first or second week living in Argentina and was immediately drawn to her confidence and ambitious nature. At 25 she was successfully running two businesses (BA Cultural Concierge and Send Love BA) while living the dream as an expat living in BsAs. I was fortunate enough to work with and learn from with Madi during my stint in South America. Now 7 years since meeting her, she’s still helping travelers plan their visits to Buenos Aires.
1. What prompted you to move to Buenos Aires? Did you have a plan going down there?
You know that inside feeling that you're not in the *right* place for you? While my family is a huge part of my life & happiness, I just never felt super comfortable in suburban life in the US. I went to college a total prep with a ribbon in my hair and by the time I left, I was hanging out with the hippies and international students. I thought it was nuts that peers were putting on suits and ties for interviews at just 21 years old! I have this (scary) theory that we will live for 130 years so why start on the 9-5 grind when we are soooo young? Adults were constantly telling me, "Travel while you're young! I wish I had traveled more!" So after U of R, I took off on a 3-month journey through Egypt, Turkey and Europe. I was afraid to be alone for that long so I planned it out so that I had 2 weeks alone and then would meet up with friends or family for 2 weeks. The balance was awesome and my eyes totally bugged out of my head seeing all of the cool local scenes, lifestyles and simple surprises of foreign daily life.
I was in Barcelona when my trip was almost up. Panic attack -- I had to decide what to do next! Nothing about going 'home' interested me so I imagined...how hard would it be to start a life somewhere else?
Having grown up on Saved by the Bell, 90210 and Full House, I was pretty sure I'd seen "how it would all turn out" if I stayed and that was the most unexciting future I could imagine.
I figured I could learn Spanish (Dad liked that I could put it on my resume) and I could live in a big city in South America (never done either) and then I knew I also wanted a place where it wasn't hot all year round. So Buenos Aires or Santiago? Anyone who has been to either place will tell you why Buenos Aires won. I didn't research much at all and everyday ... even 9 years later... i'm still in love with the city and am surprised everyday.
2. What has been the biggest challenge and greatest advantage to starting a business in a foreign country?
Greatest advantage is that Argentina is pretty laissez-faire (let's call it) in general so there is no big hurdle to starting a business besides putting up a website and going about your business. It's the perfect place for a start up.
The biggest challenge is managing client expectations in such a mercurial and stably-unstable environment. This is a challenge but also so much fun. It's part of my job to make sure that those who travel to Argentina with BA Cultural Concierge can understand (and avoid) the imperfections and thus be able to fall in love and enjoy Buenos Aires & Argentina right off the bat.
3. If you were to have a conversation with you 21 year old self do you think she would be surprised that you are still in BsAs?
When I was 19 I studied abroad one summer in Perugia, Italy. The girl who was our local coordinator was from the US, was having a hot affair with an Italian, took us to amazing places we would never have found on our own and I remember thinking... I want to do that!!! So...would Madi at 21 be surprised? I think she would be soooooooooo excited that her smile would light up all of Umbria.
4. Back in 2009 you created Send Love BA, what happened to the business? Is it best to focus on one business at a time?
Send Love BA was a total homage to my grandma, Silvia Bach Lang. She had 11 grandkids and made us all care packages and sent them to us when we went to camp. It was pure love. The idea is a great one but unlike BA Cultural Concierge, there is a lot of overhead like fresh inventory, lots of marketing, packaging, delivery costs and a more sophisticated website. I let both businesses progress naturally and BACC was the clear winner. Basically no overhead, a very willing and wide market, no need to rely on importing supplies (important in Arg!!) and I realized that being a concierge, I could be the best. It's what I love and what I'm good at. For Send Love, I had the communication part down but not the design details nor the desire to hard sell to abroad programs where my target market (the parents) were actually pretty hard to reach. I hope someone picks up the idea of Send Love and rocks it!!!!!
5. Putting on your concierge hat what are 3 things we must do if we are in Buenos Aires?
1. Stroll Avenida de Mayo from Plaza de Mayo to the 9 de Julio, stop for a coffee and people watching at London City along the way and bliss out over the beautiful eclectic buildings and trees that line our main boulevard. Tip -- when the traffic lights go red on the Av., walk to the middle of the cross walk and look west (away from the Casa Rosada) -- you'll see the striking bronze-plated dome of the Congress Building popping through the tunnel of trees, busy city walkers & fine architecture.
2. Take a tour with Juan of BACC to La Boca! La Boca is a "must see" but it is totally underrated. If you go on your own, it looks like a total tourist trap and people say it’s dangerous to go off the beaten track. Come with us and you'll fall in love with the neighbors, their stories, the street art, buildings of colors and faded elegance and the amazing history of contraband, music and industry that defines Buenos Aires.
3. Try mate with a local in one of our many beautiful parks & plazas. From the Botanical Garden and the Rosedal to the newly refurbished neighborhood plazas, here you will see real life as it happens. Kids playing, friends sharing mate, gentlemen playing chess --- the simple things that remind you to smile and enjoy.