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  EthoTech, Inc.
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The Partner Channel

Many people think about packing up and moving to their version of paradise, but John Stulak, President of EthoTech, and his family actually did it. Their move to Costa Rica amidst him running a software company and having a school-age daughter was made possible through Stulak’s mantra, “all I need is a laptop and internet, and I’m good to go.” Stulak sat down with The Partner Channel to talk about his year in Costa Rica, how it affected his business and family, and the way he now considers the future for both.

The Partner Channel (TPC): What made you consider a move to Costa Rica?
John Stulak (JS): I was intrigued when I read a book called The Blue Zones, which explores pockets of the world that have large populations of centenarians (people who live to be 100 years old). The book is about what they do, what they eat, and how they live. One of the zones is the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica, and after reading the book and learning about that area, my wife and I started to think realistically about making a move.

Nosara, Costa Rica

One of the top considerations with the move was if we could get our daughter a good education. Second was, can I work there effectively? We chose the village of Nosara on the Nicoyan peninsula as it has a successful, Montessori-based school. Next, since Nosara is in the jungle, I needed to find out if I could have reliable internet access. Turns out I could.

Once we found all of this, we put our house on the market. We sold our house, completely furnished, within a matter of days. Then we literally purged everything else we owned. When we left, we brought with us our clothes, pets, and my laptop - that’s it.

TPC: What did you originally hope to gain or experience with this move?
JS: When people ask me why I moved, I say it was for a change of lifestyle and to experience another culture. We had the most wonderful experiences there from interacting with people from many other countries – Switzerland, Holland, and Germany, to name a few – and learning a second language, Spanish. We’re not fluent – our daughter is! – but we’re getting there. Most of all, we really wanted to learn how to simplify our lifestyle.

TPC: What was your biggest culture shock experience?
JS: When we landed in Costa Rica, everyone was speaking another language. Since we didn’t speak Spanish at that point, we were basically immersed into a world where we didn’t understand anything so it was hard to communicate at first. We resorted to a lot of hand gestures and quickly found those around us who spoke English.

Another culture shock experience came from living in the jungle. There were no street lights or no real roads, so when the sun went down between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., it was dark. If the moon was out you had some light, otherwise, it was pitch black. The next morning, the sun rose between 5:00 and 6:00am which actually made for a pretty great schedule. You had 12 full, sunfilled hours to be productive, and then the remainder of your evening was devoted to family, dinner, and rest. It’s much easier to be healthy there. The Costa Ricans’ simplified lifestyle is a key factor to their longevity. Our sensory overload in the United States makes it difficult to maintain a simplified lifestyle.

Nosara Traffic

TPC: What was it like coming back to the United States?
JS: After spending a few months there, I flew into the Atlanta airport and could barely handle being back. It opened my eyes to things I wasn’t seeing before. I call this state of mind “Costa Rica mode.” My goal is to not get sucked back in to a hectic lifestyle.

TPC: I like the idea of “Costa Rica mode.” How are you going to keep that going?
JS: I’m trying to maintain the same type of schedule. The whole year we were down there, we didn’t have a television. We don’t have one now and don’t plan on getting one. If you get rid of yours, you’ll have a beyond great experience. You end up having incredible conversations and getting more creative with your time. My daughter started writing and drawing, and as a family we played games or just sat and looked at the stars.

A lot of it is maintaining the same mental state we had down there. We lived in a surf community there, and everyone waves at one another everywhere you go. It’s like the whole city is your neighborhood, and eventually you get to know people. We’re trying to bring that back here, to be pleasant with everyone, and smile and wave. Costa Ricans really cared about each other. It was all about families helping families. The only thing I don’t know how to duplicate is the howler monkey alarm clock. They would literally wake us up every morning, in addition to the birds, horses, and roosters.

TPC: Sounds like you really were out there in the elements! Did you tell customers and partners where you were when you were there?
JS: Since EthoTech provides remote demos and implementations anyway, we didn’t bring up my location most of the time. Sometimes the howler monkeys would start screaming or a flock of parrots would fly over, though, and at that moment our customer or partner could tell I wasn’t just sitting in an office in Georgia. They would ask where I was, and it was really cool because then they had a lot of questions and started putting themselves in my shoes. It gave me a chance to inspire them and connect on another level.

One time in the middle of a presentation I looked over to the screen door and saw my cat holding an iguana by the neck. I blurted out, "Oh my gosh – you have an iguana by the neck, Rainbow!" And then I realized I said it aloud. I thought, if nobody says anything, I'll just keep going and pretend that didn’t happen. And then somebody said, “uh…John? Is everything okay?” So I told them what was going on.

Afterwards I thought about it a lot, wondering if I messed up my opportunity with them. And then I had the thought - most people are buying into a relationship and getting to know somebody is an important part of creating that relationship. This was a novel way of letting them know who we are and what we're doing. As a whole, we’re a company that's not afraid to be ourselves,
take some risks, and do some unusual things.

TPC: What’s been the biggest challenge being back in the states?
JS: Because of the simplified life style and consistent days (sun up at 5:00 a.m., down at 5:00 p.m.), I felt like I was more productive there than I am here. It's been a challenge to me to maintain that same level of productivity because we have a more complex way of living in the states.

The Stulaks 

TPC: Looking back, what’s the most significant thing you gained from living in Costa Rica?
JS: We brought home the aspect of keeping things simple. It was not only great for my family, but great for EthoTech for me to have this insight. Keeping things simple has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my surroundings and to focus on what I want – and need – to do going forward.

TPC: What's been the biggest change to your company since your return?
JS: We recently hired a senior-level person who is going to help us with our corporate strategy. In deciding where EthoTech is going,
how we’re going to get there, and who's going with us, the "who" is most important. Now I've got the right team in place to move forward. I don’t know if I would have reached that point this quickly had I not had that rich experience in Costa Rica. Another outcome is that we have seen some strong activity from Partners in Central America. One Partner really committed to us
and has done quite a nice job.


TPC: Do you have plans to move back to Costa Rica? Or would you choose a different place?

JS: One of the things we experienced by living in another country is that we met many people who are very adventurous and had all lived in multiple countries. I asked my wife what country we should go to next. We were thinking Spain because we’re committed to being bilingual, and we’d be able to become better at our Spanish. We’ll likely go back to Costa Rica to visit, but we’d like to live somewhere else as well.

One thing I’ve proven to myself, my Partners, and my customers is that EthoTech can operate from anywhere in the world. The nice thing about technology is that I can hire someone from anywhere, allowing me access to the right people in order to grow EthoTech. I tested this in what seemed like the least desirable place for a tech company and it worked with just an internet connection and a laptop.