Daydream Believer   4 Jun 2009

Rose Button

A list of challenges long enough to put off the most avid entrepreneur couldn’t deter Rose Button from her dream of owning a chain of guesthouses in Morocco. In her own words, the Kiwi engineer tells us about feeling the fear and doing it anyway with the launch of Buttons Inn.

Three years ago I was thinking about what I would do if I won the lottery or retired and the answer each time was to travel the world. So, I told myself, if that’s what I want to do, why not do it now and have a business in different countries? That way, I reasoned, I’d get to travel for my business. And furthermore, since I enjoying meeting people, the business concept was to be guesthouses. 
A year later I holidayed in Morocco and straight away knew my guesthouses would be in this country. I felt connected to Morocco. It’s full of mystic and cultural experiences, and, as a bonus, is close to England. It’s also a place to holiday year round, and reason told me to proceed when I learned I could buy a house for £25,000.
I’d been talking about the idea for awhile but it wasn’t until I attended a personal development seminar that I came to the realisation I needed to get out of my comfort zone. Straight after the seminar I looked in my diary for a free weekend and booked a flight from London to Fez for six weeks later.
However after clicking ‘Pay’, it wasn’t long before I fell prey to my fears and made a list of reasons not to go ahead. In my mind these were plentiful - things like I didn’t speak French (in Morocco locals speak French and Arabic), I didn’t have the money, I didn’t know how to buy a house in Morocco, I didn’t even know if foreigners can have a business in Morocco, I knew nothing about running a guesthouse – or even a business for that matter.
Predictably, I freaked out! But on the other hand, I also trusted that I all I had to do was get on the plane and the universe would handle the rest.  Destiny did not disappoint me. At the airport I met Mike Richardson, the English owner of Cafe Clock in Fez (see Morocco Lonely Planet) and to make a rather long story short, this random man that I met at the airport and I are the first non-Muslims to buy a house in Moulay Idriss, the most important Islamic city in Morocco. This house is the first of what I hope will be chain of guesthouses across the top of Morocco, and is known as Buttons Inn Moulay Idriss. 
Mike’s ‘can-do’ attitude, entrepreneurial spirit and vision have been augmented by the able assistance of a 21-year-old Moroccan tour guide from Moulay Idriss named Faissal. Faissal has become our restoration project manager. He listens to what we want, finds the workers to do the job, and translates our English to Arabic and their Arabic to English and things get done. Now tell me, where else but Morocco can you pick up a business partner, project manager and a property en route to destiny?
While Mike and Faissal remodel Buttons Inn Moulay Idriss, I am working in my full time job as a chemical engineer based in Manchester, England. I travel to Morocco every two months to pinch myself and to make sure Buttons Inn continues to evolve from a dream to a reality. 
Buttons Inn Moulay Idriss will be run by local people while I live in England and work to create the next link in the chain of guesthouses across Morocco.  Faissal will take care of the guests and we plan to employ local people to prepare the food, clean and tidy the rooms, and organise local tours, craft and cooking workshops.
The grand plan is to create four to five Buttons Inns across the north of Morocco. Buttons Inn Fez has been purchased and I am waiting for tenants to leave (which is a story in itself). And while that’s the plan at the moment, I’m quite open to the fact that life may turn out differently. 
Morocco can be a challenging place to be both non-Muslim and a foreigner. What you imagine is a straightforward procedure can sometimes drive you to despair – a case in point, being the mind bending tour of five separate offices to gain official permission for the guesthouse. Etiquette, protocol, language and the very mindset of people are so different but must be acknowledged and respected in order to function. Every day presents a lesson in cultural differences yet gives fascinating insights into my preconceived notions. 
As a woman I’m constantly being asked why I would want to have a business in Morocco, because in Morocco women typically want to get married and raise a family. And it is difficult not be distracted by all the gorgeous, charming, relentless, persuasive, respectful, playful men wanting to propose.
Locals believe that a westerner has money to throw away and the reality is that, compared to them, we do.  A 27-year old Moroccan friend is the head of his family and is responsible for his mother, three sisters and younger brother – providing their accommodation, food, clothing, entertainment and schooling – all on a salary of 2500 dirhams (about £200) a month.
And of course there are times when the challenge has come from within myself, wanting to quit when it all feels too difficult, when we need more money for the bathrooms or electrical work, or when I look up at the roof of the house and see the beams need replacing.
Despite this, I would recommend other New Zealanders consider conducting business in Morocco as there are many opportunities. The Moroccan government have a 2010 vision to host 10 million visitors a year and are very supportive of foreign investors.  Be warned though; this is a place you’d best enter with your heart open and with a willingness to be vulnerable and live life the Moroccan way.
Looking back to the original list of reasons I made against following my dream, well, they’ve all but disappeared – I now communicate comfortably in French and Arabic, my work and savings have created the money and soon the business will create more, I know how to buy a house in Morocco and now own two, I have a business in Morocco and Buttons Inn Moulay Idriss is now in Lonely Planet.  It is empowering to have taken this giant leap of faith and stepped out of my comfort zone to follow my dreams.

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