Phoebe Watt talks to expats who are making it happen in New York City.
FQ: Where did you grow up?
Michelle: I was raised in South Auckland and later moved to Epsom, where I attended St Cuthbert’s College. My mother worked extremely hard to provide my siblings and
I with the best opportunities, and education was of particular importance. As they say, you are never poor with high education.
What was the appeal of New York?
The time limit on the J-1 [student] visa. I had to apply within a year of graduating, so that made going there a priority over anywhere else.
When did you move?
July 2009. I could only bring two suitcases, but that didn’t stop me packing a ton of very large, fashion coffee-table books to keep me inspired. The move was meant to be temporary, but in my heart of hearts, I knew it would be a while before I was back in New Zealand.
What was your first week like?
It was tough. No one would rent me an apartment, as I did not have social security, a job to guarantee income, or a USA-based guarantor. After a week I was literally looking to sleep on the subway when I finally found a place – I think the realtor felt sorry for me. The day I moved in he left a burrito on my doorstep, as he knew I did not know where to get food. My bed was delivered just as I was making a nest out of clothes on the floor. It was one of the best nights of my life.
How did you get your first job?
Against everyone’s advice I found my first job on Craigslist. It was a role at a small, luxury, exotic-skin handbag company. I was working 80-90 hours a week on a salary that barely paid my rent, but I was so grateful.
When did you get your big break?
When I got fired. Finding myself back at square one, I had no choice but to make fear my friend and throw my mind, body and soul into making my dreams a reality. I started building my business, MYN North America, and after being named one of Worth’s ‘Top 20 Young Entrepreneurs in America’ I was shortlisted for Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’.
“You need a good, trustworthy accountant. Oh, and lawyers. Get as many on your side as possible.”
What is MYN North America?
It’s a digital agency that works to improve revenue for brands targeting the USA market. We help many high-profile companies with their advertising and branding, web development, social media and PR strategies, among other things. We are currently looking at opening agencies in other cities and countries.
What other work do you do?
In 2015 we launched a philanthropic arm of the business, MYN Hope. We team up with other organisations to create events that will raise awareness of human rights abuses around the world. An event we’re currently working on is a collaboration with Flywheel Sports, called #werodeforfreedom. It’s a spin class with seats being sold to fund the Yazda organisation’s fight against ISIS. We have another event planned after that to aid the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Tell us about setting up a business in the USA.
You need a good, trustworthy accountant. Oh, and lawyers. Get as many on your side as possible. Filing a corporation is easy – it’s the stuff that comes next that you’ll need help with.
Was there a moment where you thought your New York dream might fall apart?
Too many times to count. I booked so many tickets home, only to cancel them at the last minute. The fear never leaves, you just learn to make it what drives you. It helps talking to someone. My poor mother used to answer my calls at 3am just to hear me cry. But knowing that she would always pick up the phone, regardless of the time, that was my saviour.
Did you have a support network when you first arrived in NYC?
No, and it wasn’t easy making friends, but eventually the people who are meant to be in your life – whether short or long term – will gravitate to you. My first night in the city I walked past a group of people laughing and eating at an outdoor restaurant, and I wished I had that. Now, I do.
Where are you living now?
In Gramercy on 3rd Avenue. Richard Gere lives around the corner.
What’s the best thing about New York?
There are endless possibilities, it’s just up to you to grab them. Nothing is impossible.
What’s your advice to anyone wanting to make the move?
You will never be prepared enough, so don’t worry about it. Take every challenge as it comes and just continue to be kind and open-minded.