Startup Nomad Interview with Angela Cois (Mexico)

This week’s Startup Nomad interview is with Angela Cois, the COO and Cofounder of LastRoom. She’s an Italian who relocated to Mexico many years ago and has been involved in the startup community practically since it began to grow in Mexico. The idea for her company was actually born during a Startup Weekend back in 2010.

Like many of the other people I spoke to in Latin America, Angela says that a lack of capital is really holding the ecosystem back.

“It’s a big problem,” she told me. “There is money but it’s difficult to catch the interest of an investor. There are plenty of traditional investors…but e-commerce or digital tech companies are quite far from their knowledge or perception and they see it as a very high risk investment.”

In her opinion, this is especially true in the so-called ‘valley of death,’ the time between a startup company’s initial seed funding and when it can generate enough revenue to sustain itself. Here in Mexico, specifically, she noted that accelerator programs and other seed funds have helped improve access to the very initial seed money needed to create a minimum viable product and launch; between this initial investment and the time that the company is generating revenue and needs growth capital of $1 million dollars or more, however, there are almost no options for funding, “unless you know people.”

“It’s a pity that very good projects just die because they run out of money,” she said.

She thinks that aversion to earlier stage investments in tech companies can and will change, however.

“It’s a culture,” she said. “It’s a culture that is gradually growing the last few years thanks to events and to a lot of initiatives that people are doing to promote the ecosystem, but this kind of sensibility or culture is not so strong here [yet].”

She believes that the cultural change and the growth in access to capital must come from the people on the ground in the entrepreneurial ecosystem here, not from government initiatives.

“It’s a matter of entrepreneurs, of people,” she told me.”And of investors; because without money you can’t keep on trying. You could have the best business model but if you don’t have money you can try for 3 months or 6 months and then you have to stop, you have to give up…

…I think that this organic growth can come from both sides:,” she continued. “From entrepreneurs and investors. We have to learn, both sides, we have to learn a lot.”

Along those same lines, Angela expressed another common sentiment among the Latin American entrepreneurs with whom I’ve spoken: that the ecosystem needs to see local role models in order to reach its full potential.

“We need to learn  a lot because we don’t have great role models here,” she said. “We are the first doing this. It’s not the same as Silicon Valley.”

So what is Angela’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Start your own business when you have personal savings [to fund it] and when you’re more mature in how you utilize your personal resources” she said. “It makes you more serious if you’re trying to figure out the best way to spend your money, focusing only on your priorities and on your core business, and this is very important because it makes you more concentrated. It’s a great thing for entrepreneurs.”

 

Startup Nomad Interview with Santiago Saviñón (Mexico)

Next up in my Mexico remix of Startup Nomad I spoke with Santiago Saviñón of PingStamp, a digital loyalty program for merchants.

While Santiago noted that, “it’s exciting to see,” the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City rapidly growing and maturing and that, “the market is definitely ready,” to be able to sustain a thriving startup community, he still considers it to be, “a struggling ecosystem.”

“It’s not even close to the sophistication that you guys have in the States,” he told me. “There are definitely many things missing from the ecosystem here.”

Just like many others that I spoke to in Latin America, he feels that access to capital is perhaps the biggest hurdle that the entrepreneurial ecosystem currently faces.

There are entrepreneurs that “know how to get a company and actually make it happen,” he told me, “but sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to do it because there’s no money around…It’s a lot harder to get a next round and just keep the ball rolling…[Latin America] is growing at an incredible pace, internet and smart phone penetration are growing exponentially, but still the money is not coming.”

He continues on to clarify, however, that there are plenty of investors and plenty of money in Mexico. The problem is that most of these investors are not comfortable with early stage investments in tech startups and prefer to focus on bricks and mortar operations who’ve already been able to produce sizable profits. “The money is there  in Mexico,” Santiago said, “educated people, and VCs, and angel investors, they’re all there. They’re just not still comfortable…They still haven’t wrapped their minds around the fact that a startup needs a lot more runway.”

That’s at least partly due to the fact that the investors don’t have any major success stories to turn to as examples of the opportunity that lies within early stage investing.

“Not having exits is definitely a problem,” Santiago said. “I think it’s going to take at least a few years to have a few success stories that can maybe lobby their way into some kind of change in terms of legal and banking issues.”

At the same time that Santiago sees access to capital as a major hurdle to the entrepreneurial ecosystem’s growth, however, he does see a number of positives that position Mexico for success as an entrepreneurship hub and indicate that it will continue to develop rapidly over the next few years.

“The companies every day are getting more and more competitive,” he said.  “In the last year I’ve seen so many people that have had a foreign company acquire or acqui-hire them.”

While the valuations are still relatively low (“If you went to the US you could probably add another 0 to the negotiation,” he told me), the fact that they’re happening is a sign of development.  

Additionally, according to Santiago,

“the funding you have is a lot more efficient [in Mexico]. $300,000 in the US would maybe buy you 6 months of runway. In Mexico, $300,000 could let you run your company for 24 months. We take more advantage of every penny here.”

Because of these signs of growth, Santiago is extremely optimistic about the startup scene’s development and expects to see a mature ecosystem with many of the problems that are currently holding entrepreneurs back ironed out in less than 5 years. “At the rate it’s growing now I think maybe 2 or 3 years,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot going on…The few funds are really pushing everything forward because they’re the guys that know how to break down those political barriers, that know people from other countries that can help, that can really move this forward, because…

…the companies, and the entrepreneurs, and the young people with ideas and potential are definitely there.”

Between the involvement of the few investors that are active in the startup space and that of the entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs,

“[the startup community] is completely cooperative; it’s really fun,” Santiago told me. “We all know that if you don’t help someone out then the community will never grow as it should. Most of the time it’s a pretty awesome vibe and you feel important because it’s still a really small circle.”

Santiago believes that once Mexico’s startup ecosystem is able to produce a few success stories, that the ecosystem will turn a corner because entrepreneurs and investors alike will have an example to turn to. Interestingly, however, he feels that a few famous failures are just as important to the ecosystem’s development as the success stories are. “Once you get that money you need to know how to use it, what to do with it,” he said. 

“There are no success stories like a big exit…but there are also no magnificent fuck ups, which I think is necessary as well: someone to raise money and then burn it all to the ground to add value to let people know that raising money is not the final goal.”

So what’s Santiago’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? He has quite a bit actually:

Firstly: “Do it,” he said. “Just take the leap and brace yourself… and get ready for the roller coaster.”

Secondly:

“Surrounding yourself with the right people is key,” he stressed. “It has more of an effect than you could ever imagine, even more so in a community that is just starting out.”

And finally: “A startup that’s focusing on Mexico or Colombia or Brasil is making a mistake; you have to have a regional, a Latin-American view of where you want to go, where you want to be…and that’s a challenge: making something that’s scaleable in Latin America.”

 

Startup Nomad Interview with Beto Marquez (Mexico)

After my Latin American adventures last year I felt like Mexico City is just too big a city and I needed to come back and dig a little deeper into the entrepreneurial ecosystem before I head off to Spain (and maybe some other parts of Europe). My first interview back in D.F. was with Beto Marquez, the Marketing and Project Manager for NextLab Ventures Group.

Now that I’ve had time to explore a large chunk of the rest of Latin America (Mexico was my first stop on the Startup Nomad tour), I have a bit of a broader perspective on Mexico and its ecosystem, so it was interesting to come back to where I started with a more mature view of the overall Latin American ecosystem and Mexico’s place within it.

According to Beto,

“Mexico is seen like this country that is more Americanized than Latin Americanized…we’ve been kind of segregated from all of the activity and all of the agreements that they make. We’re not really a part of it.”

This is partly because of Mexico’s physical proximity to the U.S. and partly because of its sheer size. With a population of roughly 121 million and a GDP of just under 1.2 trillion USD (the next largest Spanish-speaking Latin American country has fewer than 50 million people), Mexico’s in a bit of a different position than it’s much smaller Latin American neighbors. That could explain why, despite its separation, it’s been attracting foreign entrepreneurs who want to set up their companies and lives in Mexico City.

“[The entrepreneurial ecosystem] is a really nice mix of Mexicans and foreigners,” Beto said, “but not as many from the United States.” 

While Mexico has a large enough market to sustain major business growth, however, there are still a number of issues holding back its entrepreneurial ecosystem, one of which being a lack of a mature investment ecosystem.

“The exits here are much more difficult than in the US,” Beto told me.

“Going for an IPO is not really a likely exit option here, so it’s not attractive for investors to take risks on startups here. What I have seen is a VC invests and then a bigger VC buys out the first VC but, eventually, the biggest VC firm has to IPO the company and that’s where it gets it’s return. But here that cycle gets cut off because there isn’t a proper way to make a company public” and so investors have reduced potential for successful exits.

Because of that, Beto believes that,

“the biggest challenge [to the ecosystem] is the investor part.” He continued to say that, “we [Mexico] have some firms but we are really green. We are not even close to being mature yet.”

At the same time that the economic factors hold back the growth of Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, there are also cultural factors in play that make it more difficult for the startup scene to develop. “There are two issues that I’ve seen that I really struggle with in young people,” Beto said. “The first one is that, I don’t know why, but they are somewhat apathetic. You have to really push this entrepreneurial view of life…The other one is our culture. This is a country that has suffered a lot of macro-economic devaluations …and our parents have this way of seeing things that you have to work, you have to make money as fast as possible, and, most of all, not to take risks and not to take loans. So most young people still have this way of seeing things from their parents…

…We are not raised to take risks, just to get a job and ‘yeah, that’s life, deal with it.'” 

Beto believes that mentality is slowly changing, however.

“A lot of people more and more are trying to get out of this square way of thinking and be more entrepreneurial,” he said. “It’s definitely a trend here.”

Startup Nomad will have to come back to Mexico in a few years to see how the ecosystem has developed.

 

What’s your take on what Beto had to say about Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? Do you agree that both cultural and economic factors are holding it back? Please weigh in in the comments section below. 

Also, please let me know where I should go and whom I should interview next. Let me know below 🙂

Suggestions for Interviewees, Please!

2013 was an amazing first year living as an entrepreneurial nomad and I met and interviewed so many amazing people that I’m still posting about my journey in Latin America. Now it’s time for me to explore a little further though, and I would love your suggestions about where to go and whom to talk to.

Leave a comment below or hit me up on social media to let me know where you think I should go and whom you think I should interview. Thanks in advance!

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Carolina Pereira

My last visit in Colombia was to Carolina Pereira, the Chief Organizer of the English Startup Weekend in Bogotá.

Carolina sees the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colombia as growing, but still in its infancy.

“The [entrepreneurial] ecosystem in Colombia is still just starting,” she told me,  “at least in terms of technology and innovation entrepreneurship. The majority of the entrepreneurs are still either lifestyle entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs out of necessity and work in the informal economy.”

While she believes that the ecosystem has the potential to mature fully and to become vibrant, she sees a couple of major hurdles holding Colombia back.

Firstly, she identifies a lack of cultural acceptance of entrepreneurship as a legitimate career choice.

“We have a high level of education,” she said,  “but, in general, you’re not going to become an entrepreneur because the examples you have seen encourage you to get a good job, an established job. You study, you practice, you learn English and then you’re supposed to get a good job at a multinational company…If your parents pay for you to go to school to learn and to get a career, it’s not so you can start a business, it’s so you can get a good job.”

Secondly, Carolina says that there is a lack of capital for early stage entrepreneurs because most investors see startups as too risky an investment.

“Here, what you would call an angel investor really practically doesn’t exist,” she told me.

“Most of the people that have made money are industrialists. They’re more traditional and they don’t know startups and startup investments don’t interest them…”

She does admit, however, that,

“if you ask entrepreneurs, they will say there aren’t enough investors and there isn’t capital, but, if you ask investors, they will say there aren’t enough entrepreneurs with good projects.”

Even if the entrepreneurs are right about the lack of investors, that seems to be changing with the generations  as Carolina continued to say, “…but their [the traditional investors’] children are interested. They’re people that know technology, have studied outside of Colombia, and they’re trying to create a space for this type of investment.”

Additionally, as the ecosystem grows, “there is also another type of investor who was an entrepreneur, and loves entrepreneurship, and wants to help with mentoring, etc.” Combine those two trends with the heavily-funded government support for entrepreneurship and you can see that this capital crunch may be able to fix itself in Colombia in the near future.

So, where does Carolina see the entrepreneurial ecosystem in 5-10 years?

“There will be sustainable businesses. There will be successful businesses,” she said, “but, if we can get a home run, if there are 1 or 2 Colombian companies that are global successes, this will drastically help to improve the ecosystem.”

Carolina also feels that where Colombia’s ecosystem ends up depends greatly on who happens to be in power in the Colombian government.

“The government is supporting entrepreneurship with a lot of programs right now, but that could change. It will depend a lot on who will be the next president,” she said.

Overall, however,

“I’m optimistic,” she said. “I think that the growth is going to continue. I hope entrepreneurship will be an option for many people here, for many young people.”

 

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Andres Waldraff

This week’s interview is with Andres Waldraff. He is the Founder and Business Developer of NeXT Capital, the Founder and Editor of TECHcetera, a mentor for entrepreneurs at HubBOG, and a serial entrepreneur who has lived, studied, and/or worked in Latin America, the U.S., and Europe. I met him while I was at HubBOG to interview Rene Rojas as he was there giving feedback to entrepreneurs on their pitch presentations and I was excited to hear his thoughts on Colombia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and startup scene. He had some pretty unique perspectives so it was a very interesting conversation.

With all of his international experience, Andres told me that, “the entrepreneurial environment here [in Bogotá] is built on the same idea that Israel built.”

“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “I think most of it is working. What I think is not working is that they’re making it a little bit too easy for the entrepreneurs…

…There is a lot of money floating around. So-called entrepreneur experts which don’t add any value helping you apply for the funds..it’s a little too easy to get the money so what happens is entrepreneurs just go for the money and then they abandon their idea.”

Additionally, Andres argues that there are a few issues (ones that I have heard in my interviews throughout Latin America) that continue to hold Colombia back.

“Part of it is talent,” he said. “Part of it is access to certain resources. More and more people are speaking English but not everyone speaks English so if you are in the Bay area in the United States you go on the internet and you find a lot of resources. If you speak Spanish, you don’t get to have the same conversation.”

At the same time, “Colombians, for the most part, are not early adopters,” he told me. “We are followers here. So it makes it hard for the guys that come up with great new ideas to sell their innovations. People are not willing to test ideas here. We have a lot of mistrust. This country’s built on mistrust.”

The interest is definitely present in the city,however. “There are a lot of people coming back from other countries with great ideas, not willing to go into the corporate world, willing to work with entrepreneurial concepts,” he told me. However, just like throughout Latin America,

“we don’t have exits. We need someone to get big… Part of the problem is that most of the startups that got a head start don’t solve any particular big problems that the corporate world sees…not something that the corporate world is going to buy.”

Andres does see major potential for that to change, however and believes that the education industry will be first. “There is a lot going on in the education world,” he said. “I think education will give the first push, then healthcare is going to follow, then probably government.”

He also sees Colombia as having great potential as a starting point and/or base for companies to test and prove their concept before going after the larger Latin American market. However, he cautions that entrepreneurs must remember that Latin America is not a homogeneous region as they begin to expand.

“The markets are different; the particularities of every country are similar but not the same,” he told me. “Latin America is not the same; a Mexican is not like a Chilean. [However], if you do it in Colombia, which is a medium-sized country in Latin America, if you can make it work you can probably translate it to Brazil or to smaller countries later on to make it a pan-Latin-American company.”

Interestingly, Andres was the first person I spoke with that believed most of the new startups were NOT copy-cat companies imitating ideas already proven in the United States or Europe.

“Most of what I’ve seen is new ideas,” he said. “When you look at stuff, they end up being similar to other stuff that you’ve already seen, but they are not exactly the same. I think people here actually make an effort to ‘tropicalize’ the concept.”

Over the next few years, Andres hopes to see more entrepreneurs focusing on solving problems that have a major impact on Colombia and Colombians. Right now, he notes that most entrepreneurs are focused on a small subset of Colombian society. “Who has access to technology? The highest income segments,” he explained. “That is why everyone comes back with ideas for those segments, but that’s less than 5% of the population…There are some things that you can do that can have a huge impact in this country. I mean, we’ve had the same health system for almost a decade and a half and it still doesn’t work. The opportunities are there. How do you get people access to healthcare? How do you get people access to banks and banking?” 

Those are the questions that Andres hopes entrepreneurs in Colombia will begin to answer.

 

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Alan Colmenares

The next person I visited in Bogotá was Alan Colmenares. He’s the Director for the Founder Institute Colombia, Program Director for SocialAtom Ventures, the Founder/Principal at Tropical Gringo, and is an advisor and investor in a host of companies. He’s worked in Silicon Valley, on the east coast of the US, and in Latin America. He’s also the man who almost everyone else I spoke with in Colombia told me I must speak with, so I was very excited to meet him and pick his brain.

Alan is from the United States but has Colombian parents and has been living in Colombia for the past 18 years.

The first thing that Alan had to say about Colombia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem was that,

“it’s really far behind,”

and he thinks a large reason for that is the fact that,”everything is really slow. Things move slowly in general here,” and that includes entrepreneurs.  According to Alan,

“the speed of execution is the biggest difference [between Colombian startups and U.S. startups].”

Along those same lines, he notes that,  

“there is also a knowledge thing here – people want the expert to tell them what to do instead of just going and doing it. They don’t understand that they can do things by themselves.”

 

In addition to these cultural components slowing Colombia’s movement towards a fully developed startup scene, “internet penetration is lagging….[and] it’s harder to convert customers. People are much more scared to purchase, which is not the case in Brasil or even in Chile,” Alan told me.

Despite the setbacks, however, Alan sees Colombia as well-positioned to become a hub of startup activity.

“I actually see an amazing potential, although it has not yet been realized,” he said, “for Colombia to be a great launchpad in Latin America…It’s not a homogeneous region, which makes it much more challenging, but if you can actually pull it off it makes it much more valuable…

If you look at the size, it’s small enough to be something that you can manage, almost like an MVP market, but it’s big enough that it can mean something. It’s really a unique market to launch stuff out of out…

…That’s the promise. Let’s see if it comes to realization.”

Alan doesn’t think Colombia will be able to develop its ecosystem into a fully mature and self-sustaining one in the near future. However, as an investor, he sees great potential right now, even while the ecosystem is still young.

“I think it’s going to take awhile to get there,” he said, “but, in the meantime, in the next 5 years, I think there are great opportunities to invest in people who get it.”

Want to be one of the entrepreneurs who gets it? Alan recommends that entrepreneurs,

“don’t wait for the expert [to tell you how to build your company]…In history we’ve never had a time when you can have so much access to so much information, but people just haven’t caught up in their habits,” he said.

Go out there, find the information you need, and get moving. He also recommends that entrepreneurs let go of their perfectionism so that they can push forward. Today’s startup marketing techniques don’t require the crazy investments of billboards and television commercials, so new entrepreneurs shouldn’t seek perfection before getting the word out. They should get their product in front of as many people as possible and take advantage of that user feedback.  

At the same time, new entrepreneurs need to be able to look to the future and the big picture while working on operational excellence and not just trying to come up with a super innovative idea. As an investor, Alan says,

“the biggest obstacle to me is not valuations, it’s deal flow. There’s tons of deal flow but it’s a lot of garbage…I see a lot of people focused on one little thing but they don’t have a clear idea of why that’s interesting…The ones that are interesting to me are guys or women who can create amazing stuff and have a big vision: they say okay, we’re focused on this one little thing now but once we get it going we want to go here and here.” 

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Rene Rojas

Next up for Startup Nomad in Bogotá was a visit to HubBOG, a startup “campus” that includes acceleration, an academy, co-working space, and investment, to meet with Rene Rojas, the co-founder and CEO. He is also an entrepreneur and a mentor and investor for startups and has helped to create a number of programs to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bogotá.

According to Rene,

“Bogotá is growing.”

There are two large government agencies (AppsCo and iNNpulsa) supporting the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but both just started in 2012 so there is more work to be done.

“If you compare us to Silicon Valley,” Rene told me, “of course, we are at the beginning…

…I would focus more on the creation of institutions who make self-sustaining business goals [than on government agencies]: companies who encourage people to become an entrepreneur and who help startups or entrepreneurs to go to the next level. We need that sort of company. If we don’t create that type of company here then, when the government closes the tap [of money to support entrepreneurship], everything will be lost.”

“If you compare us to New York, we are closer to NY….

…Mayor Bloomberg is providing services to the startups and companies that really help startups through his policies,” Rene told me. “Here we need more policies, maybe some tax credits or other incentives to develop the industry.”

“If you compare us with Israel, Tel Aviv, it’s very difficult because it’s in the blood of the Israeli population to be an entrepreneur,” Rene said. “It’s a part of the culture. We don’t have that…

…We are very entrepreneurial but we are not startups. We have a lot of entrepreneurs in the areas of textiles or handmade products or services. We don’t have the industry for startups. We have to work on that.”

One of the key areas that needs to be developed in Colombia’s entrepreneurial community, according to Rene, is the business knowledge and capacity of the entrepreneurs and other players in the startup scene.

“In Colombia, we have a lot of very good talent in development and programming and in designers, but not necessarily in business,” Rene told me. “We have a very similar situation, like in other countries, that a lot of engineers create new solutions and new platforms without asking the market what they really need or what they want to be solved. We have to correct that. We have to train new people who want to learn business from a startup point of view.”

And, given the pace of technological growth and adoption of technology to make people’s lives easier such as e-commerce and the plethora of internet services and marketplaces, Rene believes that Colombia will get there soon.

“I think in 5 years – because of the speed of internet and because the government is doing well – we could make bigger spaces like HubBOG and we could have a better future,” he said. “I think we need 5 years; we don’t need more than that.”

Rene’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?:

“Don’t try to get money through your startup. The more interest you put in becoming a billionaire in a startup the closer to failure you are.

…If you put your attention on making money, you will lose. If you put your happiness before money, the money will appear…

…You have to create the curiosity in yourself because you don’t do anything for yourself if you don’t like it. If you create a company, never, never create a company in a product or service that you don’t like. Always create a company in a way of your happiness…

…Happiness is the big issue in human life so find your passion. Passion and then a lot of work…work, work, work hard.”

 

Are you familiar with the startup ecosystem in Colombia or anywhere else in the world? Let me know what you thought of Rene’s interview in the comments section below and if you know someone I should interview for an upcoming Startup Nomad post, drop me a line about that as well. 

Colombia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Carlos Castañeda

My next stop in Bogotá was to speak with Carlos Castañeda at Wayra. By now, you should all have a pretty good idea of what Wayra does as I’ve chatted with the Wayra teams in Chile, Argentina, and Peru before making it to Colombia. (If you’re just starting to follow Startup Nomad you can go back and take a look at the interviews with the other Wayra leaders here, here, and here. Instead of rehashing the Wayra discussion, Carlos and I jumped right into talking about what sets Colombia’s ecosystem apart from the others in the region and the world.

**Please note, my interview with Carlos was conducted in Spanish and I’ve paraphrased some of what he said.**

According to Carlos, a lot has changed in Colombia over the last 2.5 years. Previously, neither the government nor the private sector invested in startups so an entrepreneur who really wanted to build a new company had to go to a different country. In the last 2.5 years that has changed a lot, however, not only because of Wayra or because of the support of the government, but also because new investors have arrived in the country.

“We still don’t have an ecosystem that is fully developed,” he told me, “but we have one where we’re growing much faster than other countries on some metrics…

The number of people who are thinking about startups is greater and the talent is developing their technical capacity more…the coders are more skilled, the business people understand better how to get venture capital…

We’re raising the level…I’m confident that we will be the new hub in the region.”

Despite the rapid development, however, Carlos mentioned the same couple of issues that have continued to pop up with the majority of the people I spoke with throughout the region.

“The difficulty here is that we don’t have success stories and we don’t have access to capital,” he told me.“The investors here are more interested in traditional investments. They want to buy another building or something like that, not invest in a risky startup…[and] in Colombia there are very few people with a track record. Cases of major success don’t exist. We don’t have a rock star.”

Colombia is also still at the stage that many of the budding startups are still copy-cats of successful companies in other parts of the world. Carlos noted that it’s logical that there would be a lot of copy-cats because the development of things like e-commerce in the country are very low, even the adoption of the internet is very low. As Colombians gain access to and confidence in using these technologies, the opportunities are there for the copy-cats.

“It’s very different to build a startup here than to do it in San Francisco or in Tel Aviv. You have to understand the Latin American culture,” Carlos told me.

We also talked about the rivalry and differences between Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia’s two startup bastions. “I’m from here, I live here, I love it here, but I’m fascinated by what’s going on in Medellín,” Carlos said. From his perspective, Bogotá has a much larger population and the people know a little more about startups and the startup process but Medellín now has a program from the city government [Ruta N – you can read that interview here] to support the development of entrepreneurship. Additionally, in Bogotá, the majority of entrepreneurs are still Colombian. Unlike in Medellín where there is a huge population of foreign-born entrepreneurs, foreign entrepreneurs are just starting to arrive in Bogotá. Plus, Medellín is very small and all of the entrepreneurs congregate in one area so if you visit, you will see tons of them. In Bogotá everything is more spread out and there are many more people, so you won’t see the density of foreign entrepreneurs even though they are coming.

And Carlos’ advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “The first thing is to think like your customer. Think like your customer and how your product will solve their problems. Why would they spend their money or spend their time for your product or on your platform?”

 

Do you have experience with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bogotá? Let me know what you think of Carlos’ thoughts in the comments section below.