Crossing the Andes

Only 2 more weeks until the end of my list of suggestions for your travel bucket list. Of all of my adventures so far, these are the 10 things that stick out in my mind as the most memorable.

In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about Crossing the Andes.

When I traveled from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina last year, I decided to make a pit stop in Mendoza to get a taste of the Argentinian wine country. Instead of flying, I wanted to experience the zig-zagging roads that connect the two countries through the Andes, and I am definitely glad I did. The bus crossing was by far more entertaining than my time actually spent in Mendoza.

For more info, check out the video I took of some of the journey (it definitely does not do it justice) and/or read my original post on the crossing.

Argentina’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Juan Melano

My next stop in Buenos Aires was to speak with Juan Melano, one of the original organizers of Palermo Valley and the Founder of Comenta.tv, which is a portfolio company of the Wayra program in Argentina. Juan is a cancer survivor and after that experience he knew that he needed to find a way to have his dream job before he died, which is how he ended up in entrepreneurship.

Juan shared with me that Argentina’s biggest asset when it comes to entrepreneurship is its talent pool.  “If you’re starting your company here the good thing you’ll get is the human resources here…very good people who are very good at what they do,” he said. He continued:

“There are a lot of talented people here – very well-educated, very capable, very creative – and not very expensive compared to the United States…[Unlike in other countries, in Argentina] there is a lot of talent everywhere – a very good mix of engineers, of business people, of designers. It’s a very good mix to create.”

Because he recognized this talent pool in Argentina, Juan was one of the original supporters of Palermo Valley back in the mid-late 2000s. Through Palermo Valley, he said, Buenos Aires started to develop a real community of entrepreneurs. Before that there wasn’t a community and people didn’t share and communicate but Palermo Valley was able to start connecting people and an ecosystem began to develop. However, there was still a lack of capital because venture capitalists were the only source and they would only invest in copy-cats of U.S. based companies with already proven business models and that were designed to be quickly acquired when those U.S. companies decided to expand into Latin America. Truly innovative new companies didn’t have the opportunity to start or grow until more recently.

When Wayra, government programs, and other sources of capital started to come in to fund these truly innovative companies, it wasn’t long before the community really took off. “Now we have another problem,” Juan said, “that there are a lot of startups trying to raise an additional amount of money…We do have a great local ecosystem and I think everything is because of what happened in those early meetings at Palermo Valley…

…In 2011 we [people in the Argentinian entrepreneurship scene] took a trip to Silicon Valley and they were like ‘Who are these guys?’ Now they know who ‘these guys’ are.”

And since Argentinian entrepreneurs are now recognized, “VCs are no longer investing only in clones but also in original ideas.” Plus,

“there is a lot of angel investing as well that wasn’t happening before and is contributing to the growth of this ecosystem.”

On the negative side, however, Juan said that government regulations aren’t very “open-market friendly.” To open a company and get everything up and running will take six months so Juan actually wouldn’t recommend starting a company in Argentina unless there is a clear strategic reason to do so. He would recommend a country with a more streamlined process for opening a business, like Chile. However, these regulations could change at any moment with the whims of the current politicians.

“That’s the thing in Argentina,” he said, “you never know.”

So what’s Juan’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? First he said, jokingly but seriously,  “it’s a nightmare, don’t do it.” He continued on, however, to say, “but if you’re really passionate about it, it’s the best thing that can happen to you because it’s like a little baby that you see grow up and it’s an extension of yourself.”

So his real advice?

  1. “Just do it.”
  2. You need to build a team that you can really care about because you will be with them every day and every night.
  3. “At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter where you’re based but how you deal with the different markets and how you build your company.”

Finally, some parting words of inspiration from Juan:

“[Entrepreneurship] is not about the money. It’s about really being passionate about something: about an idea, about something you want to change, you want to do, you want to create and you make it possible, and by making it possible you are living the dream.”

 

 

Argentina’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Martin Vivas

My next stop in Argentina was to speak with Martin Vivas. He’s a powerhouse in the entrepreneurship scene in Buenos Aires helping to organize Palermo Valley, Founders’ Place, and Startup Weekend and basically being a part of everything having to do with startups. Because he’s been involved in the ecosystem for so long and has been an integral part of helping it to continue to mature, he had some interesting observations about what the entrepreneurial ecosystem is like in Argentina and why it has developed the way it has. Check out the video below to hear what he had to say and then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

This is interview is in Spanish (except for the first few seconds) so I apologize in advance for my lack of skills in the language department.

Argentina’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Interview with Lorena Suarez of Wayra

My first stop when I arrived in Buenos Aires was at Wayra to speak with Lorena Suarez. Having visited the Wayra offices in Santiago when I was in Chile I knew that the people at Wayra in Argentina would be super well plugged in to what was happening in the ecosystem and might be able to point me in the direction of some great events and/or people to talk to so I was psyched that Lorena agreed to sit down with me and chat.

Lorena came to Wayra after working in telecommunications for a number of years and she transferred from another group within Telefonica (the telecommunications company that owns Wayra) to Wayra. She has a background in economics and business and has been with Wayra for 2 years.

According to Lorena,

“Argentina has a very strong entrepreneurial culture.”

There are a lot of large internet companies created in the lates 1990s and very early 2000s that are still up and running in Argentina. After 2001 the activity stopped but nowadays the activity is growing again. “The quality and amount of startups in Buenos Aires today is significant and interesting,” Lorena said. “We’re seeing more and more major projects with major teams and balanced teams…We evaluated almost 3,000 projects [this year].”

Lorena noted that while “the political and economic context is not very simple for entrepreneurs [in Argentina],” this instability has actually aided the entrepreneurial ecosystem in some ways.

“Fortunately or not, we are trained to handle uncertainty and perhaps that’s why Argentinian entrepreneurs can be so creative: because uncertainty is something that’s been present in our history and our economy,”she said.

She also noted that Argentina has a lot of talent to offer and “talent is the most valuable asset.” Entrepreneurs that start their companies in Buenos Aires have access to people who are well-educated and can find talented and experienced engineers, designers, and others.

On the negative side, however, starting a company can require a massive amount of patience as you’ll need up to 2 months to wade through the regulations and processes necessary to open a new business there.  Additionally, as with many countries in Latin America, there is a lack of funding available for startups – especially at the early stage after seed funding but before they’ve created enough traction for a Series A round. “After finishing at an accelerator the companies already have clients, they’re already at break-even, they have a clearer idea of where they’re going but they don’t yet have enough traction to go to a VC for a series A,” Lorena says. “We are starting to see people filling this space but, for me, there is still room there for people to fill that space.”

Lorena continued:

“Investment is also something that needs to be created and developed. 50% of investments in Argentinian startups came from abroad, from foreign investors. I believe that it’s a matter of time all over Latin America but we still need to mature in this area.”

“At the beginning, we needed to explain what an accelerator is here in Buenos Aires and it’s very, very new how to pitch, how to deal with an investor, how to present yourself, what an investor looks at, what you need as a team, all of those things. Nowadays I think we’ve improved a lot but at the beginning we needed to explain.”

So what advice does Lorena have for entrepreneurs just starting out?

  1.  “Focus on traction. Don’t fall in love with your ideas, just go out and try to communicate with your customers. Customers or users are the ones who really say that what you are creating has value.”
  2. “Focus. It’s really easy to get distracted…I prefer to see a company that does, in an excellent way, 1 thing and not a lot of things in an average way.”
  3. “Give back. We are all players, not only the venture capitalists, accelerators, and other investors but also the entrepreneurs. If we want to create an ecosystem we need to understand that we are all key players, entrepreneurs too…Creating a very strong and very creative entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buenos Aires is something we all need to keep in mind.”

Argentina Startup Overview

After a lovely and eventful visit to Chile it’s time for Startup Nomad to head on to Argentina. Argentina may not receive as much press as Chile or Colombia for its startup scene, but it’s actually one of the most developed and least dependent on foreign talent and money. It’s also the home of the biggest exit I’ve heard of from South America, the golden child of Latin American VC, Mercado Libre.

Argentina’s political instability and currency fluctuation problems mean some added headaches for Argentinian entrepreneurs and investors in Argentinian startups. According to many of the people I spoke with though, that’s part of the reason that Argentina’s startup scene is more mature and more self-sufficient than some in other countries: it simply has to be and the people are used to needing to be adaptable to the constant change.

If you take a look at the graphs below (from the GEM data visualization tool) you’ll see that Argentina has a lot going on in the realm of entrepreneurship making even those in the United States look like a bunch of non-entrepreneurs in comparison.

Total early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA)
Percentage of 18-64 population who are either a nascent entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business.
New Business Ownership Rate
Percentage of 18-64 population who are currently a owner-manager of a new business, i.e., owning and managing a running business that has paid salaries, wages, or any other payments to the owners for more than three months, but not more than 42 months.

Following with the trend I saw of a more self-sufficient entrepreneurial ecosystem built by and around Argentinians instead of foreigners, Argentina is the first stop along my Startup Nomad journey where I did not speak to any foreigners during my interviews. Over the next few weeks we’ll chat with some of the players in Buenos Aires’ startup scene and hear their take on what makes the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Argentina different from other places.

Day Trip to Colonia, Uruguay from Buenos Aires, Argentina

While Buenos Aires is a lovely city it can be nice to get away from the hustle and bustle for a bit (and get another stamp in the trusty passport) by taking a quick day or weekend trip over to Uruguay by ferry. You can get to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, if you’d like but I opted to just visit the quieter, calmer coastal city of Colonia del Sacramento.

Colonia del Sacramento is a UNESCO world heritage site and is completely touristy, which is not typically my thing. However, if you’re in Buenos Aires I highly recommend the trip as a way to get away and relax as the town is adorable. I visited in winter so I’m not sure if the relaxation may be tempered slightly by the summer crowds, but my visit was lovely and refreshing.

There are a few ferry companies that will take you from Buenos Aires to Colonia on either a slower ferry, which takes multiple hours, or the speedy ferry, which is about an hour. Most people seem to mention Buquebus on forums around the internet but Seacat and Colonia Express are less expensive. They all leave from various spots along Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires and are pretty easy to get to.

I took Colonia Express going and returning on the same day and it cost me about $80-$85 USD roundtrip. You can (and should) reserve and pay for your ticket online, but remember that you have to be able to print it out yourself or you will incur an extra fee to have it printed at the port on the morning you depart.

Obviously, as you’ll be headed to a different country, you’ll need your passport as well as your receipt for the Argentinian reciprocity fee (if you’re from the U.S.) but the immigration process is very smooth: they have both the Argentinian and Uruguayan agents together at the beginning of each leg of the journey so you will get your Aregntinian exit stamp and Uruguayan entrance stamp at the same time (and vice versa on the way back).

For me, the day trip was perfect, though others will argue that you need to spend the night. There isn’t much to the old part of the city so if you stay longer it will just be to enjoy the calm while catching up on a good book. One afternoon is certainly enough to explore as much as you’d like and most every restaurant and shop accepts Uruguayan pesos, Argentinian pesos, or U.S. dollars so you don’t have to worry about changing money for just one day – check in on the exchange rate each vendor is using beforehand though so you don’t get a surprise when the check comes.

Check out the video below to see a bit of what the old city looks like:

Tigre Delta – A Buenos Aires Day Trip

While in Buenos Aires a quick, fun day trip is to head out to Tigre. It gets you away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and is a cute little tourist town on the water. There’s also an amusement park if you’re a ride junkie, though I didn’t go in so I can’t vouch for the rides’ fun factor.

To get to Tigre from Buenos Aires the easiest option – and the one I chose – is to take the train. You’ll need to go to Retiro station in Buenos Aires, which you can do on the subway, bus, or by taxi. Then you have two options: take the Mitre train all the way to Tigre or take the Mitre to Maipu and then switch to the Tren de la Costa to go the rest of the way to Tigre. Supposedly, the Tren de la Costa is a much nicer ride and nicer view, but I used Tren de la Costa there and just the Mitre on the way back and I don’t think it’s worth paying the extra money or spending the extra time and effort to switch trains. You could also catch a bus or drive to Tigre, but since I didn’t do either I will refer you to Google if that’s the route you want to take.

I spent one afternoon wandering the streets and waterfront, enjoying an asado lunch, and tasting some pretty delicious ice-cream and it was a lovely and much appreciated break from the city. Check out the video below to see more:


Quick tip: remember that train tickets on Tren de la Costa cost more for non-Argentinians.

Wineries and Olive Oil in Mendoza, Argentina

While it also offers adventure tourism including hikes in the Andes and rappelling in caves and old mines, Mendoza, Argentina is probably most well known for its many wineries. While I was there on a quick stop between Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina I decided to do a little exploring and I visited two of the region’s wineries as well as an olive oil factory – and, of course, enjoyed the samples.

I had done some research online but didn’t find any good deals for winery tours so I decided to wait until I got there and see if I could dig up a more economical option. Luckily, I was right! If you’re headed to Mendoza, I highly recommend holding off until you get there to book a tour as the ones I found were about 1/5 the price of what I saw online. This is likely especially true if you speak Spanish (I took a Spanish language tour) but you should still find a better deal on English language tours by waiting. Head to the main pedestrian street that connects the Plaza de la Independencia and the Avenida San Martin and you’ll see a number of tour companies. Just walk in and start comparing prices and you’ll find yourself a good deal.

Check out the video below to get an idea for what the wineries and olive oil factory were like (it wasn’t harvesting season so there’s not a lot of action with the machines, but it was still a cool experience). Bonus: random useless knowledge: green olives and black olives are actually the same fruit from the same olive tree, just at differing levels of ripeness.

Mendoza, Argentina on Argentinian Independence Day

To break up my trip from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina I made a quick stop for a few days in Mendoza (known for its wine production) and one of those days just happened to be Argentinian Independence Day. While their were no fireworks (our standard method of celebrating our Independence Day in the United States) there were fountains dyed the color of the flag, a celebratory gathering of vendors, and live performances from child dancers and professional musicians alike.

It was a pretty low-key celebration, but it was lovely. Check out the video below to see for yourself.

How do you celebrate Independence Day in your country?