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.”