This week Startup Nomad is catching up Tenecia Brown, the Founder of Gradeness, a mentor at Yes We Code, and the leader of Houston’s Ms. Tech Group. We talked about leaving corporate America, choosing co-founders, being a woman of color in tech, and the entrepreneurial ecosystems in Houston and Austin. Check out the video below to hear what she had to say.
Follow-Up Startup Nomad Interview with Michael Goldberg
Back in April, I chatted with Michael Goldberg, visiting assistant professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management and the co-founder and managing partner of Bridge Investment Fund. He also has a MOOC on Coursera called Beyond Silicon Valley: Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies.
We talked just before his course launched for the first time and it was a huge success, so I decided to check back in with Michael and see what he’d learned about the entrepreneurial ecosystems in some of the communities that had lots of students participating in his course. Check out the interview below and let us know your thoughts.
Also, be sure to sign up for Michael’s course on Coursera. It’s absolutely free and it will give you some great insight into how entrepreneurial communities are built.
Startup Nomad Interview with Paul Wilson (United Kingdom)
This week we’re chatting with Paul Wilson, the founder of PR Wilson Media, your social media personal trainer, and a Guinness World Record Holder. Check out the interview below to hear about Paul’s interesting journey into entrepreneurship and to learn what’s going on in the U.K. Then be sure to subscribe to Paul’s channel on YouTube and to follow him on Twitter.
Startup Nomad Interview with David Pombar
This week’s Startup Nomad interview is with David Pombar, the CEO of SetPay and an organizer of Startup Weekend Barcelona. We chatted about how he ended up in the startup world and what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Spain. Check out the interview and let me know your thoughts on what David had to say in the comments below.
This week’s interview is in Spanish.
Startup Nomad Interview with Scott Mackin (Barcelona)
This week’s Startup Nomad interview is with Scott Mackin, an American who has relocated to Barcelona and is the Founder and Managing Director of Barcinno, the top source for English language information about tech, startups, and innovation in Barcelona.
Check out the interview below and let me know what you think in the comments.
Startup Nomad Interview with Xavi Fuentes (Barcelona and London)
In this week’s Startup Nomad interview I talk with Xavi Fuentes, the Founder of Let’s Kick In and a former organizer of Startup Weekend Barcelona. Check it out below and let me know what you think in the comments!
Startup Nomad Interview with Marcella Chamorro
This week’s Startup Nomad interview is with Marcella Chamorro, the Founder of The Perpetual Vacation and Devise. Marcella grew up in the United States but comes from a Nicaraguan family and has since returned to the small, Central American country to live and build her businesses.
Check out her interview and let me know your thoughts below.
Startup Nomad Interview with Marcus Dantus
Wrapping up my time in Mexico, I spoke with Marcus Dantus, the CEO of Startup Mexico , former Director of Wayra Mexico and Startup Labs Latin America, and serial entrepreneur. He was very candid about the state of Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and shared some insights that I had not heard from other interviewees.
As Marcus was educated in the U.S., I asked him about the seeming idolization of the U.S.’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and he had an interesting take:
“I think Israel has the best ecosystem in the world, [not the U.S.]” he told me. “I think that Silicon Valley is the one that started it all and it really remains an inspiration to Latin America. Everyone here aspires to go to Silicon Valley because they assume that there is so much more money there and that everyone becomes millionaires, but they don’t know the odds of that or how hard it is.”
“I believe that Mexico has an even bigger opportunity now than the U.S.,” he continued. “Being in Mexico now, you’re probably going to get money more easily than in the United States. Maybe not all of the way because there are still no exits here,” but at the early stages, yes.
“The main problem in Mexico,” he told me, “is that there is not enough activity in mergers and acquisitions, number 1. It’s a country mainly run by monopolies so they’re not keen on mergers and acquisitions because, why would they, if they have no competition? Another problem is the stock market because in order to reach an initial public offering in Mexico you have to sell millions, hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no alternative market yet….[But], the companies in Mexico that are looking for an exit probably should go to Europe or the U.S. They don’t need to exit in Mexico.”
Part of Marcus’ mission with Startup Mexico is to educate the entrepreneurs that aren’t being served by what’s currently available to them.
“Mexico is one of the most creative countries in the world, in my opinion,” he said. “The problem is that we are not well guided in using that creativity and I think that with a little bit of guidance we can really help come up with some innovative solutions.”
He argued that the key players in the ecosystem were not having the effect that they could have because they were not collaborating in an effective way:
“The problem is that they’re sometimes not on good terms with each other,” he told me.
“If you try to make a national collaborative effort and the main players don’t collaborate with each other, it doesn’t make sense.”
Additionally, he felt that the current model of creating accelerators and incubators was helpful, but only to the standouts and not to the overall ecosystem.
“The companies that don’t make it don’t even get any feedback,” he said. “They just don’t win and that’s it. I think that sucks…[Additionally], they only have one class per year, so if you have a great company but you missed the deadline, you have to wait a whole year.”
That’s not to say he wants to baby the entrepreneurs:
“We really want to make sure that these guys remain hungry because hunger is what drives excellence,” he said.
He feels that more entrepreneurs in Mexico still need to be educated about the process of building a business and raising funds in order for the ecosystem to thrive and he points to this lack of education as one of the reasons that entrepreneurs feel there is a lack of capital.
“That’s a ridiculous statement,” he told me about the idea that there isn’t capital available for entrepreneurs in Mexico. “There’s a lot of money out there, a lot…
…Mexico in 2008 had two funds, two. So in 2008 you could have made that argument. In 2012 we had 14 funds; in 2013 we had 30 funds; and this year, I think, another 30 funds are being created. So there is plenty of money out there…
…The problem is that a lot of the ideas are not ready. Entrepreneurs think that just because they have an idea they should get money.”
He continued on to say that, “the other thing is that the funds used to be larger funds and guys would go to them and ask for seed money. There is a mismatch between the stage of entrepreneurs and investors sometimes…but I think there is enough money.”
That’s why he wants to continue to educate the entrepreneurs that may not make the cut with investors on their first try. “They have to get prepared,” he said, and he believes that they should “at least produce a prototype and prove product market fit and then try for funding.”
Marcus certainly has high hopes for the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in his country, though he does see a bit of a bumpy ride ahead. When I asked where Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem would be in 5-10 years, he said:
“Well, I think that the first thing that the ecosystem will need to do is to recover from what’s hitting us this year or next year. The ecosystem is two and a half years old and companies usually go bankrupt after two and a half years, so I think that we’re going to see a lot of companies fail and I think that’s going to scare a lot of late entrants that don’t understand what’s happening, but I think it’s normal.”
In fact, he thinks it’s a good thing: “There are a lot of funds being created by a lot of people that don’t know what they’re doing. The ecosystem will flush out the people that don’t understand, that don’t know it, that are only doing it because it’s the current opportunity, and we’ll be left with the people that should be here.”
“There will be growth, but a lot depends on who wins the next elections. You have to follow through; it can’t just stop in the next 6 years. I think that Mexico actually has an opportunity to become an efficiency based economy, you know, an innovation based economy, in the next 5 to 10 years. And with that we could jump over 30, 40 countries and become one of the most competitive countries in the world, one of the richest, and I do believe that, but we need to get people to believe that and we need to work towards it.”
His statement that Mexicans must believe in their country’s potential came up a number of times in our conversation, as it had in other interviews I’d conducted. He quoted Andres Oppenheimer saying that,
“The whole world is bullish on Mexico, except Mexicans,” and continued, “I think that that’s a key component. Mexicans, we don’t believe.”
As I always, I will end with Marcus’ advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
“The first and foremost advice that I would give anybody is to do what you like. To be an entrepreneur, everybody thinks it’s easy but it’s the hardest thing you can do and if on top of it you’re doing something you don’t like, it’s worse. Secondly is to be patient. Money will come, you can’t just do it for the money. The money will come if you’re doing something you like and something you’re good at…..You have to be an optimist. In Mexico you’re going to take hits from every side…You’ve got to be able to improvise, and stay afloat, and be an optimist, and not panic.”
Startup Nomad Interview with Gerardo Sordo
We’re back in action after my radio silence while crossing the Atlantic on a cruise and this week’s interview is with Gerardo Sordo, the Founder and CEO of BrandMe.
A native of Mexico City, Gerardo is currently participating in the Wayra program in Mexico and, while we discuss many of the same topics that come up over and over again with most of my interviewees, he also went a bit deeper and shared some of the personal costs of entrepreneurship.
To start, of course, we had to discuss the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City, which Gerardo says is just starting out and is lacking in capital, a cooperative community, success stories, and cultural acceptance of entrepreneurship as a respected career choice:
“Here in Mexico the ecosystem is very ‘baby,'”
Gerardo said, “because the investors want to invest in very safe investments. In the USA, for example, the investors want to invest in the next big thing but in Mexico it’s not like that…
… here in Mexico the investors are more old school.”
He continued: “In the United States you have a lot of venture capitalists to maybe become a part of your idea – here in Mexico there are very few…
…opportunities for venture capital are just starting.”
“In Silicon Valley and in the United States, in my opinion,” Gerardo said, “it’s more open to share ideas. Here in Mexico, if you have an idea, the culture is more like oh, no, no, no I don’t want to share my idea because maybe someone will take it.”
He describes the overall culture as more competitive than cooperative and, while he hopes this will change as the ecosystem develops he did say that,
“Here in Mexico, it’s very challenging to change the minds of the people, even the startup people…It’s more competitive.”
“I think we are creating a very strong entrepreneur stream. The problem is that in this entrepreneurial group, in this ecosystem, are people that don’t think about other Mexicans, people that just want money or want to steal.”
Another issue that Gerardo notes is a lack of success stories for entrepreneurs to aspire to. This issue has come up in nearly every interview I have conducted in Latin America. Luckily, Gerardo thinks this will change soon:
“I think that in the next 5 years we will have one [success story] that will be inspiration for Mexicans….one startup that will be a case study,” he told me.
Hopefully, some success stories will also help change the culture to be more accepting of entrepreneurship as a legitimate career choice as Gerardo noted that it’s still not seen as an acceptable path by many Mexicans.
“This world [of entrepreneurship] is very new for the people that think traditionally,” he said. “They think you should go through school and get a job at a big company.” And that disconnect between an entrepreneur’s passion and ambition and what those around them think they should be doing can put great strain on a founder’s relationships:
“The downside to becoming an entrepreneur is the friends that you lose on the road” Gerardo said. “We’re from different worlds now.”
This mentality is changing as the ecosystem in Mexico continues to grow, however:
“In our parents’ day,” he continued, “people were not called entrepreneurs; they were called independent workers, and that was seen as a euphemism for not having a job… [But] the culture is growing up…Now it’s cool to be an entrepreneur in our days.”
So what’s Gerardo’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? He actually had quite a bit:
“My first bit of advice is to become passionate,” Gerardo told me.
“An entrepreneur needs to become very strong for the good times and the bad,” he continued. “If you have passion you can survive [the ups and downs of entrepreneurship].”
Secondly, “it doesn’t matter the idea…It’s more important the strategies, the partnerships, the investors…For me, the idea, okay, it’s important but the strategy and the implementation is more important,” Gerardo said.
Finally, Gerardo urges aspiring entrepreneurs to take initiative:
“Nobody is going to just give you money; nobody is just going to give you anything; you have to go and search it out,” he said. “We are one click of distance from everything,” he continues. “We need to make contact with the correct people…
If you are very smart and very motivated, you have a lot of power. If you are proactive you have a lot of power.”
Startup Nomad Interview with Bianca Loew
We’re winding down my time in Latin America and this week’s interview is with Bianca Loew, Founder of Life of Two, the makers of Twyxt, a messaging app for couples. Bianca is originally from Germany, lived for many years in Mexico, and is now based in San Francisco.
Comparing the ecosystems of Silicon Valley and Mexico City, Bianca said: “How do you compare it: It’s day and night I would say.” She continued on:
“Silicon Valley is so developed. There is an ecosystem there, it’s already developed and it’s huge and here in Mexico it is everything but...
…When I started up with Life of Two there was no ecosystem, it was non-existent in Mexico, which is the reason that we decided to go to San Francisco, because here in Mexico there wasn’t anything or, if there was something, it was only just starting…It’s only starting to get organized, there are lots of funds being created from one moment to the other…
…things are really happening but it’s really, really early stage…
There are people that are doing things right, organizations that are really serious, but there are also those that really aren’t…I think it’s a matter of time before it will get more mature but still, Mexico City, there is not going to be a second Silicon Valley.”
Getting into more detail about what is missing from the Mexican ecosystem she said: “I don’t know if it’s one thing, I think it’s many things together. 1 thing is of course capital, access to capital. [Also], really great talent is still pretty scarce so there are great people but they are not looking around for jobs. When it comes to money, when it comes to talent, when it comes to the whole infrastructure like legal issues – there are very few legal firms that specialize in startups…
…This whole framework has yet to evolve.”
She does see it changing, however:
“It’s very small, it’s not yet very mature, but it’s very exciting and it’s growing a lot,” she said.
“It’s important that Mexico is finally giving more attention to the entrepreneurs, it’s important that there are finally funds available for entrepreneurs…these things are happening now and they’re very important for Mexico, for the country, for the economy…This new wave that is happening right now in Mexico. A lot of things are going to happen in 5 years – I don’t know if [the ecosystem] is going to be mature, but definitely we can expect a lot of things happening here in Mexico…
…I see a lot of progress. Mexico is on a good path. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 5 years but it’s definitely going to look different.”
So what is Bianca’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?:
“Not everyone is made to be an entrepreneur,” she told me. She encourages everyone to give it a try if they have a great idea, but warns that it’s not all fun, freedom, and glitz. It is hard work that requires discipline and self-motivation and is not right for everyone. She also said,
“You need to have the right people around you, you need to have the right cofounder. You can have the best idea but if you don’t have someone to help you develop it, if you don’t have a reliable cofounder [you won’t succeed].”
Finally, “You need to be fast; don’t try to make the perfect product, just test it very fast with something basic and see if that takes you somewhere.”
What do you think of BIanca had to say about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexican? Let me know in the comments section below!