Category: Crossing Borders Podcast

Ciara Middleton: What I Learned from the Crossing Borders Podcast

I am a first-generation US citizen, born to parents raised in Ireland. My two brothers and I have lived in Pennsylvania, on the East Coast of the US, our whole lives. As I enter my final year at Susquehanna University, I am studying International Business and Marketing.

Through a unique funding opportunity with our business school, I was selected alongside six of my classmates to spend my summer gaining cross-cultural work experience abroad leading into the final year of university. As I set off to choose a country, and a job, I knew I wanted to travel to a Latin American country and my passion for entrepreneurship along with my love of the outdoors pushed Chile to the top of my list. 

Nathan Lustig’s Crossing Borders podcast served as the perfect tool to teach me about the startup industry in Latin America. I listened to the thirty most recent episodes and looked for overarching themes that stuck out to me. By listening to so many different thought leaders in LatAm tech and entrepreneurship, I have begun to understand the Do’s and Don’ts of Latin America’s startup ecosystem:

1. Accept the fact that you do not know everything. 

You are not supposed to! It is better to admit that you do not have the answer than to fake it and risk being caught in a lie or a moment of over-confidence. 

In Episode 64, when Komal Dadlani interviews Nathan on how to raise venture capital with Magma Partners, Nathan brings up this point while discussing “the best types of entrepreneurs.” Nathan mentions a personal experience where he was asked by a board member if he was aware of a particular company, supposedly in his industry. Nathan admitted he had never heard of this mysterious competitor. This company turned out to be completely made up and the question was a mere test of honesty. Admitting when you don’t know something is the right thing to do. 

2. Be willing to fail, fail, and fail again.

Many of Nathan’s guests spoke about the importance of failing and all that it taught them. In Episode 67, Brian York of Liftit admitted that one of his biggest faults when starting his first company was that he “tried to get too involved in things that [he’s] just not good at.” When he began to allow his team to take over where he was weakest, the company started growing.

Similarly, Maricel Saenz, CEO of NextBiotics advised in Episode 76, “the worst attempt is the one that you never do”. It’s very easy to see where there is opportunity and reach out to people that can help you seize it. 

Cory Siskind, founder of Base Operations, emphasized this point, saying: “People, especially women, need to be less risk-averse and just go-for-it. There is a 90-something percent change that it won’t work but you never know what can happen, don’t overthink it. You won’t regret trying.” 

3. The fate of a business is in the very people that create and maintain it. 

Maricel Saenz of NextBiotics noted that she and her co-founder are opposites: man/woman, introvert/extrovert, scientist/businesswoman, but these differences are what makes them work together so well. Where one member of a team falls short, others can pick up the pieces. Teams should be dynamic and efficient, which all begins with knowing your strengths and weaknesses and recognizing that flaws are not only acceptable, but inevitable. 

In Episode 61, Carlos Moyses, the CEO of iFood, stated simply: “You don’t do anything by yourself. You really need to build a team, a strong team.” This team needs to be committed to the mutually-understood goals and purpose of the business.

While business teams should have a common goal, they also need diversity. Jackie Hyland, of A55, made a poignant statement in Episode 69: “Diversity in general is just so good for business. And it’s great for the long term health of a project or business.” 

Similarly, in Episode 70, Eugenio Perea reflects on a moment of realization when he was in a board meeting: “I looked down the table and I realized over 50% of our employees were left handed. And I’m left handed. And I hired all of them”. This moment was when he decided to hire someone to take charge of Human Resources; Perea knew diversity in thought on a team is an integral part of success. 

4. Never burn bridges. 

Connections are everything, and you should make a conscious effort to make friends everywhere and enemies nowhere. It is impossible to predict who will help you and when. 

Nathan notes in Episode 64: you always need to “close the circle.” If Magma Partners, or anyone, rejects you, always respond to that rejection email. One day you could have another business idea or even just need some advice and if you burn that bridge, there’s no turning back to ask for help on the other side. 

If you make an effort to treat every interaction like a ‘good first impression’ you will never need to worry about a bad one. Push yourself to attend everything you can and take every opportunity to expand your network. Marta Forero, Co-Founder of UBits, travelled to Silicon Valley to participate in Y Combinator and notes that the people she met were the most important part of the whole journey. 

Komal Dadlani noted of choosing investors: “I want his network, not his net worth.” Investors should provide much more than just money. When making decisions about investors looking to come on-board she asks herself: “Do I want them to call me on the good days and the bad days? Am I willing to have breakfast and dinner with this person constantly? Will I have the guts and courage to tell them when I have a problem/be transparent with them?” Dadlani continued to add, “My Silicon Valley investor, I met in 2014, and he didn’t invest until 2016. It took 2 years of relationship building.” 

5. A little rejection never killed anybody.

Nathan noted in his conversation with Maricel Saenz: “be willing to get over some of the shame of being told no and the possibility of your attempt going cold” when trying to reach out to someone new. The simple act of asking someone to grab a coffee with you and start a conversation could make all the difference. 

The very nature of having an entrepreneurial mindset means you are willing to explore uncertain grounds. This thought process is both admirable and imperative for the future of any startup. As Peter Thiel states as the opening line of Zero to One: “Every moment in business happens only once.” Seize opportunities when they show up and never be afraid to be the first to reach out. 

What I have concluded from listening to Crossing Borders is that there will always be people willing to help. Accept the fact that you do not know everything, make a conscious, daily effort to build a respectable network, and surround your startup with the right people to facilitate its growth.

Ciara Middleton is an intern at Magma Partners and a senior at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania.

Crossing Borders: A Venture Capitalists Guide to Doing Business in Latin America

If you love our Managing Partner Nathan Lustig’s blog, you’re in luck. Nathan has just released his latest book, Crossing Borders: A Venture Capitalist’s Guide to Doing Business in Latin Americadetailing his experience living and working in Latin America for the past eight years. This book is the third in a series of books that Nathan has written to help entrepreneurs, investors, and foreigners figure out how to live – or start a business – in Chile.

Crossing Borders, which gets its name from Nathan’s podcast, expands on our experience in Chile to provide a wider look at entrepreneurship across Latin America. It also includes stories from 33+ entrepreneurs and investors from around the region. This book is not the end-all-be-all for working in Latin America, but it is a great jumping off point for anyone working in the region or considering a job in Latin America.

What can you expect from Crossing Borders?

Nathan’s new book starts with an overview of Latin America with sections of key industries like venture capital, blockchain, and fintech, as well as trends that have appeared over the past few years in the region. Expect to find chapters about finding a job and living in major tech hubs in Latin America and an overview of top startups in the region.

Nathan’s new book features detailed chapters on each of Latin America’s most prominent tech hubs, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and of course, Chile. He also dives into less developed ecosystems like Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, as well as emerging regions like Central America and the Caribbean.

Each chapter features interviews with local entrepreneurs, investors, and government actors who have appeared on Nathan’s podcast. These chapters are peppered with commentary from Nathan’s personal experience living in and traveling to the countries in the book.

Expect to dive deeper into each of Latin America’s top tech hubs and to find out Nathan’s analysis and predictions for the Latin American startup ecosystem as a whole. Our goal is to help you get a feel for each country and give you an idea of who you might want to contact if you’re thinking of living, working and doing business in each country.

Who is this book for?

Crossing Borders is for anyone who is interested in living and/or working in Latin America, or even for those who have lived just in one country and want to learn more about the rest of the region. There is something in the book for every reader, from foreign entrepreneurs to investors, to university students and government officials who want to learn more about innovation in Latin America.

Why the Crossing Borders book?

Many people in the US have a biased image of Latin America. Reports of violence, political instability, and corruption generally penetrate much deeper than the stories about innovation and economic growth. Latin America is not a monolithic region, nor is it a poor one. Despite entrenched inequality, Latin America is producing startups with global impact. However, since most of their stories get shared only in the Spanish or Portuguese speaking press, US investors and entrepreneurs are unaware of the potential of these growing markets.

Crossing Borders: A Venture Capitalist’s Guide to Doing Business in Latin America is a way for us to share these stories and Nathan’s personal experience to help foreigners and locals interested in pursuing business in Latin America. Check out interviews with Cornershop CEO Daniel Undurraga, Jooycar founder Maria Paz Gillet, Uala CEO Pierpaolo Barbieri, Movile CEO Fabricio Bloisi, Start-Up Chile’s previous Executive Director Rocio Fonseca, Parallel 18 Directo Sebastian Vidal, GroupRaise’s Devin Baptiste, Kevin Valdez and Sean Park, Magma China’s Jie Hao, Gricha CEO Alba Rodriguez, Omnibnk CEO Diego Caicedo, Abartys Health’s Lauren Cascio, David Lloyd from Intern Group, David Assael and David Basulto from Archdaily, CargoX’s Federico Vega, Psafe’s Marco DeMello, Brian Requarth, Santiago Zavala from 500 Startups, Antonio Nunes from Mercadoni, Patricio Williams Becu, Alejandro Freund from YaEsta, Jose Caya Cayasso, Carlos Jordan, and many more.

Purchase Crossing Borders the book on Amazon!

Connect With Nathan

Crossing Borders Podcast: Nathan’s Blog, iTunes, YouTube

Marco DeMello Psafe Podcast

Episode 23 of Crossing Borders Podcast with Psafe’s founder Marco DeMello, a Brazil mobile security company that’s raised more than $90M in venture capital to create a profitable business.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:22] The new San Francisco headquarters for Psafe and how the company began and grew.
  • [7:11] The flip from desktop emphasis to mobile device emphasis.
  • [9:37] Marco’s experience in the military prior to getting into business and technology.
  • [13:40] Being part of “building the internet” as part of the Microsoft team.
  • [16:32] There are no stupid questions but there are stupid assumptions.
  • [22:35] The top misconceptions and best advice for dealing with security on mobile.
  • [29:06] Why Marco decided to leave Microsoft.
  • [31:52] How to ensure ownership happens in your company.
  • [38:17] The jump to starting Psafe and making the move back to Brazil.
  • [43:34] Advice to Latin American founders who want to find funding in Silicon Valley.
  • [47:12] The misconceptions about talent in Latin America and why they stay long term.
  • [50:59] Marco’s advice to himself if he were starting over today.

Resources & People Mentioned

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Greg Mitchell Investing in Peru Podcast

Episode 22 of Crossing Borders Podcast is with Greg Mitchell of Angel Ventures Peru. We talk about getting started in Peru, the ecosystem and more.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:02] How Greg wound up in Latin America and what he’s doing now in Peru.
  • [3:18] The history of Angel Ventures and how the process works in Latin America.
  • [8:15] What it’s like to work locally to find investors and entrepreneurs to work with in Peru.
  • [15:03] The types of companies Greg is looking to invest in.
  • [19:05] Success stories from Greg’s work with startups in Peru.
  • [23:39] Why Greg loves living in Lima and Peru overall.
  • [26:53] The state of the Peruvian tech ecosystem.
  • [29:00] Where Greg sees the startup community in Peru heading in the next few years and why startups should consider working in Lima.
  • [31:55] Surprising things about the startup ecosystem in Peru.
  • [35:15] Who should contact Greg to see if working with Angel Ventures is a good fit.
  • [40:54] What’s next for Angel Ventures Peru?

Resources & People Mentioned

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Rocio Fonseca Start-Up Chile Podcast

Rocio Fonseca is the guest on Crossing Borders Podcast. Rocio, Start-Up Chile’s executive director, talks about what it was like starting up in Chile in the early 2000s, going to the US, working in Silicon Valley and coming back to Chile to lead Start-Up Chile.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:13] My intro of Rocio Fonseca, Executive Director of Start-Up Chile.
  • [2:05] How Rocio came to study hard sciences at MIT.
  • [7:38] The patent Rocio created and the water treatment business she started as a result.
  • [8:55] The hardest part of a startup: How to communicate your vision.
  • [13:01] Lessons-learned from her time in Silicon Valley.
  • [16:28] The impact Start-Up Chile has had on immigration and the new tech visa process.
  • [19:40] The 3 different funding lines available through Start-Up Chile.
  • [23:12] Why is it so important to empower women entrepreneurs in Chile?
  • [27:05] Rocio’s best advice to women who want to pursue an entrepreneurial path.
  • [29:29] Biggest lessons-learned from 1500 startups about success in Latin America.
  • [35:23] Why should U.S. investors be looking at Latin America for opportunities?
  • [37:13] The advice Rocio would give to herself if she was starting over.
  • [40:19] The next big milestones for Start-Up Chile.

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Doing Business in Panama

This post is an excerpt from a series I’ve been writing about doing business and starting up in Latin American country. You can read the entire post about Panama on my blog.

Home to the famous 48-mile canal, Panama is a central location for import and export, serving as a connector to ports and cities worldwide. Panama has free trade agreements with many countries, including the United States. Its population has surpassed 4 million and continues to grow along with the average wage, which is currently US$1,238 per month.

Taking after its neighboring country, Costa Rica, Panama uses 65% renewable resources for its energy supply. The financial sector plays an important role in Panama’s GDP. Thanks to sizeable investments, Panama’s economy has prospered, leading to installations of Metro lines and significant city renovations. 2016 marked one of its biggest foreign investments, rolling in at US$5.2 billion.

Read the rest of the article about Panama: Investments make for a bright, sustainable future.

Thomas Allier Viajala Podcast

Thomas Allier is the cofounder of Viajala, which I like to call the Kayak of Latin America. Originally from France, he moved to Chile for Start-Up Chile and then moved to Colombia where he received investment from Mexican and Colombian venture capital firms.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:12] Who is Thomas Ailler?
  • [4:10] Why Latin American airlines don’t share their data.
  • [6:19] How Thomas decided to attack the problems he’d experienced in travel in Latin America.
  • [8:22] Why Thomas was attracted to Startup Chile even though he was from France.
  • [13:50] The beginning states of the company in Chile and Colombia.
  • [20:43] What it is like day to day in Medellin, Colombia (where Thomas is based).
  • [25:17] Recruiting and finding talent in Medellin.
  • [28:19] The expansion efforts made to move into Mexico.
  • [33:54] Doing business in Mexico and Brazil as a Colombian company and why it’s better for a startup to keep things simple and centralized.
  • [36:50] The steps taken to expand into Brazil and Argentina.
  • [40:17] The reaction of Thomas’ family when he announced he was moving to Colombia.
  • [41:57] Thomas’ advice to American companies or founders considering Latin America.
  • [46:30] The challenges and strategies of working with a distributed team.
  • [50:37] Thomas’ advice to his younger self if he were starting over.
  • [55:04] Advice to those considering a startup.
  • [57:45] Resources Thomas recommends to other entrepreneurs.

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Andres Barreto Firstrock VC Podcast

Originally from Colombia, Andres Barreto has cofounded and sold multiple tech companies in the US. He came back to Colombia and moved to the other side of the table to start Social Atom Ventures, which has now morphed into Firstrock Capital. Like Magma, invest in companies companies with LatAm tech teams, but whose primary market is the United States.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:03] Andres Barretto, Colombian entrepreneur turned venture capitalist.
  • [2:12] The types of companies Andres’ fund is looking to invest in.
  • [4:15] Why it’s advantageous for US companies to use Latin American engineers.
  • [9:09] Andres’ three-part test for startups.
  • [11:00] What Andres says to Latin American entrepreneurs who are intimidated by entering the US Market.
  • [14:12] How Andres moved to the US initially.
  • [19:50] The ignorant notions US companies must overcome.
  • [31:34] Why Latin American VCs are missing Latin American market deals.
  • [43:37] Andres’ advice to entrepreneurs in Latin America considering US Markets.
  • [48:33] The top mistakes startup founders make when pitching to VCs.
  • [54:41] Andres’ advice to beginning entrepreneurs and beginning VC investors.

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Guimar Vaca Sittic Building Marketplaces Podcast

Guimar Vaca Sittic is an Argentine entrepreneur turned investor who specializes in marketplaces. Currently based in New York City, Guimar is a principal at FJ Labs.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:17] How Guimar got started in the startup world.
  • [2:33] The path Guimar followed from Argentina to Chicago and beyond.
  • [5:00] How Guimar was able to make his Argentinian startup happen.
  • [7:45] Guimar’s advice about Latin American startups persevering toward bigger ideas.
  • [12:09] The next steps after acquisition.
  • [20:30] The choices Guimar made about traveling and the real costs of doing so.
  • [27:34] Why FJ Labs has taken on so many international investments.
  • [32:30] Success stories in building and funding businesses.
  • [37:50] Why Brazil for the online used car marketplace?
  • [39:54] The dynamics of working with a remote team.
  • [44:55] Advice Guimar would give himself if he were starting over.

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Brian Requarth VivaReal Podcast

Originally from California, Brian Requarth cofounded VivaReal, the Zillow of Brazil, which he’s grown by raising more than $78M in venture capital that has more than 600 employees.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:30] What is VivaReal and how did Brian decide to establish and build the platform?
  • [4:45] The fun entrepreneurial things Brian did when he was in high school.
  • [7:20] The birth of “English Without Borders” in South America, a borrowed suit, and knocking on doors for clients.
  • [9:44] How Brian met his current co-founder and started a web development company.
  • [15:25] How VivaReal made the switch to Brazil from the United States.
  • [18:14] The challenges of operating in multiple Latin American companies at once.
  • [21:24] Advice for those considering a startup in Latin America: When should you pull the trigger?
  • [23:33] The challenges of moving to Brazil without speaking the language (Portuguese).
  • [28:03] Making mistakes raising capital and getting creative with attracting investors.
  • [34:29] The value of having insightful mentors and investors to help establish things.
  • [35:40] Scaling a company in Brazil: challenges and lessons-learned.
  • [44:00] Raising money from Brazil and from abroad.
  • [49:15] Why should U.S. investors consider Latin American companies?
  • [55:30] What Brian is noticing about the current economic conditions in Latin America.

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