Ep 16 Santiago Zavala, Investing in Latin American Startups

santiago zavala - investing in Latin America through startups

Investing in Latin American startups is not the first thing that was on Santiago Zavala’s radar growing up. Even though he grew up in a home where his father was working in tech from the early days of the internet, Santiago wasn’t drawn to the finance side of business at that point. He was totally into programming. He’d have been the last person to anticipate what would happen in his life.

This conversation tells of the unexpected path of a man who’s become intricately involved in the VC scene for startups in Latin America. His involvement in his own Mexico-based startup accelerator and then transitioning into running 500 Startups in Mexico has given him a wealth of experience and insight into what it takes for a startup in Latin America to be successful. It’s an intriguing conversation you won’t want to miss.

The teams that are able to achieve have founders who are willing to walk through walls.

One of the things I like to know from the people I interview is what characteristics they’ve seen in the founders of companies that make it. Santiago says that one of the characteristics he’s noticed is that those who lead successful companies tend to be unstoppable. In his words, “they walk through walls.” Simply put, they don’t allow obstacles to stand in their way. Find out more about what makes successful founders, successful – on this episode of Crossing Borders.

There is still much more demand than supply in the Latin American VC world.

Most American investors don’t realize is that there is much more demand for investment capital in Latin America than is available. In other words, there are plenty of forwardly mobile, legitimate startups that are ready for funding but are unable to acquire it.

Santiago Zavala speaks to the issue from his perspective as a partner at 500 Startups and says that there are tremendous opportunities to support amazing new companies in Latin America. Find out more on this episode.

Building a company and raising funds in Latin America is a long-term game.

Because of the slower rate at which things move in Latin American business as well as the slower rate at which funding becomes available presently, Santiago Zavala says that both founders and investors need to think of their participation in the venture capital world of Latin America as a long-term thing.

It can take 10 to 15 years to see realized returns, compared to shorter 7 to 10 years in the US. Still, the opportunities are great for both companies and investors.

“If we had more capital, we’d be doing 10 times the investments in Latin American companies.”

Santiago Zavala is convinced that there are many unfunded, yet promising startups in Latin America. His aim through 500 Startups is to progressively make more funding available so those companies can get the opportunity to launch and grow as he’s confident they can.

This conversation reveals some of the ways Santiago sees the startup community in Latin America growing and how investors from other parts of the world can partner with up and coming companies to the benefit of everyone involved. Take the time to hear Santiago’s story and consider the role you might play.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:09] Introduction to today’s guest Santiago Zavala.
  • [1:22] The track companies have to follow to get help from Santiago’s company.
  • [3:15] Santiago’s background, growing up on the front end of tech in Mexico.
  • [5:20] The first online venture: a guitar oriented forum and community.
  • [12:04] Becoming known for rescuing floundering projects – as a high schooler.
  • [21:30] Leaving university and connecting with a new startup in Silicon Valley.
  • [26:49] How Santiago got into the investment side of startups.
  • [30:21] The first companies the VC came alongside – all from Santiago’s apartment.
  • [34:17] Lessons-learned in working with failing and successful startups.
  • [35:40] How Santiago connected with 500 Startups.
  • [38:02] Opening the application process to all of Spanish speaking Latin America.
  • [41:22] The changes Santiago has seen in the startup process in Latin America.
  • [45:08] Surprising things about a 500 startups demo day.
  • [49:03] Advice to Latin American founders trying to raise money.
  • [54:15] Santiago’s advice to governments and investors for supporting startups.
  • [58:22] What’s on the horizon for 500 Startups and Santiago?

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