Nathan Lustig

How IoT is Solving Everyday Challenges in Latin America

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzzword that many people throw around but not everyone understands. While it sounds obscure, the concept is simple; IoT is communication between physical objects that connect via the Internet.  

These products are implanted using sensors, monitors, and other devices that allow them to communicate with other connected devices. For example, if a machine in a factory could automatically send an alert to the supervisor’s smartphone when a gear is starting to wear down, that communication would happen through IoT.

It’s easy to imagine hundreds of applications of IoT technology that could simplify or solve everyday challenges. In Latin America, where millions of people still struggle with safety (especially in big cities), access to clean water, or adequate healthcare, the Internet of Things has the potential to provide innovative solutions to these problems.

The field is still in its infancy in Latin America. Since IoT has applications across almost every industry, efforts to join forces or create collaborative solutions have been few and far between. However, the newness of this industry, as well as the rapidly-increasing connectedness of the Latin American population, opens many opportunities for IoT solutions to take hold in the region over the next decade.

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Fixing Latin America’s Broken Lending Industry

Credit in Latin America is notoriously hard to access. Just a few years ago, credit card rates in Brazil hit 450%, which has gone down to a still astounding 250% per year. In Chile, I’ve seen credit cards that charge 60-100% yearly interest. And that’s if you can even get a card in the first place. Yet people still use these predatory systems. Why? There are rarely any other options.

In the US, access to loans depends mainly on a single number: your FICO score. Your credit score is an aggregate of your spending and borrowing history, so it gives lenders a way to find out if you are a trustworthy customer. In general, the higher your score, the bigger (or more lenient) your line of credit. You can boost your score by managing credit wisely for long periods, such as always paying off a credit card on time, or lower your score by taking on more credit, not paying it off on time or carrying a high balance. While many people criticize the FICO score model, it is a relatively simple way for lenders to verify the creditworthiness of potential customers.

Consumers in the US have access to deep pools of capital at their fingertips. Home loans, credit cards, consumer credit and other forms of debt are readily available. Perhaps they are even too available, as we saw in the 2008 financial crisis or as we might be seeing now with bubbles in student loan debt.

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An Overview of Payment Solutions in Latin America

In the US, most people gloss over payment processing because almost everyone has a credit card, Paypal account, or another simple way to pay. Developers use Stripe and can process in seconds. For consumers, Amazon even created one-click purchasing for some customers and physical buttons that automatically reorder your favorite products.

In China, paying is even easier; almost everyone uses Wechat or Alipay to scan QR codes and pay for everything automatically without ever taking out their wallet.

Startups have filled almost every niche in the payments industry, providing solutions for any vendor. Need to pay someone for something you bought in an online shop? PayPal can help. Setting up online payments for your business? Try Stripe. Want to compensate your roommate for your half of the gas bill? Venmo can help you do that.

We tend to take these solutions, as well as more traditional payment systems such as credit cards, for granted in the US. Only 6.5% of households in the US don’t have a bank account, although 18.7% of households are considered underbanked. If someone in the US wants to sign up for a Netflix account or buy a t-shirt online, they enter their credit or debit card information, and that’s it.

In Latin America, completing an online transaction is not so simple.

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An Overview of Latin America’s Food Delivery Industry

In the startup world, success always attracts copycats and competitors. As a result of past successes, Latin America’s food delivery industry is one of the most competitive in the world. Brazil’s iFood, a subsidiary of tech giant Movile, became one of the biggest players in the Latin American startup ecosystem, raising US$500M from Naspers and other international investors, in what many consider to be the largest round in Latin American startup history. iFood is growing incredibly quickly, registering 390,000 daily deliveries, a 109% increase from 2017. iFood’s CEO, Carlos Moyses, recently appeared on my Crossing Borders podcast to talk about the growth of Brazil’s biggest delivery company.

Rewinding back to the early 2010s, food delivery in Latin America had its first peak long before the region truly went digital. Latin America’s food delivery hit the news because Delivery Hero, a German food delivery conglomerate, secured international reach through a spate of acquisitions in the region.

In many ways, these deals spurred the next generation of entrepreneurs in the food delivery space and created many of the most popular apps Latin Americans use today.

Food delivery fits into a trend that is shifting Latin American shopping patterns online. When PedidosYa was founded in 2009 in Uruguay by Alvaro Garcia, Ariel Burschtin, and Ruben Sosenke, just 27% of Latin America’s population had Internet access.

Today, 66% of Latin Americans have Internet access, and in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay, more than 70% of people are Internet users.

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