Over the past five years, Amazon has slowly expanded into Latin America, testing the waters in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.
Despite the Seattle-based giant’s explosive success in the United States, Amazon has not yet made inroads as quickly in most of Latin America.
Part of the challenge is that Latin America already has its own e-commerce giant: MercadoLibre.
Founded in 1999 by Hernan Kazah and Marcos Galperin in Buenos Aires, Argentina, MercadoLibre is now the e-commerce site of choice in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
In Latin America, 47% of online shoppers buy on MercadoLibre while only 17% use Amazon. In Mexico, where Amazon offers similar services to the US, 38% of online shoppers still use MercadoLibre while just 21% use Amazon.
In 2014, the US government launched an initiative called “Look South” to show companies in the United States the benefits of shipping to the Latin American market. Despite numerous trade agreements between Latin America and the US, 58% of US companies at the time were exporting to only one other country: Canada or Mexico.
Latin America is a close US trading partner, yet the complicated shipping logistics in most Latin American countries – whether by air, water, or overland – are hurting the region’s supply chain.
The challenge of automating and streamlining shipping logistics in Latin America is becoming more pressing as e-commerce and other B2C delivery businesses take hold. Not only are large corporations dealing with sending and receiving bulk cargo across the region, but individual consumers want more on-demand services that require better organization and logistics.
Latin America still lags behind in the development of its shipping industry. The World Bank reported that in 2014, no Latin American country was in the top 25% of the Logistic Performance Index global rankings. In 2016, this figure hardly changed; Panama is the top-ranked Latin American country for logistics and shipping, yet it comes in 40th on the LPI global rankings. Chile is next at 46th, with Mexico and Brazil ranking 54th and 55th, respectively.
Earlier this year, Mexico became one of the first countries in Latin America to regulate financial technology, including blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The Mexican Congress officially recognized cryptocurrencies as digital assets – but not as currency – and set up rules to control exchanges to prevent corruption and money laundering. The law puts the Mexican Central Bank in charge of monitoring companies working with cryptocurrencies.
The Mexican government as a whole is also investigating multiple uses for the blockchain to increase transparency, reduce corruption, and prevent illegal activity throughout the country. Mexico currently ranks 135th out of 180 on the global corruption index, according to Transparency International.
In early April 2018, the Mexican government released news that they are currently developing a project called Blockchain HACKMX that uses the blockchain to track and validate bids for public contracts. This system, proposed by a group of university graduates last year, will increase transparency in the federal hiring process and help organize the post-contract auditing process. (more…)
Latin America’s tech ecosystem is maturing rapidly. 2017 was a standout year for foreign investment in Latin American startups, with investors in the US and China taking an interest in tech companies that are solving both local and global problems. Not only are the startups in the region becoming more numerous and innovative, but the older tech companies that started in the mid-2000s are reaching high valuations that allow them to compete globally.
Over the past decade, the number of tech startups reaching billion-dollar valuations, known as ‘unicorns,’ has grown considerably. At least nine of these unicorns were founded in Latin America, concentrated in Argentina and Brazil.
There is a lot to be learned from tech companies that can reach a billion-dollar valuation in a challenging market like Brazil or Argentina. What’s more, building a billion-dollar business in Latin America does not happen overnight.
Here’s a look at how each of Latin America’s billion-dollar tech companies reached their current valuations. (more…)