In the early-2000s, the Argentine economy went through a severe crisis, causing Argentina to default on its foreign debt and place strict controls on currency. While Argentina’s economy quickly recovered over the next few years, the Argentine Peso remains famously unstable, passing through periods of rapid inflation and deflation.
Why Are Argentines Bitcoin Early Adopters?
As a result of the instability, Argentines became some of the earliest adopters of cryptocurrency in Latin America – and the world – in an effort to protect their savings against inflation. With an inflation rate of 32% per year (or higher) and a restrictive foreign exchange policy, Argentina was a prime location for cryptocurrency adoption.
Buenos Aires currently beats out most global cities for businesses that accept Bitcoin, with 6.1 businesses that accept Bitcoin per one million people, while New York has just 4.7 Bitcoin-accepting businesses per one million people. However, the Argentine government does not necessarily sanction investment in cryptocurrencies. The Argentine Parliament does recognize cryptocurrency, but they see it as property rather than currency. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are currently legal in Argentina, and the country reportedly installed as many as 200 Bitcoin ATMs last year.
Lisa Besserman escaped the New York winter in 2012 to work remotely from Buenos Aires, and never came back. She fell in love with the city’s entrepreneurial culture and began to build Startup Buenos Aires (SUBA), an organization that helps represent the startup, tech, and entrepreneurial community in Buenos Aires. With SUBA reaching its five-year anniversary this year, I sat down with Lisa Besserman to learn how Argentina’s startup ecosystem has grown and changed since she moved to Buenos Aires.
In this episode, we talk about what it’s like doing business in Argentina, new opportunities for venture capital investment, the changes she’s seen in the ecosystem over the past five years, and where Argentina’s ecosystem is headed next.
According to Pierpaolo Barbieri, Argentina is a country where young people would prefer to visit the dentist than to go to the bank. More than half of Argentina’s population is excluded from traditional financial institutions and few efforts have been made to help the middle class access services like savings and credit. My guest on the podcast today is Pierpaolo Barbieri, the founder and CEO of Ualá, the first fully-mobile and free bank card for the Argentinean market, which is trying to bring financial inclusion to Latin America’s second largest economy.
We talk about Ualá’s efforts to serve the underbanked in Argentina, the financial environment in Latin America, Pierpaolo’s background studying in the US and the UK, and why he has decided to maintain Ualá as a free service for all customers.
Despite years of sky-high taxes on imports and challenges with online transactions, Argentina is still an important force in Latin American e-commerce. The birthplace of MercadoLibre, Latin America’s most popular e-commerce site, Argentina is the fastest-growing e-commerce market in the region, registering up to 28% yearly growth. While Argentina still comes in behind Mexico and powerhouse Brazil, its predicted market share in e-commerce is expected to grow from 8.9% to 14.6% of the region’s total sales volume by 2019. So what is driving this meteoric growth?
It’s a combination of Argentina’s young, Internet-savvy consumer base which is now being aided by President Mauricio Macri’s increased openness to cross-border commerce. Argentina is not new to the e-commerce game. Latin American e-commerce giant MercadoLibre was founded in Buenos Aires in 1999 and now operates in 16 countries, with more than 174.2 million active users in Latin America.
Federico Malek, the founder of Argentina’s second largest e-commerce provider, Avenida.com, which raised a US$30M Series C Round in 2015, also founded Wallooz, which was acquired by Groupon in 2010. Soon after leaving Groupon, Malek received funding to start Avenida.com. However, Avenida almost went under in 2016, letting off 250 staff members, until they were acquired by online marketplace Good People, which restructured the company. (more…)