Category: Colombia

Marta Forero, UBits: Driving Economic Growth in Latin America via Corporate Education, Ep 74

As the only Latin American woman in her Y Combinator cohort, Marta Forero is helping break the mold for women in the tech industry. From a young age, she knew she wanted to make an impact on the world. After university, she took a high-paying job, which she then left to start a business of her own, combining her passion for education for transformative growth with a love of technology to create an online university.

The result was UBits, a corporate online learning platform headquartered in Bogota, that Marta cofonded with Julián Melo. Ubits, which also operates in Mexico and Peru, focuses on training based on bits– small training units created by industry experts…hence The University of Bits or Ubits. UBits offers corporate training in Spanish in Business, Finances, Soft Skills, and Software Skills, and is a first-mover in the space.

In this episode, Marta explains what it’s like to be a female entrepreneur in Latin America, provides tips on how to apply for YCombinator and make the most out of the experience, as well as why she and her team chose to bootstrap UBits for four years before raising money. She shares one of the more unique stories of how she met her cofounder: at a bookstore. Check out the rest of this episode to hear how Marta took UBits from Colombia to YC, and then across Latin America.

Wise Words From Dad

Most entrepreneurs, especially those from Latin America, get actively discouraged by family members when they decide to leave a stable job to follow their dreams to start a business. However, Marta’s Dad breaks this archetype and actually encouraged her to take the risk and launch her own university. He also has other pieces of useful advice for struggling entrepreneurs, and we should probably have him on the podcast someday!

Listen to my interview with Marta to find out how her Dad encouraged her to start her business, and what other entrepreneurs can learn from his advice.

A Chance Encounter at a Bookstore

Marta didn’t choose Julian as a cofounder. A book did. They ran into each other during a shared quest for a book in Bogota in 2013 and soon realized their passions for education were well-aligned. In this episode, Marta explains how she and Julian became business partners and eventually decided to work on UBits together, all after meeting in a bookstore.

Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn about Marta’s experience choosing a co-founder, and how to find a good match while building a business.

Tips on preparing for a YCombinator interview

After participating in YCombinator and raising $2M from investors by Demo Day, Marta is a great resource to Latin American entrepreneurs looking to approach YC. She suggests that all Latin American YC candidates learn certain financial and startup terms in English before taking the flight to Silicon Valley.

Listen to the rest of this episode to hear Marta’s advice for learning cultural communication tools to help Latin American entrepreneurs master the Y Combinator interview.

Empowering Women in Tech

Being a Latin American woman in the tech industry can potentially create barriers when seeking funding from investors. In this episode, Marta discusses the pressure she felt as female entrepreneur when she applied for YCombinator. With this in mind, she hopes to encourage and inspire younger women to challenge the paradigm and take advantage of the opportunities in tech.

Check out this episode to hear how Marta plans to bring more women into tech and entrepreneurship in LatAm.

Marta Forrero and UBits were already unique for being one of very few Latin American companies to reach Y Combinator. As a female founder, she is a part of an even smaller minority of Latin American women to participate in the accelerator program. Her inspiring story of empowering Latin American workers through online education brought her from Colombia to Silicon Valley, then back to Peru and Mexico where UBits continues to expand. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to hear Marta tell her story in her own words.

Show notes:

  • [2:44] – What is UBits?
  • [3:09] – Courses the platform offers
  • [4:00] – How did you decide on UBits?
  • [5:26] – Why Marta decided to build a company
  • [7:18] – The benefits of a supportive dad
  • [9:32] – First steps in founding UBits.
  • [11:32] – How did you meet your co-founder?
  • [13:33] – On getting their first client
  • [15:40] – Decision to focus exclusively on online courses.
  • [16:52] – Toward a scalable business model
  • [18:22] – When did you decide to start raising money for the business?
  • [18:35] – Bootstrapping in Latin America.
  • [19:40] – Applying for Y Combinator
  • [23:20] -Tips for a Y Combinator interview.
  • [25:18] – How did you practice putting everything into 15 second responses?
  • [26:20] – Going to the US with a strategic plan and not feeling shame.
  • [29:24] – How to make the most of YC
  • [31:23] – Raising an investment round after Y Combinator.
  • [33:05] – Advice to other Latin American founders trying to raise in the US.
  • [35:10] – Being a female founder in Latin America.
  • [36:40] – How the ecosystem can improve on being more gender inclusive.
  • [38:20] – Advice for women looking to raise money in the US and expand their business.
  • [40:46] – Marta’s top resources for entrepreneurs
  • [41:47] – What’s next for you and Ubits?

Resources mentioned:

Alejandra Tenorio, La Manicurista: Using Tech to Improve Latin America’s Beauty Industry, Ep 72

Missing appointments at a beauty salon can add unnecessary frustration to a person’s daily routine. On the other hand, low paid beauty workers may work a full day and not take a single peso home at the end of a long day away from their families.

La Manicurista, a Colombian app that provides on demand beauty services, was born to solve these problems. Two years ago, Alejandria Tenorio, Colombian co-founder of La Manicurista, started the project during her MBA at Tulane University with her business partner, María Isabel Mostesdeoca. Since then, La Manicurista has expanded from its headquarters in Cali, into Bogota and Medellin, and has raised $300,000. This year, La Manicurista is looking to add two more Colombian cities to that list, Barranquilla and Cartagena, and raise a second round of $750,000.

In contrast with the United States, where beauty services are considered a luxury, in Colombia and Latin America, these are considered necessities, even being included in Colombia’s official inflation rate tracker. La Manicurista gives its users access to hairdressing, make-up, massage, waxing, and nail services from the comfort of their home or office in less than 45 minutes.

In this episode, I sat down with Alejandra to talk about how the idea for La Manicurista originated, how she raised money for the business, and how the app improves beauty professionals’ lives. We also learn about Cali’s ecosystem, and finally Alejandra gives some advice on how to pick investors.

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Brian York, Liftit: How Entrepreneurship Paved a Path Back to Colombia, Ep 67

Brian York left Colombia when he was two weeks old, adopted by a US family and didn’t come back until 2009. Although he grew up south of Boston, Brian never forgot his Colombian heritage and always planned to travel back to try to meet his biological family. Most people would probably go on vacation to Colombia to accomplish that mission, but not Brian. Instead, he started several businesses in his birth country (including current venture, Liftit), raised millions of dollars, and began supporting and angel investing in Colombian startups. Brian is now tackling one of Latin America’s most pressing challenges, logistics, and is already operating in almost every major city in the region.

Brian has watched the Colombian ecosystem evolve over the past decade and is long on the future of the region. In this episode of Crossing Borders (recorded in Liftit’s Bogota offices), I sat down with Brian to discuss learning from failure, transitioning from the corporate world to startups, starting a business in Latin America, and the Mexican and Colombian investment ecosystems. Check out the rest of this episode to hear from an entrepreneur who exemplifies doing business across borders.

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Ep 53 Diego Caicedo: Streamlining Small Business Finance in Latin America with Portal Finance

Note: Portal Finance recently closed a $200M deal with one of Latin America’s largest investment banks, BTG Pactual, to provide financing to small and medium businesses across Latin America. They were also winners of Magma Partners’ Latin America wide Fintech competition in 2016.

After growing up in the Bay Area, Diego Caicedo left Popayán, a small town in Colombia, at age fifteen to go to university in Bogota, then dropped out two semesters before finishing his degree in engineering. Why? He had a plan to build a massive, vertically-integrated coffee company that bridged the US and his native Colombia. Three years later, a strong La Niña year wiped out the coffee industry and he was back at square one.

Diego has never been one to give up after his first failure, though. In this episode, we talk about how he rebounded after closing his first business, how Diego became an entrepreneur in Chile’s mining industry, then how he realized the opportunities in Latin American fintech and started Portal Finance to help small businesses get liquidity when they need it. Diego is a lifelong entrepreneur with a lot of lessons to share with people just getting started, so check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about how Diego does business across Colombia, Chile, and the United States.

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