How did a curious young web developer from Guatemala become one of the first Latin American entrepreneurs to enter YCombinator? Christian Van der Henst fell in love with the internet in the 90s when he realized he could use it as a tool to communicate with the whole world. He knew he wanted to share his knowledge with people and collaborate with a global tech community long before Latin America’s tech revolution even started.
Christian is a lifelong entrepreneur, but he didn’t realize it until he was studying his Masters in Barcelona while running a massive online platform, Maestros del Web, a proto-Stack Exchange for Latin America, at night. He eventually put his passion for education into Platzi, alongside Colombian co-founder Freddy Vega, and helped grow the company to US$3M in yearly revenue in just four years. In this episode, Christian talks about how he transitioned from Maestros del Web to Mejorando.la (before they rebranded to Platzi), how Platzi became the first startup serving Latinos to enter YCombinator, and why entrepreneurship is so important in Latin America right now.
GroupRaise is an online platform that helps groups raise money for the causes they care about by eating at restaurants. I previously interviewed two of the other founders of GroupRaise, Devin Baptiste and Sean Park, in Episode 5 and Episode 31 of Crossing Borders, so please check out those podcasts if you are interested in learning more about GroupRaise.
In this episode, I sat down with Kevin Valdez, one of the co-founders of GroupRaise to learn more about how he moved to the US from Guatemala in middle school, helped build the family business, and eventually joined Devin and Sean to found GroupRaise.
Although incredibly diverse, the smaller countries in Central America still face a number of structural and cultural barriers that continue to hold them back. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “Northern Triangle” of Central America – which includes Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – is one of the world’s most dangerous regions. Heavy drug trafficking and powerful organized-crime networks have overwhelmed the region’s governmental institutions, creating a vicious circle of poverty and violence. These problems were exacerbated after 9/11 when increased US vigilance in the Gulf of Mexico forced more drug trafficking overland, through Central America.
Thanks to the internet and the widespread adoption of mobile devices, we’re seeing the first doors opening for a new age of development in Central America in the form of entrepreneurs and innovators trying to capitalize on opportunities in countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Here’s a brief overview of the current business environment in some of the smaller countries in Central America. (more…)