Category: Latin America Startups and Investing

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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Introducing Magma Media: Magma Partners In-House Media Agency

Today we announced Magma Media, our next step forward to continue to support Magma portfolio companies and hopefully the ecosystem at large.

We were inspired by the Andreessen Horowitz model of providing top class services to portfolio companies. We’re starting with media because these strategies do work and are low risk/high reward for startups. Even an extremely lean, revenue focused business will benefit from basic content marketing and a social media strategy.  Rightly or wrongly, first impressions make a difference.

We currently offer:

  • Growth strategies: landing pages, analytics, ads
  • Content marketing in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese
  • PR in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese
  • Podcast production
  • Video production
  • Social Media management

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Crossing Borders: A Venture Capitalists Guide to Doing Business in Latin America

I’ve been in Latin America for a little over eight years, first going to Chile in 2010. I spent the first five in Santiago, Chile, first going through Start-Up Chile, starting Andes Property and then cofounding Magma Partners. Since 2015, I’ve split my time between Colombia, Mexico, Chile and the US, and have been able to spend time in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and more, as we expanded Magma Partners across the region. I’ve truly been a nomad. I haven’t spent more than 6 weeks in a row in any location since I started this odyssey.

During my 8 years in Latin America, I’ve learned about culture, doing business and the opportunities available to both local and foreign investors. I’ve been writing about Latin America since 2010 and having conversations with top entrepreneurs and investors on the Crossing Borders Podcast since 2017.

Crossing Borders: A Venture Capitalist’s Guide to Doing Business in Latin America is a way to share what I’ve learned, along with these amazing entrepreneurs’ stories.  My goal is to help foreigners and locals interested in pursuing business in Latin America get a jump start on their research. I also want help the Latin American entrepreneurs covered in this book share their stories more broadly.

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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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