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.
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.
Some entrepreneurs are born, others are made. Federico Casas identifies as the former. A lifelong entrepreneur, Federico started his first business at age eight, and hasn’t stopped since. As one of the first movers in Mexico City’s budding startup ecosystem in the early 2000s, Federico has watched Mexico and Latin America undergo a tech revolution and has been evolving his work alongside it every step of the way. After starting and selling multiple businesses, Federico dabbled in venture capital and now works on both sides of the table as an angel investor.
I sat down with Federico to discuss startup successes and failures, the evolution of the Mexican ecosystem, advice on raising capital in the Latin American market, and how to empower more people from non-traditional backgrounds to become entrepreneurs or investors. Check out this episode to learn how Federico exited two businesses before the age of 30 and went on to impact the ecosystem as an angel investor as well as entrepreneur.
“I have no fear of letting go of my businesses”
Federico Casas has built multiple businesses, and is able to move on quickly when an idea is no longer worth pursuing. That’s not to say he doesn’t know when to put his head down and work hard, but Federico is not an entrepreneur that falls in love with his business and doesn’t know when to stop. He sold his first and third companies (one of which was ridesharing company Aventones, acquired by BlaBlaCar) and continued to search for new ways to support the ecosystem using the knowledge he had acquired.
Federico isn’t afraid of building and testing models quickly, even if they fail. This mindset is still relatively uncommon in the Latin American ecosystem, so tune into the podcast to hear Federico discuss his startup successes and failures, and how they taught him to focus on his strengths.
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.