Jean Boudeguer. Clay: Start-Up Chile, Cumplo, and Accounting in Latin America, Ep 62

As Start-Up Chile’s first Executive Director, Jean Boudeguer was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Chile. Jean is actually the only ex-Start-Up Chile Executive Director who had not yet appeared on Crossing Borders! Jean faced unique challenges as Start-Up Chile’s first director. He had to build the program, yet didn’t have any previous governmental experience. After Start-Up Chile, Jean went on to build two Fintech startups, Cumplo, a peer to peer lending business and Clay, an accounting software for Latin America.

I sat down with Jean on this episode to discuss how he transitioned from a traditional career as a software engineer to working in the government and finally to becoming an entrepreneur. Jean understands the challenges and benefits of working in the private vs. public sector in Chile and what it’s like to build businesses. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn from one of the main actors responsible for helping build up Chile’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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Why Magma Partners Loves Corfo But Doesn’t Take Its Money

Walmart’s acquisition of Cornershop for $225M set off a firestorm in Chile. Everyone from politicians to investors, columnists to entrepreneurs has thrown in their two cents.

Why didn’t any Chilean VCs invest, when 2 of the founders were Chilean? The debate got hotter when Oskar and Dani, two of Cornershop’s founders, shared their perspectives on Twitter and in interviews, and a prominent reporter used the acquisition to bash wealthy Chileans.

Some have turned Cornershop into a referendum on wealthy Chilean businesspeople. I’ve written about the Chilean extraction vs. value creation mentality. That’s a part of it. Others have seized on Chile’s conservatism. That’s also a part of it. Others have blamed CORFO, the Chilean government agency that supports new businesses and venture capital. Others blamed Chilean VCs for missing the boat. They also deserve some blame, although a Chilean fund did invest $500k into the Cornershop founders’ previous startup Seahorse, and multiple Chilean angel investors invested in Cornershop.

I got multiple requests for my perspective from entrepreneurs, investors and family offices from around the region. What happened? They also asked why have Magma Partners been the only VC fund in Chile that hasn’t taken CORFO money? And why we haven’t taken any government money from anywhere, whether its the US, China or Latin America.

I love CORFO. CORFO created and supported Start-Up Chile, the world-changing program that brought me to Chile back in 2010. It indirectly showed me the opportunity to create Magma Partners in Latin America.

I also love CORFO because it’s made up of well-meaning, smart, dedicated people who are doing their best to change Chile for the better. Thanks to everyone involved. You’ve truly changed my life.

I also love CORFO because CORFO backed funds are blocked from investing in many of the best deals in Latin America. Since 2014, Magma Partners has invested in 42 startups across Latin America. And we found that CORFO blocks much of Magma’s Chilean from at least 40 of our best investments.

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Real Estate Tech Opportunities in Latin America

Even in the United States, the process of finding and buying property, as well as securing a mortgage, is not an easy one. In Latin America, where real estate agents are often not officially licensed, countries use notaries instead of escrows, and mortgage rates can be staggeringly high, buying a property in Latin America can be much more difficult. Most Latin American countries lack an MLS (multiple listing service) so there is no central place to search for properties, no exclusivity for brokers, and prices for the same property can differ from broker to broker. It can be hard to know whether you are getting a straight deal when the process for researching properties and brokers is anything but transparent.

Even in countries such as Chile, which is one of the more developed real estate markets in the region, renting an apartment as a foreigner can be daunting. Local landlords usually require significant paperwork before signing a lease, including a cosigner, local employment documents, proof of local taxes, and other documents most foreigners do not have. Landlords may also require your monthly income to be triple or quadruple the monthly rent, meaning that renting many properties is out of reach even for well-paid locals.

In 2013, Vijay Kailas, a fellow Start-Up Chile entrepreneur and I started Andes Property to help foreigners buy, rent or invest in properties in Latin America to help provide more clarity into this market. In 2014, my fund, Magma Partners, made Adrian Fisher’s PropiedadFacil our first investment. Adrian has been involved in the real estate tech sector since 2012 in Argentina, Chile and now the US with PropertySimple, so we had significant experience in the real estate tech sector.

Because of a lack of information, low levels of competition in the Latin American real estate market and corruption in certain markets, potential property owners can take on risks when buying a property that they wouldn’t otherwise take on in the US, where we take many of our existing systems and platforms for granted.

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Doing Business in Chile: What You Need to Know

Note: It might seem funny, but I’ve never written a standalone post about doing business in Chile. If you’re interested in going deeper, please check out the Chile category on the blog, as there’s 8 years of content about what it’s like, delving deep on banking, real estate, startups, investing and more.

Chile is a long, thin country at the tip of Latin America that is widely considered one of the best countries in the region to do business. Across several indicators in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Chile beats out the regional competition. In 2018, Chile ranked 55th in the world on the World Bank’s Doing Business report, coming in just after Mexico, which ranked 49th. However, in recent years, Chile’s business-friendly reputation has slid from 34th to 55th which has been subject to some controversy.

Still, Chile is undoubtedly one of the most influential economies in the region, despite its small size. Chile’s population reaches just 17 million people, but the country is extremely centralized. The capital, Santiago, is home to 7 million people, or one-third of the total population. By comparison, São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, has over 21 million inhabitants – more than the entire country of Chile.

Chile’s overall GDP was US$247B in 2016, 28% of which is made up of exports. Chile is the world’s largest exporter of copper, and it also exports lithium, fish, and wine. While Chile’s overall GDP appears small beside giants like Brazil (US$1.8T) and Mexico (US$1.1T), its population is more than ten times smaller. When measured per capita, Chile’s GDP is the second-highest in the region after Uruguay.

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