As an engineer, Gonzalo Ucar wanted to solve real-world problems. Originally from Spain, he decided to move to Latin America to become an entrepreneur and tap into the region’s opportunities. Today, he lives in Bogota and is co-founder of Hogaru, an on-demand cleaning company in Colombia.
Gonzalo and his partner recognized a huge pain point in Colombia’s cleaning industry: a deeply-rooted informal economy. Most cleaners in Colombia do not have a steady income or a social security number, which restricts their ability to realize their full economic potential. That’s why Hogaru’s cleaning service functions on a direct employment basis and avoids encouraging a gig economy.
In this episode, I sit down with Gonzalo to talk about how a Spaniard ended up in Colombia, Hogaru’s unique business model, and the lessons he’s learned as an engineer that he applies as an entrepreneur. We also discuss his major takeaways from participating in YCombinator and working with Endeavor.
Note: A version of this post appeared as a column in Spanish in Chile’s El Mercurio with the title Emprendedores chilenos: Pierdan el miedo a EE.UU.Although this post focuses on Chilean entrepreneurs, it can also apply to other Latin American entrepreneurs. From what I’ve seen, Mexican entrepreneurs are the least scared of the US market, followed by Argentinians, Colombians, then Chileans, who generally think they don’t have much of a shot at competing in the US. This mindset is slowly changing and this article’s goal is to push it along faster.
A few weeks ago, COPEC, a Chilean convenience store and gasoline service station chain, acquired Delek, a US convenience store and gas station chain with 348 US locations for $535MM. COPEC has operations in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama, but this is their first foray into the US market. It’s an important step for Chile because it shows that both big companies and startups alike shouldn’t be scared of the US market. In fact, they should view the US market as a big opportunity to expand outside of their home markets.
For way too long, when Chilean companies large and small have wanted to expand out of Chile, they’d look at Peru, Colombia and maybe Mexico. But we’re recently seeing a big change, both by startups and by big companies like COPEC. (more…)
One of a founder’s most important duties is Identifying and recruiting top talent. Finding and convincing the best people to work for your startup can be the difference between success and failure. There are hundredsofgreatresources on how to find great talent in the US, but Latin America is very different. US strategies don’t usually work in Latin America.
Recruiting for startups in the US is difficult because the market is extremely competitive and well developed. But it can be easier because many people want to work at a startup because “startups are cool.” Sometimes they even pay well.
Many US workers choose a mission driven company that aims to change the world, or a company that offers workers the opportunity to work on interesting problems, rather than the company that pays the most or has the highest brand recognition. Additionally, structural advantages like recruiters and well developed stock options plans showcase startup opportunities and push more people to take a risk with a startup.
In Latin America, it’s different. It can be difficult to recruit for startups, but not because of competition from other startups. (more…)
When I meet with US and European entrepreneurs and investors, they frequently want to know what startups are doing well in Latin America.
There are generally three types of startups that generally do well:
1. Latin America based startups solving problems for Latin American market
2. Startups that target the US/European market and have a Latin American back office
3. Brazilian startups that generally target the Brazilian market
Each niche has their own pros and cons, but at Magma, we invest in a subset of the first niche: B2B startups that are based in Latin America and serve Latin American companies and the second niche: startups that target the US/European market, but have their back office in Latin America.
I’ll leave Brazil’s burgeoning startup scene aside for now and focus on some of the most interesting startups I’m seeing in Spanish speaking Latin America. Post in the comments if there’s a startup you think I should include. (more…)