Tag: startups in chile

Latin American Entrepreneurs: Don’t be Scared of the US Market

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.

Tips to For Your Startup Chile Application

The startup chile application phase is open again and that usually means a blog post offering startup chile consulting and help with applications. Even though I’ve gotten emails from 10 companies wanting my help and I still have a 66% hit rate for the companies that I help, I won’t be offering my services this time. I just don’t have enough time this time.

Instead, here’s my tips for writing your application and getting into startup chile:

1. Public description, video, website

The most important parts are your public description, your website and your video. I know many judges who read your public description, then go to your website and watch your video. If they’re bored, they’ll skim the rest of your app and toss it in the no pile.

The judges are reading a huge quantity of applications, so make sure yours stands out.

2. Don’t write to fill space

Say what you need to say as directly as possible. Don’t write like a college term paper. That’s the opposite of business writing. Write directly and clearly.

3. Native speaker english

If you’re not a native speaker or aren’t a great writer, find someone to help you edit your application. It’s completely worth it.

4. No passive voice

It’s weak. Doesn’t inspire confidence. And it’s boring to read.

This: We make money three ways:

Not This: Money is made three ways by the company

5. Use present tense as much as possible

This: Our company sells sunglasses online

Not this: Our company will sell sunglasses online

6. No business buzzwords

Be direct. Buzzwords make you look weak. And they generally don’t mean anything.

7. Write like you want a 10 year old or your mom to be able to understand it

It’s not impressive to write in jargon. It doesn’t show that you’re smart. Clear, direct writing does. I’ve read countless applications where I truly don’t understand what the entrepreneur is trying to say. But it sure has lots of big words! And buzzwords.

8. Use Lists

You should answer a question about revenue model like this:

We make money three ways:

  • Selling products via our online store
  • Charging placement fees to vendors
  • Logistics fulfillment for partner vendors

This way you save words and go right to the point. Then add a few descriptive sentences and you’re set.

9. Start with your niche, then go bigger

For the target market, scaling plan and your plan, start with your niche, then describe where you’ll be in 6 months or a year. Something like:

Our first clients will be young males between the ages of 18-24 who go to our university and study engineering. They have the biggest pain point for the problem we’re trying to solve. After we win our niche, we’ll expand to the rest of the university, then replicate the model at other universities in our city, then expand internationally following the same model.

10. Tell a story and don’t be boring

Tell a story. Make it fun. The judges read a ton of applications. Stand out by not being boring.


At the end of the day, there are about 2000 applications per round. 100 make it in. Probably half will get thrown out quickly. Your job is to get into the top 300, where it’s going to be a crapshoot. It’s the luck of the draw that the three judges assigned to you will actually like your project.

You just never know. My favorite project ever didn’t make it. Some projects I’ve helped are decent, but not great and have won. Good luck and happy applying!

Three News Articles

I was featured in three different news articles this week for three different ideas and I thought I’d share.

Dealing with digital Afterlife – Financial Times

Emma Thomas interviewed me for an article about people with interesting jobs, focusing on the digital death space. My favorite part where I talk about the impact that working with digital death had on my outlook on working and living. It makes no sense to me to be working on things that don’t really matter, like an iphone app for fart noises or other fairly useless ideas. If you have the ability and drive to do a startup, do something that matters.

The Most Interesting Entrepreneurs in Chile

An article talking about different people in the Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are clearly better homegrown Chilean entrepreneurs than me, but it’s fun to be on the list.

La Condonería: Condones y educación sexual a un click de distancia

This article in PulsoSocial (spanish) talks about one of my new projects, an ecommerce site that allows people to buy condoms online in Chile. I’m really enjoying this project mostly because of the blog and chat we have. Most people didn’t have a well developed sex education course in high school or college, so we answer basic questions that we get via our chat in blog post form. It’s been one of our biggest successes so far and makes selling a product much more interesting and rewarding.

I’m Joining Welcu and Moving Back to Chile

In mid January, I knew that Entrustet was going to be acquired and I started to look around for new things to do.  I knew I didn’t want to rush into starting something right away: I’d been running startups non-stop since I was 19, with only a 6 week break between when the ink dried on the ExchangeHut acquisition and when I started Entrustet. I needed a break from the day to day pressure of running a startup.  I needed to recharge so that when I found something I really wanted to work on, I’d be ready.

I knew I wanted to move out of Wisconsin, at least for awhile. I’d lived there my entire life.  I went out to San Francisco and met with some friends and talked to my network in NYC.  Nothing really piqued my interest.  I decided to return to Santiago, where I’d spent six months as part of Startup Chile, to see what I could find.  I was looking for a specific opportunity that met four specific criteria and if I couldn’t, I’d return to the US.  I wanted to join a startup that:

  • Had traction and was generating significant revenue
  • Was expanding across Latin America so I could learn about the markets and expand my network
  • Forced me to work in Spanish all day so that I could finally get fully fluent
  • With a team of founders I could learn from

I talked to all of my contacts in Chile and looked at a bunch of different companies, but one kept hitting all of the metrics: Welcu.

I’d met Nico Orellana and Seba Gamboa in my first few weeks in Chile in 2010 at an asado (bbq).  The two Chilean entrepreneurs were on their way to Palo Alto to try to raise money for their event management company.  We ran into each other in person and on Twitter over the next year and a half and I always admired their progress.  They arrived in Silicon Valley with a simple product and returned to Chile as 500 Startups alums, bosting funding from Eric Schmidt’s (ex-CEO Google) Tomorrow Ventures, the founders of Groupon LatAM and other Groupon execs in South America.

When I got back to Chile, I met with Nico over a michelada and he told me about Welcu’s agressive expansion plans to Colombia, Argentina and Brazil.  In addition to Welcu, Nico and team organize Webprendedor, Latin America’s most important technology and entrepreneurship conference.  Nico told me they needed help with marketing, pr, blogging social media and expansion strategy and offered me a sort of Entrepreneur in Residence position and head of marketing for Latin America.

It met all of my goals:  Welcu is generating significant revenue and expanding quickly.  I’d work in spanish all day, be learning about the Chilean, Argentine, Colombian and Brazilian markets and be learning from two great cofounders, along with an awesome team.

I joined Welcu two months ago as employee number 7.  Now we’re 35 and have offices in Chile, Argentina, Colombia and are opening Brazil as we speak.  We’re hiring as fast as we can.  I work in spanish all day and provide lots of entertainment for my coworkers.  My spanish is already so much better and I’m learning how business gets done in the rest of South America.  Our tech team is incredible and Nico is a great entrepreneur who has many of the traits of my business partners from previous successful startups.  We have a great team and it’s going to be fun as we continue to expand across South America.  For me, this is the perfect opportunity.  The only downside: my first winter in two years.