5 Lessons Learned from In-depth Conversations with Latin American Founders

Nathan Lustig interviews Latin American startups and their founders to outline the five most important lessons learned about the region's startup ecosystem.

latin american startups lessons

After spending more than six years in the region, it’s been impossible not to notice how quickly Latin American startups have built an ecosystem here that has grown into a thriving market.

In order to help the English-speaking audience learn about the amazing businesses that are being built in Latin America, I recently started interviewing entrepreneurs, startup founders, and investors with a focus on companies that have some relationship to the region.

Here are the five most interesting things I’ve learned so far.

Latin American Startups Are Doing More Business with China

Much more than you might think! Companies such as BlueSmart, The Intern Group, and GroupRaise all have connections to China, and I think this will be a growing trend as borders open and trade restrictions, such as those in Argentina, decrease.

China has made efforts in the region, pledging to increase trade in Latin America by $500 billion and foreign investment to $250 billion by 2025.

“And, to show they mean it, China’s two development banks, the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, now provide more development finance to Latin America than the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) — combined! — each year.” (Foreign Policy)

Most People Underestimate the Market

Interviewing entrepreneurs in the region, I was never bored as they explained how they got from A to B. What’s interesting is that most of the founders have a tale of ignorance about the Latin American market. Some founders had preconceived notions about starting a business in the region and failing miserably, and others just learned the hard way on how people accomplish tasks in Latin America.

While failure is a part of any startup’s story, there seems to be a trend of people underestimating what it takes to get a business off the ground in this part of the world.

There is a Lack of English Content about Latin American Startups

I speak English and Spanish, but when a non-Spanish speaker wants information about Latin American startups and the regional ecosystem, it can be hard to find.

There is not that much information about Latin American startups, their stories, successes and failures, etc., but there is a thirst for this knowledge coming from around the world.

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There are a finite number of publications (Nearshore Americas being an exception) that publish Latin American news in English, but there are thousands of Latin American founders that want a platform to speak about not only their companies but also about innovation and disruption in the region.

US Investors are Ignorant About Latin America

There are many successful Latin American founders in the United States too, but most US investors and entrepreneurs have stereotypical visions of Latin America. They’ve seen successful Eastern European, Israeli, or Indian founders, but haven’t seen many Latin Americans finding success, which makes it harder for other Latin American founders to raise money in the US.

Companies like Bluesmart are helping U.S. based investors and companies to take a serious look at partnerships in Latin America. For example, Founder Diego Saez-Gil sees this as a trend that is only going to get smarter and smarter as time goes on.

Most Founders Try, Fail, and Try Again

While this may be true of the community at large, most people I interviewed had at least one or more failures under their belt. There could be a few reasons for this: first, a fierce determination, or second, many Latin American companies take concepts that worked well in the US and bring them to Latin America, where they thrive or fail. Either way, these individuals gain a lot of experience.

If founders and entrepreneurs can learn from these lessons and apply some of the advice to their own strategies, Latin America’s startup ecosystem will be well on the way to becoming far more prosperous for the region.

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