Crossing Borders with Nathan Lustig: Where I interview entrepreneurs doing startups across borders and the investors who support them, with a focus on companies that have some relationship to Latin America.
Daniel Peña, LocalAdventures: Helping Latin Americans travel around the world, Ep 161
From a young age, Daniel knew he wanted to create something new, but he didn’t know exactly what it would be. His curiosity and drive led him to always have several side businesses, even as a teen when he started a (painful!) business raising bees and honey. Daniel pushed himself to try new projects, which helped him deal with adversity when starting Local Adventures, a travel startup that not only survived, but grew during the pandemic.
7 out of 10 Latin Americans don’t travel internationally. Daniel saw this reality and he wanted to fix it. With LocalAdventures he opened up the international travel market for Latin Americans by improving the booking experience and financing instruments available.
LocalAdventures is a startup that connects travelers with local elite adventure athletes to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences around the world. It was not that people in Latin America did not care about going on adventures in other parts of the world, it was that they weren’t able to. LocalAdventures is looking to help people to travel for the first time outside of Latin America.
In this episode, I sat down with Daniel to go through the LocalAdventures story. We discussed Daniel’s rise from couchsurfing in Dallas when creating LocalAdventures , to building a company that against all odds grew 80% during the pandemic. Daniel also shared how the challenges that he and the co-founders faced at the beginning taught them to get used to working with scarce resources, and we also discussed how LocalAdventures was able to grow by focusing on what clients really needed: flexibility.
From couchsurfing in Dallas to a profitable business
When Daniel left his corporate job to create LocalAdventures, he decided to participate in an accelerator in Dallas, Texas. Daniel and his co-founders decided to invest 100% of the stipend for living expenses into the business, which led them to couchsurf in a living room, and eating many meals at networking events that had free food. They survived each month with a budget of a couple thousand dollars. This story reminded me of the interview I did with Frete’s founder Federico Vega back in 2017, where he told his story of getting his startup off the ground.
Find out more about the origins of LocalAdventures in this episode of Crossing Borders.
Finding opportunity where others see disaster
When LocalAdventures was finally taking off, growing 3X per year, and then Covid hit. LocalAdventures’ biggest problem, after getting over the initial shock, was trying to figure out how long the pandemic would last, while managing cash.
While other travel companies shut down or laid off staff, Daniel and his co-founders decided to keep on doing business normally. Instead of cutting back on expenses, they talked with consumers and listened to their feedback. LocalAdventures found out that there was still a small percentage of people who were eager to book trips with the risk of having it canceled, if they could in turn get a better price for it.
By offering flexible packages and financial instruments to help people book trips with zero or little money down, Local was able to grow during the pandemic.
Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about how LocalAdventures thrived in the most adverse conditions.
Providing Latin Americans with affordable trips around the world
Travelers in LatAm struggle when booking a trip, and so they end up exploring their own countries. LocalAdventures provides a more accessible experience, allowing the traveler to book a trip abroad with as low as 10% of the cost, and pay it in several months, even with no credit card and with a flexibility to change dates.
In this episode of Crossing Borders, Daniel talks more about what makes LocalAdventures’ product so unique and compelling to...
Miguel Medina, Plerk: Building Latin America’s next generation of employee benefits, Ep 160
Miguel Medina has been an entrepreneur for as long as he can remember. From selling backpacks at traffic lights to doing magic tricks at bars and selling candy to his classmates to earn extra money, Miguel is a pure entrepreneur.
So when his travel startup Isibit was torpedoed by the pandemic, he decided to solve a big Latin American problem: improving the lives of the region's employees and team members.
At least 23 million people transitioned to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic in Latin America. Miguel is improving employees’ well-being via a product specially designed to fit the growing remote working teams: a benefits management platform that allows companies to give virtual cards to their employees loaded with money for specific purposes.
After working in huge companies such as Apple and Danone, Miguel shifted his career to begin working at Rappi, launching this startup in more than 25 cities in Latin America. He then decided to leave once again his comfort zone and found his own startup, Isibit, a company that through the pandemic transitioned to Plerk.
In this episode, I sat down with Miguel to chat about what Plerk is doing to improve the quality of life for Latin America’s workforce, and about how he decided to lean on his safety net to pivot Isibit and create a new startup when difficulties arose. Also, Miguel shared with us his story as a teenager magician and salesman, and how those experiences shaped him into the entrepreneur he is today.
From magician to second-time entrepreneur
Although the young Miguel was not planning on being an entrepreneur, his life experience led him down the entrepreneurial path. He sold candies at school, and after taking several jobs since the age of 14, worked as a magician at bars and restaurants. Being a magician, Miguel was forced to play character roles that were nothing like his introverted “normal” self. Soon enough, he realized that he could fake a more extroverted personality until he was comfortable with talking to more people and being more outgoing.
Since then, Miguel not only worked for some of the largest companies in the world, but also built an extensive community and network of people in Latin America he could lean on when times were rough. As Miguel explained, “magic only happens when you jump from a cliff.”
Find out more about his journey through job and life experiences in this episode of Crossing Borders.
Transitioning from Isibit to Plerk during a global pandemic
After working as Regional Manager at Rappi, Miguel decided to start his own startup, Isibit, in October 2019. Isibit was an all-in-one platform for business travel, an idea that sounded promising, but was torpedoed by the pandemic.. Although Isibit was accepted into the YCombinator Summer 2020 batch, the startup was doomed.
In this episode of Crossing Borders, Miguel talks more about how important it is as an entrepreneur to count on a network of people, a community that can help you endure hard times and his process pivoting from Isibit to Plerk
Replacing paper vouchers with virtual cards
Before Plerk, companies gave employees benefits via paper vouchers to use for transportation or at restaurant venues. These vouchers created a problem that the gift card industry also has: “floating” unspent money, and that still constitutes an expense for the companies.
Learn how Antonio Martínez, Miguel Medina and Angel Arias launched Plerk’s virtual debit card to give employees personalized perks and benefits worldwide. Companies deposit money on the cards, which the employees spend according to their company’s benefits program rules. After launching in January 2021, already in July 2021 Plerk announced that it had raised $1M in Pre-Seed funding from Y Combinator, Magma Partners, 500 Startups and more.br...
Greatest Hits Episode: Mariana Castillo, Ben & Frank: Direct-to-Consumer Eyewear for the Mexican Market, Ep 159
For this week’s episode of Crossing Borders, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Ben & Frank’s co-founder Mariana Castillo.
Mariana Castillo believes that the eyewear shopping experience in Mexico is broken. It’s generally reduced to an impersonal exchange that only considers the basic optical measurements, rather than catering the product to the customer’s style and personality.
Mariana is the co-founder and co-CEO of Ben & Frank, a direct-to-consumer eyewear brand that seeks to transform the way Mexicans buy eyewear by providing fashionable and affordable options.
I sat down with Mariana to talk about why an internship at ALLVP played a key role in her decision to become an entrepreneur, the lessons she learned from working at Mexico’s Central Bank, and the insights she’s gained about the direct-to-consumer category in Latam; from building a brand to fundraising. And lastly, Mariana shares advice on how to remove biases in the ecosystem to empower female founders.
A career-defining moment at ALLVP
Before discovering her entrepreneurial journey, Mariana immersed herself in the investment world. She learned about venture capital and realized that she wanted to get involved with early-stage investment and started an internship at ALLVP, a VC firm based in Mexico City, for three months. Fascinated by the ability of some of the startups she worked with to execute ideas quickly, Mariana decided she wanted to pursue a career that would involve entrepreneurship in any way.
Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Mariana’s lessons learned from her early days at Mexico’s Central Bank to her time at ALLVP.
Redefining what it means to be a “four-eyes”
Through Ben & Frank, Mariana has built a strong eyewear brand. She explains that consistency is key to building a successful brand in Mexico. That means that everything related to the brand reflects the same values, mission, and vision. From the unboxing experience to how a company reacts when they’ve made a mistake are all part of what makes a brand. At Ben & Frank, Mariana explains that they are very intentional about the language they use. For example, they’ve chosen to reclaim what it means to be a “four-eyes”.
Learn more about building a successful brand in this episode of Crossing Borders.
The untapped potential of direct-to-consumer companies in Latam
Mariana explains that direct-to-consumer brands caught on quickly in Mexico. Customer centricity is what traditional retailers in Mexico lack, and what direct-to-consumer brands excel at providing. As consumer habits change from generation to generation, companies will need to adapt to the demands of customers that are more conscious about the value for money and what a brand stands for.
Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about the opportunities and the barriers that exist in the retail industry in Mexico.
Mariana Castillo is transforming the meaning of “four eyes” in Mexico to be synonymous with cool and fashionable with Ben & Frank. The startup is breaking the barriers of the traditional retail industry and unleashing the potential of direct-to-consumer brands for the digital age.
Outline of this episode:
[1:37] – About Ben & Frank
[2:06] – Traditional retail experience for eyewear in Mexico
[3:23] – Mexican roots, nomadic upbringing
[5:05] – Entrepreneurial journey
[6:00] – Internship at ALLVP
[6:55] – Lessons learned at the Central Bank and ALLVP
[7:55] – Why tackle this specific problem?
[9:04] – Ben & Frank’s inflection point
[11:48] – Building a brand in Mexico
[13:15] – Insights into Latam’s direct-to-consumer category
[14:20] – Competing with traditional retailers
[17:25] – Expanding Mexican direct-to-consumer brands
[18:15] – Advice to Mariana’s younger...
Santiago Aparicio, Ontop: Transforming the future of work, Ep 158
I sat down with Santiago to talk about his experience as an entrepreneur, while Santiago shared the story of Ontop and their meteoric growth in their first fifteen months (actively operating in over 190 countries, transacting over $2M per month).
Maricel Saenz, Compound Foods: Coffee without Coffee Beans, Ep 157
In this episode, I sat down with Maricel to talk about Compound Food’s mission in tackling climate change, her career in science without being a scientist, her journey of building a company at the start of the pandemic and the future of the coffee industry.
Juanma Gironella, Guros: Reshaping The Latin American Insurance Industry, Ep 156
In this episode, I sat down with Juanma to discuss how Guros is making inroads into the insurance industry and gaining market share with a digital model that is democratizing access to insurance and bringing new opportunities to innovate, improve customer experience, and ultimately, driving growth.
Love the podcast and amount of info we can get in such a short time. Great for anyone who is curious about LATAM culture or eco-system. I have been following for over a year now. Keep up the great work.
Nathan engages with some great guests and guides the conversation to uncover fantastic insights. Highly recommended for those of you interested in entrepreneurial ventures and/or Latin America.
Stunned how under the radar this podcast is. Interesting interviews with entrepreneurs, VCs, lawyers with some connection to Latin America through the lens of US born and raised entrepreneur living abroad. I have listened to over 40 of the podcasts and recommend it to a bunch of people. The links at the bottom of blog posts are really helpful.
Feedback: Really enjoyed the granularity of JP’s legal talk, more of these in the weeds type podcasts would be great. Recently discovered Rebank podcasts. Nathan/listeners might enjoy this one: Latam, SMB Platforms and the Gig Economy with Broadhaven