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.
Greatest Hits Episode: Pedro Pablo del Campo: Building Bridges Between Latin America & the USA, Ep 206
For this week on the Crossing Borders podcast, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Pedro Pablo del Campo, Partner of Magma Partners
Pedro Pablo del Campo is a Chilean entrepreneur and the newest addition to our Magma Partners team. Born in Punta Arenas, one of the most Southerly cities in the world, Pedro Pablo traveled the world in his youth since his father was in the Air Force and then a commercial pilot. From a young age, Pedro Pablo was eager to be involved in early-stage enterprises and has gone on to founding or join early teams of several startups and nonprofits bridging the US and Latin America. In 2016, he joined the Techstars team in Austin as the Business Development Director for Latin America, a position they created just for him.
Pedro Pablo has now brought his passion for supporting Latin American entrepreneurship to Magma, where he will be helping manage our portfolio and evaluating future investments for the fund. In this episode, we discuss Pedro’s non-traditional career path, his start in the nonprofit world, how a cold email got him connected to the Techstars network, and what he thinks of the maturing Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Never be afraid of relying on your network
Pedro Pablo used to think he knew everything about starting a business until he founded his first company after university. Soon, he realized he knew nothing and that he would have to surround himself with mentors and other successful entrepreneurs in order to succeed. That lesson carried him on to his time in the US when he realized that New York is a lonely place for an entrepreneur without a network.
Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to find out how Pedro Pablo built a network from scratch in each of the cities he has lived in, from Santiago to New York, and finally in Austin. It’s all about adding value, says Pedro Pablo. When you have given someone a bit of value, they are often happy to help you when you need it.
The key to bootstrapping a business from Chile? Find the right partners
After coming back from New York, Pedro Pablo knew he wanted to find something for himself. He co-founded Visualogica, a design firm, with three co-founders; however, he quickly side-stepped to become CEO of a vending machine company, leaving his partners in charge. This opportunity allowed both businesses to be successful in the end, and the vending machine company was even acquired.
Learn more about Pedro Pablo’s experience building a company from the ground up and how he leads a team in this episode of Crossing Borders.
The art of the cold email
Pedro Pablo reached out to the Chief Investment Officer at Techstars in a cold email while caring for his son at home while his wife studied her PhD. He wanted to tell them about the value of connecting the Latin American and US ecosystems and hoped the global accelerator would pay attention. Using his contacts in Chile, Pedro Pablo provided a network for Techstars in Latin America and helped the accelerator expand, before they had even offered him a position. His advice to new founders: never be afraid of cold emailing people, no matter how high up they are.
Find out how Techstars invented a new position for Pedro Pablo so he could help them bring Latin America into one of the largest and strongest entrepreneurial networks in the world.
Pedro Pablo is passionate about the potential global impacts of the growing Latin American entrepreneurial ecosystem. He has lots of ideas about how to build the...
Greatest Hits Episode: Rebecca Fischer, Divibank: Helping Brazilian entrepreneurs scale with non-dilutive capital, Ep 205
For this week on the Crossing Borders podcast, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Rebecca Fischer, cofounder and CEO of Divibank.
Before Divibank, small and medium enterprises in Brazil only had two financing options: getting debt from a bank or raising venture capital. But most startups don’t meet bank financing requirements, and not every company can raise VC or wants to raise VC.
Divibank provides a third alternative for startups and SMEs: revenue-based financing. Divibank launched in 2020 by financing digital marketing campaigns via a revenue share model. Since then, Divibank has launched other products including inventory financing and recurring revenue financing.
In this episode, I sat down with Rebecca Fischer, Divibank’s CPO and cofounder to talk about what she learned from working on digital marketing campaigns for huge brands, how she got Divibank off the ground, and how Divibank provides a better financing alternative for entrepreneurs in Brazil.
The overlooked potential of ad spend
Before starting Divibank, Rebecca worked for an advertising agency where she helped companies grow via paid digital ads. Clients invested huge amounts of money in their digital marketing campaigns, and the returns were great.
During her time running ad campaigns, Rebecca discovered two things that kickstarted the idea for Divibank: ad spend was a real asset class that could be an alternative to VC funding, and many people weren’t taking their ad spend as seriously as she thought it should be.
Listen to this episode to discover how Rebecca found an opportunity to provide financing for entrepreneurs to scale through digital marketing campaigns.
Non-dilutive capital to extend entrepreneurs’ runways
Divibank provides financing for founders who don't want to dilute themselves through venture capital and want access to capital to scale their businesses.
The startup’s clients are usually digitally native companies that know what their revenue will look like in the short term. They are looking for financing, but they are not ready yet to split the pie with many other shareholders. Divibank gives them the freedom to choose whether to raise VC money or keep growing with non-dilutive capital.
Check out this episode to find out how Divibank is helping founders in Brazil extend their runways and raise when they’re at a higher valuation.
Outline of this episode:
[01:10] - About Divibank[01:42] - What financing looks like for SMEs in Brazil[03:40] - Divibank’s average client[05:10] - Rebecca’s background[06:00] - Lessons learned from working in advertising agencies[08:08] - ABC of non-dilutive financing[11:30] - Divibank’s zero to one[12:58] - Divibank’s first steps[14:43] - Divibank’s experience with fundraising[16:30] - Where is Divibank today[17:49] - Rebecca’s book recommendations[19:21] - Rebecca’s advice to a younger self[20:10] - What’s next for DivibankResources and people mentioned:
Rebecca FischerDivibankKenshooNubankJaime TaboadaBook a...
Greatest Hits Episode: Juan José Leaño, Parco: Digitalizing Latin America’s parking industry, Ep 204
For this week on the Crossing Borders podcast, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Juan José Leaño, founder and CEO of Parco.
As an intern at a law firm, Juan hated parking in cash-only parking lots. After having to go to the ATM or getting countless parking tickets, he thought there had to be a better way. In 2016, Parco was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has since expanded into 28 cities across the country. Parco allows parking lot operators to install a software system to their existing parking systems for consumers to pay using a credit card via the Parco app. Users can also pay for parking tickets and get information about their driving history.
In this episode, we discuss how Parco is changing how the parking business operates and improving people’s lives across Latin America. We talk about his journey from working at a law firm to becoming a full-time tech entrepreneur and how the pandemic accelerated the company’s growth.
From law firm employee to full-time entrepreneur
Juan knew nothing about the tech business world when he started Parco, but he did know a problem when he saw one. Juan drove a car to run errands for his job at a law firm in Guadalajara, and parking was a nightmare because parking lots only accepted cash. After a few costly parking tickets, Juan pitched the Parco idea to his boss, who thought it was a great idea and said he was willing to invest.
In this episode of Crossing Borders, Juan talks us through his experience creating a company with zero experience to building a startup that plans to scale to multiple Latin American countries.
Creating an easy and transparent way for people to pay for parking in Latin America
Before Parco, parking meant long lines, carrying cash, or walking to an ATM to take out cash if you didn’t have any with you. Today, Parco allows people to pay for their parking via an app, which is 10x better than waiting in line or running back into a mall to search for an ATM.
Parco also generates user demographics and data for operators to understand how users behave and how often they park while providing transparency and safety.
Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about how Parco provides more revenue to parking operators and why they chose to be a software vendor instead of hardware.
Scaling Parco in Mexico during the pandemic
The pandemic was a before and after for Parco. Before the pandemic, Parco had only launched in 8 cities. Since then, the Parco team launched 20 more cities remotely.
The pandemic not only accelerated the parking industry’s digitization but also changed the way Parco interacts with customers. The app quickly transitioned from an added value to a necessity.
In this episode, Juan shares with us how the pandemic became a milestone for Parco because of how they learned to scale and expand.
Outline of this episode:
[01:20] - What problem does Parco solve?[05:08] - Juan’s background[07:15] - Creating a company with zero experience[09:45] - Parco’s geographic expansion[12:07] - Covid-19’s effect on Parco[15:26] - Choosing to be a software vendor[16:48] - Planning for a LatAm expansion[18:23] - Parco as an operating system[20:30] - Data analytics for operators[23:48] - Advice for a younger Juan[24:55] - Book recommendations[26:25] - Parco’s plans for the future
Resources & People mentioned:
Juan José Leanoa...
Greatest Hits Episode: Luis Rubén Chávez: Helping Mexicans build their financial health, Ep 203
For this week on the Crossing Borders podcast, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Luis Rubén Chávez, founder and CEO of Zenfi.
Luis Rubén Chávez, co-founder and CEO of Zenfi, is changing the way people in Mexico think about financial health. Zenfi is a complete digital finance platform focused on lending that strives for the financial health of its customers. With more than 2.5 million users, the platform provides customers with tools to build a consistent long-term financial plan.
Zenfi offers an app that reviews clients’ credit bureaus for free. They provide personalized diagnostics, tips to improve the customer’s profile, and identity theft alerts. Also, Zenfi helps those who need a personal loan, debt consolidation, or car insurance by reviewing their information and recommending products according to their needs.
Before starting Zenfi, Luis Rubén worked in finance for eight years. He witnessed first-hand its inefficiencies, high concentration, and sometimes abusive practices that don’t help the user in the longer term. Banks offer 60+ products and services but execute poorly a large percentage of them, and fintechs are filling this gap in the market. With the new fintechs that are emerging, Luis Rubén thinks Mexico will have in 5 years a completely different financial system.
Listen to this episode to hear how Luis Rubén is raising awareness about the inefficient lending system in Mexico, what Zenfi is doing to provide a healthier alternative for people, and how the company is expanding its services by offering a marketplace of financial products.
Diversifying the financial system in Mexico
Banks own the credit bureau in Mexico, which reports only negative credit ratings of individuals. The five largest banks in Mexico hold 80-85% of the country’s consumer portfolio, and this high concentration means there is little to no competition. Many financial institutions have conflicts of interest and few incentives to build better data and technological products and services.
Mexicans perceive credit scores as a black box, filled with misconceptions that lead them to make adverse choices. Luis Rubén was part of the problem working within the financial system, but in this episode of Crossing Borders, he explains how he is now part of the solution.
Demystifying credit scores for Mexico’s population
Zenfi’s most attractive product is its free credit score check. The company analyzes the customer’s information and provides them with a complete and user-friendly diagnosis. Also, it gives useful and detailed information such as the impact that each variable has on the score, and parameters to understand your strengths and weaknesses to see what you have to improve. The company has nailed a feature that millions of Mexicans need in an inefficient system that has few incentives to help them maintain a good credit score.
Listen to this Crossing Borders episode to learn how Zenfi will continue to attract millions of users to its platform.
A marketplace for financial products
Users needed a bigger picture for making a long-term personal finance plan, so Zenfi started offering a marketplace where fintechs sell, for example, their mortgage, insurance, and credit card products. Zenfi’s marketplace shows the best financial products that its users can have access to. Zenfi’s lending criteria sometimes cannot give users a loan, so the company refers them to another fintech where they might have a product that serves them.
Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to understand how Zenfi is taking a hybrid approach by offering its products and a marketplace with the best fintechs in Mexico.
Aron Schwarzkopf: Kushki Building Latin America’s Payments Infrastructure, Ep 202
Online payments in Latin America are rapidly growing, creating significant opportunities for businesses and consumers. In 2022, cash only represented 37% of all formal retail payments in LatAm's top six markets, marking a decline from pre-pandemic when cash represented around 70%.
Aron Schwarzkopf is cofounder and CEO of Kushki, a Latin American digital payments company. Magma invested in Kushki in 2018 to support its mission of providing the infrastructure to develop better payment products.
I sat down with Aron to discuss his journey as an entrepreneur and his experience in the payments industry. We also discuss the challenges of managing a multicultural company and Kushki's recent acquisition of Billpocket, a Mexican mobile payments company.
Getting Ph.D. in payments and startups
Aron started his entrepreneurial journey in college confounding Leaf, a payments company, alongside Sebastian Castro. After Leaf’s acquisition, Sebastian and Aron shifted their focus to investing in Latin America.
Despite receiving an offer to become an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) for a major company in New York, Aron declined the offer to focus on launching Kushki with Sebastian. Today, Kushki has a strong presence in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and the US and has recently acquired Billpocket, a leading Mexican payments company.
Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Aron’s journey as an entrepreneur.
Building a multicultural team
After six years of operating in multiple countries, Kushki has built a multicultural team that encourages connections and transparency. The Kushki Nation has become a significant asset in driving the company's success, enabling them to foster a strong commitment towards their goals, despite the challenges of remote work.
Learn more about how Kushki leads a multicultural remote team in this episode of Crossing Borders.
Outline of this episode:
[01:33] - About Kushki[02:04] - Payments in Latin America[07:11] - Ph.D. in payments[10:20] - Starting a company in Latin America instead of the US[12:41] - Building a multicultural company[16:11] - The aha! moment behind Kushki[19:57] - Investment in Latin America[22:17] - Kushki’s use cases and stories[24:35] - Billpocket’s acquisition[26:41] - Advice to Aron’s younger self[27:53] - Aron’s favorite podcasts and books[29:04] - What’s next for Kushki?
Resources & people mentioned:
Aron SchwarzkopfSebastián Castro GalnaresKushkiLeaf
Monty Schmidt: From boom to bust and back again, Ep 201
This episode was recorded on March 20, 2023
In the 90s, technology stock valuations soared rapidly in the US. Investors were pouring money into Internet-based companies, and the value of equity markets grew exponentially.
In 2000, things started to change. Between 2001 and 2002, the dotcom bubble burst, causing many tech companies to go bankrupt.
Monty Schmidt is a serial entrepreneur and CTO who co-founded Sonic Foundry, a music tools startup that grew to $50M+ in revenue. After taking it public at the peak of the tech bubble, Monty was worth $200M on paper, but when the bubble burst, his net worth plummeted to ~$0.
From hyper-growth to a market crash
Monty helped create some of the first audio software for Windows in the early-mid 90s, which eventually became Sonic Foundry.
Between 1995 and 1998, Sonic Foundry experienced hyper-growth and went public, raising ~$25M. By 2000, Sonic Foundry was valued at $1.2B, had an annual revenue of $30M, and about 400 employees.
After the market crash, they only had six months of runway. Monty and his team took a few weeks to strategize and then laid off half the company to extend runway. They then took on some high-interest debt and cut more employees, and were able to sell the media part of their business to Sony in early 2003.
Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to hear the story behind Sonic Foundry.
Surviving unexpected market downturns
Monty found himself in a tough spot where he had to make the difficult decision to lay off half of his employees. Despite his optimism, the market failed to improve, and Monty made further cuts.
After the deal with Sony, they had just 30 employees and $12M in the bank. However, thanks to their decisions, the company was able to continue operating to this day and employed hundreds of people over time.
Monty learned during this time the importance of having 18 months of runway to weather any unexpected market downturns. He also believes that a more conservative approach during tough times is vital to ensure a company's survival. These decisions are not easy, but they can ultimately make the difference between success and failure in the long run.
Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Monty’s lessons learned during market downturns.
Outline of this episode:[01:02] - About Monty[08:04] - Growth after going public[13:50] - The market crash[15:37] - Market behavior during downturns[20:33] - Closing a deal with Sony [22:23] - Lessons learned[24:30] - Going from 3 to 400 people[28:06] - Advisors during the downturns[31:08] - Recognizing bubbles[37:12] - The drip of bad news[42:13] - Surviving a market downturn[37:12] - Lay-offs[52:24] - Founders' most precious assets
Resources & people mentioned:Monty SchmidtSonic Foundry
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