120 episodes

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.

Crossing Borders with Nathan Lustig Nathan Lustig

    • Business
    • 5.0 • 25 Ratings

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: Ximena Aleman, Prometeo: Transforming Latin America’s financial landscape via Open Banking, Ep 173

    Greatest Hits Episode: Ximena Aleman, Prometeo: Transforming Latin America’s financial landscape via Open Banking, Ep 173

    For this week’s episode of Crossing Borders, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Ximena Aleman, co-CEO and co-founder of Prometeo.

    ~70% of Latin Americans are unbanked or underbanked. That means that there’s a huge opportunity to improve access to financial products and services across the region by leveraging data and technology.

    Ximena Aleman is co-founder and CEO of Prometeo, a startup that develops Open Banking APIs for fintechs and financial companies in Latin America. We invested in Prometeo in 2019 to support its mission to provide the infrastructure needed to help the region’s fintech ecosystem evolve with better products and services.

    I sat down with Ximena to talk about LatAm’s fintech wave and how Prometeo is building the future of financial services in the region. We also discuss her impressive career trajectory – from journalist to entrepreneur– and what it means to be a non-elite Uruguayan female founder in fintech.

    A concentrated financial landscape

    Ximena explains that in Latin America, a very small number of banks (4-5 in some, 2-3 in others!) generally have 80% of the market share in each Latin American country, compared to the US where there are thousands of banks across the country. In addition to this market concentration, most banks are more conservative and invest less in innovation. This conservative mindset results in financial products and services that are outdated and don’t necessarily respond to the population’s evolving needs.

    Learn more about how Prometeo is addressing this problem in this episode of Crossing Borders.

    Jumping from journalism into tech

    After conducting interviews with many tech entrepreneurs during her journalism days, Ximena was inspired by what was happening in the tech scene. It was while working at a publishing house that she learned about scalable business models for the first time. That experience convinced her that she wanted to create her own company.

    Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Ximena’s path to fintech.

    Embracing fundraising from Uruguay

    For Ximena, being a Uruguayan female founder in fintech used to just be contextual information. It was when she started fundraising that she realized that these labels had a meaning. In understanding what it meant to be a non-elite or an underestimated founder, Ximena was able to make sense of why certain situations or processes weren’t following through as she had expected.

    Learn about why Ximena considers that there’s power in understanding these labels and how she finds ways to reframe what it means to be an elite founder in this episode of Crossing Borders.

    Ximena Aleman is redefining what it means to be an elite founder with her drive and passion for the fintech ecosystem. With Prometeo, she is powering the next wave of innovation in LatAm’s fintech scene.

    Outline of this episode:
    [1:35] - About Prometeo
    [1:50] - Differences between LatAm and US markets
    [4:58] - Being an entrepreneur from Uruguay
    [6:58] - From journalism to creating a product that scales
    [12:25] - Choosing to specialize in fintech
    [15:45] - Understanding the ‘elite’ labels
    [27:15] - The female founder in fintech experience
    [30:54] - Advice to Ximena’s younger self
    [35:23] - What’s next for Prometeo?

    Resources & people mentioned:
    Ximena Aleman
    Prometeo

    • 42 min
    Greatest Hits Episode: Deepak Chhugani, Nuvocargo: Using software to modernize trade between Mexico and USA, Ep 172

    Greatest Hits Episode: Deepak Chhugani, Nuvocargo: Using software to modernize trade between Mexico and USA, Ep 172

    For this week’s episode of Crossing Borders, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Deepak Chhugani, CEO and founder of Nuvocargo.

    Deepak Chhugani’s multicultural background was considered rare and unexpected in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he grew up most of his life. He was born in Kenya to Indian parents who migrated to Ecuador in their late 20s. Logically, after studying at university in the US, Deepak wanted to find a way to connect all of these experiences. When he worked in investment banking in New York and Mexico, he saw the intersection that existed between the US and Latin America. Specifically, in trade with Mexico– the US’ largest trading partner.

    Coming from a family with a background in logistics, Deepak founded Nuvocargo, a digital freight forwarder and licensed customs broker that helps companies move physical goods between the US and Mexico.

    In this episode, Deepak shares stories about growing up in Ecuador as an Indian immigrant, his experience in investment banking in the US and Latin America, and the reason for pivoting into Nuvocargo after going through YCombinator. We also delve deep into the complexity of carrying out international trade and how Nuvocargo’s solution helps to streamline those processes.
    The Lobby
    When Deepak was starting his first company, he stood firm on the idea of working on a solution to a problem that affected him personally. At the time, one of his greatest accomplishments had been getting a job in investment banking despite having all the odds against him for that position. His first startup, the Lobby, originated from that experience, and was the vehicle that got him into YC as a single non-tech founder. Although he didn’t follow through with the model, it taught him valuable lessons on what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

    Learn more about Deepak’s major takeaways from his first startup in this episode of Crossing Borders.
    Investors’ reaction to pivoting
    It takes a lot of courage to scrap a fully-fledged business model and start over. Even more so when investors are already involved. Deepak did just that when he decided to pivot his first startup to what is today Nuvocargo. Even though some investors pulled out of the deal, the ones that stayed did so because they had invested in the team. Some of them even tripled their investments with the new business model. Deepak explains that how investors react in these situations can speak volumes of their character.

    Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Deepak’s pivoting process and the reaction from investors.
    “Everyday there are about 15K-20K trucks crossing the border”
    Deepak explains that most people are unaware of the complexity involved in international trade, despite it being one of the biggest industries in the world. Transporting goods across borders is a highly complex process that can involve seven to eight different stakeholders, different currencies, laws, and languages. It’s an operation that requires a lot of knowledge and efficiency. Nuvocargo helps coordinate that complexity, and digitizes processes that oftentimes are still relying on analogue systems.

    Find out in this episode of Crossing Borders how Deepak is bringing innovation to an industry that has yet to jump on the digital transformation other industries are already experiencing.

    Deepak Chhugani is at the forefront of innovation in the trade and logistics industry in Latin America. He is leveraging his multicultural background, expertise on logistics, and passion for the region to bring transparency and visibility to trade between the US and Latin America.

    Outline of this episode:
    [1:46] - About Nuvocargo
    [2:40] - A multicultural upbringing
    [4:15] - An Indian immigrant in Ecuador
    [6:50] - Choosing entrepreneurship
    [8:55] - Pivot into Nuvocargo
    [17:40] - Investing in...

    • 37 min
    Izabel Gallera, Canary Ventures: Leveraging the power of connections to help early-stage Latin American startups, Ep 171

    Izabel Gallera, Canary Ventures: Leveraging the power of connections to help early-stage Latin American startups, Ep 171

    Izabel Gallera is a Partner at Canary, a venture capital firm born in Brazil that invests in early-stage Latin American startups. She describes Canary’s core business as leveraging its network to create connections and help founders fundraise for their startups.

    Izabel is from Brazil, and as an engineer, only discovered the startup world after graduating and entering the job market. Working at Endeavor, she met the Canary partners which would pull her into the VC world.

    In this episode, Izabel shares Canary’s thesis and explains why the firm chooses to work with very early-stage startups. She also describes how the startup ecosystem evolved since Canary’s beginnings and talks about why founders shouldn’t underestimate the power of connections.

    Betting on early-stage startup founders

    Canary does not focus on business models or industry sectors because they aim to get involved early with startups and accompany them through their journey. The firm wants to be the first institutional investor of startups that can disrupt markets and whose founders want to build massive businesses.

    Listen to this episode to know why Canary invests in startups that are just starting to get off the ground to help them achieve great impact.


    The importance of connections in the VC world

    Izabel explains that Canary helps founders raise funds and connects them to networks of experienced people where they can exchange value. The advice she would give to her younger self is to reinforce her network, which is also her advice to founders of early-stage startups.

    In this episode, Izabel explains why it is important to find the right fund at the right stage. For example, Canary is a top fund for early-stage ventures because its specialty is to leverage connections and relationships.

    The evolution of the startup ecosystem in Latin America

    Canary got into the VC game in Latin America before Latam startups took off: since then there was a wave of tech talent, while the market size was huge in countries like Brazil, and capital was flowing in from other continents.

    Izabel has witnessed the ecosystem’s evolution and helped support some of Latin America’s top companies. Izabel shares that the number of startups they interview per month in Canary rose from 30 when they started to 500 or more now. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to understand how Izabel thinks about Latin America’s startup ecosystem.


    Outline of this episode:

    [01:20] - About Canary
    [03:20] - Early-stage startup thesis
    [07:01] - Izabel’s background
    [09:21] - Evolution of the startup ecosystem
    [13:48] - Expanding to other countries in LatAm
    [16:04] - Lessons learned as an investor and advice for founders
    [20:27] - Why did Canary choose to invest in early-stage startups?
    [24:17] - Advice to founders that want to partner with Canary
    [25:51] - Biggest leverage points for founders and lessons learned helping entrepreneurs on their journey.
    [27:57] - Advice to younger self
    [29:20] - Podcast recommendations

    People & Resources mentioned:

    Izabel Gallera
    Canary
    Endeavor
    a16z Podcast
    Masters of Scale Podcast

    • 33 min
    Greatest Hits Episode: Caterine Castillo, Neivor: Streamlining real estate administration in Latin America, Ep 170

    Greatest Hits Episode: Caterine Castillo, Neivor: Streamlining real estate administration in Latin America, Ep 170

    For this week’s episode of Crossing Borders, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Caterine Castillo, CEO and co-founder of Neivor.
    In Latin America, a building manager typically has to handle thousands of apartment units and tenants. This means simultaneously dealing with building maintenance, reconciling payments, and meeting tenant and landlord requests. Currently, this is done manually with pen and paper, maybe an Excel spreadsheet or through WhatsApp which leads to inefficiencies and unhappy residents.

    Caterine Castillo, Neivor’s co-founder and CEO, is trying to make living in Latin America’s apartment buildings and condos better. Neivor is a vertical SaaS platform that simplifies condo fee collections and streamlines management and communication between residents, property owners, and building managers. Neivor processes tens of millions of payments per month and help manage 3000+ apartment buildings in Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador.

    I sat down with Caterine to talk about the pain points of property management in Latin America and the differences in Neivor’s reception between the Colombian and Mexican markets. We also talk about her experience in finance before becoming a founder and what it was like fundraising for the first time.
    Growing Neivor’s team

    One of the biggest lessons Caterine learned from working at corporations was managing large teams. These skills are extremely critical in Neivor’s roadmap with a team that is currently growing from 18 employees to 75 in under a year. Caterine also explained that hiring won’t solve a company’s problems immediately. It’s important to understand that people are managing a big learning curve when they join a new team.

    Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Caterine’s main takeaways from her experience working in corporations.
    The importance of connections in VC
    Caterine’s first fundraising experience was with Neivor. She explains that having a great solution and an underserved market with low-hanging fruit sometimes isn’t enough. Having the right connections is key. She had connections in the corporate world, but not in the VC world. Besides funding, Caterine considers that those first warm introductions are game-changers for any entrepreneur that is new to the space.

    Learn more about Caterine’s fundraising journey with Neivor and the connections that were key to their growth in this episode of Crossing Borders.
    Property management: Colombia versus Mexico
    Expanding to a new market in another country involves a lot of risks. Consulting with others who have done it before can be really helpful. However, there’s so much more insight that can be gained from being on the ground and talking to clients before making a decision to expand. During her time in Mexico, Caterine discovered that their target market was much more receptive to Neivor’s product, requiring a different marketing approach than in Colombia.

    Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about the differences between the Colombian and Mexican property management markets.

    Caterine Castillo brings her expertise in business development, sales, marketing to propel Neivor’s solution forward in Latin America. Her innate passion for team building and creating solutions that disrupt the market will be key to Neivor’s success.

    Outline of this episode:
    [2:34] - About Neivor
    [5:20] - Dealing with fraud
    [6:35] - Where Neivor operates
    [7:02] - Becoming an entrepreneur
    [8:20] - From fintech to founder
    [9:14] - Biggest lessons learned in fintech
    [10:24] - Growing Neivor’s team
    [13:40] - Fundraising process
    [15:30] - Jumping to Mexico
    [18:00] - How to sell in Mexico
    [20:27] - Books, blogs, and podcast recommendations
    [21:20] - Caterine’s advice to her younger self
    [22:09] - What’s next...

    • 22 min
    Santiago Suárez, Addi: Helping Latin Americans make and accept payments Ep 169

    Santiago Suárez, Addi: Helping Latin Americans make and accept payments Ep 169

    Santiago Suarez is the CEO and co-founder of Addi, a Latin American fintech company. Addi promotes and enables digital commerce in Latam. As Santiago puts it, Addi’s mission is to enable every Latin American to buy and shop digitally. Addi offers “buy now pay later”, and is currently active in Colombia and Brazil.

    Originally from Colombia, Santiago moved to the US on a full scholarship. After university and working in the finance industry, he decided to move back to LatAm. In this episode, Santiago talks about his background in financial services, and how it helped him become an entrepreneur.

    Latin America’s payments problem

    Latin America has over 90% smartphone penetration. However, most Latin Americans are not full participants in the digital economy. Santiago realized this was a big problem, but also a great opportunity to create a startup by solving it.

    Listen to this episode to learn how Addi allows customers to buy online using installments. We also discuss why Santaigo views “buy now pay later” as a payment option, not a credit business.

    The organic approach to idea building

    Santiago's background in finance, passions and interests drove him to start a fintech. We discuss metrics and the importance of timely launching and iterating a MVP. Also, Santiago discusses how to solve the payment problem they first had to focus on trust.

    In this episode, find out Santiago’s advice to entrepreneurs. Some of his advice is on empowering teams and in which level to operate as a CEO.

    Fundraising advice

    Santiago knows that when you raise venture capital, you're paying for forward growth. We also discussed expanding, and how you package your business is critically important.

    Listen to this episode to learn why the biggest problem in fundraising is to think that investing is a rational decision. We also discuss the power of engaging investors with your story and the asymmetry in the investor-founder dynamic.


    Outline of this episode:

    [01:57] - Overview of ecommerce and payments in Latam
    [03:31] - On becoming an entrepreneur
    [04:52] - Coming back to Latam to start a company
    [06:04] - Things learned in the financial industry
    [07:50] - Differences between launching a startup in the US vs launching one in Latam
    [10:11] - The process of picking an idea
    [12:51] - Discussing product
    [14:50] - The real problem around payments in Latin America
    [16:20] - Starting operations
    [18:25] - Advice to other founders
    [20:07] - Talking about fundraising
    [22:22] - Founders’ mistakes in fundraising
    [26:11] - The future for Addi
    [27:23] - Advice to Santiago (before launching a startup)

    Resources and people mentioned:

    Rob Frey Podcast
    Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman
    The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business. Written by Patrick Lencioni
    The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success by Jim Dethmer
    Conscious Leadership
    The Alpinist documentary of Marc-André Leclerc

    • 29 min
    Greatest Hits Episode:Gabriela Estrada, Vexi: Bringing Credit to the Underbanked in Mexico, Ep 168

    Greatest Hits Episode:Gabriela Estrada, Vexi: Bringing Credit to the Underbanked in Mexico, Ep 168

    ​​For this week’s episode of Crossing Borders, we’re revisiting one of our greatest hits episodes featuring Gabriela Estrada, CFO and co-founder of Vexi.
    Only one in ten adults in Mexico have access to a formal credit card, according to Gabriela Estrada. That’s more than 70 million people that are not able to build a credit history. As cofounder and CFO of Vexi, Gabriela is on a mission to make credit accessible to Mexico’s underbanked population.

    Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Gabriela was at the peak of her career at Citibanamex in Mexico City when she decided the corporate world wasn’t for her. She was the only female director as well as the youngest among her peers by 10 to 15 years. After leaving the bank, her friend convinced her to cofound Vexi with him, where she quickly fell in love with the power of impacting her community through fintech.

    I sit down with Gabriela to talk about her experience as a woman in finance in Mexico and some of the challenges she now faces as a female founder when seeking investment. We also discuss why she decided to tackle financial inclusion and how Vexi is helping increase financial literacy in Mexico.
    Vexi’s clientbase
    Gabriela discovered that Vexi was a way of helping the local community by leveraging her extensive experience in finance. She explains that, although Vexi’s clients come from diverse backgrounds, they have two common denominators: resilience and loyalty. These individuals are used to rejection from traditional financial institutions. When they find a bank that believes in them, they want to repay that trust.

    Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about how Vexi is helping make credit accessible to underserved Mexicans.
    Credit vs. debit
    Debit cards are a huge success in regions like Europe. However, Gabriela explains that in Latin America the financial needs are different and the real game-changers are credit cards. However, finding a way to underwrite people that have never been underwritten before can be a daunting task. Gabriela explains that it requires a lot of creativity to be able to change the lives of the underbanked.

    Learn more about how gaining access to credit can change the lives of Latin Americans on this episode of Crossing Borders.
    The risk bias in venture capital
    As a female founder, Gabriela explains that she gets asked weird questions when raising money, making it difficult to build relationships with male venture capitalists. It took her some time to realize that investors weren’t asking her about the risks of the business because she was CFO of the company. It was because of her gender.

    Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn about how Gabriela learned to turn those questions into opportunities

    Gabriela Estrada took a leap of faith when she left her job at one of the largest banks in Mexico. Since then, she has been using her knowledge to help thousands of people gain access to credit with Vexi. Her story is an example for women to continue to break the glass ceiling.

    Episode outline:
    [1:17] - About Vexi and Gabriela
    [3:25] - On Vexi’s client base
    [7:54] - From Chihuahua to chilanga
    [9:32] - Falling in love with entrepreneurship
    [12:11] - Being a woman in finance in Mexico
    [13:50] - Lessons learned from working in banks
    [15:56] - Reaction from friends and family
    [17:39] - Choosing Vexi and financial inclusion
    [19:34] - Credit vs. debit
    [22:24] - Avoiding loan sharks
    [24:01] - Tackling financial illiteracy
    [25:50] - Raising money as a female founder
    [29:45] - Recommendations on books, blogs, or podcasts
    [30:56] - Advice on taking the leap
    [32:02] - What’s next for Vexi?

    Resources & people mentioned
    Gabriela Estrada
    Vexi
    Book: Delivering Happiness

    • 34 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
25 Ratings

25 Ratings

TheReal_Joe_ ,

Very detailed!

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.

The Collins Family ,

BC

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.

Wjb108 ,

Thank you!

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

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