I am a first-generation US citizen, born to parents raised in Ireland. My two brothers and I have lived in Pennsylvania, on the East Coast of the US, our whole lives. As I enter my final year at Susquehanna University, I am studying International Business and Marketing.
Through a unique funding opportunity with our business school, I was selected alongside six of my classmates to spend my summer gaining cross-cultural work experience abroad leading into the final year of university. As I set off to choose a country, and a job, I knew I wanted to travel to a Latin American country and my passion for entrepreneurship along with my love of the outdoors pushed Chile to the top of my list.
Nathan Lustig’s Crossing Borders podcast served as the perfect tool to teach me about the startup industry in Latin America. I listened to the thirty most recent episodes and looked for overarching themes that stuck out to me. By listening to so many different thought leaders in LatAm tech and entrepreneurship, I have begun to understand the Do's and Don'ts of Latin America’s startup ecosystem:
1. Accept the fact that you do not know everything.
You are not supposed to! It is better to admit that you do not have the answer than to fake it and risk being caught in a lie or a moment of over-confidence.
In Episode 64, when Komal Dadlani interviews Nathan on how to raise venture capital with Magma Partners, Nathan brings up this point while discussing “the best types of entrepreneurs.” Nathan mentions a personal experience where he was asked by a board member if he was aware of a particular company, supposedly in his industry. Nathan admitted he had never heard of this mysterious competitor. This company turned out to be completely made up and the question was a mere test of honesty. Admitting when you don’t know something is the right thing to do.
2. Be willing to fail, fail, and fail again.
Many of Nathan’s guests spoke about the importance of failing and all that it taught them. In Episode 67, Brian York of Liftit admitted that one of his biggest faults when starting his first company was that he “tried to get too involved in things that [he’s] just not good at.” When he began to allow his team to take over where he was weakest, the company started growing.
Similarly, Maricel Saenz, CEO of NextBiotics advised in Episode 76, “the worst attempt is the one that you never do”. It’s very easy to see where there is opportunity and reach out to people that can help you seize it.
Cory Siskind, founder of Base Operations, emphasized this point, saying: “People, especially women, need to be less risk-averse and just go-for-it. There is a 90-something percent change that it won’t work but you never know what can happen, don’t overthink it. You won’t regret trying.”
3. The fate of a business is in the very people that create and maintain it.
Maricel Saenz of NextBiotics noted that she and her co-founder are opposites: man/woman, introvert/extrovert, scientist/businesswoman, but these differences are what makes them work together so well. Where one member of a team falls short, others can pick up the pieces. Teams should be dynamic and efficient, which all begins with knowing your strengths and weaknesses and recognizing that flaws are not only acceptable, but inevitable.
In Episode 61, Carlos Moyses, the CEO of iFood, stated simply: “You don’t do anything by yourself. You really need to build a team, a strong team.” This team needs to be committed to the mutually-understood goals and purpose of the business.
While business teams should have a common goal, they also need diversity. Jackie Hyland, of A55, made a poignant statement in Episode 69: “Diversity in general is just so good for business. And it’s great for the long term health of a project or business.”
Similarly, in Episode 70, Eugenio Perea reflects on a moment of realization when he was in a board meeting: “I looked down the table and I realized over 50% of our employees were left handed. And I’m left handed. And I hired all of them”. This moment was when he decided to hire someone to take charge of Human Resources; Perea knew diversity in thought on a team is an integral part of success.
4. Never burn bridges.
Connections are everything, and you should make a conscious effort to make friends everywhere and enemies nowhere. It is impossible to predict who will help you and when.
Nathan notes in Episode 64: you always need to “close the circle.” If Magma Partners, or anyone, rejects you, always respond to that rejection email. One day you could have another business idea or even just need some advice and if you burn that bridge, there’s no turning back to ask for help on the other side.
If you make an effort to treat every interaction like a ‘good first impression’ you will never need to worry about a bad one. Push yourself to attend everything you can and take every opportunity to expand your network. Marta Forero, Co-Founder of UBits, travelled to Silicon Valley to participate in Y Combinator and notes that the people she met were the most important part of the whole journey.
Komal Dadlani noted of choosing investors: “I want his network, not his net worth.” Investors should provide much more than just money. When making decisions about investors looking to come on-board she asks herself: “Do I want them to call me on the good days and the bad days? Am I willing to have breakfast and dinner with this person constantly? Will I have the guts and courage to tell them when I have a problem/be transparent with them?” Dadlani continued to add, “My Silicon Valley investor, I met in 2014, and he didn’t invest until 2016. It took 2 years of relationship building.”
5. A little rejection never killed anybody.
Nathan noted in his conversation with Maricel Saenz: “be willing to get over some of the shame of being told no and the possibility of your attempt going cold” when trying to reach out to someone new. The simple act of asking someone to grab a coffee with you and start a conversation could make all the difference.
The very nature of having an entrepreneurial mindset means you are willing to explore uncertain grounds. This thought process is both admirable and imperative for the future of any startup. As Peter Thiel states as the opening line of Zero to One: “Every moment in business happens only once.” Seize opportunities when they show up and never be afraid to be the first to reach out.
What I have concluded from listening to Crossing Borders is that there will always be people willing to help. Accept the fact that you do not know everything, make a conscious, daily effort to build a respectable network, and surround your startup with the right people to facilitate its growth.
Ciara Middleton is an intern at Magma Partners and a senior at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania.