I’ve titled this post “my favorite Colombian startups” though, I must say, this is not an objective moniker since I am also an advisor to these companies and their CEO’s. That said, they are my favorite Colombian startups and it’s an honor to be a small part of their future success. As you’ll read below, I’m incredibly excited about their current successes (see photo of Mark Zuckerberg talking about 1Doc3 during F8 2016) and those to come.
There is something that I find so impressive about founders in general and, particularly, those that I advise. It’s the fact that they’ve been able to build growing businesses (something I haven’t been able to do myself), but are also open to listening to advice. This opens them up to new points of view and, in my opinion, increases their chances of building an even bigger company. My advisory sessions can be racked up to an occasional evening phone call, which takes very little time each month, this activity is incredibly rewarding for me.
When considering whom to advise, I not only look at the company and its prospects but focus a lot on the founder/CEO. I look for cool people (with whom I share some chemistry) and who are excellent at execution (better than myself), but who value bouncing things off of someone with an alternate viewpoint. I have always been quite analytical (in Latin America, this is mistakenly called “academic”) and call upon what I’ve learned from startups in Silicon Valley as well successfully growing new product businesses at bigger companies such as Intel and Oracle.
I’m fortunate to be able to advise some awesome startup founders in a variety of spaces that include transportation, health, software, retail and consumer services. I’ve been fascinated by the changes brought on by digital innovation for a while and these founders are certainly at the forefront of these changes. Most of these companies are well-known at least in Colombia (or becoming well-known). I take great pride in my ability to identify talent early on. In the case of these companies, investors and others many times passed them over when, in my opinion, they should have taken closer look.
The founders of these companies have been very busy of late and it’s time to write one of my “portfolio” update posts to let you know what’s new with them:
As I’ve written before, this startup, the leading Taxi-hailing app in Colombia, had a meteoric rise and was recently acquired by its main competitor, Easy Taxi. Also, as I’ve written before, I had an incredibly rewarding experience with the co-founders, Juan Salcedo and Andres Gutierrez, as their advisor and working as part of their team in sales, operations and strategy. It was incredibly valuable to see, first-hand, the similarities and differences between the operations of a startup in Latin America and Silicon Valley. Though Tappsi has been acquired, I still enjoy talking with the founders when I can.
As you can appreciate from the above photo, the CEO and founder of 1DOC3, Javier Cardona, has been doing some amazing things at 1DOC3. As the photo shows, a few weeks back, Javier was on a panel at Facebook F8 and Mark Zuckerberg actually mentioned the company during his keynote.
Javier has really done a phenomenal job at continuing to execute and build a strong business centered around a growing medical Q&A site. As I’ve mentioned previously when I met Javier and his team when I was mentoring for Wayra, an accelerator, there were certainly not seen as the “sexy” (especially, not among local and Miami investors). I, on the other hand, have always been excited by their ability to execute and the incredibly large market in front of them (the latter is actually a challenge since it would be a mistake to pursue all of the opportunities in front of them without focusing).
They have already closed a number of big B2B deals with Big Pharma and government agencies looking to communicate with hard to reach audiences. They currently have quite a few very interesting deals in the pipeline and insurance is certainly another potential vertical for them. They also recently won a prize in Mexico with full paid services to set up a new subsidiary in that country, something that the Javier is executing on in a very deliberate way in order to start building up opportunities without getting ahead of himself.
The opportunities in front of Javier and his team, while not limitless, really depend on their own ambitions. They are positioning a new, trusted health brand in front of patients while helping big organizations reach these same patients with important communications in a measurable way.
As I’ve written about before, the co-founder and CEO, Feilpe Chavez, sold off some assets from a previous business (which was closer to an Instacart-type operation) to a local startup. They are now focused on building a marketplace of services where users can call upon “Kiwiers” to help them accomplish tasks. Users can request things through a chat interface and the company has created some Kiwibots to automate some of these requests.
They currently are growing at more than 25% per month and are running in universities in Colombia and in Chile. In fact, they are part of the Startup Chile program and have received the grant given during this program for thousands of dollars. This is one of the earliest stage companies that I advise and, though they are growing incredibly quickly, they have not transitioned out of discovery phase just yet.
They have found an incredibly cost-effective way to scale the number of marketplaces across many geographies. There are still some things they’re figuring out, but I’m extremely confident that they’ll build a big company not just because of the opportunity, but because of the team that Felipe is building.
I recently signed on with this cloud-based Point of Sales software provider and am incredibly excited about how the co-founders, CEO, Arnulfo Ospina, and VP Sales, Roxanna Vergara, execute on a number of levels (a requirement for getting a SaaS business off the ground). They have continued to improve the product as they have refined their lead and sales engine.
Their content marketing strategy and lead management processes are making them more and more effective in terms of reducing Cost of Customer Acquisition (CAC). Also, their Lifetime Customer Value (LTV) is considerably more than three time their CAC making the business incredibly attractive. This is also out of necessity because of the lack of institutional and angel investors who understand startups in Colombia (much less that understand SaaS businesses).
The permanent SaaS businesses such as Salesforce and Netsuite have had the luxury of Venture Capital investment at the outset. Although there are great examples of SaaS businesses that were boot strapped, it’s not easy (Vendy has received more than US $50k in funding). Arnulfo and Roxanna have done a great job at juggling a number of key factors in order accomplish this feat and I already see that they will be successful.
Previously, I had been talking to them about building that sales engine (including customer success) while taking care of product and other issues. Before becoming a formal advisor, I was mentoring them utilizing a Startup Template that I have created with 12 key areas to work on (e.g., sales process, lead generation with content at the core, company message, company culture, etc.) and they have worked on each of these areas, though survival (e.g., sales and collections) has been the focus up until now.
At this stage, I feel that the areas that we had given a quick look at such as company culture and brand (two sides of the same coin in my opinion) are areas that the team will need to start focusing a bit more on in the medium term and my job is to make sure that these areas don’t get left by the wayside and come back to bite us later. Vendty has tremendous potential to position itself and build a strong brand in this space. This opportunity is not mutually exclusive to the tactical things that the team is working on to increase sales and profitability, but together, will become a potent combination.
Vendty has achieved something that gives them a lot of say with respect to their future, which is that they are just about to become cash flow positive. Everyone knows that investors (especially smart money) are scarce in Latin America. Because of this, I feel that SaaS companies that are able to have the luxury to say “no” to opportunitistic investors looking to push unfavorable terms, will have a great advantage. For this, any other reasons, I truly believe that Arnulfo and Roxanna will build a big, valuable SaaS company.
I’ve been advising Acsendo and the company’s CEO, Carlos Santana, for a number of years, now and their customer list has grown into the hundreds. They are at an inflection point right now as they grow their sales in Colombia and internationally.
Both Acsendo and Vendty will benefit greatly from something that is sure to arrive in the region: consolidation. I believe that, within two years (or earlier), bigger software companies will be kicking the tires of these companies in anticipation of the global shift of trillions of dollars in IT spending from traditional software to Software-as-a-Service (in the cloud). Both of these companies will be well positioned by then to take advantage of this transition.
Note: Though Magnolia is not from Colombia, I want to mention that I’m a big fan of Magnolia’s CEO, Alvaro De La Fuente and it’s still possible that this startup can be a success. Nonetheless, I haven’t’ mentioned them here because I did specify that I was listing “Colombian” companies.