5 Startup Chile Lessons Learned from My Startup Chile Adventure
Hi, everybody. It’s Matthew Alberto here at matthewalberto.com. It’s been quite a while since I posted. I realize that. I’ve actually been busy, being on the ground, really working hard, working on my start-ups, working on my ventures, trying to make an impact on the world, trying to change the world and make a dent in it, to do something great. It really meant some time off my blog and really focusing on my projects. The projects have been going well, and I think it’d be great to just come back and really start blogging again and to share my learnings, my findings, my lessons, and share them with you.
Startup Chile – The Global Startup Accelerator in South America
This post today is about the five start-up lessons from my Start-Up Chile adventure. I was actually a part of Generation 9.2 of Start-Up Chile and that was one year ago. Right now, it’s actually my one-year anniversary since I was accepted, along with my co-founder, Fufu, for our start-up, PeoplePledge, the medical crowd-funding platform, that aims to change lives around the world and help families with their medical bills. Overall, my time with Start-Up Chile was a great experience. They’re great people, some really driven people from all around the world who wanted to make a difference with their start-up and do something creative and innovative and new. That was something different that I hadn’t experienced before.
In the past, I’d been working on my start-up projects mainly on my own with my co-founders, and often it felt like a lonely journey. This time, being a part of an incubator, Start-Up Chile, which actually is an international incubator, it actually made the dynamic different and it really made me juiced and excited about what I was working on because through the people there you really get pumped. There was great food as well, here in Chile, from the hamburguesas and the avocados and the lovely delicious fruits and vegetables, because they have great produce in the country, not to mention the parties that I attended with the other start-up folks. Just the overall start-up culture in Chile is really great. I am actually recording this right now here in Chile.
I was here in Chile for six to seven months last year. After that, I got married as you can probably see in my previous post, and I’m actually back here in Chile now because, thankfully, we got follow-on funding.
I want to share with you five start-up lessons learned from my Start-up Chile adventure and hopefully it will help you in your start-up journey whether you want to change the world through technology or some other start-up idea that you have.
1) How Startup Communities are Formed: From Down Under to Latin America
So first lesson that I learned is that start-up communities can be formed and created, and I learned how they can do that. Here in Chile, they are actually trying to emulate the Silicon Valley culture and experience here in Latin America, which really interesting is that the country as a whole is trying to move towards that innovation center and that tech industry. Chile wants to be the next Silicon Valley or at least the Silicon Valley in Latin America, and it’s certainly well positioned to do so. It’s one of the wealthier countries in the region. It is part of the Americas, but in the south, and it is a Spanish-speaking country, so being here in Latin America, it is well positioned to be a leader or, as they like to be called, the “Chilecon Valley” of the region.
I was heavily involved in how Start-up Chile was trying to promote start-ups and start-up culture in the region. When we were in the program, we actually were provided with funding of around $40,000 USD, but in return, no equity was taken. We did have to go out into the Chilean community and share our knowledge about technology, about innovation and about start-ups. That was a really interesting experience.
One of the experiences was that we went to a number of major universities in Santiago, the capital of Chile. I shared my experiences about innovation. There was actually as Master’s class for innovation being taught at one of the universities here, and I talked about the concepts of running lean and the lean canvas, how you can innovate and create new products and projects into the marketplace, but you can do so in a lean and scientific way.
Overall, through that Start-up Chile experience, I learned that although Silicon Valley in the US is really prime and well-known throughout the world as being the main hub internationally for tech innovation, I do believe that there are still pockets of innovation and pockets of cities around the world that can innovate too, that can provide a platform for harnessing and enhancing and encouraging entrepreneurship, and they are certainly doing that here in Chile.
Creating a start-up community doesn’t have to be too expensive in the sense that it’s not really about the money where you get all these VCs and angel investors and then that will sort things out in creating a startup community. I think another way that startup communities can be formed is just through the sharing of knowledge and the transfer of technology. We certainly demonstrated that though the activities of going throughout the Chilean community and sharing our knowledge of innovation technology and how we built our start-ups and doing it at a more personal level.
2) Internationalizing Your Startup
Second major start-up lesson that I learned during Start-up Chile was how to internationalize a startup, the pros and cons of it. We started our start-up in Australia, PeoplePledge started there and it was going quite well. English is my native language so coming to Chile was quite nerve-wracking and I was worried. I wasn’t sure what I’d expect. But coming here, it gave me a new perspective on the world, that there certainly are other markets around the world where there is potential for your start-up to grow. Especially in places where, perhaps, there is a lag in terms of the technology that is transferred there. I did see that here in Chile and across Latin America, that there certainly are opportunities for innovative start-ups to come here and bring ideas here. That’s one of the major advantages of internationalization.
It also pushed me to my limit in terms of also the language and the culture, the differences there. I did have to learn some Spanish words and phrases. I’m actually still trying to learn Spanish, but one of the things as well that I learned is that the cultural difference can have an effect on your start-up and that you can’t just cookie-cut your start-up from one country to another country, especially if there are major differences in the language and the culture. There certainly were major differences there between Australia and English-speaking countries as compared to Chile and other Latin American or Spanish-speaking countries. That was evident just in the fact that when I came here with the name “PeoplePledge” and I started talking to a number of different locals and other Spanish speakers, many of them actually had a problem saying the word “pledge,” which blew my mind. I didn’t even think about that; it never occurred to me that that would be a concern.
Now that we’re here back in Chile trying to implement something similar in the region, we are looking into changing the brand and looking at different ways that our messaging and our positioning is put across to the local market.
3) Mentors Will Push Your Startup Further
Another start-up lesson learned from Start-up Chile, my third major lesson is the power of mentors. One of the great aspects of the Start-up Chile program is that it provides you with a ton of great mentors. I was fortunate enough to be part of one of the top 16 start-ups during our cohort. I think there were about 80 to 100 start-ups that came during my generation. Fufu and I, we were really privileged to have been chosen as one of the top 16. As part of that, we were then provided with mentorship. Every single week from the beginning of our Start-up Chile journey, we met with mentors. Actually, every single week we met with our peers, which were called platoons, where we then gave updates about our start-up journey and we also heard their problems and their issues and their updates. We shared back and forth ideas to help them and they would share ideas to help us. That happened every week where it was entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs.
Then, it was every month, once a month, that we met with high-level mentors. The mentors that we got during our time included that chief marketing person for a major retail chain here in Chile, the CEO of a web development and major blog network in Latin America, a venture capitalist and also the co-founder of a major crowdfunding website. What we had learned during that time is that mentors can really push you to dream bigger and to think bigger and to look at your business and your opportunity in different ways.
Before that, we actually hadn’t ever considered dealing with mentors, and this was really the first time that, on a regular basis, we met with them. Every single time that we met with them face to face in a small room at our co-working space, it really opened our eyes and it really got us pumped by the end of it. We would get out of the room and Fufu and I would just be wide-eyed and excited and pumped to get cracking to implement some of the ideas that we had discussed and to move the start-up to the next level so that the next time that we would see our mentors we could then give them another update and then talk about another aspect of the business. That was really exciting, and we really want to take that to where we want to head in the future with the power of mentors.
4) Learn to Pitch Like Other Entrepreneur Greats
The fourth major start-up lesson learned was that pitching really matters. Throughout our Start-up Chile journey, we did a number of pitches. When we first got there during the first few weeks, we did an introductory pitch where each of the start-ups had to stand in front of the others and give about a three- to five-minute introductory pitch or speech about what you do and what you are about. Then a few weeks later, we then had an initial pitch competition, where the winners would then be chosen to then have special mentorship and special attention, which we then got, which helped us get the mentorship. Towards the end of our six-month Start-up Chile journey, we then had the quarter final pitches, semifinal pitches and then finally the finals for pitches. We did all of them. It was really tiring. I admit at sometimes it felt like it was distracting us from actually working on our start-up, but it really helped us hone our skills to pitch and to present our start-up to investors.
Although it took some time to write up the pitch, to make the pitch [inaudible 00:12:06] and to practice the pitch, every time there was a pitch, before it we would always aim to make our start-up better to focus on what really mattered. Those were the metrics of traction. Every single time, our aim was to ensure that our start-up got better and better, and we did that. That’s why we got to the demos, the final demo day, which was really exciting, pitching in front of dozens of venture capitalists and angels here in Latin America.
Apart from the Start-up Chile pitches, we also pitched to Microsoft during one of their app accelerator camps, and that was also interesting here in Chile. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up getting any investment from Microsoft, but it did help with the practice and also to build the contacts and to learn more about their offerings.
At the end of the day, when we finished with the Start-up Chile demo day finals, we did eventually get follow-on funding and that’s what brings us here now in Chile. I really learned that how deliver your pitch, how you synthesize the information, how you focus on your metrics, it really matters in what you say and how you deliver your presentation.
5) Startups are Hard: Most Fail, but Breakout Success is Possible!
The fifth and final start-up lesson that I learned from my Start-up Chile adventure that I’d like to share with you is that, while it sounds exciting and it was adventurous coming to Chile and the parties were great, the people were interesting, at the end of the day, now that it’s been one year since I started Start-up Chile a year ago, I have learned that start-ups are hard. There’s this ideal of start-ups being so cool and so awesome and it’s a great way to make money and you get pumped because you have investors and you have pitches. It is all that, but apart from all of this hype of it being awesome and cool and exciting, I just want to point out the reality of it, and that’s start-ups are really hard; they’re difficult. Now that it’s one year after we started Start-up Chile, I’ve actually noticed that one of the graduates from my cohort, generation 9, a lot of them are no longer working on their startup. Their start-up either died or the founder gave up.
I was talking to Fufu the other days; it’s really exciting looking back on the people we met who were really interesting and the ideas that they had. I’ve talked to some of my friends from my generation and it’s interesting that some of them are now working, some of them working in Silicon Valley, some of them went back home to their home countries and some of them went back to go get a job, some for financial reasons or just some that their start-ups just didn’t work out. They didn’t get enough traction or they didn’t get follow-on funding.
It wasn’t too surprising, and I do remember the acceleration manager of Start-up Chile once presenting and saying that they expect that 90% or more of the start-ups during our generation were going to fail. I thought that was kind of ridiculous, but now looking back on it now, he was actually correct. So 90-95% of them are gone, dead, kaput. It’s kind of sad, but I’m just really thankful that our start-up is still going strong and I’m still working very hard at getting our start-up off the ground.
Even though many of them have failed, I have noticed that there are some other start-ups from my generation that have made it into major accelerators or got additional funding from other sources. I know some that have gone into Y Combinator now, 500 Startups, AngelPad, those major incubators or accelerators in Silicon Valley and in the US or even in Mexico that really matter. That really shows that there are some that actually did get follow-on funding and are still alive and well.
Overall, the lesson that I learned is start-ups are difficult and you cannot idealize it. You really got to put in the work, so you really need to find something that you’re really interested in and are willing to put in 100% of your time and effort.
Those are my five start-up lessons learned from Start-up Chile adventure, and I’m really excited that our team, the PeoplePledge team and I, got into UDD ventures and are now moving on to bigger and better things. We’re back in Chile and we’re hoping to internationalize our start-up, which is really exciting.
Hopefully you can check out more of my posts as I go along. I’m hoping to post a lot more regularly now to share my ideas and to reach out to other people around the world to do something interesting in technology, to get creative and get something started off the ground and to make a difference in the world. See you later. Bye now.