At AVP Ventures, we have tried to articulate specific characteristics of “good teams” in order to become better investors. Typically a “good team” is one with previous experience leading a startup. In Latin America, especially outside Brazil and Mexico, the startup community is in early stages and there aren’t a plethora of serial startup entrepreneurs to choose from. We have to find other characteristics of teams that speak for the team’s ability to execute and scale regionally.
One of our criteria for defining “good team” is previous experience in the sector they are now disrupting. This experience provides sector expertise and commercial relationships which can be helpful for reaching product market fit quickly. Our portfolio is full of founders that have worked in the corporate world. This experience has both raised the question of “how could this be different?” that led them to launch companies and informed their leadership style and the culture they are creating. From our portfolio, Nicolas Droguett, CEO of SeguroSimple, and Javier Brignone, CEO of Slik, are examples of this type of founder: former corporate employees with deep sector experience who are entrepreneurs at heart. Nicolas launched SeguroSimple, spending six years working in the insurance arm of Falabella, a major retail business in Latin America, then two at Willis, an insurance broker. Nicolas worked at an insurance broker, where the paperwork was overwhelming and cost savings was part of the business. He realized that a few improvements using technology could change profit margins. And that those incremental improvements could build a competitive advantage in a fragmented and traditional market. When I first sat down with Nicolas, he didn’t give me a pitch, he gave me a tutorial on the digital insurance business. I sat at a conference room desk. He stood up at white board with a red marker. He proceeded to explain each level of the business model. He outlined in detail the unit economics of his business from customer acquisition cost to lifetime value. He knew the margins and that if he could be a bit more profitable than the traditional competition he could leapfrog them. This is the applied analytical mindset that comes from working in consulting and then within the insurance industry. This industry was ripe for disruption and Nicolas had the tools to lead the way. If someone was going to build a digital insurance broker in Latin America, it would be him. After watching Nicolas become the leading digital insurance broker in Peru and solidify his plan to enter Mexico, we were excited about backing him as investors. Along with sector expertise displayed by Nicolas, working in a corporate environment provides future founders the opportunity to manage people. This practical experience can certainly shorten the learning curve of the entrepreneur even if not necessarily in a scale up or growth environment.
Javier Brignone and his co-founders at Slik came out of the corporate human resources world. They have a genuine interest in making people happy and have spent time creating work environments that do this. Prior to Silk, Javier held managerial positions in human resource areas of companies like Despegar.com and Diageo. He also worked at fintech Wenance as Head of Human Resources. This gave him broad exposure to employee needs in companies of different sizes and at different stages. He also had an insider’s view of available solutions and how corporations make internal budgeting decisions for human resource areas. He knew there was a market opportunity for a well priced employee engagement software. There are advantages that come from having built a network and gaining know-how in a corporate setting that are useful for launching a startup. Now, as a founder, I have insights and a skill-set that can only be learned by being an entrepreneur. – Javier Brignone We could tell the Slik team what they were doing. As founders that now sell to their peers and former colleagues, they also know how things work from the inside. Even at the midst of validating the pre-product market fit stage they had a great set of clients. This is not easy to achieve. The backgrounds they had, helped them establish these relationships and importantly, credibility. They were able to get in the door. Within the industry as expertis. This advantage also allows them to shorten the sales cycle. In B2B sales. We had not seen such a geographically diverse client base at such an early stage with a solid ARPU of $2,000. Not only great companies, but a regional footprint. Javier and his co-founders quickly transitioned from the corporate setting into the startup ecosystem, we met them during their time at 500 Startups, where they had traveled from Argentina to Mexico. Since then they have grown out the team and steadily built up a client base, serving as a tool for digital transformation of human resources areas throughout Latin America. At AVP Ventures, we have found that profile startup founders with previous industry experience in a corporate setting can be highly effective. Perhaps this is especially true in startups with business-to-business (b2b) or business-to-business-to-consumer (b2b2c)business models, where a large business is a client or essential partner. Much of the early growth we have seen in Latin America in B2B startups is based on sales-led growth. Founders with insider knowledge can convince potential clients faster, meaning shorter sales cycles and quicker initial revenue for the startup.
There are advantages that come from having built a network and gaining know-how in a corporate setting that are useful for launching a startup. Now, as a founder, I have insights and a skill-set that can only be learned by being an entrepreneur. –
Entrepreneurs at heart
While not serial entrepreneurs prior to launching their startups, Nicolas and Javier are entrepreneurs at heart. They were frustrated with a corporate setting and sought the autonomy and agility to make things happen by leading startups. This experience also builds an aversion to inefficiencies and an appreciation for agile decision-making necessary for startups. When meeting them today, it is hard to imagine them in a more formal corporate setting. In fact their career paths are littered with hints of experimentation. But the formal sector experience has been informative for them by giving them an idea of what not to do, what are pain points, what are the obstacles that can be overcome. A clear sense of the path, in the case of Nicolas, operational efficiencies of a few percent could change scalability and profitability of the business model. Today, Nicolas has grown his business so that it is larger in Mexico than in Peru. His focus on unit economics has served him well in improving customer retention and lifetime value. Javier continues to grow his client base while at the same time increasing annual revenue per client. We are excited to see what they do next.