One thing I miss about living in Los Angeles is the city had many different and regular tech events. In any given month there used to be at least a dozen events ranging from networking parties, to panels about various topics (be it the future of PR or how the entertainment industry should use social media, etc), to one, two, or even three-day conferences. The other thing that is also great about LA's tech community is that it's nicely intertwined within other industries and everyone stays in regular contact with each other.
Upon arriving in Sao Paulo over two years ago, I jumped right into teaching English as my best opportunity. I always stayed connected to the NY, LA, or SF tech communities through my website, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, but there was really no tech community to be found here.
Enter Brazil Innovators. Brazil Innovators began a couple of years as a way to bridge the tech communities between Silicon Valley and Brazil. Led by Bedy Yang, originally from Brazil, she felt there was much to gain by making this connection between entrepreneurs and innovation in the Valley and the growth of tech and entrepreneurship in Brazil.
I went to a couple of events in 2011, but the event that really launched and brought together the Brazilian, and better yet the South American tech community, was Geeks on a Plane (GOAP) 2011. I finally felt a real sense of belonging to a group of geeks making things happen here in Latin America (LATAM).
GOAP 2012 was no different this year. Once again, it was a room full of some of the most dynamic people and startups from the Valley, New York, LA, and all over South America.
Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups and the brainchild behind GOAP, opened up the day conference with some key points about what a startup needs. His famous acronym is AARRR, which stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue, is the model he feels all startups ought to follow for future success. He prefers if entrepreneurs are building a useful product for a small, but engaged audience, rather than a ton of users who barely come to your site and create very little activity. He mentioned what's happening to the global environment of startups and investments, and not just mentioning the usual BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), but also mentioning that other countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, and the Middle East are also becoming important markets. His final point was, in the next two to five years a global, tech revolution is happening, and entrepreneurs and investors need to pay attention to it.
During the investor panel, which included Bedy Yang, Eric Acher, Antoine Colaco, and Anderson Thees, one of the main topics of conversation was with regards to all the copycat sites being developed in Brazil. Acher believes that copycats are fine, as they are capitalizing on what is working well in the U.S. or elsewhere. He feels that competitors are also copycats (take for instance Pepsi vs. Coca Cola, or Burger King vs. McDonalds). The risk for success and growth is a lot less, but the return can be quite profitable. Thees believes that if a copycat thinks big, it will be very successful and with both the markets in Brazil and in the rest of Latin America, there is a lot to gain. One of the points I found interesting was when Acher compared the startup/entrepreneur community in Brazil to Silicon Valley in the 70s. I don't know if I would necessarily agree with that. However, what I do agree with is his idea that successful entrepreneurs in Brazil will become the next angel investors and contribute to the growth of VCs, tech companies, etc and that will be hugely beneficial for Latin America's overall growth in business and in tech. And finally, the bane of Brazil's existence, the time, bureaucracy, and red tape associated with starting a company here. On average, it's takes over 100 days to open a business in Brazil. Thees believes that this should not deter people away from the prospect and opportunity to do business in Brazil. I have to agree, but I think what's more important is not just understanding the time/red tape associated with starting a business, but to align one self with a Brazilian partner, be it a person or company. This person or company will already know the ropes and understand the Brazilian culture and bureaucracy to help get things started.
Another panel included, what they call, the "Country Managers" for Airbnb, Quinstreet, Foursquare, and Surveymonkey. The most interesting and exciting point was the growth of these companies in Brazil. Take, for example AirBNB's growth in 2011. A staggering 1700% in growth and R$2.5 million generated, with Rio de Janeiro being one of the biggest markets in the world. And with the World Cup and Olympics coming up in the next four years, their growth will only continue.
The highlight for me was the fireside chat with one of the Founders of Skype, Niklas Zennstrom. I think no other piece of technology has had more of an impact in my life than Skype. Considering I left Canada over a decade ago, staying in touch with my friends and family back home has been crucial. When I was finally introduced to Skype, I was blown away by the experience and still today, every time I use it I am amazed by it and I always say "thank god for Skype!".
One of the points Zennstrom talked about was why he was focused on the Brazilian market. For him, the fact that Brazil has become the second largest market for Facebook speaks volumes about its growth potential. He feels there is great engineering talent and that the country has a very entrepreneurial spirit. With regards to entrepreneurs and building a startup, he believes that nowadays, the power lies in the hands of the entrepreneur. Rather than an entrepreneur having to pitch to several VCs, it's seems to be the other way around due to the types of startups that are being developed today. Finally, he felt it was vitally important that the Brazilian tech community start focusing on innovation, rather than just developing copycat websites. It's about continually trying to disrupt businesses and focus on the problem you are trying to solve. Make sure you have a higher purpose than just making money, because the money will come eventually.
All in all, a very fun and informative day and its a great moment to be living in Brazil experiencing not just the growth of the startup community, but the country as a whole.