Top 10 Tips From Latin American Entrepreneurs

10/23/2017 09:09 am ET

By Nathan Lustig

Over the past four months, I've had 24 incredible conversations on my podcast with entrepreneurs doing business across borders and the people who support them, with a focus on people doing business in Latin America. I've been living and working in the region for over seven years and have heard amazing stories from top entrepreneurs that I hadn't seen covered in the United States. I wanted to share their stories and lessons I learned building real global business from around the world.

Here's some of the top advice from 10 of the best entrepreneurs in Latin America who have collectively raised more than $350 million in venture capital to build real businesses across borders.

Listen to Your Client's Feedback

"You have two ears and one mouth." --Patricio Williams, PagoRural, Argentina

Williams helps farmers finance their operations with more than $150 million in loans and says that the vast majority of what he's learned in business, he's learned from his clients. When you’re getting started, you can’t just build what you want. You have to listen to your clients and respond to their feedback.

Seek Out Advice From Others

"Look for feedback from clients and other smart entrepreneurs and investors." --Diego Saez Gil, Bluesmart, Argentina and New York City

Saez Gil raised more than $20 million to build the first connect luggage and says that entrepreneurs should seek out and listen to feedback from others, but that you shouldn't just follow it blindly.

The best entrepreneurs I've come across listen to everything investors and mentors say but think about the advice they've been given, then make a decision based on the information they have. The not-as-great ones either don’t listen at all because they think they know everything or listen to everything and don’t make their own decisions.

Spend Time Doing What You Believe In 

"It takes a long time." --Adrian Fisher, PropertySimple, Los Angeles and Chile

Fisher's raised $3 million to build a real estate technology company in the U.S (PropertySimple is one of our portfolio companies). He says that if you want to great at something, spend the time to do it.

Investing in yourself to develop a business or a new skill take a long time. We’re talking years, not months. In our culture of overnight success, more people would do well to think long term.

Get to Know the Right People

"Avoid networking events and meet people in your industry." --Federico Vega, CargoX, Brazil

Vega has raised more than $20 million to build the "Uber for trucks" in Brazil. He says to focus on meeting people in your industry who could potentially acquire you or do business deals with you, not random tech people at networking events.

I've found this to be true, as both of the companies that acquired my previous startups were people that I knew in my industry and then stayed in contact with regularly.

Focus on What You Can Do for Others 

"Leadership is an act of service, helping people accomplish what they want. Give them the tools and clear the path for them." --Jonathan Nelson, Hackers/Founders, Silicon Valley and Guadalajara

Nelson founded the world's largest entrepreneur group and advises CEOs or leaders of any organization to ask themselves the following questions: "How can I set the goal and then help other people accomplish what they want to do? How can I give them the tools and clear the way for them to do it?"

In our founder-focused culture, Nelson's perspective is an important reminder to focus on how you can help others accomplish their goals.

Understand the Importance of Culture, Not Only When It Feels Convenient 

"Instilling culture and leadership is a CEO's No. 1 job." --Marco DeMello, Psafe, Brazil and San Francisco

DeMello raised more than $90 million to create a profitable mobile security company with more than 100 million app downloads. He says that you "can't have culture just on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can’t just do it every once in awhile. You have to make it a part of your day-to-day life and the day-to-day life of the people on your team."

I believe a reputation is built in a lifetime but can be destroyed in a day. Culture is the same.

Don't Shy Away From Your Goals

"Ask for what you want and assume you might get it." --Codie Sanchez

Sanchez works with large finance companies and family offices in the U.S. and Latin America. Her rule of asking for what she wants and assuming she’ll get it is key to startup and employment success.

Try to keep the lines of communication open with your team. Praise when someone brings up an issue with you and instill this openness and culture of asking for what you want in your team.

Use Your Competition to Make You Stronger

"Don’t be scared of competition. It validates you and makes you better." --Alejandro Freund, YaEsta, Ecuador

Freund built the biggest e-commerce company in Ecuador and says you "shouldn't be scared of the competition."

In my experience, you should be scared of a huge company that’s already in business in your market. For example, I wouldn’t start a ride-sharing company because Uber has billions. But you shouldn't be scared of competition if the competition isn’t directly in your market or is a legacy company. It validates the market for you.

Don't Just Throw Money at Growth

"You can’t double your team just by doubling investment." --Brian Requarth, VivaReal, Brazil

Requarth raised over $78 million in venture capital to build the "Zillow of Brazil" and shares that: "many entrepreneurs think they can double their team if they double their spend." In my experience, scaling a team requires more than just capital. Trying to double your team when you get investment is one of the biggest mistakes that I've seen small startups make after receiving an investment.

Learn as Quickly as You Can 

"Choose opportunities based on where you can learn the fastest." --Guimar Vaca Sittic, FJ Labs, New York and Argentina

Vava Sittic in an international-marketplace entrepreneur who says that when you’re evaluating opportunities, pick the opportunity that will help you learn fastest. I like to use Vaca Sittic's lens and pick the opportunity where I can learn the fastest when thinking about business decisions in my startup.

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Nathan Lustig is Managing Partner @Magma Partners, a seed stage VC in Latin America. He's founded two startups, both acquired.

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