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El Dorado of startups

Painting of Bogota sunrise with red brick buildings - DALL-E, March 2023

The night was starting to get chilly at the Endeavor Investor Network event in Mexico City in November 2015. A familiar French voice announced the start of the speed dating where entrepreneurs would pitch to investors chosen according to their investment strategy.

‘Well, I guess, this pairing was a mistake,’ Simon told me as he sat in front of me visibly irritated. A few months before the event my firm had invested in Cornershop, led by a competing team building in the grocery space.

‘Why don’t you show me your product? The public version? Otherwise, we can talk about the weather,’ I said trying to lighten up the mood.

To be honest, I did not understand Rappi’s product choices. I bet on the right horse, I hoped. Then again, I had only been investing in tech for three years so I was dangerously inexperienced.

That night, I could not have predicted, Simon, along with Sebastian and a group of ambitious and talented humans would change the history of an entire ecosystem.

Last week, Jimena, my partner and Anna, my Beta Podcast pal, and I flew south to connect with the ecosystem they all changed. As our plane approached Bogota, the beautiful green vegetation made us forget about the VC and tech winter.

When we got to the hotel and went out to grab lunch with Daniel Bilbao, we felt the warmdth of the Colombian hospitality. Meeting with one of the most passionate ecosystem advocates was the perfect start of the week.

We spent the next few days walking around short buildings with exposed red bricks meeting with founders and investors. There’s something endearing about a city that doesn't take itself seriously.

We needed only a few days in El Dorado of startups to be reminded of the amazing talent building in this corner of the world. Colombian founders are a special kind of entrepreneur.

I’ve found Argentinians, for example, to be the most passionate entrepreneurs. They can die for a product feature, a key hire or a football match.

On the other end of the spectrum, Chileans are rational and hard working. I’ve seen these entrepreneurs execute with surgical efficiency, pride and sense of humor.

Colombian founders seem to startup by assembling an army, carrying Macondo’s magic spells of growth and conquering territory with bare hands.

When Rappi made Colombia impossible to ignore, American investors fell for these Colombian crusaders. They poured millions behind entrepreneurial missions to conquer Brazil, Mexico and everything the Latin American sun touched.

Even so, the Colombian ecosystem is much more than one startup and one journey. It started earlier when the ecosystem ‘was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.’ as Gabriel Garcia Marques wrote.

The entrepreneurial wave may have started when Martin scaled globally one of the first payment systems in the region, or when Andres mobility app reached one million users within a year or when Jose and Miguel IPOed Domicilios, with the rest of the Delivery Hero federation.

And it got bigger with countless entreprepreneurs taking their chances. Freddy and Christian of Platzi made Latin America interesting to YC and they are making entrepreneurship interesting to everyone. Brynne and Sebastian took the ecosystem to new heights with Habi, building a proptech platform Brazilians now envy.

Colombian founders are brilliant and persistent, told us Camila, founder of Mekan over dinner and aguardiente at Harry Sasson.

Losing our confidence is the biggest risk for Latin American tech as the winter brings colder winds. We have to make sure we don’t. The Colombian founders might very well be our last line of defense.

As Silvestre Dangond sang, prepárense para revolución!

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I write about my work as an investor, a lecturer, and a mentor. In general, musings about Latin American tech, VC and life.

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