by Henrique Leite, partner at Canary
(clique aqui para ler a versão em português)
There was never a better time to be an ambitious entrepreneur in Latin America. It may be hard to be optimistic about the region if you look at the headlines recently, but we are living in an unprecedented situation in terms of opportunities for those who have the vision to solve significant problems and create relevant businesses here. There’s a historic combination of factors that allow me to affirm this.
The most evident one is how covid-19 accelerated the economic digitization. Before we deepen this analysis, it is important to remark that this crisis is the most dramatic moment that my generation has ever experienced. Born in 1991, I was too young to understand the hyperinflation in Brazil in the early 1990s or the other crisis that unsettled the continent at the end of the decade. My youth — between 2000 and 2012 — has promised me a nation that would leave behind the idea of “country of the future”. Brazil was bound to be a young country, with a strong economy, able to fight its inequalities with an original (and joyful) recipe, in which the future would become the present.
That didn’t happen: in the last few years, Brazil has lived “every day a different 1–7” in various fields (including, of course, in football). The biggest of them was the economical crisis that began in 2014, which created an even more fertile terrain for covid-19 crisis, also humanitarian and sanitarian. The pandemic hit the local market strongly, especially affecting the small and micro businesses and has taken more than 550,000 lives in Brazil. In the whole region, more than 1.3 million people have died. There’s no way to ignore that the damage caused by the coronavirus is irreversible. I can say how it personally affected me, because of the relatives I lost without being able to say goodbye.
However, I believe that every crisis can be the catalyst of social transformation. Some aspects have contributed to the present development of the tech ecosystem in Latam. Besides the digitization of the economy, expressed in many indicators (the most relevant of them, the rise of e-commerce market share in total retail), there’s the fact that today there’s capital available for grand projects at an unprecedented level in the history of the continent. With this capital, a third factor also emerges: the disponibility of talent, not only capable, but also interested and inspired to promote change.
Successful startups are those capable of solving a big problem that deeply affects people’s lives. In this regard, Latin America is the land of opportunities. It has 650 million inhabitants, many of them young, speaking the same language, digital and avid for simple and thrifty solutions. Despite every country’s particularities, there’s a big amount of common challenges to the region, like huge bureaucracy, complex urban planning, high rates of unbanked population and lack of access to countless services, like health, education, sanitation and security.
Technology is a tool capable of overcoming many of these challenges, helping businesses to gain scale. But, alone, it is unable to engender change. It is necessary to have capital available so it can get incentive and amplitude. Historically, in a power scale between entrepreneurs and capitalists, the latter always had more power in the region. High interest rates made the cost of opportunities become too high, leaving little resources to ambitious entrepreneurs. Today, the roles have reversed: the global liquidity made money available for new ideas.
Besides that, talent is also necessary to go forth and thrive. Thankfully, the first examples of successful tech companies in the region inspired many people to start their careers at a startup — something that was unthinkable a decade ago, when the synonym of achievement was having a good job at a bank or consulting firm.
In the last ten years, we saw the development of tech companies in the continent skyrocket. Latam’s tech companies market cap, as a percentage of GDP, has been growing 65% every year since 2003. For a lot of people, it is still shocking to see that a startup can raise $200 million in investments. Many see in these numbers a sign that the market is saturated. Or yet, that there is a bubble.
But we are still in the first chapters: despite its recent growth, Latam’s tech companies market cap, as a GDP percentage, is still a fraction of what is seen in US, China and India. Regardless of how the region’s economy behaves in the next year, it is possible to perceive that there’s huge space for improvement here. Besides that, there are other signs that reinforce the perception that this is a long term trend. I would highlight the enormous demand for tech stocks in the local market, including the most relevant investment funds locally. Just a few years ago, said funds were mainly exposed to publicly traded companies and are now allocating bigger slices of their capital to private assets.
Part of my job here at Canary is to talk with global investors, from different geographies. In the last few months, I had many conversations that evidenced the appetite of VC funds for Latin American businesses. In many of these chats, I heard from my peers abroad that something that excites them about the entrepreneurs here is their ambition. And like they say, the bigger the ambition, the higher is the potential of a business to attract capital.
I’m very excited to be able to see and support the steps of entrepreneurs with these ambitious projects. Examples of this are plenty: new models of logistics and payments allow the unprecedented access of many consumers to e-commerce, as presented by Facily. Challenging incumbents, businesses like Buser are reinventing highly relevant sectors for the region, like bus transportation between cities and states. As investors, we are also proud to see and support companies that address their products and services for all Latam, a list that includes Clara, Cobre, Flourish and Quansa.
At Canary, we are exhilarated by this challenge. We understand that capital and talent are disproportionate forces in the construction of big companies. We challenge ourselves every day to look into new ways of helping in these two topics. In the last 18 months, we helped our invested startups to hire more than 30 heads and C-Level executives in the region. More than once, we assisted companies to hire their first person in a Latam country, in key positions like sales or country manager. Besides that, I’m really proud to remark that, since Canary was established, our invested companies have already created 4,000 jobs in Latin America.
With regards to capital, we also have recurring conversations with dozens of VC funds every month, in order to connect our invested companies and help them raise new rounds. Since 2017, we have 37 companies with a top-tier global investor in their cap table, including partnerships with a16z, DST, Tiger Global, Dragoneer, QED, SoftBank and many others. We also saw more than 50 subsequent rounds after those we participated in through the last four years. 17 of them happened in 2021. That translates into $1.5 billion already raised by Canary startups. Moreover, we also extend our efforts in other fronts, like data, enterprise connections, branding and PR, because we believe that these areas can also bring substantial aid for the ambitious entrepreneurs, in addition to many surveys and insights we look to breed here to help them on their journey.
There is a saying that having small or big ambitions takes the same amount of effort. If you’re gonna dream big dreams, why be limited to a single country when you can reach an entire continent. The best way to make those dreams come true is getting things done here and now, in Latin America. As former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said in the video linked in the beginning of this article, “tomorrow begins today”.