Launching in the US: Advice from 3 Latin American Entrepreneurs
Launching in any new market can be cause for uncertainty. From building a new network to acquiring customers, you may feel like you are starting your business from square one. The US market is particularly intimidating and competitive, and if you’re coming from the Latin American market, you may feel like a small fish in a big pond.
These Latin American founders have already made the leap into the US market and flourished. Here is their advice to entrepreneurs who are ready to move beyond Latin America and launch in the US.
1. Diego Saez-Gil, Co-Founder and CEO of Bluesmart
“You have to adapt fast. When you are both an immigrant and an entrepreneur, you go big, or you go home. You have no option but to adapt and try to understand the game as fast as possible.” Hear the rest of his interview here.
Diego moved from northern Argentina to Barcelona, then to New York to found his first company, We Hostels. New York is “very competitive,” he says. “You have the smartest, most driven people in the world here, and they’re not wasting time. Everybody’s here to accomplish their missions.”
His company, Bluesmart, manufactures smart suitcases that can connect to your smartphone. They have offices in New York, Hong Kong, and Buenos Aires to take advantage of the US network, Chinese manufacturing, and Latin American tech talent. The hardest thing Diego had to adapt to: New York winters.
2. Johanna Molina, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Intern Group
“You don't need to do it alone. Knock on the doors of tourist boards, chambers of commerce, and startup communities. Get a local partner. The local knowledge is very valuable and could save you both time and money.”
Johanna co-founded The Intern Group alongside David Lloyd to help young people participate in internships across the world, with an initial focus on Latin America. In 2011, they placed ten interns at FIFA for the U-20 World Cup in Colombia and went on to join Start-Up Chile. In 2012, they tried to open a program in Miami but struggled because the founders and team were already overstretched.
It took until 2017 for The Intern Group to open offices in New York and Chicago, with plans to open a California program next year. When going to the US, Johanna warns founders to pay attention to their capacity to serve both clients and suppliers. But overall, Johanna tells founders to believe it is possible. “As Latin Americans, most of us were raised thinking that products or services are better if they come from abroad, but that is not always the case.”
3. Jose “Caya” Cayasso, Co-Founder and CEO of Slidebean
“Think of your Latin American office as a fundamental part of your company, not an outsourced team. You may only need to have the CEO or sales person in the US to create visibility, but you can keep the rest of the team anywhere else, ideally under the management of a co-founder. Maintain the same company culture across all offices. People that know each other work together better.”
When Jose Cayasso launched Slidebean, a service that automatically generates powerpoint presentations, from New York, he already knew what to expect. A few years earlier, he had gone through a startup accelerator in New York and received a “crash course” in the US tech scene. “Everyone you meet is building their own company,” he mentioned in an interview with Nathan Lustig.
He emphasizes the importance of getting your foot in the door with investors and customers in the US while working seamlessly with a team abroad. “When you’re spread across Latin America and the US, remember that you are just a short flight away, within the same time zone and culture from your other office.”
Making the leap to the US market might be intimidating, but it could lead to enormous growth for your startup. Use this advice from other Latin American founders to get a running start or contact us to start making noise about your startup even before you arrive.