Andrés Barreto @PulsoConf: Latin American Startups Lack Focus on Global Impact

The Latin American ecosystem continues to strengthen within an international context that is open to all projects with a global impact, regardless of place of origin. Given this, is it that much of a stretch to imagine a scenario of technological entrepreneurship that is no longer Silicon Valley dependent? Numerous investors and professionals insist that Silicon Valley needs new faces, ideas, opportunities and, above all, teams. Latin America, like other regions, is aiming to expand its horizons and respond to such calls.

Within this modern framework, the final countdown to PulsoConf is under way. A meeting place between Silicon Valley and Latin America, the event will offer the perfect combination of local experience and global vision. It will be a stage for central industry figures and promote Latin America as a source of business and creativity.

Looking ahead to his participation at PulsoConf is Colombian serial entrepreneur Andrés Barreto. Barreto founded PulsoSocial and Grooveshark, and his latest endeavor is Onswipe. An advocate of Latin America’s potential as a technology hub, he spoke with PulsoSocial correspondent Clarisa Herrera about the Latin American tech scenario as well as the path towards global impact.

Clarisa Herrera: You recently paid a visit to Start-Up Chile. What conclusions did you draw from that?

Andrés Barreto: Many of the startups I saw are missing a focus on global impact. They’ve started their businesses and are looking to expand into Argentina or Colombia, for example, but they haven’t formulated a business model that is, in my opinion, scalable. Nevertheless, what most caught my attention was the number of people who say they’re going to receive funding only to find that the capital never arrives. In other words, entrepreneurs waste a lot of time.

CH: What are the dangers of these investments based on verbal agreements? 

AB: They don’t translate into action – they’re promises made by people who don’t act. The individuals who will speak at PulsoConf have set up and continue to work with global startups on a large scale. This is a shift away from events headlined by entrepreneurs who have ideas but no products, or who have ideas that are applicable on small, local scales. This difference is what sets PulsoConf apart and where its real value lies.

CH: Those who focus on small-scale markets argue that they know those markets better. What are your thoughts? 

AB: In my opinion, it is more important to aim for a global market than to struggle country-by-country or city-by-city. Though starting with a market that is a priori unknown is not intuitive, it’s the way to go. There are numerous Israeli companies, for example, that sell to the global market. There are businesses that are created in one weekend that solve specific problems but work on a global level from the start. That’s part of the reason we’re bringing in foreign investors with PulsoConf, to open up a bridge for local startups and entrepreneurs to sell and participate around the globe and compete internationally.

CH: What is the biggest fear you see in Latin American entrepreneurs?

AB: I think that local entrepreneurs need to overcome anxieties over participating in the United States online community. You see people from Eastern Europe and Israel involved in U.S. investment networks, but the same can’t be said for Latin America. We’re very isolationist, in a way. It’s always the same people, and we don’t open up and connect. Investors from the U.S. or wherever seek an ROI of 50, 100 million dollars. They’re interested in money, not the geography of where the entrepreneur is from.

I didn’t start the Grooveshark project in Silicon Valley, but instead in a small town in Florida. The prototype for Onswipe was the work of a Mexican developer. I’ve had products born in remote areas to carry forward to the global market that needs them. Companies aren’t afraid to invest in businesses with teams and founders based in Israel or Romania. They don’t care whether your entire sales force is based in the United States, or if all of your engineers are in Silicon Valley, New York or Boston. They’re accustomed to hybrid models.

CH: Is there external prejudice that we need to overcome? 

AB: Latin America still needs to prove that it can innovate and capture global users, not just clone technologies. That’s why we seek out businesses that already have a product, a prototype and users. I think that regional projects can only be justified when a market in the U.S. or Europe does not exist, and there are few examples of this. This type of thinking makes it easier to grow, garner users and get the media’s attention.

CH: Of the various markets and sectors within the technology industry, which are most profitable in the short term? 

AB: The opportunities I see are those I go after, so for me, there is a lot of potential in tablets and touch technology. However, looking for prospects according to markets or trends is not the best avenue for entrepreneurs. I think opportunities need to be sought out as a result of one’s own needs, independent of what’s going on in the market.

CH: What spirit can PulsoConf attendees expect to experience at the event? 

AB: The individuals attending the event may be their future investors, partners, colleagues, etc. I place a lot of value on the relationships that emerge within a group that unites around a common problem. Countless benefits can be reached through encounters with the ambitious and able individuals who will be at PulsoConf this month.

This text has been adapted into English from its original Spanish publication.