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We’ve been listening to your feedback on a lot of things over the last months. Thank you so much for your great support that helps the idea of scribz happen: turning everyday…
What I’ve learnt from bootstrapping my startup from Santiago, Chile in 8 months.
One year and half ago I moved from Paris to San Francisco, and I finally landed in Santiago, Chile. In San Francisco I found an amazing ecosystem with an incomparable can-do attitude, a resourceful innovative spirit and an impressive collective willingness to change the world. But I also found an over expensive place to live, a crowded startup community where it’s hard to stand out and a pain in the ass visa hunt. Some friends told me about a program called Startup Chile, an initiative created by the Chilean government that attracts global entrepreneurs to bootstrap their startup from Santiago with seed money and soft facilities. That’s how I applied, I got into the program and moved to Santiago. It was a very interesting experience and I wanted to share the story as it might be helpful for startups considering to move to South America.
I think it is one of the most exemplary initiative from a government who perfectly understood what the words globalization and innovation mean. The deal? Pretty amazing for any entrepreneur! $40k of equity-free funding to spend in 6 months, a one year visa, free access to a top-end coworking space in the center of Santiago to share with a community of 100 startups from around 40 nationalities arriving every 4 months. What they expect in return? Sharing your experience, knowledge and network to boost the local startup ecosystem with a view to building the Silicon Valley of South America. Of course there is some paperwork and bureaucracy to get the money and to show your impact on the startup scene by giving classes to students and participating in local events. But at the end of the day, you must be giving twice as much as you expect to receive with everything you do in life. And at Startup Chile I didn’t feel like I’ve given more than I’ve earned. As part of a community of +750 startups from 65 countries, I had the chance to work with inspiring and smart entrepreneurs from all around the world. I had the opportunity to hustle and meet with advisors and investors from North and South America, including prime mentors at TechStars and 500startups. I had the pleasure to keep working on what I love and fighting for a vision rather than struggling to make a living. And in exchange I had to do entrepreneurship workshops to highly motived students, to mentor enthusiastic young startupers and to organize collaborative events and connect with Chilean hackers. All this making me build a strong local network, meet great people and explore other business opportunities.
In 8 months I have seen many entrepreneurs coming in and out of Chile, with different expectations and goals. I’ve seen American and British hustlers making it in Chile, well-established and taking over the continent. I’ve seen San Franciscan dudes testing different ideas, failing, pivoting, going home and being now on their road to a huge success. I’ve seen Kenyan, Indian, Singaporean, Australian and Nepalese guys launching their startups and growing their businesses from Chile. I’ve seen entrepreneurs from all the countries in South America with a clear vision on why they needed to go to Santiago, be it the facilities, the network, the money, the leading local market, the renowned label of Startup Chile or the whole package. And I’ve seen many Europeans, like me, entering Chile with the eyes of the internet conquistadors, full of naivety and hope, escaping the immutable Old Continent.
Start-Up Chile is a remarkable initiative no so much in its global community or local impact, but in the way its disruptive brain migration and retention model inspires other countries to do so to both attract talents and support local doers (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, UK, Vietnam, Greece, Italy…). In three years, the program had an immeasurable impact on the local enterprising mindset. Counting +8.500 applicants from +110 countries. Generating thousands of hours of mentorship from selected entrepreneurs, workshops and conferences organized. And it costed less than $30 million for the government, which is nothing compared to the amount of subventions some western countries grant to their fading industries…
SANTIAGO TECH SCENE
When you join a global community in a foreign country, it’s very tempting to hang out only with fellow expat treps. But by forcing global entrepreneurs to connect with the local community, Startup Chile has succeeded to create a great and open startup ecosystem for both foreign and local doers alike. With some fellow Startup Chile alumni from San Francisco and Buenos Aires, we organized a Hackathon in Santiago. I have been astonished by the enthusiasm not only from the participants but mostly from the organizations and Universities who wanted to partner with the event. In two month we’ve gathered close to 100 hackers, many of the local startup associations & meetup groups, and top sponsors including Microsoft Chile and Paypal USA. Even though the event was happening two weeks after Santiago Startup Weekend and three weeks before AngelHack Santiago. And beyond the local enthusiasm, when trying to onboard people from outside Chile we’ve seen a deep interest from big names in the United States willing to come not for the event in itself but to check what was going on in Santiago.
During my stay in Santiago, I had to go to the US for several weeks to attend meetings and events in New York and the bay area. Once again I had the occasion to feel a special attention when mentioning I was living in Santiago. “Same time zone, emerging tech scene, access to the big Latin American market, cheaper cost of living.. sounds like a smart move to bootstrap a startup”. It was the kind of feedback I had from many people I met in the US. And I am not the first to say that many US companies and investors are actively looking at South America not only for its market opportunities but also as an Eldorado to expatriate operations and find affordable talents.
Regarding the technical level of the Chilean startup ecosystem, I’ve seen several highly skilled backend and full-stack developers. It seems that Chile has a strong legacy of engineering culture and academics, and I felt it by exchanging views with local hackers. I’ve learnt that they have quite a decent RoR community, but they are not much into iOS. Nevertheless, I’ve met with very few frontend developers and designers. In general, they are more into fronted performance and not much into the creative UI and state-of-the-art design stuff. There might be an opportunity for talented designers trying to make it in Chile…
On the whole, I have been impressed not so much by the startup culture but by the ability to think big over there. I’ve talked to kids who discovered the word “entrepreneur” two or three years ago, and who were trying to reinvent blogging, car pooling or mobile payment. I tried to understand how people could be able to become so ambitious, and I think it is what happens when entrepreneurs operates in country with a small local market. Chile stands for around 17 million inhabitants, with one third living in Santiago. So local entrepreneurs need to go international quite early in their development in order to boost their business. The best example I’ve found is Israel, with so many successful startups for such a tiny country.
Finally, Chile is the most developed country in South America, and positioning Santiago as the innovation hub of the continent has been a fair and attractive marketing argument for startups looking for addressing the Latin American market. I’ve met with many entrepreneurs from neighboring countries, and most of them were considering Santiago as a better spot to launch their startup and manage the development from there compared to their homeland: Argentina (protectionism and currency instability), Colombia (corruption and bureaucracy), Venezuela (political instability), Peru/Bolivia/Ecuador (lack of facilities).
In a nutshell, the rise of the Chilecon Valley you can read about in the news is not just a myth.
LIFE IN SANTIAGO
Santiago and Chile in general is totally safe, especially compared to Colombia and Venezuela I had the chance to visit and where you have to be more careful. And I had the same feedback from friends coming from other countries in South America. However Chile is also more expensive. I would say it is like the cost of living in Spain. I was paying $700 per month for my apartment (nice one), around $10 for a meal and $20 per month for a 500GB mobile internet data plan. The city is huge (7 million inhabitants) but transportation is easy through subway or cab ride. Regarding the food, you should like avocado and fried stuff, because Chilean like to put some everywhere from the completo (typical sandwich) to sushis. By the way they have plenty of fruits and vegetables, good meat and excellent red wine. One of the best thing in Santiago is that most of the building have amazing rooftops with pools and great views, just perfect for a quick dip after work or bbq parties with friends.
If you speak spanish, well, you’ll be surprised because understanding Chilean needs some kind of adaptation. Most of the young generation and people working in tech speaks english and there are very friendly with foreigners. Even though I am more an aficionado of Paris, Barcelona and New York’s night life, Santiago is totally cool with many concerts, fun underground bars and fancy clubs. Just don’t try to go to after clubs as you might end up in sketchy strip houses. There are several parks and facilities so you can play sports easily. Of course better if you play the beautiful game, fútbol. I was playing every week thanks to Jogabo. Surprisingly I also discovered an active basketball scene. Playing with rough but gifted kids a few sunday afternoons.
Sadly, there is a lot of pollution in Santiago. The city is supposed to be the third most polluted city in the world (after Beijing and New Delhi). Honestly I didn’t really feel it, but you can see it every day through the fog hiding the Andes surrounding the city. Hopefully Santiago is one hour driving from the Ocean (Valparaiso for tourism, Viña del Mar for a costa brava kind of chill) and in two/three hours you can reach nice coastal resorts and surfing spots. If you are more a hiking kind of guy, Santiago offers beautiful mountainous and volcanic spots to visit not far from the city. Same for skiing during winter.
Finally, if you have time and money to travel, Chile is a wonderful country with endless tourism spots, San Pedro de Atacama desert and the national park of Torres del Paine to mention the most famous ones. I had the occasion to explore Patagania, and it was just one of the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the world till now. I wish I could have gone north too. I’ll be back.
THE BLUE FRAMEWORK
When you live abroad, especially far away from your homeland, after three months you start experiencing a sensation of total freedom. Something this Dutch entrepreneur living in Thailand has explained perfectly in this post. Indeed, as you start feeling as a stranger both in your home and adopted country, you have no pressure from any society. So you can experience life and start things as a free entrepreneur and feel unstoppable in what you discover, learn or build.
In my case, I think this feeling has been emphasized for two reasons. First, because Latin American people have an inspiring culture of natural happiness. Enjoying simple things. Smiling a lot. Dancing a lot. This makes you feel very comfortable as a guest. Second, because I’ve been working most of the time remotely with my two cofounders living respectively in Paris and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. By working on completely different time zones, we had literally no borders. Making the world smaller. Feeling that the world was ours. “Well, we have this opportunity we can not miss in New York. Let’s book flight tickets and meet there for a week all together!”. But the distance also made internal communication and project management harder. Sometimes a real meeting and a physical presence is necessary for efficacy and morale support. Moreover, by setting your mindset in a fully international mode, it is hard to focus and you can loose ground very quickly. For me being part of a global commnunity at Startup Chile was like joining Facebook in real life. You can connect and make friends from all around the world very easily. But you can also easily spend too much time chatting or wandering around your very tempting daily news feed. Making the world bigger, because full of possible paths through your social graph and full of opportunities to reach your land of promise. For some people this can be dangerous, as they need a defined framework of some sort to feel safe in their work and in their life. But for explorers it is a very exciting and enriching situation where you can create your own unique path from scratch, with no idea of where you’ll end up.
I love my home country, France. I love my home cities, Paris (you’ve probably heard of it) and Nantes, a great city on the French west coast with a hell of badass startups and talented guys! But I love even more exploring new environments. And traveling is for me one of the best experience in life, after building stuff on the internet. I don’t know where my next move will be yet, but probably to another country in South America. Maybe Argentina, or Brazil…
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It’s likely this post is going to upset a few folks. That is not my intention. If you follow this blog at all its fairly obvious I’m not the best writer and I enjoy making photographs more than making essays.
But sometimes I like to air out my thoughts so here goes nothing.
I love early…