The journey of one Latin American entrepreneur has taught her the importance of choosing the right team and the benefits of accelerator programs. By Angela Cois (Co-founder & COO, LastRoom)
My story as entrepreneur starts late and, unfortunately, it’s not full of impressive numbers or big successes. I’d rather say that it’s a story of building awareness and learnings compromise. I’m 30 years old and I launched my first company in 2010, curiously the same year I decided to be mom. To my parents, it was a strange decision, complete madness to my friends but the best thing I ever done for me.
It's Never Too Late
My purpose during college was to study hard and dedicate myself academica. I dreamt about an excellent PhD which would lead to a glorious carrier as a lecturer, or at a big international organization. As soon as I got my master’s degree I decided to apply for an internship in the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I worked for a commission focused on counter-terrorism policies and criminal organizations. It was a really good experience -- I learnt a lot, particularly about what kind of person I would not be in my life.
Since then, two things started to be quite clear in my mind. First of all, I would not try to convince anyone that I’m able to do something. Secondly, my job won’t be an empty practice of erudition, where you are supposed to know everything but you’re not in the position to express your opinion or have a positive impact in the society where you live, work and grow every day.
I missed something between the day I realized that I would be an entrepreneur and the day I acted on my decision. There must be something between the theory and the practice. I have to work, like every person in this planet. I have to get some experience, practice and save money to feed myself and the business I have in mind. It’s unquestionable that if you’re not a former employee of Google, Facebook or Twitter, it’s hard to get funds without interesting numbers to show. Investing in people who have some kind of pedigree because of their experience in big companies is less risky than investing in talented people with a weaker professional record. You must be ready to start, develop, launch your MVP, test it, make the first pivots and possibly generate the first significant revenue through your own efforts and resources. This is the most common scenario. So, don’t throw out your job if you have not saved enough money to feed your business (and your family!) or if you’re not close to signing a term sheet with an investor.
My first startup was a group-buying platform, called Ofercity. I launched it in Mexico in 2010, together with one of my co-founders in LastRoom. We started operations in June. We generated the first sales and everything seemed be going pretty well. However, like the best stories of entrepreneurship, we failed after four months. Our main weakness was the team. Our main error was to underestimate its importance.
We hired a developer from Peru, a designer from Spain and some account managers in different parts of Mexico. We thought that two people could manage everything. We completely ignored the difference between a co-founder and an employer, which can be captured in one word: passion. Companies have so many fields to cover: design, development, distribution, administration, negotiation with your suppliers if you’re building a marketplace. You can’t do everything by yourself. You should trust in people’s skills and talent. Spend a lot of energy looking for the perfect match with your co-founders. You’ll find it when you realize that each of them contributes something unique and really essential for your business. Successful companies built by just one person simply don’t exist. You can be the first to have an idea, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not able to transform it into a viable and productive business. And to do so, you need talented people, in love with the same project who are willing to sacrifice to reach the same goal. It’s a kind of marriage, not so different from a traditional one -- partners must share good and bad days, trust blindly in each other and show a full commitment from the very first day.
Accelerators are quite important, especially if you’re not a serial entrepreneur. Apart from the advantage of receiving seed funding which gives you space to breathe for some months and maybe finish your MVP, it’s a unique networking opportunity. The feedback you receive from the mentors or the other entrepreneurs, the visibility with investors that could be quite difficult to reach by yourself, these are the main reasons why I always suggest applying for an accelerator program. In the last two years, a large number of new startup programs have risen up in Latin America. Be careful about making a good decision. There is more money than good investors. The knowledge and the mentors' experience (preferably real entrepreneurs and not theorists of entrepreneurship!) are the most important factors that could really make the difference for your startup.
Angela Cois is co-founder and COO at LastRoom, a mobile app for same-day hotel bookings in Latin America. She completed her studies in Italy. Previously co-founder of Ofercity, a group-buying platform in Mexico, she worked for two years as account manager for a US business consultancy. LastRoom launched in December 2012 and was the first Mexican startup invited to be part of NxtpLabs, an Argentinean acceleration program. LastRoom is now operating in Mexico's main cities and is working on expanding to Latin America. Follow her on Twitter @angiecois. Photo credit: Dylan Parker via Flickr.