Andy Kieffer didn’t speak a word of Spanish when he left Silicon Valley to launch a venture capital company, Agave Lab, in Mexico. Here’s why he did it anyway.
“Over the past 20 years, the Mexican government has invested in new tech schools and their efforts have been successful. Students from all over the world flock to Guadalajara’s universities, which turn out, on average, 18,000 new IT graduates per year. Here, the hacker community can be pretty tight so my advice for foreign founders is find a start-up meet-up and introduce yourself. In a week or two, you’ll start seeing the same people. The start-up co-op Hackers/Founders has [several] chapters in Mexico and at the Agave Lab offices we host events where creative people get together to compare notes.”
Proximity to the US
“Guadalajara, where I’m based, is on Central Time, so if you’re working with American contributors you can communicate with them all day, every day. The internet here is ubiquitous and cheap and the mobile service is actually much more reliable than in San Francisco. Every so often an in-person meeting with stakeholders in the US is necessary, but with over a dozen direct flights between San Francisco and Guadalajara every day, people can leave [the US] in the morning, join us for lunch in Guadalajara and then hit the airport for the evening flight.”
“Virtually all Mexican software engineers are fluent in English and most of the college course work is taught in English, too. This makes communication easy but, no doubt about it, there are cultural differences. Most business people here have a long familial history in the same community. Arriving from abroad, since you have no family reputation to fall back on, it’s important to get to know the people you want to work with. But the people here are friendly and seem very interested in people from other places. Once you go to dinner a few times, make small talk and have a beer or two, you’ll be deemed trustworthy.”
“Most of the advertising in Mexico is still stone age stuff – yellow pages and people driving by in cars with bullhorns. This means it’s easy to be different. One Mexican start-up called VoxFeed (disclaimer: I am an investor) is a micro-influencer platform where brands can find people who use and like their products. Those users create social media content that describes what they like about the brand, and can earn a fee depending on how many likes it gets.”
Rate of growth
“Things are changing in Mexico. They were late to the start-up innovation party, but now they are coming up the curve – fast. While San Francisco was gated by innovation, Mexico is gated only by the rate of adoption. I worked in Silicon Valley beginning around the launch of Netscape and moved to Mexico around the time Google made its trading debut on the public stock market. Now, being here, I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine. The same process is happening – only this time it’s happening five times faster.”