HAMZA SHAD


Scaling a company in a country with a limited tech ecosystem is an incredibly difficult journey. Trailblazing founders often face — and find innovative ways to overcome — a variety of hurdles, including fierce competition in finding talent, a lack of growth capital, limited market size, and many more.

As unique as their challenges sometimes seem, we’ve found that many of them are shared by other emerging market founders around the world. Aspiring entrepreneurs can learn valuable lessons from the experiences of successful founders who have scaled their businesses, even if they operate in a different country.

At Endeavor Insight, we recently published original research on The Venture Landscape in Spain: Reaching the Next Level. This article follows up on Endeavor’s previous report, Mapping Spain’s Tech Sector, in which more than 100 founders shared their challenges. Our new research builds on that work to offer actionable lessons from battle-hardened founders who each faced hurdles as they helped jumpstart their local markets.

Below are four challenges and lessons we learned by speaking to trailblazing founders in different corners of the world.

1. Craft a Positive Team Culture Early On

In ecosystems with limited pools of talent, building the right team is quite difficult. Loreanne García Ottati, cofounder of the Mexican used car marketplace Kavak, invested a great deal of effort into crafting a positive company culture from the beginning. Loreanne believed the initial culture would influence Kavak well into the future, so she made sure the first 30 employees laid the foundation for a positive work environment. She created shared team rituals and an official creed for the company’s vision and standards.

Loreanne was also strategic with recruitment. “We would build long-term relationships, invite people to learn about what we do, stay in touch, and look for the right time to bring them on board,” she explains.

2. Don’t Get Distracted by Mismatched Opportunities

To stay on the path to scale, founders should remain laser-focused on their company’s unique value proposition. Dimitris Vassos, founder of the Greek conversational AI technology company Omilia, once signed a lucrative contract with a large restaurant chain to develop a new product. Although the client paid them well for R&D, the product they developed was not part of the original vision for Omilia. Dimitris now believes that contract was a net negative.

“In the aftermath, I realized I took our company away from our core business, and as a consequence created a gap in our R&D and pipeline for the core business,” recounts Dimitris. “Lesson learned: everything you do must be intentional and aligned with your core vision.”

3. Plan Carefully for International Expansion

International expansion has many potential benefits for a growing company, but it also has to be executed carefully. Kevin Aluwi, cofounder of Indonesia’s premier e-commerce and mobility super app Gojek, successfully expanded to other countries in Southeast Asia. That journey has not been without its challenges, though.

“We didn’t put enough time, effort, team bandwidth, and money in the early days of our new markets,” says Kevin. “Without significant investment, it’s very hard to successfully enter a brand new market with existing competitors.”

Before rushing in, founders should develop a thorough plan that allocates sufficient resources to all aspects of market entry, from sales to logistics.

4. Don’t Avoid Competitors As You Expand

Proper planning for expansion is vital, but don’t be afraid to enter a new market. Marcos Galperin, cofounder of the Argentinian e-commerce giant Mercado Libre, had a global vision from the start and expanded to other Latin American markets early on in his journey. Entering Mexico not only brought in new revenue for the company, but also forced it to compete with big players like Amazon.

“Today, Mercado Libre is the company it is because of that competition with Amazon,” explains Marcos. “When you have to compete with the best in the world, you either significantly raise your level of performance or you lose.” By having to serve customers in multiple markets, Mercado Libre built a robust product that could reach massive scale. Other founders in small or challenging markets may need to do the same.

Learning Straight From the Source

Entrepreneurs can adapt and implement these learnings — and more — by looking at success stories beyond their borders. Founder-focused research helps uncover the perspectives and insights of those who have achieved scale. This is important not only for aspiring entrepreneurs, but for everyone who supports them, including investors and other decision makers.

In their efforts to build up tech ecosystems in emerging and underserved markets, founders and all relevant stakeholders should take the time to learn from experienced entrepreneurs who have managed to knock down many of the obstacles on the path to scale.


To read more founder-to-founder lessons, visit endeavor.org/spainvc.

Hamza Shad is the Research Manager at Endeavor Global.

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