Bye bye Brazil
It’s with great sadness that I leave Brazil yet again, after almost a month here. This is an amazing country that begs to be loved for all its superlative attributes, but I’m afraid it’s becoming harder and harder for everyone to do it.
Having lived almost half of my life abroad and having lastly left Brazil at the height of our world-cup-infused optimist, I now leave the country, unlike so many times before, quite shocked.
It’s sad to come to the realisation that we are indeed the country of the future that still hasn’t come.
We are marred in a perpetual vortex of populism, kleptocracy, clientelism, social violence and weak institutions, wrapped in a false sense of progress fuelled by our commodities exports and our panem-et-circenses way of enjoying life.
No matter how bad it gets, the sun is still shining. Carnaval is always around the corner. There are plenty of half-naked people ready to jump into the sack with. The TV is still pumping the lowest-common-denominator-type shows and a myriad of new pop bands are distilling grotesque values through their catchy lyrics and rhythmic tunes.
I’ve met a newly-emmerged middle class who - in one generation - have managed to bridge the income gap meanwhile developing a rude, spoiled and entitled demeanour. A generation ago their parents were in the unfortunate position of making ends meet by serving the rich. Now, they are being served, and in an obvious struggle to make clear they have ascended socially, they very blatantly mistreat the people who now serve them.
Our middle-class is now, as expected, mesmerised by their newly discovered consuming power. In a time where the developing world is questioning the model of economic development based on pure growth, unlimited extraction and consumerism and trying to head into a more sustainable model that prioritises quality of life, our thirst for money, status and accumulating “things” feels all the more empty and backwards.
The Girl from Ipanema is but a distant memory. She now takes steroids, implants fake boobs and prefers to tan in Miami in between breaks from her outlet-mall shopping spree.
I’ve seen our tropicality quickly giving way to a stream of condos, marinas, undescriptive restaurants and sea pollution. Though this seems to be the path of every developing nation on the planet, it clearly chips away from what has always been our biggest asset.
You would be surprised at how many small pockets of prosperity exist in the country. It’s just too bad the wealth/good life is too concentrated on the hands of a few. We usually enlighten tourists by saying that 2% of the country lives in a tropical version of Stockholm while the rest makes do with a tropical version of Gaza.
Despite my bleak outlook, I am forced to acknowledge the steady march of progress in many sectors of government and society along the last decades. Any progress in a country that is this populous, immensely vast - therefore difficult to control and regulate - and with a culture of short-term rewards needs to be acknowledged and lauded gracefully. We’ve come a long, long way.
The question still remains: will the future ever come to us? If it comes, will it come in the shape of a massive popular uprising or an elected hero that will save us from ourselves? I tend to believe that this is what everyone desires because we Brazilians love the magic-bullet solution; it would be so impossibly marvellous if our soap operas turned into reality just this one time.
Unfortunately for us, steady progress will only come in the shape of painful structural reforms that we’ve been shying away from for so many decades. We need to implement a new development model that is particular to our realities, prioritise education and modernize the state. It will take time, it will hurt, there will be no heroes to glorify or demons to burn on the cross.
Can we go towards building the only plausible story for our country going forward? I certainly hope so.
Bye bye Brazil.
Nobody said it was easy.
No one ever said it would be so hard.
I’m going back to the start.
-Coldplay, The Scientist.
I have been blogging about my experiences in startups since 2004. Along the way I’ve had all sorts of ups and downs, successes and mistakes. I’ve learned a…
Three startup ideas for Brazil (not involving Elon Musk)
Provocatively titled "Why emerging markets don’t need Elon Musk", this HBR blog post argues that innovations such as Musk’s Hyperloop aren’t the type of innovation that emerging markets necessarily need right now. As follower economies, emerging markets have a greater need for well-executed technology transfers in order to be able to “catch up” to certain basic standards of logistics, technology, health care, etc. of developed economies.
Certainly there are lots of region-specific problems that require native solutions, but the author makes a good point. Here are just three technology transfer startup ideas (among many) that could work in Brazil:
Prioritization: what we got right and wrong at our e-commerce startup
There’s a great answer on Quora by Ian McAllister on how best to prioritize business objectives and product decisions. It’s really logical, and I like his emphasis on prioritizing themes, not projects. So using the benefit of hindsight (and actual metrics), I thought I’d lay out our decision-making rationale at Babycub. How did we do? What else could we have done? Let’s take a look.
Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.
A Brazilian startup’s shutdown: Here are our actual data, financials and some tips so that your startup can benefit from what we learned
After a little over a year of working on Babycub and seven months after launch, we found a group to buy the backend platform we developed (our custom CRM and recurring billing / subscription management system). And with that, we’ve decided to shut down our operations.
Babycub’s e-commerce financial model (for download)
I’ve decided to share an old version of our cash flow model, at least temporarily. (Read here for why I’m doing this.) For anyone else with an e-commerce startup or a subscription-based startup, (or wanting to start one) it might be helpful to have a real world reference.
I highly recommend that you download your own, clean version of this e-commerce model from Matt Carroll’s website though, as I did. His template is fantastic, and will save you A LOT of time. (While you’re at it, follow Matt on Quora…his posts are epic.)
Get Babycub’s model here (choose “Slow download” so you don’t have to pay)
How e-commerce startups can use packaging to create value without spending an arm and a leg
At our kids’ clothing startup, the packaging we used was an extremely distinctive feature, one that not only created value and resonated with customers, but was also only marginally more expensive for us to produce.
This recent Forbes.com article reflects my sentiment about the power of packaging for e-commerce retailers. It mentions Birchbox as an example of how packaging itself can create great ROI:
“Simple tissue paper and a pink, branded box is all it takes to spark a conversation between Birchbox subscribers and house guests or neighbors. Upon seeing the box – sometimes regardless of whether a product is inside – a friend will comment and likely get an instant pitch from the owner of the box. That’s ROI – a brand impression due to packaging.”
In our case, our bear-faced box and tissue paper were designed by the brilliant folks at Rio de Janeiro-based Niramekko (led by the brothers Rodrigo and Gustavo Saiani, who are now heading up Plau.co and Poema, respectively).
What were the benefits of this packaging?
The billion dollar problem in the Brazilian kids’ clothing market, and why it’s ripe for disruption
** See a related related post on the online potential of the Brazilian kids’ clothing market **
When I tell people how expensive kids’ clothing is here in Brazil, most non-Brazilians (and Brazilians without kids) display the same look of astonishment. Here’s an illustration:
The jumpsuit above is a very basic-quality one; it would be tough to find much cheaper without sacrificing a lot on quality. You’re more likely to find prices like this:
Types of images that engage best with (Brazilian) moms on Facebook
There’s a lot of research out there on Facebook marketing optimization that reveal things like the best days to post, the best times of day and types of posts that work best (clearly images).
But we were curious if we could get more granular and know what types of images got the most engagement with our community of Brazilian moms (measured as # of people talking about this). So we decided to have some fun and tested and analyzed all sorts of images, ranging from photos of newborns, slightly older kids, kids’ clothing, to other categories of things we thought interested moms, including food, cute animals, inspirational quotes and household decorations, among other things. (And yeah, we used others’ images…don’t sue us).
So what did we find?…
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I’ve run thousands and thousands of miles through Aterro in Rio de Janeiro and I know every crack and pothole on the path by heart, but the views never get old.
(Click on the orange bars to the side of the photos to see through)
Startup lessons learned: Why opening an account with this bank cost us $50,000
For most, choosing a bank for a startup isn’t a big deal. At the early stages, this usually isn’t a factor and shouldn’t be.
However, this isn’t the case in Brazil. In our case, our choice of Santander Brasil cost us an estimated $50,000.