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Crossing Borders with Nathan Lustig


Hello and welcome to Crossing Borders with Nathan Lustig, where I interview entrepreneurs doing startups across borders and the investors who support them, with a focus on companies that have some relationship to Latin America.

Jul 10, 2018

Launching your startup on a waterproof phone from a Colombian prison. It sounds like something out of a movie. But in this case, it's the true story of Criptext, an encrypted email service, founded by Panamanian entrepreneur Mayer Mizrachi.

How did Mayer end up in a Colombian prison? What was it like? How did he continue working and keeping his team together? How did he raise money and even do an angel investment himself from his prison cell? We cover these questions and many more.

In this podcast Mayer, tells his story in his own words. How he believes a $200k contract with the Panamanian government, political persecution and an unfortunate series of events led him to spend 5 months in a Colombian prison and the past two years stuck in Panama, unable to travel. Through it all, he's raised money and continues to build his business. We also talk about what he learned during his childhood overcoming a previously untreatable disease, studying in Europe and the US and of course encrypted email and what it's important.

Lessons Learned Overcoming A Childhood Illness 

Mayer was diagnosed with a rare illness that caused him to be on chemotherapy drugs from a very young age until he was 17. We talk about what it was like growing up in hospitals in a foreign country, what he learned and how this experience shaped him and how it might have helped prepare him for his Colombia prison stint.

Launching A Startup From Colombian Prison

Mayer was living in New York and decided to take a new years vacation with friends to Cartagena. When he got off the plane, he was arrested and presented with an Interpol Red Notice. We talk about how all of this happened, his time in a Colombian prison and why he thinks all of this happened. Panama claims he stole millions and bribed his way out of prison, Mayer says he had a $200k contract that he delivered, but a change in Presidential administration and some family connections led to political persecution.

Opportunities For Doing Business in Latin America

After such a difficult experience, maybe people would assume that Mayer wouldn't be interested in doing business in Latin America. But he's still bullish on opportunities and has made multiple angel investments in the region. We talk about some of the advantages and how it fits into the Magma Partners investment thesis.

Show Notes:

2:30 - What are you working in Panama?

4:15 - Do you think that there's a potential security cluster for tech in Panama?

6:23 - How did you get interest in Cyber Security?

10:30 - Growing up in Panama

11:23 - Mayer's childhood illness, getting better, living in London

13:23 - What would you say if anything that you learned or that you used or that changed your perspective that is still with you today based on that childhood?

15:20 - What did you do after your came out of the hospital?

17:19 - Where did you study?

19:30 - What did your family think about taking an entrepreneurship path?

21:40 - The start of Mayer's story about Colombia Prison

28:40 - Getting arrested in Colombia on an Interpol Red Notice

31:25 - Mayer tells stories about what it was like in a Colombian maximum security prison

37:45 - What is your favorite story from prison?

49:38 - What do you think happened that Panama and Colombia went after you?

54:26 - Why Mayer ended up back in Panama

58:06 - You are taking a risk by telling the story like this, aren't you?

1:00:08 - Issues and potential solutions for keeping your communication secure

1:02:51 - What's next for Mayer and Criptext

1:04:27 - How did you keep the team together while you were in prison?

1:09:14 - Do you have any advice for why people should  look at Latin America?

1:12:33 - Some advantages for operating and investing in Latin America

1:13:43 - Books Mayer recommends

1:17:55 - Advice Mayer would give to his younger self

Links:

Original Forbes Coverage

Forbes Follow up Coverage