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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.

Jun 29, 2017

Have you heard of smart luggage? It may not sound like something you need but wait until you hear what it can do to make your travel more enjoyable and effortless. Connecting luggage to an app and building out the hardware to integrate the two has enabled Diego Saez-Gil’s company, Bluesmart to jump into a very competitive marketplace and gain a foothold with amazing speed. On this episode of Crossing Borders, Diego shares the story of his entrepreneurial journey, how he’s founded and funded his new smart luggage startup, and how he manages an international team with offices all over the world. It’s a fascinating example of the kind of innovation and forward thinking that’s coming out of Latin America these days.

Startup success in a very crowded market.

When Diego and his team were building WeHostels, his first startup, they realized it would be an uphill battle. The space they were entering already had big players like Airbnb and VRBO. But they believed that their unique focus and the unique experience of staying in a hostel would appeal to a certain demographic that could become a loyal niche audience. Turns out they were right. Diego tells me how he got WeHostels off the ground, what led to the sale of the company, and the lessons he learned in building, staffing, and navigating the acquisition, on this episode.

Building a startup was like building a plane that was already in the air.

Even though Bluesmart is a relatively new company, Diego Saez-Gil is no stranger to startups. He was co-founder of WeHostel, one of the first hostel-specific apps on the market that enabled users to make reservations on the move. The experience of building that company set him up for the challenges of building a physical product oriented company and the intricacies of leading an international team. On this episode Diego shares how his new smart luggage company Bluesmart was launched via crowdfunding, how additional rounds of support were secured, and the crazy pace at which the company has grown. As you’ll see from this conversation, Diego is a sharp guy who demonstrates why U.S. - Latin America based companies are poised to change the startup world.

$2.2M raised for smart luggage presales in their first crowdfunding campaign.

You've probably heard of many startup success stories that began with crowdfunding. Diego Saez-Gil’s story is the same, only bigger. His team was able to raise $2.2M in support in their first Indiegogo presales campaign and on this episode Diego shares how his team did it, including their approach to pre-campaign prep and marketing once the campaign was live. If you’re at all interested in the possibility of crowdsourcing your own startup, you should take the time to hear what Diego shared with me on this episode.

What U.S. investors should know about connecting with Latin American companies.

Bluesmart is a company with offices in New York, China, and South America, and founder Diego Saez-Gil likes it that way. He says the diversification of the team and the strengths he’s able to draw upon in those varied cultures makes for a company with many facets to its success. He advises U.S. based investors and companies to take a serious look at partnerships in Latin America. In his mind, it’s a trend that is only going to get smarter and smarter as time goes on - sort of like his smart luggage.

Outline of This Episode

  • [2:25] The life of a founder whose offices are all over the world and how he took his path.
  • [8:00] The culture shock of leaving his home and traveling to business centers around the world.
  • [11:54] Diego’s 2011 start of a new business - WeHostels.
  • [16:43] The advice Diego gives to startup founders about building a team.
  • [20:25] Growing a startup app company in a very competitive market - and the process of selling the company.
  • [23:34] Two years later: Crowdfunding a new product successfully - $2.2M raised.
  • [26:28] How the team made the crowdfunding attempt successful.
  • [30:44] Diego’s response to those who say there’s not much talent in Latin America.
  • [35:24] How to keep an international team of 39 working together smoothly.
  • [38:07] Why Diego went to Ycombinator even after a successful crowdfunding launch.
  • [47:04] The features and details of Bluesmart luggage.
  • [49:14] Tips for those interested in building a hardware company, including tips for doing business in China.
  • [51:29] Surprising things about Latin America and China.
  • [55:53] What Diego says to U.S. Investors about doing business with Latin American companies.
  • [1:00:32] Changes in the Argentinian government in relation to entrepreneurship.
  • [1:01:50] Diego’s advice to himself at the beginning of his startup journey.
  • [1:05:00] Learning to take expert advice but staying focused on innovation.

Resources & People Mentioned

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