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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.

Apr 15, 2019

Born in Russia and raised in the US, Vera Makarov never thought she would be an entrepreneur  in Mexico. Although she is now on the receiving end of investments, Vera started her career on the other side of the table: as a traditional investor who then moved into impact investing. She eventually realized she wanted to be the one working on the ground and decided to build her own business.

In 2016, she co-founded Apli with three partners. They decided to found Apli when they realized that many of their previous clients were perpetually understaffed during operational peaks leading to thousands of missed opportunities for growth. Currently it takes an average of 52 days to fill a position through the traditional system in Mexico; Apli aims to cut that time down to 24 hours.

I sat down with Vera on this episode of Crossing Borders to hear her thoughts on Latin America and other emerging markets, hiring in Latin America, and the perks of being a foreign female entrepreneur in Mexico. Having previously been an investor, she also gives great advice on what to look for in VC, as well as what they look for in startups.

Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about how Apli is solving hiring challenges in Mexico and Vera’s insights on entrepreneurship from the perspective of an entrepreneur and investor.

Wading into the shallow end of entrepreneurship

According to Vera, switching from the investor’s side to being an entrepreneur wasn’t as drastic of a jump as it sounds. Before starting her own business, she spent three years at Rocket Internet launching, growing, and selling businesses in the real estate, human resources, food, delivery, and auto markets. Through her direct contact with entrepreneurs, Vera was able to learn the ins and outs of growing and scaling a startup.

Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Vera’s insights on starting a business - from an investor perspective -  as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the Rocket Internet model.

Mexico: a land of opportunities

So, why did a Russian-born, US raised entrepreneur decide to start a business in Mexico? First of all, eighty million Mexicans (approximately (⅔ of the population) are connected to the Internet through smartphones, making it a highly-connected population. As Mexico’s growing GDP may soon place it among the top ten global powers, neighbors like the US may be starting to pay attention to its technology and talent. It may also allow Mexico to leapfrog in specific industries. This situation presents a ripe opportunity for investing in tech startups in Mexico, such as Apli.  

Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Vera’s thoughts on Mexico’s dynamic startup ecosystem.

Advice on choosing investors

Vera has a unique perspective on picking investors. She has invested in successes and failures, and received investment herself to grow Apli. She knows the importance of asking for a VC for more than just capital and why early rounds are the most dangerous for founder dilution.  

Listen to this episode of Crossing Borders to learn about Vera’s thought process in choosing investors and how one of her smallest angel investors, in terms of tickets, was the most amazing addition to her business.

Aim high: It takes similar effort to start a big business or an SME business

Vera knows the risk involved in starting a business, and how intimidating that can be. She’s been there. But she also knows there’s always a way to make it work. Rather than imagining worst case scenarios, take the jump; that’s when Vera says most entrepreneurs find out all their assumptions are wrong. In this episode, Vera offers more empowering advice on how to pluck up the courage to take a leap and start a business.

Vera Makarov and Apli are removing the friction in recruiting processes that is costing companies’ millions of missed work days per year. Vera’s advice to always think big when starting a business is reflected in her own ambitions. Although Apli started in Mexico, staying there is not an option. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn more about Vera and Apli’s journey, as well as what the future holds for the company in their expansion throughout Latin America and the US.

Show notes:

  • [2:26] - How Apli got started.
  • [4:15] - A Russian entrepreneur in Mexico.
  • [4:48] - Veering off the traditional finance route.
  • [5:52] - Lessons learned from investing to be being on the entrepreneurship side.
  • [9:02] - Vision on Car, Real Estate, and Job Classifieds markets.
  • [10:20] - Rocket Internet: LatAm versus European and US markets .
  • [11:31] - Understanding the Mexican startup ecosystem.
  • [12:57] - Steps after working with Rocket.
  • [14:37] - Measures of Apli’s effectiveness.
  • [16:03] - On scaling Apli.
  • [19:00] - About raising money for Apli.
  • [20:36] - Advice to other entrepreneurs on VC funding.
  • [21:49] - How to choose investors.
  • [23:50] - Tips for pivoting successfully.
  • [25:04] - Searching for champions to invest in you.
  • [26:49] - Apli’s clients.
  • [27:46] - Prospects of expansion across LatAm and the US.
  • [28:59] - Next steps for Apli.
  • [29:14] - Vera’s advice to younger self and female entrepreneurs in the region.

Resources mentioned: