Reflections from Buenos Aires

I have so much blogging to catch up on! These last 2 weeks have been a blur – first a trip to Buenos Aires, then Anuprit and Geoff’s birthdays, and now the Chilean National Independence Day, dieciocho. All while trying to get work done for our October Gym-Pact pilot!  Needless to say, 24 hours a day have not been enough.  But Buenos Aires was such an experience that I need to at least write out my impressions, if I can’t get across everything I saw over the 7 days there.  The city has given me more perspective on Latin America, Chile and my own experiences.

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, my first impression was, of course, of the differences from Santiago.  Cafes on every corner, greenspace, a restaurant culture, unique crafts being sold in markets, architecture, blue (smog-free) sky, and most of all, an overwhelming sense of scale and grandeur from a city that prides itself in its culture and past.  All these things I had been craving in Santiago, and experiencing them all at once was sensory overload but not in an unpleasant way.  We spent the first day just walking and taking it in.  There were those spontaneous surprises around every corner – street musicians, 2×1 café con leche, a public garden, 3-story high graffiti art – that made Buenos Aires seem endlessly large and ripe for exploring.

Buenos Aires had a distinctly Italian flair – from the accent of the Spanish to the cappuccinos to the tricky cap driver who tried to charge us $140 USD for a 140 peso ride.  But it was also different in that it wasn’t solely focused on a grand past, but also looking to its future.  This we saw in the beautiful Palermo Valle where Argentina’s startup scene convenes.  The Argentinians are naturally more entrepreneurial (maybe because they are more willing to argue?), but most of them also have a deep respect for the Chileans when it comes to business, despite the natural neighborly rivalry.  One Argentinian entrepreneur told me that the Argentines are better at starting businesses but the Chileans are better at growing them.  This statement didn’t surprise me at all.

Given their complementary strengths – Chile with its orderly, business-friendly government, fervent anti-corruption (fought with a mountain of paper receipts), straight-forward people, and safe, easy-to-live-in capital, and Argentina with its creative, artistic spirit and rich culture – I am surprised the two neighbors don’t work together more often.   Indeed, many Chileans I spoke to have never even been to Argentina, and vice versa.  This is a tragic loss of opportunity that can very easily be remedied.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on Chile-Argentina relations, and I am sure there are many historical and cultural reasons for the rivalry, but still, going forward, I think there is always opportunity when different strengths come together.

10 ways to market your company without spending money!

Don’t have a Coca-Cola size budget for marketing?  It doesn’t mean you can’t direct attention to your business.  I first drafted this list of ways I’ve marketed Styleta and Gym-Pact without spending money for Tory Johnson’s Spark & Hustle conference in conjunction with the Massachusetts Conference for Women in December this year, since I’ll be speaking at the bootcamp.  I then gave a talk on this for an informal Start-Up Chile meetup on marketing.  After getting great feedback, I’m now posting this list of ways you can advance your company without money so hopefully you can get the attention you need to get your own company off the ground!

  1. Networking with media – whether through Twitter, HARO (Help A Reporter Out – a great resource to find reporters looking for stories), events, etc, getting connected with reporters interested in your story is key for getting publicity for any events, launches, online competitions, etc.  Styleta has been featured in Glamour, People Stylewatch, Seventeen, InStyle, Teen Vogue and others, while Gym-Pact has been featured in the Boston Globe, NY Times Freakonomics Blog, UK Independent, NPR, Atlantic Monthly,, Next Web to name a few.
  2. Tapping into alumni networks – Harvard’s network is great, but tons of schools have amazing alumni in your field who are happy to give you a hand.  For Styleta, I built my list of advisers from the alumni list.  For Gym-Pact, while in Santiago for Start-Up Chile, I have had meetings with corporate partners, potential investors and advisers just by emailing my alumni list.
  3. Creating opportunities for evangelism – When your users love you, make it easy for them to tell their friends and reward them for that.  Gym-Pact incorporates groups, free days and other rewards for people to refer our product to friends and family.  Also, we make it easy for people to get involved in building our business – from easy feedback loops on our website and mobile app, to letting them help us build our database of gyms.  Crowdsourcing is key to building something huge on a budget.
  4. Create a little controversy – The easiest way for something to go viral is if there’s something to talk about, so create a debate to get people talking.  Gym-Pact’s blunt, cheeky and counter-intuitive message of paying when you DON’T get to the gym amplified our media exposure and made a lasting impression on readers.
  5. Following and getting to know key influencers – for Styleta this was fashion bloggers, for Gym-Pact it is fitness bloggers and personal trainers.  Styleta’s Student Designer Challenge and Style Fusion on the Runway show in NYC could not be as big without bloggers behind us.
  6. Speaking opportunities – like Spark & Hustle, Harvard’s Intercollegiate Business Convention, NY & Boston Fashion Week, pitching to Jason Calacanis on This Week in Startups (and getting him to sign up to be a beta user of Gym-Pact!).  I am a personal evangelist for my business everywhere I go!
  7. Sponsored events – It’s amazing how many things you can get for free if you operate under that mindset.  Styleta has had multiple 250+ people, capacity-filled events on just $50-150 budgets.  Get local sponsors with a key stake in your audience to sponsor everything from venue, equipment, volunteers, food & drink, etc.
  8. Don’t forget your friends! – It’s a bit tricky to navigate between tapping into your personal network and overselling to your friends, but if you keep it infrequent, targeted, and low-pressure, there are tons of people in your own personal network who are willing to “Like”, vote, tweet, sign-up, comment, share or otherwise support your ventures.  Styleta’s and Gym-Pact’s mailing lists both started with 150 friends and grew from there.
  9. Exchange campaigns – sharing your audience with other similar organizations and vice versa.  Styleta did a “Keep or Donate” campaign with and banner exchanges with blogs.  Gym-Pact is doing the same with our fitness prize sponsors, exchanging marketing for goods.  Find out what you have to offer and give something to get something in return, especially with organizations with similar missions or audiences.
  10. SEO – I’m not an expert so any tips you have would be great!

Valparaiso & Vina del Mar

We finally had some sunshine this weekend and I took a trip to the nearby seaside cities, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.  Geoff and I met up with Mirko, a native Valparaisian whose aunt gave us a ride into Santiago the first week – just a testament to the kindness of strangers here!  Mirko was awesome and spent all day taking us around both cities.  Here’s what we found:

Valparaiso from Mirko's rooftopColors in Valparaise

Valpo was charming and stunning, full of the traditional colors and architecture that was so different from Santiago.  There were very few high-rises and the streets were quiet, especially up in the hills.  Mirko told us to come back for New Years in Valparaiso because the hills rising up around the sea makes for a natural amphitheater for the fireworks show.  Valpo is also famous for the ascensores, or almost vertical lifts that bring you up the steep hills.  The view from the tops were gorgeous!

While Valpo has suffered from a down economy, I think due to its proximity to Santiago, charming feel, cheaper cost of living, not to mention the smog-free air, it can really become an entrepreneurial hub for Chile – a sort of Silicon Valley to Santiago.  Especially because the technical institute is located there as well.  The only thing missing is a high-speed rail line connecting it to Santiago.  Unfortunately given the costs and the lack of local funding, that doesn’t seem to be in the works any time soon.  Nonetheless, it was a breath of fresh air to visit!

Valpo architectureOld meets new

Valpo waterfront  Graffiti art

Vina was a much different feel – much more modern, sleek and the typical resort town. But I found myself liking Vina more than I had expected. Rather than being overly commercial, the boardwalk has its own charm and a distinctive Chilean flavor. The handmade churros, teens on tightropes and artisan market definitely helped!

Vina del MarAnd finally, some pictures of our adventures in Santiago as well!




Tear gas, fire and tanks in the fight over education in Chile

So this was a surprising interruption in my otherwise normal day. We were told at around 4pm that it was a good idea to clear out of the Start-Up Chile office due to the riots tonight. Having heard a bit about the students’calls for quality education, I thought that this would just be a small if somewhat rowdy protest. The tear gas in the streets and Chilean carabinero police in full battle armor probably should have warned me otherwise.  But it wasn’t until we tried to leave our apartment around 8:30pm tonight for a friend’s birthday party did we really get a big dose of reality.  Here are a few pictures of our short-lived attempt to walk 6 blocks just south of the Alameda:

Masked against tear gasFire education

I’ve never been tear-gassed before, so it was a pretty shocking experience.  Even though we managed to avoid the worst of it, we could see the multiple fires down the streets, smoke and sirens, all underneath a constant banging of pots and pans in a typical South American cazerolada protest style.  From what I could see, it was definitely an overuse of force on the Chilean government’s part.  The quotes from some government spokespeople were quite disturbing: Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter warned, “The time for marching has run out”, and Andres Chadwick, a government spokesman, said, “The students are not the owners of this country.  We cannot be held prisoner as a society by the idea that the only rights that matter are those of students to protest.”

While I don’t condone when reckless violence is masked in the form of protest, and while the fires and crowds of young men running through the streets was rather disturbing to see, I still cannot believe this is the amount of force necessary against students who are calling for change in education.  If anything, seeing students passionate and willing to speak out in the name of something they cared about was refreshing to see, not a dictatorship of students over a country.  If anything, the police with their full battle gear, tanks, water cannons and tear gas were the ones that terrified me the most.  I agree with the spokesperson for the student demonstrators that riots likely would not be as violent, not as war-like, if the government did not treat it so much like a war but rather as compatriots trying to improve the situation for everyone, which is what it truly is.

Looking more into the actual educational issues up for debate, it seems that the heart of the matter is whether education should be a public or private good.  Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has made clear that he believes education should be private, tacitly supporting for-profit activities in education, while the student demonstrators believe in greater government intervention and funding.  For me, the biggest question is, what is the value of an education?  As an immigrant to the US who arrived as a family with basically nothing in our names, education has been the open pathway that led me, if not to guaranteed success, at least to opportunity and the freedom to choose the life I want to lead.  Beyond even healthcare, which becomes an issue only when one is sick, education affects each and every one of us and determines how many doors will be open to us later in life.  For me, the value of an education is priceless, which makes it difficult to price in the private markets.  It also has unbound positive externalities for society to have an all-around educated population, regardless of income.  So I guess I am on the side of the protestors, despite getting a faceful of tear gas and missing a friend’s birthday party because of them.

Quick interlude: The (almost) whole Start-Up Chile group!

Wanted to post this lovely picture of us, freshly fed from our BBQ!
Start-Up Chile groupMore photos can be found on my Facebook here!

What’s so different between Chile and the US?

My globe-trotting friend Yi gave me some good advice on travel-blogging: write down strange and surprising things about your new environment before you get used to it and stop noticing the unusual.  Now that I’ve been in Santiago for almost a month, I think it’s time to note some of the interesting differences.  For the most part, Santiago is a modern city that may have a bit of a US crush, which lends it to be fairly similar to “The States”, as the Chileans would say.  Starbucks and McDonald’s?  Check.  Smooth-running subways and buses?  Check.  Skyscrapers and suburbia? Check.

Santiago panoramaHowever, there are four main things I’ve noticed that are significantly different between Chile and the US, and I’ll be writing a separate blog post about each one to avoid boring you all with one gigantic essay.  They are:

  1. The Beauty of Aggregation (And Why I Now Appreciate Wal-Mart)
  2. The Pre-Consumption, Consumption and Post-Consumption Evolution
  3. What Entrepreneurship Can Do For Chile
  4. A Rich Country that Remembers Being Poor
So today’s topic is The Beauty of Aggregation.

I never thought that I would be dying for some Wal-Mart, but here I am.  While living in the US, I seriously under-appreciated the supreme awesomeness of being able to go to one place and buy everything.  Seriously, think of all the things that you can buy at Wal-Mart – shampoo, vegetables, a vacuum, yarn, fish, t-shirts, contact solution,  paprika, hangers, etc etc.  Here in Chile, you will most likely have to buy every item in that list in a separate store!

There are perfumerias that just sell bath stuff, the Vega Chica for fruits and veggies, electronics stores, yarn stores (I am not joking, there is an entire district just for yarn), the Mercado Central for fish, specialty stores for clothing, eye-glass stores for contact solution, spice stalls, and on and on.  And while they try to be helpful and amass in one place either a bunch of the same stuff (think 30 eye-glass stores on one street) or a bunch of different stuff (gigantic malls that include rides and full-service restaurants), each store is still under separate management.  What this ends up meaning is that you spend 3 hours going to 7 different stores on a grocery shopping trip.

On top of that, even within each store, there are different people who manage different parts of the shopping experience who seem to despise communicating with each other.  For example, to buy some sausage at the meat market, I got a receipt for the meat I selected from the guy behind the counter, which I brought to the cash register people to pay and receive another receipt, which I brought to the checkout guy to redeem my purchase.  This was all within a 20 ft x 20 ft store.

I guess in the US things used to be the same way, and Wal-Mart as a concept simply aggregated “malls” that had lots of different stores under different management into one gigantic store.  Wal-Mart may be on one hand an evil, soulless monster that eats mom-and-pop stores and destroys local culture, but on the other hand, it does provide a lot of value in terms of time efficiency and ease of mind, for people unfamiliar with where to buy their staples.  As Chile continues to open up and receive a bigger influx of foreigners unfamiliar with the city, I expect that more and more megastores will open up to accommodate time-pressured and confused shoppers.

Skiing in July for my birthday!

Lol, I LOVE this picture from the awesome Sanivation team who met us on the Andes ski slopes yesterday on my birthday.  This is pure me versus uphill gravity (and the reason why my arms are so tired today).  More photos to come!

Me vs. gravity

First week in Santiago!

So I promised a lot of people that I’d post pictures and stories of Santiago.  After a week without regular access to email – the silence from lack of iPhone alerts was both irking and oddly peaceful – I’m back online, almost back on track with life, and have some time to post first impressions.

At the Start-Up Chile officeAfter making it off the plane with over 150 lbs of luggage each, Geoff and I made it to Giselle’s house, then to the Start-Up Chile office.  Imagine 140 entrepreneurs crammed into one floor of a high-rise – craziness abound and wireless internet strains under the burden.  But it’s been great to meet everyone!  We’re from all over the globe with companies as diverse as apartment renting, sanitation tech, photoshare and us – fitness.

Meanwhile, at Giselle’s house, we have been getting an awesome dose of Chilean hospitality.  From Sr. Huerta’s antics with the heirloom riding cape to Pache, the cutest and possibly tiniest dog in the world, to delicious fresh meals prepared by Carmen, we’ve felt right at home in our new country.

Sr Huerta's heirloom riding capePache the cute tiny dog

Yumm, Peruvian food

Meanwhile, we also took two hikes to see a panoramic view of Santiago – one near Lo Barnechea in the suburbs and one with the Start-Up Chile crowd up Cerro San Cristobal, the Central Park of Santiago.  The views were stunning, despite the pretty terrible smog.

Jumping for joy against the AndesGeoff finds Hamlet the skullAndes, beautiful AndesVirgin Mary atop San CristobalSantiago sky view from San Cristobal  So overall, not a bad week.  Spanish is improving all around thanks to the difficult real estate market. Can’t wait to move into our SWEET apartment this week and add some pictures.  What can you rent for $550 per month in Santiago?  Get ready to be jealous Boston and NYC folks 🙂

Got Grit?

I’ve always been interested in the characteristics of successful people, and I’ve read books from Outliers to Bounce to Everyday Survival, but a great article in Women’s Health caught my eye today. While other books have touted intelligence, practice or instincts as the keys to success, this article says it’s grit that makes a difference.  How do they define grit? According to Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges and maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity, and plateaus.” That sounds a lot like getting through a hard workout, or even getting your butt to the gym itself!

There are a ton of tips in the article on how to train yourself to have grit, but I wonder whether something like Gym-Pact might help those who really don’t start out with much grit (including yours truly) to even kick-start that learning process. What do you think?

Tory Johnson’s Spark & Hustle Conference

This past Saturday, I was able to spend the day with Tory Johnson, ABC Good Morning America workplace contributor and female entrepreneur extraordinaire, and the amazing women (and men!) of the Boston Spark & Hustle conference.  As the Q&A Keynote on Saturday morning, I was able to share some of my experience as the founder of Styleta and Gym-Pact.  I was pretty nervous the night before, since it was my first time being a conference keynote, but Tory was amazing at guiding me with the questions.  The audience questions were also fun to answer and gave me some great ideas for both startups!

I stayed the rest of the day to listen to the other speakers and definitely learned a ton.  Here are some great tips I learned.

From Dan Schawbel, personal branding guru:

  • Update those online profiles – yes I mean Facebook too!  I’ve seen plenty of FB profiles of recent grads that still seem to say they are students.  For me, I definitely need to do some work on my FB and LinkedIn.
  • Leverage small successes to get bigger ones, especially in media features.  Got covered or wrote for a local newspaper?  Put it in your bio and keep adding to it.  I’m going to update by bio to include media mentions!
  • What to read: Mashable and ReadWriteWeb
From Christina Perkett on media:
  • Have 3 soundbites rehearsed that you must share with reporter no matter what questions they ask.  Good advice that I wish I had heard before my interviews!
  • PitchEngine – social press releases
  • Always say thank you to the reporter, and offer additional content to build the relationship
  • People have different preferred communication methods – if they’re not responding to emails or calls, try Twitter, FB or texting.
From Vicki Donlan on turning contacts to cash:
  • Break that mental barrier between personal and business contacts, and don’t be afraid of telling people what you do for a living!
  • Become an expert, the go-to person on a specific topic
  • Listen for people’s needs and give before you get
Got other tips?  I’d love to hear them!