Paula Ucrós, Colombian Tech Founder: Entrepreneurship Offers Freedom!
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Paula Ucrós is harnessing the power of influencer marketing by creating the first word of mouth platform-based advertising agency in LATAM.
Paula is the Founder of ComunidadTalk, a bootstrapped tech platform that offers brands the opportunity to systematize and optimize viral marketing by allowing consumers to actively use their word of mouth.
Since 2008 ComunidadTalk has managed campaigns for leading brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, DANONE, L’Oreal, Sanofi, Aventis, Nike & Sony among many others.
Although ComunidadTalk was born in Colombia, the company currently has offices in Mexico. This year Paula and her team plan to expand to both Peru & Ecuador.
Prior to founding ComunidadTalk, Paula held a variety of advertising & marketing positions, including CMO of L’Oreal Colombia and Brand Manager of Coca Cola Colombia. Paula has experience managing marketing budgets of over USD$30M.
She has a BSc in Industrial Engineering from Universidad Javeriana as well as an Masters degree in Strategic Marketing from CESA, both located in Bogotá, Colombia. She can be followed on Twitter @pucros
Adriana spoke to Paula about funding options for LATAM businesses; her international expansion plans; and freedom through entrepreneurialism!
AG: How did you come up with the idea for your company and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?
PU: My husband Iván Sanchez and I always dreamed about creating our own business. Iván returned to Colombia after having worked in the advertisement space in the US for a number of years. He worked as a Brand Planner for a large advertising agency called GlobalHue.
As I was driving one day in Bogotá, I imagined an influencer-marketing model. I had no idea how it could be turned into reality. I chatted with Iván and he recalled a similar model he had seen in the US. For about a month, we began to study all available models present both in Europe & the US. We began to “tropicalize” a combination of models. ComunidadTalk was born a few months later.
We bootstrapped the venture, hired a Colombian programmer and began to sell when the platform was not even finished. I recall selling something that I didn’t really understand very well.
As soon as we sold the first campaign, we had deadlines to meet. We profited from the deadlines to hit the streets even harder. We learned a lot about our customer not only by selling to the brands but also by personally recruiting our influencers.
AG: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?
PU: Our first client was L’Oreal Colombia. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I had worked for L’Oreal for a number of years. I believe that L’Oreal bought the campaign believing in what I had to offer as a person rather than the platform model I was selling. L’Oreal was critical for our growth as a company. We needed a proof of concept. At that point, more than a financial injection, we needed to increase our influencer base.
Today, ComunidadTalk has about 30,000 influencers in Colombia and about 10,000 in Mexico. As we began penetrating the Mexican market last year, our sales were much easier, based on our success in Colombia. DANONE opened the doors to us also based on a previous relationship that we had established with this company. Business is really about people.
Relationships are extremely important in LATAM. A good relationship will get you really far. A bad relationship will kill your business.
AG: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?
PU: Our company is based first and foremost on honesty. Our vision as a company is to build a team where sense of humor in the workplace is essential and very hardwork is critical as means of achieving success. When we hire, we look for individuals who can breathe honesty, good sense of humor and hard work.
When you put love into what you do, work becomes fun and goals can be met with ease. Obviously, depending on the role that we are hiring for, we look for the appropriate skill set.
We don’t necessarily hire for experience. We hire talent that is hungry for learning. Age is completely irrelevant in our hiring process.
Over the years, we have learned that age is not a synonym of maturity. People hungry for both learning and working hard, come in all ages.
AG: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?
PU: Since I began ComunidadTalk four years ago, I wake up every single night thinking about it. At the beginning, the intensity of my worries was really high. It seemed as if I needed all night to figure out my doubts. Although the intensity of the questioning has faded down, I still wake up thinking about a million things.
The main question that wakes me up is how to build a sustainable financial model in countries where small size companies such as ours are deemed to fail.
The payment models of most large brands/multinational corporations are designed to meet the accounts receivable needs of very large companies. Therefore, companies such as ours require a significant cash flow on hand in order to be able to operate. At the end of the day, the viability of the model becomes not so much about the quality of services and creativity that you offer, but about your ability to successfully build a cash flow reserve.
AG: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?
PU: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is to successfully manage cash flow.
I firmly believe that in LATAM, establishing a good sustainable business is not really about having the most innovative idea.
It is really about being able to understand both your balance sheet and your statement of cash flow. Successful entrepreneurs are not necessarily those who secure VC financing. Rather, they are those who clearly understand how to manage the money they have in hand.
AG: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?
PU: Right now we are stabilizing our operations in both Colombia and Mexico. Later this year we are planning on operating in Peru and Ecuador. Looking ahead, we are looking at targeting the Hispanic market in the US.
AG: How easy is it for entrepreneurs to find funding for their business in LATAM? How do most entrepreneurs fund their business?
PU: Unfortunately, securing funding is an extremely complex task. Investors typically look for innovative models with significant traction and very high cash flow.
Most LATAM entrepreneurs bootstrap their ventures. As such, high-growth entrepreneurship is confined to those of us who have the means to get the venture off the ground.
At ComunidadTalk, we chose a business model where our labor and our connections could be the main investment. We only hired additional talent once we secured several campaigns
AG: What kind of technology are you most enthusiastic about and why?
PU: I am really passionate about social media. Social media has a tremendous transformational power in LATAM. I am also very excited about the e-commerce space that is evolving in LATAM. Given that we are just beginning to harness its potential, there is a lot of opportunity in this front. E-commerce coupled with influencer marketing will create a completely different LATAM marketing model in the near future.
AG: What is the most common piece of advice, which you give to early stage entrepreneurs?
PU: I am still an early stage entrepreneur. The advice, which I apply to my own self every day, is to be perseverant. Without daily persistence there can’t be any results in the future.
AG: What is one career or management decision you would like to go back and change?
I think that decisions are just that, decisions. As such, they should not be the objects of retrospective analysis. Wanting to change a decision, means wanting to stay in the past.
I believe that decisions are always taken with the best tools one has at a given moment. Mistakes are really our best teachers. I am always looking forward as I really think that I am today based on the decisions that were meant to be taken in the past.
AG: What is one leadership lesson you learned the hard way, but wish someone had told you at the beginning?
PU: More than a leadership lesson, early on I received a lesson in perseverance from a good friend. He told me: “Be prepared to receive 100 “No”s. If you get a 101 “No”,s let go of your business idea. In the process, when you get one “Yes”, you have to begin counting again. So far, we haven’t had 100 continuous “No”s as we sell our campaigns.
AG: How have you found angel investors’/venture capitalists’ attitudes towards you as a female entrepreneur?
I don’t think there is a gender based attitude difference in LATAM. A pitch is a good pitch whether you are a man or a woman.
You have to know how to sell and convince. Here in LATAM, I believe that women are as equally valued as men.The main investor attitude problem is that an investor comes to LATAM with return and cash flow expectations that were optimized for developed nations. These expectations are not really viable in developing nations.
AG: What do you think could be done to increase the number of women entrepreneurs?
PU: For both men and women, I think we need to be educated differently. In LATAM we receive training to be employees not employers. We are sold the idea that employees are guaranteed 100% job security. This is a big lie. We are not creating human beings who are capable of following their dreams. Happiness comes from the opportunity to be free. Being able to execute your own dream is a big component of freedom. Entrepreneurship, more than financial security, offers freedom.
LATAM women of today need to be fully convinced of our creative power. We need to embrace the idea that there are no limits.
I think that we limit ourselves tremendously. We need to let go of the LATAM idea that women are meant to lead micro-enterprises.
We need to let go of the idea that we can only ideate businesses around children, apparel and handcrafts. We need to harness the power of being a woman. By design, we are very focused in processes and attention to detail. These are great advantages when it comes to executing properly.
At the same time, I believe that we are a great complement to men. A balanced business is one that is able to integrate men and women, young people and old people.
The translation of this interview from Spanish was undertaken by Adriana Galue, who takes 100% responsibility for its accuracy.
Based in Boulder, CO Adriana Galue, started working with web startups following a career in Neuroscience. She is truly passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. In addition to owning a consulting company, Adriana teaches seminars in entrepreneurship applied to technology in several South American universities. For more information about Adriana, see her profile.
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