In any new endeavor or community, one of the keys to moving forward is getting people excited. It’s called the Enthusiasm Gap: it’s the chasm that has to be bridged in order to build a self-sustaining community that can get things done. Where I’m from, the United States, political parties on both sides of the aisle (i.e. Republicans and Democrats) are trying to bridge the enthusiasm gap in order to motivate their voters to come out to the polls. Unfortunately (or not), many Americans are so put off by the shrillness of political discourse that they may boycott the polls.
By contrast, Tech Startup Nights #6 (aka #TSN6) appears to be well on its way to bridging the enthusiasm gap that is keeping the small Mexican startup community from getting to the next level. I attended the event last night at the Hotel Brick in Roma Norte, and judging by the number of people (easily 100+) and the reaction to the speakers, there is certainly growing enthusiasm for startup companies in Mexico.
First to speak was Oscar Yasser, aka @Akirareiko. Yasser is a well-known fixture in the gaming community in Mexico, having started the immensely popular Atomix magazine over a decade ago. He spoke at length about his journey to entrepreneurship, beginning as a 10-year old selling popcorn and drinks at a neighborhood music party he organized. He later channeled his enthusiasm for video games into an online gamer forum which eventually became a website that became Atomix magazine, a print publication with 75 employees. Yasser’s journey was not without setbacks, however. The print magazine crashed and burned, causing Yasser to cut back his staff to the bare minimum, managing only the Atomix website. He moved to Japan in order to better understand the gaming industry and get some perspective on how he wanted to proceed, eventually returning and re-launching the magazine for tablet computers.
Yasser’s message, while largely historical, carried some important lessons for the would-be entrepreneurs in the room: understand when to change direction and do what you love, not what you think will make money.
Next up was Javier Rincón, CEO of Pago Facil, a mobile payment solution for Mexico that is very similar to the US company Square. Like Yasser, Rincón started out modestly, working odd jobs and eventually studying engineering. He began his business with friends, looking for ways to enable small businesses to easily accept the types of payment mechanisms that larger businesses take for granted. Eventually, after running the business on their off time from their day jobs, one person — Rincón — had to take the plunge and go full-time on the endeavor. The group went to numerous banks — several times — for funding, eventually convincing one to provide them with the necessary capital to scale their business.
Rincón’s takeaway messages were not unlike Yasser’s — don’t be afraid to make mistakes (every entrepreneur makes them). He also counseled attendees not to build a company with the intention of selling it; he likened that to dating someone while thinking about the breakup. Entrepreneurs, he said, should build something they love and will make a difference.
I spoke to organizer Jorge Madrigal afterward about the event and the startup community in Mexico generally. One of his key messages was that startup supporters needed to get the entrepreneurship message beyond the elite universities in Mexico and into the broader academic community, concentrating on the larger schools where the concept of entrepreneurship was still not mainstream. Madrigal is trying to bridge this knowledge gap by holding events like #TSN6 and by working with public sector partners to hold such events as Ciudad Movil, an open data project with the government of Mexico City.
Judging by the way attendees mobbed the speakers and organizers after the event, it appears that the enthusiasm gap in Mexico isn’t as wide as it once was. Still, though, Mexico City is a big place and one bar full of excited would-be entrepreneurs does not an ecosystem make. But one has to start somewhere, and TSN may end up being the catalyst needed.