The "anti-unicorns": 5 Argentinian projects that dreamed of winning a fortune
"The successes are the result of several failures," says the entrepreneur mantra. And at the local level there are many examples of projects that were created to fight the bigtechs, but ended up disappearing in the heat of battle.
Argentina is a land of entrepreneurs. "The country has a disproportionate number of startups for what is its capital market and its GDP per capita," says Juan Pablo Bruzzo, co-founder of DineroMail and de Moni, as well as president of the Fintech Argentina Chamber, to iProUP.
This can be seen in the numbers: this nation has four of the ten technological unicorns (companies worth more than US $ 1 billion) in Latin America: Mercado Libre, Globant, OLX and Despegar. Etermax, the study behind the mobile game Asks, is getting closer to becoming the fifth.
According to global metrics, only two out of ten startups survive two years after being launched. And, obviously, there is only room for a handful of projects that become unicorns.
Next, five Argentine cases of companies that dreamed of being the new thing, but were forgotten.
The WhatsApp criollo
The premise was simple: the cost per character in a data package is much cheaper than that of a text message.
In this way, the entrepreneurs Gerardo Cabero, from Salta, and Darío Arias, from the Buenos Aires town of Hurlingham, launched the OkeyKO messenger in 2010, when WhatsApp was only a threat to the operators instead of an excuse to sell tickets.
In addition, the Argentine alternative worked not only on Android, but there was also a JAVA alternative for basic phones. In just a few months it passed the 25,000 users, which at that time was an important figure for a local app if one takes into account that the penetration of smartphones was not as high as at present.
OkeyKO's figures dispelled the interest of investors, such as Transit Telecom, a Brazilian fixed-line operator that had promised a significant outlay on the project.
They even joined Antón Chalbaud, founder and CEO of Altodot, who joined the ranks of the startup as advisor to provide all his experience.
But nothing could stop WhatsApp, although the founders of OkeyKO continued to undertake: they tried with MercadoChat, a platform for MercadoLibre users to communicate with each other. And now they work on artificial intelligence to improve services in the tourism sector.
The blue and white Facebook
In 2007, Facebook was just beginning to stand strong among Argentine users. It was the year in which a local alternative was also born: Sonico.
In just one semester, the social network added 8 million users and was among the 167 most visited sites in the world according to the Alexa ranking.
In addition, it had expanded to other countries, such as Colombia, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico. The data excited.
It featured several features that today are a "standard", such as the "Billboard", similar to the Facebook Wall. It also allowed to tag friends in photos, create groups and networks of contacts.
And, obviously, I had an instant messenger to be able to chat privately with other users.
The project raised US $ 6 million from several investors, such as the London fund DN Capital, as well as private capital of the Frenchman Fabrice Grinda and the Argentinean Alec Oxenford (founders of OLX) and the Argentinean Martin Varsavsky, of FON.
In 2014, when Facebook was 10 years old and had more than 1.2 billion accounts, Sónico was acquired by the Belgian company Massive Media Match NV, which merged it with its Netlog network to create Twoo, a social network focused on finding a partner.
Rodrigo Teijeiro, creator of Sónico, remains firm in his role as CEO of RecargaPay, a fintech that he co-founded in 2010 with operations in several countries in the region.
The site that wanted to be Yahoo!
It ran 1997 and Yahoo! It was the web most used at that time with its portal format: not only was it a search engine, but it also allowed browsing sites by category, offered free mail and even news. Months later, just one of the "owners" of the Internet would appear: Google.
Argentina, a pioneer in web entrepreneurship in the region, already had in that year its own portal: El Sitio, created by the Uruguayan Roberto Vivo Chaneton and the Argentine Roberto Cibrián Campoy.
Chaneton was also the creator of Impsat, a firm created in 1990 that used satellite networks to provide various connection services, such as corporate Internet and data center.
But after the crisis of 2001 in Argentina, the telecommunications firm was in the hands of its creditors and was bought by Global Crossing, as it was called at that time the current Level 3, which disbursed u $ s336 million.
In addition, this company launched its public offering of shares and entered the Nasdaq on November 31, 2000.
Two months earlier, Chaneton had obtained another IPO with El Sitio: on December 10, 1999. It raised US $ 131 million.
In the following months, the company achieved a market value of US $ 1,600 million. All a unicorn.
It has 1,200 employees and offices in several countries in the region: in addition to Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and the United States.
His growth was not casual. The portal had everything. Many young people of the time still remember their games in Flash and especially their chat rooms through the IRC protocol, one of the first standards to chat in real time on the Internet.
In 2000, El Sitio was sold to Venezuelan holding company Grupo Cisneros for an undisclosed sum, which merged it into media holding company Claxson, which markets premium American cable channels in the Latin American market.
Today, the portal no longer exists. He was one of the first victims of the so-called "Bubble of the Puntocom".
Chaneton, since then, is CEO and Chairman of Claxson.
For his part, Cibrián Campoy founded BrainDW, a company that provides business intelligence services in real time for e-commerce.
The South American bird
At the end of 2009, Twitter had not yet started its international expansion, although it already had mentions, followers, hashtags and even the abandoned "Follow Friday", those tweets sent on Fridays in which it was recommended to follow users.
But, nevertheless, something was missing: translation into other languages.
That lack lit the lamp of Martín de Lío, a programming student who created in October 2009 - at the age of 19 years old - Birddi, a clone totally in Spanish.
Although currently Twitter is used not only by the general public, but also by celebrities and world leaders, at that time it was an incipient network. And the lack of translations led to the appearance of imitations in German and Portuguese, among other languages.
In a few days, the site had more than 4,000 users looking for an interface in their language.
Birddi even aroused the interest of the international press, such as the Washington Post, and had been encouraged to monetize through Google AdSense ads.
But the dream lasted only a few weeks. Twitter had launched a platform for users to translate the interface to several languages. The Spanish was the first to be completed on November 3, 2009.
De Lío ended up selling the Birddi code to different companies that wanted to have a personalized Twitter. And he continued working on several projects, such as Bliid, a kind of mix between Twitter and Tumblr.
"I'm working on a new project that I still can not show anything about," he told iProUP.
The smart suitcase
Tomás Pierucci, Diego Saez-Gil and Alejo Verlini raised a challenge in 2013: create a suitcase with GPS so that its owner knows where it is and thus avoid losing it when traveling by plane.
In the absence of investors, the entrepreneurs used Indiegogo, the crowdfunding portal to obtain the funds that would allow them to develop their first product.
In just two hours they achieved their goal: they prevented 10,000 units to 114 countries and raised contributions for more than 2.2 million dollars.
Such performance allowed them to achieve a record in Indiegogo, becoming the most successful campaign in the Hardware category.
The success continued to smile: they got eight rounds of investment in which they raised $ 25 million. The prestigious MIT even distinguished the product for its innovative design.
Not only that, the suitcase was used by sports stars, such as basketball players Manu Ginóbili and Shaquille O'Neal, and Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, who used it at the 2018 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Is that this smart carryon had what several travelers craved: besides being a suitcase, had 3G and GPS connection to track it in case of loss, an app for iPhone and iOS phones, an outlet to charge devices and a non-removable battery.
This was precisely what determined its end.
At the end of 2016, several users of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 reported that the batteries of their equipment exploded for no apparent reason.
In January 2017, the South Korean giant acknowledged the failure and called users to return the phones to be exchanged for cash. It was the biggest setback in the technology industry in decades.
On December 1 of that year, as a preventive measure, the main US airlines prohibited the use not only of the telephone, but of any equipment that operated with a non-removable battery.
The end came in May, when the company announced on its website that Bluesmart was sold to travel accessories company Travel Pro, in an operation which did not spread the terms or figures.
In that text, they also reported that the bags no longer have support. Only instructions on how to remove the battery were added.
The local technological history is full of triumphs and defeats, but something always remains: the desire to undertake the Argentines.
"The difference between the local entrepreneur is that he makes a success and if he sells it, he will not go on vacation to the Costa Azul, but he comes back for more and starts something new," says Ismael Briasco, one of the people in charge of bigsmartlabs. .com, a company that helps others for digital transformation.
He knows what he is talking about: he founded PsicoFXP, one of the most recognized forums in Latin America that, also with the destination of unicorn, closed in 2014, after being 14 years online.