Entrepreneurial Trek

Mission Complete: Thank You For Your Support

Hello Readers and Supporters of Entrepreneurial Trek,

Andrew and I are so excited to announce that Entrepreneurial Trek: South America is now available for purchase in both eBook and print versions. As a thank you to those that have either (1) donated to Entrepreneurial Trek, (2) subscribed to our blog and/or (3) actually participated in the interviews as a South American entrepreneur, we would like to offer each of you a FREE version of our Entrepreneurial Trek eBook. You guys ROCK!

You can download your copy of the eBook by clicking the button below and by using discount code FREE at checkout. Simply save the file to your Kindle or Apple Reader App on your tablet/mobile device, then start reading! The promo code will expire November 18, 2018.

We are eternally grateful and humbled by your support.

Andrew Bagwell & Kaitlyn Ersek Bagwell

P.S. If you have any trouble downloading your eBook, please reach out: Kaity606@gmail.com

P.P.S If you donated $50 or more to our Indigogo campaign, you automatically get a print version of the book. It’s in the mail! If you do not receive your book by November 18, 2018, please reach out!

P.P.P.S We will continue to steadily release interviews to this blog so stay tuned!

Vinyl Sound Peru: Creating a Community of Vinyl

Vinyl Sounds Peru

Miguel Locatelli, music aficionado and owner of Vinyl Sounds Peru, guided us into his vinyl store located in a hip Lima neighborhood. Vinyl Sounds Peru was started in 2013 and was recently named on of the top start-ups at Start Up Academy – a local incubator serving Lima-based Peruvian entrepreneurs.

Miguel started his career as a music teacher at a local University and eventually left to pursue his passion of vinyl. However, Vinyl Sounds Peru is more than just a music shop – it represents one of the largest communities of vinyl listeners in Latin America. According to Miguel (this translated from Spanish), “At Vinyl Sounds Peru, we believe in creating a community of Vinyl… not just selling music. We provide information and host events and get-to-gethers for Peruvians that appreciate Vinyl.”


Instrumentos De Mi Tierra: Making Money Doing Something You Love

Instrumentos De Mi Tierra

Buried in Bolivia’s Witchmarket, in a corridor filled with handcrafted goods is a small music shop called “Instrumentos De Mi Tierra” (or Instruments Of My Land in English). Gonzola Huanca has been hand carving and selling string instruments for six years. His favorite instrument and most popular is a 10 stringed - miniature guitar-looking instrument, called the charango – an instrument only found in Bolivia and parts of Peru.

Andrew, who plays the ukulele decided to take Gonzola up on his offer to give him charango lessons. Gonzola patiently coached Andrew through a couple lessons and by the end of his practice Andrew was playing a four-chord song with a medium tempo.

Gonzola came from a family of musicians and music lovers. He apprenticed under a musician and instrument crafter for three years before opening up his own shop. Crafting a guitar can take up to three days and a charango up to week. That’s because when building an instrument, “quality material and quality construction can drastically affect the sound of an instrument.” For Gonzolas, “buying the right materials, especially quality materials from Bolivia is important. If you don’t select the right materials, you are going to always end up with a poor sounding guitar or charango.”

When Gonzola first started his business six years ago, there was much less competition. Now, with an increase in tourism in Bolivia, competition has grown but on the plus side a steadier stream of tourists, means steadier income for Gonzola. “You don’t get rich selling instruments in Bolivia. But, if you are good at what you do, you can make a good income doing something you love.”

According to Gonzola, his favorite part of being an entrepreneur is, “meeting people from all over the world. Every day I get to learn about different cultures and people and teach them about Bolivian culture too. I love teaching travelers about our music culture in Bolivia.”  

After a few pictures with Gonzola for our blog, Andrew bought his first charango, taking a little of Bolivia to remember him by. We then said goodbye, heading down the bustling streets of vendors, tiendas and more goods than the eye can see.  

Chocolates Para Ti: Smells Like Chocolate!

chocolates para ti

When we walked into Chocolates Para Ti (Chocolates For You in english)- a coffee and chocolate franchise in La Paz, Bolivia, we were greeted by the smell of chocolate. We sat down at one of the coffee tables, and drooled down at a menu listing over 20 types of natural chocolates made in Bolivia.

Veronica Gantier opened the franchise in 2015 after helping launch the first Chocolates Para Ti store in Sucre, Bolivia. As an architect and designer, Veronica designed the entire store layout for booth the Sucre location, and her own franchise in La Paz.

chocolates para ti 2

Veronica admits that since opening the La Paz franchise in 2015, “business has been slow. It is not as successful as I had hoped. While La Paz is an excellent place to start a business, our location within La Paz doesn’t have a lot of traffic. Regardless, I believe that the design and layout of the store helps bring in some customers because it creates a great environment to enjoy chocolate.”

“My cousin and I have been dreaming of opening a place for years. While, the concept did great in Sucre, neither of us knew how to run a business and had to figure it out on the go. Originally, I was supposed to help start the business and leave it to my cousin, but in the end I wound up taking over most of the operations.”

The future of Veronica’s franchise in La Paz is uncertain because of the struggling sales. “Only time will tell,” she says. Our fingers, and taste buds are crossed!

Disenos Ana Palza: Empowering Indigenous Culture

Disenos Ana Palza

The first thing we noticed when we walked into Ana Palza’s design studio, Disenos Ana Palza, were the mannequins adorned in colorful cholita dress, equipped with the iconic bowler hat, plush petticoats, shawl and huge decorative jewelry. Ana is a jewelry designer for Cholita fashion, the style worn by Cholas or Cholitas (the common term given to Bolivian indigenous women).

“It wasn’t too long ago when Cholitas would have been shamed for the way they dressed. They were discriminated against in their education, job opportunities and were even banned from certain parts of the city. Now, Cholita fashion is huge and even non-indigenous Bolivians are taking part, like me.” Ana participates regularly with the numerous fashion shows in La Paz, featuring solely Cholita dress. But, the biggest time in Cholita Fashion is Gran Poder, a two week long Christian religious celebration observed by the indigenous community in La Paz.

A big reason why Cholita fashion has become a movement in Bolivia was the presidential election in 2005 when Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president was elected for the first time. His two terms has ushered in pride for Bolivian roots and reduced social injustice. The president was elected for a third term on January 22, 2016 (historically only two, five year terms have been legal).

Cholita fashion

“Fashion is seriously important to Cholita culture. It’s a huge status symbol. Wealthier Cholitas will spend up to 3,000 USD on a piece of jewelry and that doesn’t even begin to cover the expenses regarding their skirts, hat and shawl.” Cholita women who can’t afford a 3,000 jewelry set which includes earrings, pin for their bowler hat and shawl, can rent the jewelry at a lesser cost if they have the money, or settle for cheaply made copper jewelry (keep in mind, minimum wage in Bolivia was set at $215 a month in 2014). Ana is exploiting a middle of the road approach. “Our jewelry sets are about $300 and are handmade by Bolivians.”

It’s also important to Cholitas that they own a unique set of jewelry. The look of the jewelry is fiercely guarded secret in case competing women copy the style.

Ana has been in the jewelry business for 15+ years, starting when her sister and former business partner traveled to China and brought back Chinese styled and priced jewelry back as a gift for Ana. They quickly started a jewelry import business in Zona Sur (The wealthy district in La Paz) and employed over 15 women to help sell and create elaborate pieces. “But, like all good ideas, it was soon copied by other entrepreneurs. Margins slipped, we starting laying people off and eventually closed down the business.”

Two years ago, Ana started Disenos Ana Palza. “We are the only option available in Cholita fashion in the mid-tier price range. But, I know that because we have been successful people will soon start to copy our model. Our competitive advantage is our styles. We mix today’s Cholita fashion with older indigenous styles and modern western flairs. For example, this year our fish and coin jewelry has been very popular.” Ana shows us a special set of jewelry featuring fish (a sign of abundance) and old Bolivian coins. “Pearls have also been a hit.”

“I am very ADD,” admits Ana with a chuckle. “So, I am constantly creating. I think that is a big asset for me. Ideas just fly and I notice new trends all the time. The way my mind works helps me create and helps me stay ahead of the competition.”

Regardless, Ana says, “Entrepreneurs have to be adventurous, risk takers and can’t be afraid of failure.” Her piece of advice for current and wanna-be-entrepreneurs? “Figure out what you love to do and make that your business. If you love what you do, the money will come.”

Cholita 2

Masterline Logistics: "If you die with your boots on, at least you can say you tried!"

bolivia entrepreneur

Entrepreneurial Trek: How did this business get started?

Jean Dessenoix: I grew up with a French diplomat for a father and a Mexican mother. We traveled the world and I fell in love with international relationships.

That childhood, primed me for international opportunities in business (politics just weren’t my thing). After a sting in the “Real World”, my wife and I teamed up to start Masterline Logistics in 2003. At the time, we were located in Mexico but after a couple years, we decided to move the business to Bolivia. It is important to us that we invest money in Bolivia and make sure that the money we did invest, stays in Bolivia.

Masterline has a very artistic and human approach to business that makes us different from competitors. That is my wife’s influence. She is a painter and the business has become the perfect joint collaboration between business and art. We are less focused on numbers and more focused on the relationships.

Being an innovative entrepreneur is a lonely journey (modestly speaking...I am still looking for the good formula and I may not find it at the end of this journey...). We are trying to build and prove our own business theory.

Jean Dessenoix Left, Kaity Ersek Right

Jean Dessenoix Left, Kaity Ersek Right

Entrepreneurial Trek: Why did you decide to start your business in Bolivia?

Jean Dessenoix: You don’t need to be in New York City to make money. Don’t get me wrong, the volume of business is larger in The States and Europe, but the rules in Bolivian aren’t so strict that it won’t let your imagination flow.

Look at it this way, when building a company in Europe you have to first consider the rules of the system and taxes and all that other crap. It is not only difficult, you just don’t want to invest the time into figuring it out. The system keeps creative people from launching new companies.


Entrepreneurial Trek: What makes Bolivia special?

Jean Dessenoix: I believe there are more opportunities and freedom in Bolivia. Everything is so new here and there are just so many needs for an entrepreneur to respond to. If you want to open a company in Bolivia, You will find an idea and, chances are you won't find a ton of competition. Plus, it is the only country in South America growing at 5%. Unlike the rest of the world, we really aren't feeling the economic crisis. 

The Bolivians are a very special group. Something like 50% of the people here are entrepreneurs. Everyone is buying and selling. They are constantly doing business.


Entrepreneurial Trek: What was your initial investment when launching the company?

Jean Dessenoix: About $13,000 USD


Entrepreneurial Trek: What is a mistake people make when starting a business? 

Jean Dessenoix: Some people make the mistake of starting businesses with their eyes only on the numbers. It is a very cold vision. I believe, you need passion and a goal. Running a business is more than just money.


Entrepreneurial Trek: What advice would you give another entrepreneur?

Jean Dessenoix: Forget about what you already know, open your mind to new things, new experiences, and new knowledge. Also, you have to invest more than 100% your effort. It is not just a business, it’s your life. If you die with your boots on, at least you can say you tried.


Entrepreneurial Trek: Do you have to go to University to be successful? 

Jean Dessenoix: I didn’t finish my university career. All those books just weren’t for me. I found that learning to sell was a more worthy education than what they were pandering at school. Your experience is your knowledge.

Forget all the years you spent in University. When you leave University, you know all the same things as all the other graduates. Instead of spending time there, try to understand the way the world works. Go travel and open your mind. Burn your passport and start fresh. Life isn’t always about numbers; it is about sounds, images and emotions too.

Start Up Chile: Can we create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chile?

Start Up Chile
Start up chile

“Five years ago, Start-Up Chile was born. Its mission – to literally transform the Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem. It all began with a single question. What would happen if we could bring the best and brightest entrepreneurs from all around the world and insert them into the local ecosystem?” Would it create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chile?

While hanging out at El Centro De Emprendimiento Telefonica Open Future – one of Start-Up Chile’s co-working spaces in the trendy part of Santiago, and looking out at the multitude of entrepreneurs from all around the world, there is no question about it: Start-Up Chile is making a difference for these companies and the local economy.

Today, Start-Up Chile has accelerated 1,100 startups (about 300 per year) from 70 different countries, with about 35% of those entrepreneurs originating from Chile. 79% of those startups are still alive today, 1% have been sold and 20% have died. In addition to providing grants worth 30,000 USD to each team, a six-month mentoring period to jump start their businesses, and a kick-ass academic program, the best startups are also offered a spot on Demo Day where they have the opportunity to connect with investors in Latin America and the rest of the world.  

Chile emprendedor

According to recent data released by Start-Up Chile, their startups are having a big impact on Chile’s economy. 32% of startups in Chile have been funded (outside of Start-Up Chile’s grant), amounting to 41,559,000 USD, and their top 5 most successful startups have valuations from 10,000,000 to 75,000,000 USD. These startups are also responsible for job creation in both Chile and abroad; 485 foreign jobs and 974 Chilean jobs have been created thanks to Start-Up generations 1 through 12. The community has also seen an increase in incubators and accelerators. And the Start-Up concept has spread to Brazil, Peru and elsewhere in Latin America.

“There’s still a lot of ground to cover,” says newly promoted, Director Rocio Fonseca. “The future looks awesome and we are continuing to improve Start-Up Chile.” Already, Start-Up Chile has offered new programs ranging in time frames to meet the needs of different types of startups and industries. “We are also working on improving our academic program and building an investor club to help catalyze an investor ecosystem within Chile. As we continue to improve our services for startups we are hoping to retain more and more foreign startups in Chile” (About 10% of foreign startups are choosing to stay in Chile).

According to Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, “It’s the greatest program I’ve seen of this type in the world! I’m gonna recommend it to my own kids.”

Chile emprendedor

5 Reasons Why You Should Choose Start-Up Chile

1.   It goes without saying that the 30,000 USD grant provided by the Chilean government is a tempting treat for any startup looking to make a name for itself.

2.   You are surrounded by some of the most creative, and brightest entrepreneurs in the world. Companies have come from 70 different countries to be part of the program with about 35% of entrepreneurs originating from Chile. As my great-grandfather used to say, “A wise man learns from his experiences, but a super wise man learns from the experiences of others.” By being part of a huge and extremely diverse community of entrepreneurs, you can further your entrepreneurial learning by hanging out with and learning from other startup founders.

3.   They are serious about educating entrepreneurs. Not only do you get access to mentors, but they bring in tons of workshops and events so you can get your learn on. For example, each week they have a intensive pitch training workshop that’s popular with the program’s current entrepreneurs.

4.     El Centro De Emprendimiento Telefonica Open Future Co Working Space is a fun place to work and network. We had the opportunity to sneak in (shhh don’t tell anyone) and hang out with some of the entrepreneurs at Start-Up Chile’s headquarters in Santiago.

5.   Santiago is just plain awesome! Chile’s capital is nestled in a valley of mountains, only a couple of hours from amazing surf, hiking, wine and skiing. The city itself is a fun mixture of cute cafes, businesses and a fun bar scene. Santiago, Chile has been one of our favorite cities (we do play favorites) in South America! What are you waiting for?

UNITEC: "Each moment in your life adds up. It makes you who you are."

chile emprendedor

When BP – the owner of Castrol Products decided to pivot and change their Chilean business model to incorporate distributors, Carlos Herrera decided to take advantage of the opportunity and open his own Castrol Distribution. That’s when UNITEC was born. “Ultimately, it’s been a win-win for both BP/Castrol and UNITEC,” says Carlos. “We’ve been named one of Castrol’s top distributors worldwide for the past the past two years in a row.”

Chile Emprendedor

UNITEC focuses on selling Castrol products to engineers, with most of their clients in the mining (they hold an exclusive in the national mines), pulp and paper, steel, metal industry, and class industries among others. 

“A big reason why we are so successful is because we are super transparent when dealing with clients and we don’t stuff the pipeline. We focus on building long-term relationships instead of short term gains. It can be difficult sometimes but overall, I believe it is one of the reasons why we have been so successful at UNITEC.”

At the end of the day however, to lead and win in your industry Carlos reminds entrepreneurs to stay focused and to push, push, push. “Find your idea and follow it,” urges Carlos. “Select your top priority or two for the year and stick to it.” Once you have chosen your focus, Carlos says, “keep moving and don’t stop. If you stop… even for a moment, the competition will catch up.”

And, when things go wrong? "Everything happens for a reason. Every moment in your life and every learning opportunity you come across, adds up. It makes you who you are. It's connecting the dots," states Carlos, echoing a quote from Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Speech. 

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”  -Steve Jobs.

Equilab: The two greatest gifts an entrepreneur can have...

Chile emprendedora

“When I first entered the family business, I was known as being a witch,” admits Angela Diaz of Equilab – A medical supplier based in Santiago, Chile. “I was horrible. I was afraid of the responsibility that I had and not having the strength to live up to my father’s expectations in running the company. I used to think that my only job was to have the most intelligent ideas for the company. And, when I didn’t always have ideas or when someone else had better ideas than mine, it affected me greatly.”

After leaving the company for a short time, Angela realized that, “it wasn’t my job to have the most intelligent ideas but to give space for intelligent people to have intelligent ideas. This shift in thinking completely altered things for me and the company.”

Equilab was founded 34 years ago by Angela’s father. Her father's story is truly a rags to riches tale. At age eight, he ran away from his aunt’s home where he was treated as a servant, and ended up living on the streets. “In the past, a lot of kids were living on the streets. It was a tough period in our country’s history.”

At age eighteen he decided it was time for a change and he joined the Chilean military. “It transformed his life and he studied at night while working during the day. After seven or eight years, he applied to university where he studied chemical engineering,” says Angela. After working in the science lab supplies industry for a few years in Venezuela, her father returned to Chile to start his own business.

“Equilab went from one employee to 150, and in 2013, we were bringing in 8,000 Million Chilean Pesos.” Today, things aren’t quite so rosy for Angela who took over the family business after her father passed away. Between 2013 and 2015, sales dropped 50%, the Chilean economy grew tumultuous under the current president (who took office in 2014), and to make matters worse Angela discovered that her CIO was lying to her regarding the company’s financials.

“In turned out that my CIO was only showing me the numbers I wanted to see and I trusted him completely and didn’t dig into the numbers myself.” After several months of running the company under false numbers, the situation grew out of hand, and in February of 2015, the CIO stepped forward and explained the real situation.

“It turned out we were going bankrupt and I had no idea.” After taking a second mortgage out on her home, cutting the staff down to 30 (from 90) and selling some of the lab facilities, things are looking a little bit more manageable. It’s been a really hard learning experience, but one Angela has clearly taken to heart.

When we asked her what the number one lesson she had learned over the years of adversity, Angela said: “at the end of the day we aren’t in the science lab equipment business, we are in the listening business. Our number one goal is to help solve our clients’ problems and to continually add value to their businesses. We have become listening machines! The two greatest gifts you can have as a person, entrepreneur and organization is:

1. The capability to always learn, learn, learn

2. The capability to continually listen, listen, listen

Angela repeated her top lesson several times throughout the interview, affirming to us that above everything, these were the two nuggets of wisdom we had to leave the interview with.

“Customers buy for their own reasons and they may not be the reasons you expect. As an entrepreneur, your job is to discover why they buy what they buy, and to continually listen to your clients and the market at large.”

Accion Emprendedora: Entrepreneurship and democracy are linked?

non profit entrepreneur

“When you promote entrepreneurship as a public policy in the developing world, you aren’t just promoting poverty elimination, you are promoting three core values fundamental to democracy,” explains Anibal Pinto, the founder of Accion Emprendedora, a nonprofit based in Santiago, Chile. “You promote freedom, individual responsibility and a space for creativity. There is no country where entrepreneurship spreads that democracy doesn’t also spread. They are LINKED. No question about it.”

Accion Emprendedora is a non-profit organization focused on improving Chilean society by supporting low-income entrepreneurs, specifically smaller enterprises. How does Accion Emprendedora accomplish their mission? By providing education, money and mentorship programs for low-income entrepreneurs and wanna-be entrepreneurs, they help build sustainable, small enterprises in Chile and ultimately work to alleviate poverty. So far Anibal states they’ve helped 4,000+ entrepreneurs in Chile, and with each entrepreneur employing about 1.7 people, Anibal is assured that they are making a difference in Chile’s local economy and society.

Accion Emprendedora started after Anibal volunteered and provided a class to low income entrepreneurs. “I was originally a lawyer and then spent several years in the financial services program. I was making a lot of money but wasn’t adding value to my life. I needed something new,” That’s when one of his friends recommended teaching a business class to low income entrepreneurs. “I realized that the hour I spent with these entrepreneurs was more valued here than my work as a lawyer.”

After four years of “marvelous loneliness” during the initial start up phase, Anibal received a 1 million USD grant in 2006. Since then, Anibal is proud to say that they are a self-sustaining organization, which brings in income through their consulting programs with larger companies.

“I don’t have a favorite entrepreneur,” admits Anibal when we asked. “But the first five entrepreneurs that joined our program are extremely special to me.” Three of those early entrepreneurs were bakers, one was a plumber and the last created children’s toys.  

“80% of the entrepreneurs that come to us already have a business and also, about 80% are women. They are typically entrepreneurs out of necessity – because there are few to no other options available to them.”

non profit entrepreneur