Editor’s Note: This week we feature a guest post from Shonika Proctor. She is an award winning blogger, serial entrepreneur, startup supporter and a futurist. Some describe her as Latin America’s technology startup hunter and storyteller.
I discovered her upon reading an article on the CNNMoney website about young Americans who were leaving the United States to build careers abroad in the midst of the Great Recession of 2008 – 2009. At the time she was nurturing a startup ecosystem in Chile which she had learned about in December 2009 before the concept of the government sponsored program which launched nearly 11 months later.
I brazenly reached out to her to request that we connect on the strength of our mutual interest in technology startups. She was gracious enough to say yes.
When asked what she does, Shonika says “I often make things that few people can believe with people who few believe in.” She spends her time discovering, launching, and promoting first time and early stage entrepreneurs and startups in Latin America.
It ocurred to me to invite Shonika to write a guest post for Tekedia after my article How African Countries Can Spur Startup Innovation.
Building the Chilean Dream….
It was early September 2010 and I had traveled 8,000 km to ‘the end of the world’ with 2 suitcases, a carry on bag and a grand idea to ‘develop Chile’ (thoughtfully…..into a fully developed nation), along with 3 eager young entrepreneurs based in Chile, whom I only knew virtually through Facebook. The crazy thing was one of these young entrepreneurs found me through Facebook while trying to reach Bob Proctor from the movie/book ‘The Secret’. As we have the same surname they thought we might be related. It was so random that I was sure there had to be a deeper meaning to all of this, so I did not pass up his invitation to travel to Chile and meet them in person.My family and friends were excited but also concerned if I would be ok to travel by myself.
What if these guys weren’t who they said they were?
How would it be without having a mastery of the language?
How would it be for a female traveling alone in a place believed to be filled with ‘machismo’ and few women in leadership positions especially in the world of business and technology?
I assured them to not to be worried and reminded them that I was a ‘dragon slayer’ by professional training, so if they were going to be worried, it should not be for me.
Uncertain always….unhappy never (Sept 2010)
I have long been a brave and adventure seeking soul. Months prior to my trip, I was quite nervous about it. My friends, Marianne, Greg and Mena relaxed me into it. But once I arrived to Chile, after initially calling my mom I had safely touched down, I was having so much fun that nearly 3 weeks passed before I remembered to call her again!!
I arrived in Chile with no pre-conceived thoughts or expectations of my new business partners (whom I had never met in person). I had no idea how my life would play out in the days and weeks ahead. One thing, I quickly realized was that I was a rare bird (seldom seeing any people of color in the capital city of 7 million people), so a lot of people stared at me, but not rudely. Nevertheless, not once did I feel uncomfortable. I found the Chilean people to be generally shy, yet very sweet.
Before I knew it, 5 weeks had passed, and even though I did not have much money set aside in savings to stay much longer, I still opted not to return home at the time I had originally intended. The incentive to stay and ‘save the world’ at that time seemed greater.
Note: As of this writing, 20 months later, my love for Chile and especially the Chilean people is even deeper. Even though I am still ‘figuring it out’ as I go along, I have felt well-received and supported throughout my entire stay in Chile, seldom getting ‘homesick’.
Hanging On (Oct 2010)
The more time I spent out in the wild, wild world of startups and entrepreneurship in Chile, the more I noticed the biggest thing missing was the ‘startup culture’ or the synergetic thread and energy created by the LOCAL people and ideas unique to this part of the world. I believed without someone focusing on and stimulating the culture, no startup movement was going anywhere fast. Also the ecosystem seemed really disconnected. This is what I saw as a perfect project for me.
Granted I missed my family and my other half, it was 2 months before I got homesick. I called my mom that night and spoke to Felipe, my former business partner (in Chile). He treated me to ice cream and reminded me of how far I had come since I had arrived and the impact I had already made in such a short time. It helped me to see the value and importance of both my work and my presence in general. Reality was, I had traveled across the world and had chosen to work with vulnerable communities and first generation entrepreneurs. People were just starting to build their trust in me, my partners included.
So if I left at this point, while I would have perhaps inspired or motivated a few people, I would not have made a real impact like I wanted to do, which meant I had to stay, at least a little longer.
The Free Fall (July 2011)
After having spent the Chilean summer and fall (North American winter/spring) being invited to speak at top ranked universities in the country, entrepreneurial and civic organizations and meeting with top officials, I started building a strong network and better understanding of how things in the country in terms of entrepreneurship and startups were working (or not).
Realizing that organizations, individuals and public sector agencies had been trying and experimenting with all kinds of entrepreneurial programs and activities since 1997, but with little ‘success’ in relative terms, I tried on several occasions to get a grasp on this.
The challenge was there w as very limited information in the startup and entrepreneurship space in terms of education and training material for the locals; only 13% of the Chilean population trusted other people; and there were just a few success stories – perhaps half a dozen entrepreneurs at most of people who had built companies to $1 million in annual revenues having used traditional sales methods and starting from scratch.
My vision of my role and contributions were getting a little clearer. I could directly contribute to help strengthening this culture and unifying the ecosystem starting by helping to promote small successes and milestones of entrepreneurs and ultimately help them through experiential training initiatives to advance to the next steps so that effectively we would increase the number of success stories along with the volume of their revenues. Discovering and building a Chilean startup rockstar in the global startup space….this was my new ‘big audacious challenge’!
However, as my vision was getting stronger and clearer, my relationship was distancing with my business partners who saw the business growing from another angle. So we ultimately split. At that point my housing, my livelihood and ‘my everything,’ for the most part was directly dependent on them – so I did a ‘free fall’. I jumped not having any idea where I would land or if I would even be in one piece when I hit the ground.
The Silence (August 2011)
With the time period approaching one year I had lived in Chile and I had done lots of things, reality is I had nothing organized or tangible to show my progress. So now while I once thought I was completely clear on my work here, at this point, I had no idea how I got to this point or in what direction I was going.
I went to work for the English language media group and at this same time, through a mutual friend I met Chilean, Carlos Leiva Burotto, whom we had seen at many of the events we attended in passing but never really took the time to connect. Even though Carlos initially turned down the invitation to take a coffee with me to talk about our respective projects, less than 10 days later, he connected with me and we had an almost instant natural rhythm of communication. Our productivity, skill set, network and everything was incredibly complimentary and above all we had a completely aligned vision. I more or less developed what I call a ‘dysfunctional love’ for him as he was my mom, dad, ‘living therapist’ and best girlfriend all in one, lol.
While we had ‘minimal dialogue’, he always seemed to have the answers before the questions and we both went through a sort of reflection and pivotal period in our life as things were arranging themselves in the background. He would eventually become my guardian angel and ‘mi Chileno favorito #1′, where he has firmly held that ranking for some time now!
Feeling the Beat (November 2011)
It’s often said that you have to go through the darkness before you can go through the light. And that is how I can best describe the months where I was trying to figure out ‘where I fit in’ in terms of working in this semi-corporate world; my hodge podge of projects; my unstable living situation that left me doing everything from ‘couch surfing’ to a live-work-exchange at a hostel; and now my late night work sessions with my newly revived entrepreneurial spirit and my new, new best friend and favorite co-founder ever.
And with all this going on in Chile, it was still to be determined, just how would everything play out back home 5,000 miles away?
In the meantime and in between time, as the time passed Carlos and I were attending different startup, developer and entrepreneur related events to the point we were out almost every day of the week touching and connecting with the people.
They were happy, hungry and continually inviting us to be a part of their events.
And with seemingly no effort, all the activities, ideas, partially created projects, neglected and different things we each had been working on over the past couple of years started surfacing selectively and stronger than they did in their original intended purpose. Each thing seemed to fit neatly into our new collective vision and illuminated and validated our path as we went along.
On November 30, 2011, we decided to make a soft launch of our vision to the world “AndesBeat.com”.
Today, less than 5 months later over 50,000 pages have been viewed from around the world and we have built a high level advisory board including the first Database Architect of Skype along with top level employees from Tapjoy, Google, Amazon.om, IBM among others. We have also received high level inquiries from Silicon Valley and other parts of the world.
Through our work and media channel ‘AndesBeat’ we are promoting Latin American startups and the startup scene to the English speaking startups markets and also providing a training arm ‘AndesMade’ that supports very early stage startup and tech founders with validating their projects and meeting market needs ($100+ million USD).
As we work tirelessly to activate the startup culture through our ‘game-changing movement’, the greatest thing we have learned that has been key to intensifying our Andesbeat around the world and keeping everybody connected to the rhythm unique to this part of the world is – no matter what….it’s (always) YOUR time!