A few months ago, we were invited to give a talk at a University of Buenos Aires about qroom, and the first thing we felt was that there was not just a nice music startup.
There was also a team and many beautiful stories in all these years prior to qroom.
I had the same feeling a few days ago, when while looking for some photos for Chispa’s site, Agus wrote me telling me that we had almost ready the blog and it was a good opportunity for us to tell how and why we ended up doing this.
That’s why, as we did with the talk at the University, my idea is to tell you our story so that it serves as a tool when it comes to undertaking and above all to combat the worst enemy of doing things, frustration.
We have known each other for more than 20 years, we shared the same school and we grew up together. And this was not minor.
When you are in fundraising mode you don’t stop listening to the same phrase in the mouth of investors: We invest in teams.
And part of us telling this story has to do with this.
Back in 2012, after each one had taken different paths in his professional life, a small idea united us without knowing much about what we were going to do. On my side I was finishing studying advertising and on the side of Agus and Ju programming.
And in that final stretch of my career I had the idea of creating a platform where advertisers and agencies could upload their work. A kind of Facebook for the creative industry, which at that time there was nothing like it.
When we started, none of us was very familiar with the concept of entrepreneurship, much less with the startup world. For us it was a simple project. Added to that 7 years ago in Buenos Aires there was no boom and support that exists today with entrepreneurs.
We spent a year developing it and we learned a lot. On accelerators, on investments, on business.
We managed to have about 6 thousand users and a lot of traffic from several countries. But after a while we decided to finish with brandart because our expectations were always greater than those we had managed to achieve. We understood that it had been a good experiment to learn and move forward.
I always tell the same anecdote that helped me a lot to be able to deconstruct myself as an advertiser and that in turn was a great lesson for us.
When we were about to launch brandart, NXTP (a well-known Buenos Aires accelerator) began to look for projects to invest and at that time they set up an open office so that different entrepreneurs could tell their startup. Then they had to apply and wait to be elected.
I decided to go to one of those open offices.
I went and sat at a long table. There would be around 10 people, each with a different startup. We started in round to tell each one his project and I was the last. To my surprise I found that there was no incredible idea that any advertiser would be happy to hear. I don’t want to say that our idea was amazing, but I did not understand why they were going to invest in a real estate marketplace. It did not seem anything different to what existed.
I came setted up from the world of ideas.
The weeks passed and the selected ones were announced.
The website for renting and buying properties had been selected. It was called Properati.
In 2018 it was acquired by OLX.
Over time I was learning that, coming from the world of advertising, this side is not just about ideas. You have to have a good business, a good team, a good execution. No one will invest only in a beautiful idea. Who invests wants to make money, does not care if the idea is brilliant. Obvious that if it is brilliant and the business as well, there are more chances of everything ahead. But without a good business behind it’s going to be very difficult to get them to help us, at least financially.
This was our first startup and our first lesson. It was like an intensive course in which we learned by creating.
Argentina is always characterized as a country that if you want to buy something imported, for example from Apple, you have three options. Travel and bring it from the USA, resort to the black market or pay a distorted price in a reseller.
One day while looking for a used iPhone 4 I felt that those three options were not reflected in my budget.
So while I was still searching, it occurred to me to try on Twitter. Yes Twitter.
I opened the application and wrote in the search engine: I sell iPhone.
And voila! I found a lot of people selling. Then I tried to change the article keeping the word sell. And there they were, a lot of people tweeting things to sell.
Then I called the boys, who needless to say they are like those warriors who are always ready to go to war.
I told them that we had to do something with this, that we had to create a “mercado libre” of the things that people posted on Twitter. Something fast, simple, without effort.
In two seconds Agus and Ju had already got it. We can use the Twitter API they said. Everything else was his magic.
A few months later, weetsale was born:
Unlike brandart, here we had a business model and a powerful idea.
Organically the website began to attract users and we went out to look for investment. We talk to accelerators and angel investors. But we always had the same feeling. There was a lot of fear of investing in something where the ROI (return on investment) was very large, according to them. And the idea as well as liked a lot, also generated doubts in the dependence on Twitter.
Something we learned from brandart, was that a very powerful tool is networking and trying to go to as many events as possible. And talk to everyone. It is good to work on the preconception that everyone is going to steal the idea. Surely another entrepreneur cares little about your idea (in a good way) and is looking for the same thing as you, someone to help him.
And among entrepreneurs there is always a desire to help each other.
One day we were at an event of Red Innova and we saw in the distance one of the founders of an accelerator of Cordoba to which we had applied and advanced several rounds. We faced and went to talk to him.
-Hi, Juan, we are from Weetsale, I don’t know if you remember but we applied and we had some calls with the manager of Incutex.
-A pleasure! I remember a little.
-We would like to have some feedback and know in what instance we were.
-I’m going to be honest, I like the project very much and I think it has a lot of potential, but as I tell you this, I must also tell you that our investment (25k dollars) doesn’t seem enough for weetsale to take off and hit the turn.
Juan explained us that with that investment the project was going to be halfway and for his point of view we needed about 150k dollars, which were outside his investment limits.
We shook hands and entered the next talk about AI.
Maybe he was right or maybe it had been an elegant way out to say: “No thanks”.
During the period of one year we apply to many accelerators: Startup Chile, 500, Boulder, Y Combinator. But we could not advance to the next rounds. We lacked traction, validation.
Finally without much more resources and with much frustration at the same time, we decided to turn the page. But what we didn’t realize, was that every time we turned the page, we were writing this story.
In our second startup we had added many contacts and business skills but above all we had matured a little more as entrepreneurs.
Although we were very happy with everything we had done with so much effort in these 4 years, we also felt that we had tired of putting so much energy into what for us the focus had not been the right one.
Between the business, the investors, the decks and many other things we had forgotten about the users and the product.
Undoubtedly this mixture of sensations made our next project to be the result of something we wanted for us and not much more.
We made the decision to forget for a while about creating an startup and start building something fun.
Under this premise was born qroom. A music search engine that used the Youtube API.
A photo, a white box as a search engine and a “next” button sounded the artist you were looking for infinitely. You could not even see the playlist.
This simple thing, on April 6, 2016, was going to start exploding thanks to Product Hunt publishing us on its home page.
For those who don’t know, Product Hunt is a site curated by certain people who are responsible for publishing technological developments. It is a large showcase that we always recommend trying to get to appear.
Thanks to this, qroom got 300k visits and hundreds of press releases in a few months. All 100% organic.
Clarín was saying, for example:
From this we began to understand that it had ceased to be a simple project, that we should capitalize all that love of users on qroom and take it to another scale.
We started working on the new web version and app.
In the middle of this process someone wanted to invest us but the person ended up almost cheating us and replicating the site in the United States and registering the brand there. But hey, that’s another story.
A good lawyer is always of good help when it is being starting a project, there will always be conflicts.
In movies, when a film is analyzed, it is usually spoken of several moments within the structure and one of them is the point of inflection or plot twist and we were going to have one.
Personally and surely for the guys too, it was one of the most beautiful things that happened to us and forced us to grow even more.
At the beginning of 2017, the Argentine Investor Agency opened the call for the first time to bring an entourage of entrepreneurs to SXSW.
To participate, we had to fill out some forms about the startup, which we filled with very little faith. The reality was that we did not have much more than the web and a deck with what we had planned to do. Not an app, nor a prototype.
But apparently it was enough. Within weeks we received this mail:
So with what we had we went to Austin, Texas.
SXSW is one of the largest technology, entertainment and music events in the world and it is worth every penny to find contacts, meet people and new trends.
It’s a unique experience.
Maybe the first time you go, as happened to us, you will feel that you don’t understand what is happening. In every corner of Austin there is always something different.
The main activity of the trip was that each startup could pitch in front of about 100 people. And to be honest, compared to other startups that already had revenue, we were going only with a deck of 10 slides.
The pitch day we were the last to pass and with a fearful English and a stage with imposing screens, we pitched. Everything had gone perfect and we were going to get the best anecdote of what SXSW meant.
At the end of the pitch he opened to questions and two people raised their hands. The first was from a Mexican, who I do not remember well at this time what he had asked. The second was from someone in the background about how we avoided advertising in the videos.
At the end we met with other Argentines in front of the stage.
The first thing that we all commented on was the question of the person in the fund, it had seemed somewhat banal and we laughed a little. Without spirits of arrogance.
We continued chatting and we began to see how the person from the background approached us to introduce ourselves.
He arrived, extended his hand and said:
Nice to meet you. I’m Tony from Universal Music. Let’s talk!
That moment had become the anecdote of the Argentine delegation. This was SXSW, a constant box of surprises.
Already in Argentina again and very excited with all the feedback we started looking for investment.
Within a few months, Agus managed to make contact with a possible investor who decided to invest in us to be able to go to Silicon Valley to finish our app and launch it. Yes, that fast.
By mid-November we were already living in San Jose, one hour away from San Francisco.
Our first recommendation is to have a list of contacts that can connect you with other people in the place. It is also key to be able to do a preliminary research of which investors and accelerators you want to reach.
Not everyone invest in everything. Each one is specified in certain areas and looking at their portfolios helps a lot to understand what their investment trend is.
A not less important practice is the famous cold mails. Basically they are very concise emails, which in a few lines try to capture the person we are writing to achieve a meeting or call.
In medium you can find more about this, which for us is one of the most valuable things that we practice there. Surely you’ll send hundreds of emails and only some will be answered. Do not get frustrated, you are doing well.
This note from Airbnb founder, Brian Chesky, shows 7 responses from investors he wrote to.
Silicon Valley is a great place to create a network of contacts due to the constant amount of events and meetups. It is a matter of aligning and being able to establish links with as many people as possible. A lot of pushing a startup is being able to connect and that in turn that connection brings us more links. In this network we will always find someone who will give us advice, new partners, a new possible investor or simply a great advice.
Talk about what we do and who we are always ends up bringing unexpected benefits.
During 6 months we brought back an enormous experience to continue developing new things and improve qroom in its next versions.
It is an experience that we recommend doing without a doubt.
During all these years the boys had worked for a time in Social Snack, an innovation company in which they had created a very good relationship with Matias Dutto, one of the founders.
Mati had become organically our mentor during these last years and had given us connections and advice in all our endeavors.
In 2018, when we returned to Buenos Aires post Silicon Valley, Mati had already left his company after having sold it some years ago.
We decided to get together and talk a little about what we wanted to do each one.
In that talk Chispa began to be born, an open house of social innovation. Something that Mati had been processing a while ago and looking for someone to do it with.
There was mysticism, and yes, a lot of spark.
Everything that comes after will be for another post, because that story, we are still writing it.
Everyone who reads this story can interpret it in different ways and take different learning from each anecdote. There are some rules to start a project, but there are also many factors that will depend on internal and external decisions, where the formula will end up mutating constantly. What worked for us may not work for others. Experiences are the most powerful tool.
From our point of view, starting a project, business or whatever is about time, perseverance. And over the years, when we look back, we will be able to see a huge network in which one thing was connected to another and ended up being the consequence of where we are standing today. This exercise helps a lot to understand the why of things in the present. Make better decisions for the future and not get frustrated.
Today Chispa has a lot to do with brandart, weetsale, qroom and those unstoppable desires to keep doing things. Because that is what be an entrepreneur is about, to keep doing and that the formula only serves as a compass, because destiny is going to end up writing by each one.
For entrepreneurs starting a project
Like the history of Chispa, this list will also be open so each time you re-enter here, there will be always new things to add.
- Put together a team with amazing people who you know they will get along.
- Read a lot. Medium, Lean Startup, Paul Graham.
- Tell your ideas to the world.
- Go to events. Use Meetup a lot.
- Learn about business if you don’t know.
- Learn about programming if you don’t know.
- Build a powerful deck, no more than 15 slides.
- Advise yourself legally.
- Create a good product.
- Create a good business.
- Do not waste on ads, look for press.
- Do not get frustrated, enjoy.