My journey into Venturing
As many people in their professional career, my path to get what I’m currently am wasn’t a linear one, but more like a winding road, full of diverse industries, positions, responsibilities, countries and cultures! Since I graduated from Universidad Nacional de Rosario (Argentina) in 2009, I have lived and worked in the US, Brazil, Panama, Spain and China, working in hospitality, construction, startups, education and corporate funds. All these experiences have taught and prepared me to my new professional challenge: founding Zacua Ventures, a global fund focused on early stage startups in the construction industry.
The Path to Zacua Ventures
Unexpectedly, being the only non-engineer in my family (including parents and two brothers), my first job after University was at Andrade Gutierrez, one of the largest construction companies in Brazil and Latin America, working at the finance engineering department in large infrastructure projects such as a Railway project, the extension of an oil refinery and the largest private infrastructure project in Argentina, the construction of a port and potassium processing plant.
Construction wasn’t that different in 2010 as it is today (or as it was 40 years ago), but in terms of technology application, I was one of the responsible to implement a digital system of record in this last project, where crew supervisors and equipment drivers could use mobile phones (Nokia 1100 and the likes) to select and annotate the tasks they were performing, the hours worked, any issues for not working and the progress made. The system (much in contrast to what we’re seeing today) took several months of heavy consulting work to be implemented and (not in contrast to what we’re seeing today) found A LOT of resistance from field people.
Long story short, after 5 years of creating massive spreadsheets, struggling to find the right data with the right people in projects with over 5.000 workers and budgets over $700M, I decided that I needed to move away from Construction and finding new, and more exciting, challenges in my career. Question was, which ones?
Switching Career: The startup ecosystem
As people usually do when you don’t have the answer to that question, my decision was to do an MBA, keep nurturing my brain and taking 14 more months to find the best challenge ahead. I chose IE Business School, in Madrid, for two reasons: its international diversity and the specific focus on startups and entrepreneurship. That’s why, after I finished, I joined the exciting world of startups and Venture Capital, working for Rocket Internet’s startups Take Eat Easy (One of the first premium food delivery startups in Europe), on their expansion to the Spanish Market and ShopBxB, a China based e-commerce startup focused on Cross Border Trade, starting with cosmetics.
Rocket taught me one of the most important things in the startups world: EXECUTION. In 30 days, we went from a team of 8 people to a team of 40 and in the following ones to a team of 20 again. Achieving ambitious monthly KPIs is their philosophy and ¨Hire fast, fire fast¨ the way to execute it.
After two years of Rocket, I was ready to move to the other side of the table, and a friend of mine, who had recently have his VC fund acquired, invited me to launch with him a fund focused on Sustainable Real Estate, based in Panama, for the LatAm region. Everything went very well at the beginning, with investors committing to it, a growing market on sustainable projects and a few investments executed. However, we would have never expected that a crisis like Panama Papers would happen, which just crushed in the middle of our second closing of the fundraise, and basically scared all foreign investors (and with a reason). In conclusion, by the end of 2016 I was out there, looking for a job that could help me continue developing my path into startups, investments and the construction industry!
Corporate VC: From financial to strategic.
Just by coincidence, a former MBA colleague of mine, that was working at CEMEX, told me during some beers that CEMEX was structuring an open innovation and CVC fund, focused in the construction industry. The opportunity couldn’t be more aligned to what I had experienced and what I was looking for, so I quickly got in contact with them and, a few months later, I became one of the first employees at CEMEX Ventures, in the beginnings of 2017, when there wasn’t many companies in the industry actually looking at investing in startups and technology.
Venture Capital from a corporate perspective isn’t that straightforward. There are hundreds of potential goals, focuses, strategies and structures, and no right or wrong one. The key is always to have everything aligned: The fund structure should allow the team to be able to execute, to deal with the startups, to deal with the company’s business units, to deploy a strategy that follows a good rationale for the overall strategy of the company and, more importantly, a LONG TERM vision and objectives (much in contrast with the annual P&L metrics corporates are used to).
At CEMEX Ventures, we focused on understanding the entire value chain of the construction industry and not just the building material side of if (CEMEX core business). We understood that the technologies that were coming to this outdated industry would bring major changes and disruptions into the industry processes and dynamics that would, directly or indirectly, affect CEMEX businesses or help them find adjacent businesses, leveraging on their existing assets and expertise.
5 years down the line, we structured a team with over 20 people in 3 offices, made 21 investments in 3 different continents, launched 3 internal ventures, several JVs, dozens of reports on industry trends and insights on technologies, became Top50 Contech investor for three years in a row and the second most active CVC unit, right after Autodesk. What’s most important, we created a network of 800+ corporates in the industry that were facing similar pain points to CEMEX, and launched several collaboration programs such as the Construction Startup Competition, the largest open call for ConTech worldwide.
These collaborations with other corporates became the anchor part of our investment process, receiving the best deal-flow, the most accurate feedback regarding new technologies we weren’t experts in, co-investment opportunities and a global coverage. And this exactly was the trigger to the reason of this blogpost: the launch of a new fund, focused primarily on strategic investors, to deliver not only financial returns, but also access to ecosystems, deal-flow, insights and trends that is so important for corporates to stay ahead of what’s coming to the industry.
Zacua Ventures: The builders’ fund.
Zacua Ventures is a fund that leverages resources from innovative companies in the construction industry, globally, to tackle the most important problems in the sector: sustainability, productivity and urbanisation solutions. Its global focus allows it to identify the latest technologies and trends coming into the industry, wherever they’re emerging first.
Working with corporates in Venture Capital isn’t an easy job, it requires a deep understanding of their priorities, their focuses and their specific value add to startups. That’s why we have set up the right team for that, together with my two partners, Vivin Hegde, former director for Hilti’s tech office, management consulting at McKinsey and investment banker at Deutsche Bank, and Juan Nieto, colleague at CEMEX Ventures, launching their Asian office in Shanghai, former investor at the largest Private Equity and alternative assets fund in Spain and strategic consultant in the automotive sector.
Our goal is to work closely with entrepreneurs, leveraging our expertise and experience in the industry, helping them scale across our global network of strategic investors and a very hands on approach to support them.
This new challenge has merely started and we’re just setting up the ground to help the industry become greener, more efficient and interconnected.