No Longer an Emerging Market — LatAm’s Investment Explosion
By James Green
Having just returned from a fabulous event we co-hosted in Mexico along with one of CRV’s portfolio companies, Jeeves, I’m even further energized about the growth of the startup scene in the Latin American (LatAm).
While I was there I couldn’t stop thinking about why there’s so much momentum in LatAm and the inflection points that enabled other meaningful markets across the world to similarly burst on the tech radar. As I sat in Mexico City, surrounded by a few hundred brilliant tech minds from across the region, the energy and the magnitude of this event mirrored a similar vibe that bubbled up in London and broader Europe back in 2016. During that time, there was still discourse on if Europe could support multiple $5B+ outcomes. How that has changed over the years.
Since then we’ve seen the rise of companies like Zendesk (which CRV first backed in 2009 many years prior to the company’s successful IPO in 2014), Adyen, Checkout, Celonis, Doctolib, Revolut, UiPath, etc. — all global leaders in their own right. Yet, how did that happen? There were a number of key characteristics that fueled Europe’s growth and its rise to dominance circa 2015. There were two dominant Series A firms, a number of giant consumer tech companies, very few technology IPOs and a group of angel investors and emerging tech leaders proliferating as a result of the Rocket Internet Berlin mafia. Now — six short years later — there are numerous U.S. firms opening offices in Europe, fantastic teams coming out of iconic scale companies and some of the best SaaS companies in the world.
It is a similar trajectory we see playing out in LatAm today. According to Crunchbase, LatAm was the fastest-growing region in the world for venture funding in 2021, when an estimated $19.5 billion poured into the region. While growth has been steady for several years, the past two years have seen an accelerated pace in investments.
But why? We believe what happened in Europe is set to occur in LatAm because of the many similarities we’re seeing. For instance, in LatAm, there have really only been two dominant local Series A firms, a bunch of foundational consumer internet companies have solid roots in the region and there are also a few Web 1.0 enterprise leaders in the mix.
On the angels and tech leaders front, we enjoy partnering up with talented investors like Bianca Sassoon at 17Sigma, Henrique Leite at Canary and Hayden Simmons at rali_cap as well as established VC firms like Kaszek and Monashees. It’s a recipe that resulted in success for Europe and we think it’s similarly setting the stage for the burgeoning LatAm tech scene.
LatAm is seeing an inflection point and it goes without saying that I should point out there are clear distinctions between the Spanish speaking market and Brazil. If you look closely, you’ll see teams pouring out of technology leaders like Mercado Libre, Nubank, Rappi, etc., huge international dollars flowing into the region and enterprise companies like Dlocal, Jeeves (which CRV backed last year when we led the company’s Series B) and Stone that are truly scaling. All of this parallels what happened in Europe over the past decade.
Like Europe, it’s important to note these players are not just local scale leaders. LatAm boasts several of the world’s leading fintech companies by scale. This of course includes Nubank and a number of others who are leaders in their own sectors. (Nubank, by the way, was co-founded in 2013, by entrepreneur David Vélez. Velez, a recent Stanford MBA grad, developed Nubank after it took him six months to open a bank account when he moved to São Paulo, Brazil.)
Even outside of fintech, true giants are coming out of LatAm. Mercado Libre, the region’s answer to Amazon, has grown exponentially and continues to produce innovative products at a rapid rate. Another area where LatAm is leading is digital banking where approximately 90 percent of millennial bank customers use some form of it.
At CRV we continue to be amazed at the rise of PIX in Brazil, the instant payments platform powered by the Central Bank of Brazil. In Brazil, the government support for innovative technology has been tremendous. (As a US corollary, it’s hard to imagine that the IRS could have created Venmo.) PIX has been a marked success since its introduction at the end of 2020, with six out of 10 Brazilians using it regularly, according to PYMENTS.Com. What an amazing story as the country moves to a digital economy.
Jeeves is another great example of the startup boom in LatAm’s fintech sector. An all-in-one corporate card and expense management platform for global startups, Jeeves’ growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. After launching in Mexico in 2021, the company then expanded into the U.S. and U.K. before going back to LatAm with its offerings in Colombia, Chile and Peru. The rapid funding progression reflects the demand. Jeeves signed the term sheet for its CRV-led Series B round in August 2021, just two months after closing on its Series A and then completed a $180 million Series C in March 2022, only seven months later valuing the company at $2.1 billion.
There are many factors contributing to the boom. The pandemic pushed a cash first economy into the digital age and accelerated growth in e-commerce companies as more people shopped from home. In addition, there has been an influx of talent — many people who worked or studied in the U.S. are now returning home to a very different climate offering more opportunities to build a career or business that didn’t exist 10 years ago. These professionals are also bringing their experiences of scaling large public companies and are inspired to return home where they can have an outsized impact. Thanks to organizations such as Latitud — the premier accelerator of Latin America — and a number of fantastic seed investors, there is unprecedented access to capital that’s fueling a rise in seed investments in every part of the region.
There are also risks associated with the region. Chief among them is currency inflation. Another potential obstacle is regulation within certain geographies that are not as supportive of innovation as some other countries. Lastly, while we bucketed “LatAm” as one region in this article, it’s really made up of multiple regions with their own respective nuances. There are very few companies that have successfully covered Brazil and Spanish speaking LatAm (really only Mercado Libre and Nubank), so local knowledge matters when working in the region. At CRV, we believe that the upsides outweigh the downside risks given the many major technology changes that are still poised to happen in the region.
In addition to Jeeves, CRV has backed a number of entrepreneurs from LatAm including Arena, a communication software platform that enables real-time conversations and encourages customer engagement. Arena was founded by Brazilian-born Paulo Martins and recently completed a $13.6 million Series A led by CRV.
Vercel, the world’s fastest frontend development platform, was founded by open source legend Guillermo Rauch. Rauch began coding at just 10 years old back when he was growing up on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2020, CRV led Vercel’s Series A and participated in its Series B. In 2021, CRV backed Vercel’s $102 million Series C funding round and we also participated in Vercel’s $150 million in Series D in November 2021.
Another company we’re incredibly proud of that has ties to LatAm is Vergo, a new financial platform dedicated to the home building and renovation industry. Vergo’s fo-founder and its engineering team are all based out of Mexico City. CRV just recently led Vergo’s $4.1 million seed round.
While recent headlines forecast a global economic downturn, the LatAm region seems to be bucking that trend and remains one of the hottest and fastest growing regions for investments. If you are a LatAm founder — or a founder from any region for that matter — who is looking for a partner with a proven track record across any kind of economic environment, our team with its more than five decades of experience working alongside talented entrepreneurs, would love to connect with you.