This is an interview with the Founder and CEO of Colppy, Juan Ignacio Onetto. Colppy is an example of a very successful Buenos Aires Startup and this interview provides a great insight into how they got to where they are today. Juan also tells us what the keys were to their success and shares his tips for young entrepreneurs. This is a must read!
Colppy offers a software to simplify accounting and make it more accessible. Where did the idea come from and how would you define what you do?
Juan: The idea came from a reoccurring issue I kept seeing; that it is very difficult to understand the best way to organise accounting and basic administration. Whilst working with other companies I had the opportunity to learn about process improvements like, 6 sigma and Lean where you make small changes and get better results. This is what I love, how technology can help people, making our lives easier and helping companies grow. Colppy offers an online accounting software for small businesses. We want to help business owners understand how their business is doing and allow for full transparency been businesses and their accounts in order to maximise efficiency. This is particularly important in Argentina where gaining investment and capital is difficult for small companies.
How did you turn Colppy into a real company, and what do you think was the most important thing to facilitate this?
The most important thing is that you need to be sure about the idea and then test it through market research again and again and again. It was only after 1 year and a half we began to understand pricing and the market. To go through this process to need dedication; you have to be prepared to fail. This testing process is much slower for a B2B company and it takes much longer to see the results of a test. This is the way we have built the business, we test, we evaluate, we change.
What would you say is the biggest difficulty that you have had to overcome?
There are two main things. Firstly, team building, from the founders to the leaders to the partners. Finding the right venture capital when there is limited opportunity to find people who really understand your business and know want you want.
Secondly, there is sales. To understand who your market is and who your ideal customer is, is very difficult. To do it you have to understand the architecture of the whole market.
With the team that you have now, what do you think is the most important thing that you all share which makes this company successful?
People need to love what they do, that is the most essential thing. Accounting is not something people really understand and like; they think it is boring. However, we believe accounting is a core part of any company. The team at Colppy understand this and they see that they are changing the way that companies work. Our team is selling more than just an accounting software, we are trying to facilitate the way companies grow. When you are here working with us you are not thinking about other things, you are simply enjoying working together in union working towards the same goal.
Do you think that you have been able to stick to the same vision you had when you first started or have you had to be flexible and change your direction?
There is one thing that has not changed and it will never change, that is why we are doing what we do. That is, to change the way small businesses are run and to create a more eco-friendly and efficient economy. From a business perspective we want to be the number one in online accounting software for small businesses. We see a real opportunity to take advantage of the unestablished market in South America. However, getting to the top has been much slower than we thought. We are trying to change the way people function and enter new thinking paradigms, this has taken a lot longer than I thought. However, looking back we could not have gone any faster given the path we have chosen.
You now have an office in Colombia as well, what has this process been like and what were your biggest challenges?
Setting up in Colombia is part of our bigger strategy to operate internationally. We began by fundraising and establishing the legal structure, it is very important to start with this. The product launched there in July 2016 but it has been important for us to customize our product because the structure of the market is different. For example, the tax system in Colombia is very different, as is the pricing structure. That is why it was important to spend lots of time understanding their market and then customising our product.
What do you think will be the main projects for Colppy over the next few years and where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
We want to focus on stabilizing the markets that we are in already and increase market penetration in these places. We also want to make sure we maintain our healthy trend growth. But to do this we have to keep adapting to new things and improving our software. My vision is to have more integrated and automated process. For example, we want to introduce a mobile app. For a software like ours, this is not something which has been done yet in South America. We are also trying to work with bots and big data, but this is more of a long term objective. A lot can happen in 10 years!
What is your message for young Argentinians who want to become entrepreneurs?
The first thing is that you have to love what you do, that is what drives you. You will have to sacrifice things so you must be prepared and understand what you need to keep a mental balance.
The second thing is that when you find people who share your passion, you need to make the most of it. The primary core team you have around you becomes the DNA of your company, it is very important to find this quickly. Without this, it is not possible for you to get happiness from your work, this is why you have to understand the choices you make.
On a practical level my message would be, fail fast. The mentality of failing and testing are extremely important, especially at the beginning. We learn from our failures.
Why do you think Buenos Aires is a good place to have a business and why do you think more and more people are coming here to do business?
I think that the new government has a much friendlier perspective towards entrepreneurship which makes a big difference, but, it will take time. I believe the economy is driven by entrepreneurs and by this I do not just mean Colppy or Mercado Libre, I am talking about the people selling ice cream on the street. The instability we have had in the past cannot suddenly turn into prosperity but I can see this trend starting to happen. To create this start-up eco-system, I believe you need 3 things; money (banks and investors), education and networking. When we can coordinate all these things we can be very successful. Every business in the world must take risks. The difference in Argentina is that there is also instability. Now that businesses and the whole economy is becoming more stable, we have huge opportunity in this country.