July 19, 2016
As the Managing Partner of Result Venture Knowledge International Strategy AB, Roberto Thiele is an expert in helping expand network services providers (online and telecom) and a serial entrepreneur who has helped start 25+ ventures in Brazil. In 1995, he founded Freenet the first free ISP, in 1999 co-founded PuraSorte, first online promotional digital currency venture, as well as 6 other companies and hasn't taken a break since! We caught up with Roberto to understand how he balances it all and gain his insights into the entrepreneurial opportunities in Brazil
Since 1995 you have founded more then 6 companies, brought international companies to Brazil, made an assortment of investments (including basini gelateria and visconde beer company), inspired innovation through mobile tech (PUTZ), provided mobile marketing and expansion services (Digital Result) and now you are a disruptor in Unified Communications (UC) at its first phase (Portulano), tell us a little bit about each company, and the motivation for creating them
I started to build up companies in 93, as a biz dev executive in a techie group of companies, mostly around telecom services (mobile, long distance, data), that were boosting those years - and still are, but long distance that is almost gone. I learned the job of understanding the market, the legislation, technologies available and build up a business plan around an idea, get that plan approved and lead its implementation. After the death of the owner of that group, I prematurely left that safe “nest” (one of many mistakes in my career) and started to search of what to do at work. I met one friend that was creating a BBS – Bulletin Board System. I was told by another friend that the internet was a “hot” topic in the USA, and then convinced my first business partner to build an ISP instead of a BBS, and that was Freenet in 95. We decided to go free because collecting little payments was very hard.
Running an ISP in those days was not a profitable thing, and with 2 kids, I had to provide consulting to make some $. The mobile market started to get hot and I quickly got “back” into it working as a consultant and then executive for a holding company controlled by Brazilian investors who partnered with Mr Carlos Slim. During the telecom privatization in Brazil those guys did not get any relevant business, as they read that the government was selling licenses and companies at very high valuation. So I lost my job and got hired by the startup company that acquired a mobile license (what today is Claro). That company had lots of cultural issues among the shareholders and I left about 15 months after starting.
In 99 the internet was getting bigger as companies were starting to use it for regular operational activities. Large US enterprises were going global and asking for basic services such as connectivity, hosting and security in many large markets. GTE Internetworking was the largest ISP in that time and expanding into Latin America to serve US multinationals like Microsoft, Compaq, Dell, John Deere, Ford, HP, Cisco and others. That company changed name to Genuity when Verizon was created, and it was my last formal employment. In 2002 Genuity collapsed in the US, and in Brazil we were profitable and did a kind of MBO creating Value4Net, an ISP which we still run.
Being a digital entrepreneur in Brazil is not easy for many reasons. In 2006, after being “alone”, we met Result, a collection of clever professionals from more advanced markets in Europe, USA and Asia, with great customers and connections at hot start ups hungry for international expansion. This facilitated the process of “creating” companies in Brazil, as they had in most cases a proved business model from their original home markets. After creating Result Brasil we had a model to help non Brazilian companies to enter in our local markets, and that explains a lot how we were able to build several “start ups” in the last few years, as extensions to their HQs in USA and Europe, in most of the cases. These companies we helped to build for our clients, and we were some kind of “co-entrepreneurs” or “interim biz dev executives”.
More recently we started to build companies that we operate, and we have a relevant amount of ownership, like Digital Result, Portulano, Putz and Visconde Beer Company. Portulano is a dealer of UC technology, much more “technical”, in a segment that can be seen as a bridge of telecom and IT worlds, helping cool things like Skype for Business or Cisco Call Manager to perform and provide ROI to enterprises.
How does a Serial Entrepreneur do it and how to balance it all?
In fact I am not able to balance things as I want, this is a big challenge for me. A long time ago business and career had some priority, but after my mid 30´s (back in early 00`s) I decided to give some priority to myself – in terms of quality of life and family. Now the trend is to increase even more on quality of life and less on business.
How are you splitting your time between Portulano, Result and Digital Result? What is a typical day like in your shoes? With 3 successful companies how do you balance your time?
Nowadays I share my time and energy based on roles. In one company – Portulano – I generate qualified leads to my partners, that are better than me in sales, and coach a hired professional to take care of marketing tasks. That takes me around 20% of my work time.
At Digital Result I have a small sales team who I help when they demand my attention, and also invest some time dealing with technology developers abroad, which accounts for 40% of my work time.
I have not done much at Putz recently, and working less than 5% for Visconde Beer Co. And about 1/3 of my time goes to my new baby company, related to network infrastructure, where we are still at stealth mode. And yes, I work a lot, and yes, always a challenge to focus and share status with partners and younger part of my family – the older don’t have a clue of what I do at work.
You have created companies in a number of different areas, how do you determine if an idea is really worth persuing? How do you determine your next project?
I usually think a lot about it and combine several market drivers into it, forces that are strong assumptions that cannot be ignored or argued. I like to compare it as a sailing boat when is getting lots of wind in favor to its desired direction. I also consult with some business friends and partners. I determine if it is worth taking the next step based on passion for what I want to do, how, where; and most importantly for who and with who. I am driven by people.
You recently co founded Portulano – tell us about it?
Portulano is a distributor of IT stuff into LATAM. We are 3 senior partners with lots of experience into Telecom, IT and Internet, great reputation and connections with most large enterprises in region, especially in Brazil. We got a great technical team that help us to support our sales partners and customers, and small marketing team that helps to promote our technology partners. It is based in Sao Paulo and we are always looking for new sales partners in key markets in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Peru.
Tell us about your newest venture Nectar Corporation UCMP UC Management Platform software and services? Who are your selected channel partners in the region?
Nectar Corporation continuously develops UCMP which is their core solution that helps to manage Unified Communications on its clients. It is a software developer, not a manage service provider. Among our preferred sales channel partners, we have large and mid size MSPs (Managed Service Providers) and UC sales channels of Cisco, Microsoft and Avaya. In Brazil we work with large companies like PromonLogicalis and mid size skilled sales partners like A.Telecom.
Nectar UCMP works with all 3 major UC technologies (developed by Cisco, Microsoft and Avaya) and others, helping to identify issues in real time in network infrastructure that support UC video and voice calls, messages and so on. This reduces a lot the time to get these issues fixed, enhancing overall UC availability, performance, user satisfaction and ROI in the entire operational chain.
What keeps you motivated?
Having the belief that there is one life only and I shall make make the best I can while I am alive. I have no plans to retire but reduce workload smoothly.
What has been the biggest struggle as an entrepreneur?
The lack of venture capital in my home country, where capital can easily get high rates of return from government fixed bonds at no risk. I dream on being able to use adequate capital while building companies, like in the US or Europe.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Be prepared, there will be lots of bumps on the road. But it is one of the coolest things one can do in a lifetime.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and why?
In 1999 I was hired by GTE Internetworking and had extraordinary managers like Charlie Zaiontz who told me not to be afraid of doing things and sometimes making mistakes; that I should keep my entrepreneur spirit and take initiative and risks based on my best judgment; trying not to repeat the mistakes, because that is what really hurts.
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