Our new blog series, “A Global Mindset: How 7 Standout Startups Navigate International Opportunity,” is all about leaders at fast-growing companies who have greatly benefited from prioritizing and adopting a global perspective.
This week we hear from Vikram Deswal, the well-traveled co-founder of UnDosTres, an online platform that allows folks living in Mexico to pay for anything and everything with a simple tap of a button.
Originally from India, Vikram spent time working for a big bank in Delaware, later heading off to business school in Spain and eventually ending up in Mexico to launch his own company after turning down a job working for Amazon in Luxembourg.
Vikram made a concerted effort to adopt a global mindset, viewing it as a must if he wanted to build a successful lasting company. Find out how what cultural insights he learned from living and working abroad and how he’s applying them as a leader of a startup.
This is part 2 of 7 of our “A Global Mindset: How 7 Standout Startups Navigate International Opportunity” series. Check out part 1 with Jim Finnegan of Fieldmotion.
What is UnDosTres?
At UnDosTres, our objective is to make payments seamless in Mexico. Let’s say you wanted to top off your phone, buy minutes as you go or pay your electricity bill. In the U.S. it's easy, you head to the company’s site and pay online, but in Mexico it’s a different process. You have to go to their offices and stand in long lines, and before that go the ATM to take out cash because these companies don’t take cards.
What we’ve done is created an app and website where customers can pay for all of these things that are digital within three seconds.
You spent time living and working in India, Delaware, Spain and then finally settling in Mexico. What was the goal you had in mind that drove those changes in location?
That was more of a personal thing. My number one motivator has been to make a huge impact. In India, I felt very limited. Back in 2005, the startup culture hadn’t really started which is why I came to America. I thought working for a huge bank would be good for me, but I wanted to do more and practice proper business. That’s why I thought I needed an MBA, but I didn’t want your standard MBA. I wanted to attend a school that was very rigorous and multicultural which is why I went to Spain for business school.
After that, I had a few offers. One Opportunity was to work for Amazon in Luxembourg or to go work in Mexico for a startup that was barely six months old and basically ready to take over Latin America. It was essentially Amazon for the Latin American community. I thought the second opportunity was greater which is how I ended up in Mexico rather than remaining in Europe.
Do you believe that your different cultural experiences give you an advantage?
Absolutely. These things all contributed in different ways. The fact that I’m from India and the fact that I’m a computer engineer enabled me to do two things right away. First, attract good technical talent. Even though this was a no-name startup, Indians have reputations of being good computer engineers, especially in Mexico. There is also this assumption that because I have a startup I must be technically savvy.
The U.S. experience was a bit different. The most memorable thing about the US was the work ethic. Something I noticed about Americans is that they do not waste time on things that are not productive. They are always on time and extremely professional, which is something I brought with me to Mexico.
In Spain, I had classmates from different nationalities. My time there helped me understand the Spanish culture and understanding how to talk. In Mexico, you can’t be very direct with people. You can be firm, but you have to be polite about things. In India or the US, it doesn’t matter how you say things, but in Mexico it does or people get offended.
How did you make the decision to start your own company?
I worked with this e-commerce company, in Mexico, for about two years and a combination of things happened. First off, I saw that was there was this pain point that almost all Mexican consumers were facing. These people were standing in huge lines to make these payments which were a big waste of time. It reminded me of India, another country with a developing economy that had similar problems and had solved this. I thought to myself, there’s no reason Mexico shouldn’t. The only difference was in Mexico there wasn’t competition for this service as opposed to India where the competition is now cutthroat.
I was also at a very pivotal point in my career. I always wanted to make a greater impact and just felt this opportunity was so much bigger.
How did you discover MassChallenge and what pushed you to apply to their Mexico program?
Initially, I was a bit skeptical about accelerator programs because my co-founders and I were focused on work and thought it would be a distraction. However, one of our angel investors recommended MassChallenge because he knew the program director in Mexico. And we said if he’s recommending it maybe we should look into it. That was the first time I’d ever heard of MassChallenge so I did my research, discovered they started in Boston and learned about the workshops and realized there was no harm, so why not try.
We did the application, we did the pitch and by the time we’d presented the pitch I was convinced this was a good program for us to be in. We were accepted and that’s how we ended up being with them.
Since participating MassChallenge, how has your start-up developed?
They helped us in two big ways. One was giving us contacts to other Mexican businesses which was crucial because I didn’t grow up here and my father is not the secretary of Mexico City. Compared to other cool startups in Mexico, I didn’t have any contacts so MassChallenge helped me with that. Secondly, they put us in touch with a couple of investors, one of which ended up leading our seed round which was huge.
We were also the first round of applicants in that program. Now, MassChallenge is huge in Mexico so when we say we’re graduates from there, we automatically get credibility.
What advice do you have for companies looking to start a business in a different country than where they are originally from?
My only advice would be to understand your situation. Understand what you know and what you don’t know in that specific geographic area or culture. Use the things that are unique to you as an advantage, use them to make yourself differentiated. For example, we are Indian engineers and without any shame marketed ourselves as that technical balance.
Secondly, see what you lack and understand how you can get those things. For instance, for us we lacked local contacts. Contacts aren't something you can just learn, so find those things that you’re lacking whether it's through your network and the things that are unique to you and use them to your advantage.
Be sure to check out our other 6 interview in our series “A Global Mindset: How 7 Standout Startups Navigate International Opportunity”.
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