Neil Patel

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Federico Malek, a seasoned entrepreneur from Buenos Aires, Argentina, has navigated the complex waters of startups and acquisitions, establishing himself as a prominent figure in the business world. His journey, marked by strategic decisions and keen insights into the dynamics of emerging markets, offers a wealth of knowledge for aspiring entrepreneurs.

In this detailed blog post, we delve into Federico’s experiences, from his early days inspired by local success stories to his latest venture in e-commerce. He also talks about running regional operations and managing and scaling regional teams. And going through the full cycle of building companies.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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Early Beginnings: Inspiration and Education

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Federico’s love for his hometown is evident. “Buenos Aires is one of the best cities in the world,” he enthuses, describing its eclectic culture and rich talent pool. This vibrant environment fostered his interest in entrepreneurship.

As an economics student, Federico was inspired by the first wave of Argentine internet entrepreneurs in the early 2000s, such as the founders of Mercado Libre and DeRemate. These success stories fueled his ambition to build something impactful and transformative.

Federico looks back to his school days when he knew from the beginning that he wanted to build companies and raise money from international and global investors. He wanted to change the way the world does certain things.

With this objective in mind, Federico started working as an investment banker right out of college.

First Foray into Entrepreneurship: Walooz and the Groupon Acquisition

After a stint in investment banking, Federico took a leap into entrepreneurship, co-founding Walooz, a Groupon-like e-commerce platform offering deep discounts on local services in Buenos Aires. He was just 24 at the time and started analyzing what type of companies he wanted to build.

“We were really lucky,” Federico recalls, “because we identified early on that e-commerce had massive potential in Latin America.” His analysis proved accurate, and as Federico recalls, the penetration they had in the region was much higher than even in European countries.

So, they started a company called Walooz, which was a Groupon clone. They offered hard discounts in different local services in Buenos Aires. Within a year, Groupon acquired Walooz. This experience, while exhilarating, was not without its challenges.

The acquisition process was daunting, yet it propelled the small team from 16 to nearly 180 employees within six months. Federico reflects, “It was obvious for us to go down that path, despite the risks and the early exit.”

The structured earn-out ensured they could benefit from the company’s future growth, making the deal highly beneficial.

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Venturing into E-Commerce: Avenida and the Challenges of Emerging Markets

Post-Groupon, Federico launched Avenida, an Amazon-like e-commerce platform, in 2014. Over three subsequent rounds, they raised $50M from global VCs, including Tiger Global and Naspers.

Seeing the penetration they had in countries like Argentina, Chile, and Columbia, as well as the exceptional success rates, it made sense to Federico to start a company in the multi-category e-commerce niche similar to Amazon and eBay.

He started a pure-play commerce with end-to-end fulfillment, a marketplace for other players selling stock and inventory, offering great customer service and customer experience. However, the volatile macroeconomic environment in Argentina posed substantial challenges.

“Raising money for a capital-intensive business in an emerging market like Argentina is tough,” Federico explains. Political and economic instability made sustaining their high-growth model difficult.

Recognizing these challenges, he pivoted Avenida towards a software-as-a-service model. He leveraged their robust tech platform to help other companies like banks and retailers in the non-e-commerce category to create marketplaces.

This shift underscored a critical lesson: businesses in emerging markets must focus on sustainability and strong unit economics from the outset rather than relying on continuous fundraising. Federico realized back in 2015-2016 that the high-growth, high-burn model was not sustainable.

He also realized that the markets where they were operating could change dramatically for investors and other stakeholders within 18 months. Unlike in locations like Europe and Asia, Latin America is an emerging market, and sustainability should be the core tenet.

Transition to InsurTech: Starting iúnigo

After his e-commerce ventures, Federico explored new horizons in InsurTech with iúnigo, the first end-to-end digital insurance company in Latin America.

This venture offered a different set of challenges and learning opportunities, but its main shareholder was one of the biggest insurance companies in the region.

Federico recalls how they approached him, and he accepted since he wanted to experience working within a large institution for a couple of years. Developing sophisticated software for underwriting, fraud prevention, and customer interaction marked a significant shift from e-commerce.

Federico assisted in creating the entire digital interface to interact with digital customers purchasing their products. Despite enjoying this new domain, Federico’s passion for e-commerce led him back to his roots.

Since LaTAm e-commerce is the fastest growing market in the world, Federico’s colleagues and partners wanted to go back to the industry–particularly Mexico, which has a lot of room for expansion.

Armed with lots of experience and lessons learned from the previous companies he had founded, Federico was ready to build his next venture. This time, he was determined not to build a company that loses money but one that was sustainable and profitable from day one.

Secondly, Federico did not want a company that relied exclusively on customer acquisition, which is insanely high in Latin America, much like in other countries worldwide.

Building Wonder Brands: A New Approach to E-Commerce

In 2021, Federico co-founded Wonder Brands, focusing on creating consumer discretionary brands for the burgeoning middle class in Latin America, a market with 400 million people. They currently manage over 16 brands and 3,000 products.

Wonder Brands offers pet accessories, baby accessories, tools, do-it-yourself essentials, mattresses, sleep products, and much more. The company operates through online marketplaces and two direct-to-consumer channels.

Further, many of the brands in their portfolio have become champions in their categories. For instance, Wonder Brands has the number one selling mattress brand on online channels in Mexico and sells more mattresses than any other brand.

Rumbo, the number 3 luggage brand from Amazon in Mexico, is also on Wonder Brands. The company has many success stories and has penetrated several categories with its brands. As Federico opines, they have been successful because of their unique approach.

At present, Wonder Brands is one of the top 10 marketplace operators in Latin America. Their approach is innovative: developing brands with the agility and iteration typically seen in software development.

As Federico explains, they start off by developing an MVP, iterating the product until they find the winner. Once they develop this version and are confident it will be successful, they start investing in it.

This lean strategy that Federico developed over years of building software is essentially their secret sauce and Wonder Brands’ main differentiator.

Fundraising in Latin America vs. the U.S.

Fundraising in Latin America, Federico notes, is markedly different from the U.S. “In the U.S., you might close a deal in a month and a half; in Latin America, it can take four months or more,” he says. Interest rates are also higher. Even so, Federico has raised $35M for the company.

Storytelling is everything that Federico Malek was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

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The due diligence process is more stringent, and investors are more cautious due to the region’s economic fluctuations. Despite these challenges, great companies with solid foundations still attract investment. Federico also considers their tech capabilities to be a huge advantage for fundraising.

LatAm has made a lot of progress, and some of the Latin American e-commerce markets have become very big. As Federico says, they just need time to realize their mission. Currently, his company is raking in net revenues worth $100M, and he is gearing up to expand to Brazil.

Wonder Brands is on a promising trajectory, currently on a $100M with plans to expand into Brazil, potentially tripling their revenue. Federico envisions continued growth, aiming for $500M in sales within three years. “The market is ready; it’s just a matter of time and execution,” he asserts.

Strategic Advice for Emerging Market Entrepreneurs

Federico emphasizes the importance of choosing the right market for your startup. “Don’t be overly attached to your home country,” he advises. Starting a business is hard regardless of location, but choosing a market with fewer obstacles can significantly impact your success.

Federico reflects on the potential benefits of starting his ventures in larger markets earlier in his career, highlighting the strategic advantage of targeting scalable markets. He also advises younger founders to leverage their ability to travel and move to other countries and regions.


Federico Malek’s entrepreneurial journey is a testament to resilience, adaptability, and strategic thinking. His experiences highlight the unique challenges and opportunities of building businesses in emerging markets.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, Federico’s story offers invaluable insights: focus on sustainability, choose your market wisely, and be prepared for the complexities of fundraising in less mature markets.

As Wonder Brands continues to grow, Federico’s vision and expertise will undoubtedly drive further success, solidifying his legacy in the world of entrepreneurship.

Listen to the full podcast interview to know more, including:

  • Building startups in emerging markets like Argentina requires strong unit economics and sustainability from day one due to macro and political fluctuations.
  • Early exposure to successful entrepreneurs inspired Malek to pursue entrepreneurship in Argentina’s burgeoning tech scene.
  • The high-growth, high-burn model is less suitable for emerging markets, where stable capital markets are scarce.
  • After selling his first company to Groupon, Malek shifted to developing sustainable, profitable business models.
  • Wonder Brands focuses on creating consumer discretionary brands for Latin America’s rising middle class, emphasizing sustainable and profitable growth.
  • Raising capital in Latin America is more challenging and time-consuming compared to more mature markets like the US and Europe.
  • Aspiring entrepreneurs should carefully choose their market, considering both potential and challenges, rather than being attached to their home country.



For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here). 

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Neil Patel

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