Roberto Oliveira has founded, bought, and funded multiple startups. He seems to have great intuition when it comes to seeing what the next big thing is in tech. Now he is betting on a new form of digital asset your company needs. He is the founder of Take which operates in the mobility market in Brazil.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The ‘Intelligent Contact’
- Roberto Oliveira’s top advice before starting a business for both Brazilian and international entrepreneurs
- What an effective feedback loop looks like
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About Roberto Oliveira:
Co-founder and CEO of Take, Roberto Oliveira has been operating for 18 years in the Latin American market of messages and mobile content. As an ADMR partner, Roberto has 20 years of experience creating and developing technology companies.
Roberto is also co-founder and board member of Confrapar, Minutrade, and POP Recarga. Graduated in Electrical and Telecommunications Engineering from UFMG, he has also studied Finance at IbMec and Executive Education, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Stanford University.
Connect with Roberto Oliveira:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we’re going to be speaking with a really exciting founder, a founder that has been able to capture and see trends before anyone and even opening new markets in Brazil. But without further ado, I don’t want to make anyone wait any longer, and I’d like to welcome our guest today, Roberto Oliveira. Welcome to the show.
Roberto Oliveira: Hi, Alejandro. Nice to meet you. Thank you for having me here. It is a great pleasure to be here.
Alejandro: So born in São Paulo and then moved to Belo Horizonte. Tell us about life growing up in an entrepreneurial household.
Roberto Oliveira: Yes. I was born in a city that’s called [2:04], a tech city here in Brazil. It’s where we have [2:11]. That’s a very important Brazilian company, and there we have our space research. The National Institute is where my father worked. My father and my mother met in Belo Horizonte in the city that I live today. As soon as they got married, they decided to move to São José dos Campos because my father was invited to work on this Brazilian NASA that’s called INPE. That’s where I started. My father was a scientist. He was working with space research. They were trying to understand climate change and how to project the weather. That’s the beginning of my life.
Alejandro: Your first computer, you got it from your father. It’s amazing the amount of influence that you see from your father, someone that even before tech was a thing, he had his own tech company there in Brazil. What were some of those lessons that you learned from your dad that you definitely carried away as part of your own entrepreneurial journey?
Roberto Oliveira: It was really interesting. First of all, to see a scientist here in Brazil and for me to develop and try to create new things and understand how everything works was inside of my home. Every time my father incentivizes my brother and me to work with tech and understand the electronic engineering, so they gave us a computer – I think I was ten years old. Since that, we started to make some codes and create some things. He was working in INPE, the National Space Research Institute, but when they decided to move back to Belo Horizonte, that’s the city where I live today, he decides to start his company, and he found a tech company. He started to build very interesting things. It was a second or first time to see – he was working in this scientific thing and talking about how to understand space. It’s really challenging. After that, he became an entrepreneur, and he started his company. At the very beginning, he was able to close the first deal. I started working with him. When I turned 15 years old, he started taking me with him to the company. It was very teachable for me, and I learned a lot of things with him.
Alejandro: And this was definitely a really good combination that you did with your own studies at university because the university was all about studying entrepreneurship. So not a bad combination of both things.
Roberto Oliveira: Yes. I worked in his company. Before the university, I studied electronics. I became an electronic technician, and I was manufacturing some electronic products with him. After that, I went into electronic engineering at the university, but when I was at the university, I was having the engineering disciplines, but I started to have some classes in entrepreneurship, and I started to study about marketing, about sales, and I started to ask and incentivize him to invest in marketing and sales and do everything that’s all [6:45] companies do. But he is very conservative, and he’s basically a scientist, a tech guy that preferred to work and build their products and sell in not so much a [7:02]. So it was a frustration for me because I was not able to convince him to invest in marketing and sales. So I started thinking about creating my own company. As soon as I finished at the university, I created my first company, which was a mobile phone store.
Alejandro: Very nice. Let’s talk about the retail of selling mobile phones, and this was your first baby after coming out of university. Tell us about starting this business. It’s interesting how you have always been with family when building companies, but tell us about this first rodeo.
Roberto Oliveira: I had two partners. One is one of my uncles, my father’s brother. A friend that I met in Brazilian [8:00]. That was a very interesting time because the mobile phone was not as it is today. It was the very beginning. It was 1997. It was basically used to make phone calls. Somehow, I don’t know why, we really understood that it could be a very big market, and we had a very good start selling mobile phones. It made us get very close to the mobile carriers. We were very successful. We became the second most important reseller here in our town. Because of that, we became very close with the mobile carriers. They started to incentivize us to build other things. They introduced us to Nokia, that was, at that time, the main mobile phone manufacturer. At that time, we created our second company that’s called [9:11], that was a Nokia service center, and we became very close with Nokia too. Because of those relationships, we decided to create Take, which is the company that we are discussing today.
Alejandro: Let’s talk about Take because with Take, having that access to be able to listen, being able to see the market unfold, one thing that you were able to accomplish there and envision was a world in Brazil where you could bring the first mobile internet company. So, how was that?
Roberto Oliveira: Yes. We were very close to Nokia. Nokia was pushing WAP, a wireless application protocol that was a technology that was the first attempt to create a mobile internet. At the same time, the mobile carriers were investing on digital networks. So both the mobile carriers and Nokia start to talk about the mobile internet. That time was 1999, and we were living in the internet bubble, so there was a lot of excitement around the internet. We decided to bet that that technology could work and we would help to build a mobile internet. But what happened was that WAP did not work, but we were very lucky because the people from Nokia asked us to build a ringtone download platform. So they came to us and said, “As you are talking about mobile internet, why not create a ringtone download platform. As you are working with WAP, probably you are able to build this ringtone download platform.” So we decided to invest. One thing that’s really interesting is that at that time we were very close to the consumers because of the stores. We had ten retailer stores, and we were having the feeling of the people using the phones. So when they came to us to talk about ringtone, we made a test inside the store showing the consumers the possibility of downloading a ringtone, and we got very good feedback from them, so we decided to invest and created a platform, and we were very successful with that. When we created the platform, we started to build a platform in 1999 and to tell them when we made the first ringtone downloads. We had a monopoly; we closed deals with 13 mobile carriers, and we were able to grow at a 250% growth rate from 2001 to 2005, so it was a very interesting and exciting moment for us at that time.
Alejandro: This was also your first experience raising money because there was a Japanese company that came knocking. What happened there?
Roberto Oliveira: Yes, that’s interesting because we were approached by more than seven investors. We tried to raise money with seven investors, and it didn’t work. I think that it was because the company was growing very fast. We received this offer from a Japanese company, but they decided to buy 100% of the company. So, in March of 2005, we sold 100% of the company for 35 US million dollars. It was a very good deal at that time.
Alejandro: This was all pretty much bootstrapped, so you hadn’t raised any money, and it was pretty much all going to your pockets. Is that right?
Roberto Oliveira: Yeah.
Alejandro: That’s amazing.
Roberto Oliveira: It was too much money to not sell the company.
Alejandro: Yeah. So what happened after this?
Roberto Oliveira: After that, using this money we created another company, so we found Minutrade, that’s a company that works from micro rewards, and today it is a very good and important company here in Brazil, too. We found Confrapar, that’s a venture capital firm. In Confrapar we are running fast in more than 20 companies. In 2008, we bought back Take.
Alejandro: Very nice. Tell us about this because it’s strange. When you sell your company, and you buy the company again. What prompted you guys to do that?
Roberto Oliveira: Yes, it’s funny because we were not waiting for that. It was a complete surprise for us, but the Japanese called us telling us that they had 30 days to sell the company back to us. After we sold the ringtone, the market crashed in all of the world. The technology and business model changed, so they were suffering. They had bought companies in the USA, Europe, China, and other countries, so they started to suffer a lot, including in Japan. So in 2008, they decided to sell all the foreign companies that they had bought and try to reinvent the company in Japan. When they called us, they were selling the other companies and Take was the last one. We said, “We can sell the company for you because the company is very good.” But they said, “We don’t have time. We’re flying to Belo Horizonte.” They came, and we closed the deal in a week. It was a very fast decision, and at the time, it was a surprise, but after that, we saw it as an opportunity. We liked the people; we liked the platforms that we had, and we bought it back. It was a very good decision.
Alejandro: Wow. Then, what happened after because you bought the company back? And then, in 2014, there’s a big breakthrough moment where literally you guys create a new vision for this.
Roberto Oliveira: Yeah. Exactly. We bought Take back in 2008, and we were able to make the company grow again, basically building SMS apps. But in 2014, we had an important moment in Take where we decide to bet in a vision that the messaging platforms like WhatsApp probably would become the next most important channels for brands to interact with consumers. So we realized at that time that if they open an API and allow us to help the brands to do the same kind of things that we were doing when we were selling ringtones in 2001, probably we would be able to create some amazing things. We invented a concept that we called an intelligent contact because we understood that those channels are conversational, and in the digital world, the conversations happen between two contacts. For now, the contacts inside those messages are the next and the new digital assets that all the brands will need to have. So we proposed a new architecture based in a strategy where instead to think in omnichannel strategy, you’ll think in one contact architecture. Using our platform, you are able to build these digital assets and publish this in all the conversational channels likes WhatsApp, Apple Business Share, Google Business Masses, Google Systems, SMS, your website, your app. So it starts to work in this platform in 2014. We created some solutions using web views. But in 2016, Facebook opened the Facebook Messenger, and we created the first big cases with big enterprise on Facebook Messenger. In August 1, 2018, the original vision realized that with WhatsApp opening their API, and since that, we started growing at a very fast pace again. We have amazing momentum now and doubled from 2018 to 2019. We double again to 2020, and our expectation is to deliver again in 2021. That is the momentum that we are living here.
Alejandro: Well, doubling is definitely a good thing. The model of the business has changed quite a bit since you guys started, and now, after the new vision and the new events that have happened, what ended up becoming the business model of Take and how do you guys make money – for the people that are listening to get it?
Roberto Oliveira: Our business model is based in mindfully active users or mindfully active subscribers or consumers that interact with your contacts through one of those channels. For each consumer that interacts with your contacts inside WhatsApp or inside Google Business Masses or in any other channel, we charge a very small fee, and we are able to transform all those conversations in just one conversation that we call infinite conversations that each brand can have and keep this conversation running using our platform.
Alejandro: In this case, for you guys just recently, Warner Pacos just made a pretty big investment. Why did you decide that it was the time to raise some money for this?
Roberto Oliveira: The company has a very good size. We are generating 40 million dollars in recurring revenue ARR. As I told earlier, we are doubling this, so we expect at the end of next year to be generating more than 80 million dollars as our recurring revenue. We are doing that only in Brazil. What we are seeing is this solution working in any part of the world. We are receiving very good feedback from our partners, so one thing that’s really interesting is that at the beginning, our partners were the mobile carriers. Now, our partners are Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. So, we have very good relationships with all those big tech companies, and they are channels, and we are able to publish our brand in any part of the world inside those channels. We are seeing a huge opportunity that’s much bigger than we saw when we started doing ringtones or when we were working with SMS. Now we are seeing something that’s really big, and we understand that we have a very good product with a unique architecture, and it can work in all the world. So we look for some money. We have the help of some investment banks. We received very good feedback during the process, too, and we were able to raise these rounds. We are really excited, and we have a lot of things to do. We push really hard to accelerate the product roadmap. We are investing a lot in our marketing and sales team. So we intend to accelerate and create something that could be real big. And this market is really exciting and active this time. You saw that Salesforce bought Slack; Facebook bought Customer; Cisco bought IM Mobile; There are a lot of things happening in this sector.
Alejandro: Where do you think that the market is going as a whole, Roberto?
Roberto Oliveira: Our vision is that, as I mentioned, for us, this market is the new digital assets that all the brands will need to have. At the beginning of the web, the first digital asset that any brand decides to create [23:48] was a website. Today, you have more than 200 million active websites on the web. In the smartphone, the company starts to build another digital asset that is the mobile app. Almost all the brands invested in our work in their mobile apps. And now, we have no doubts that all the brands – it doesn’t matter the size, whether it’s a huge mobile carrier or a huge bank or a small retail store or local retail store, we believe that all those brands will have as much contents. The right way to look to that and work with that is using what we call a software mindset and implement a process where each month you launch a new version. And you are building assets, so you are working in lots of integrations, lots of automations, lots of workflows to be able to deliver a good experience for their customers. We believe in our vision. All the brands in all the world will have as our contacts, and we think that our product has a unique architecture that’s really working here in Brazil, and we can have a good amount of brands as our clients. Probably millions of brands will be using our platform. Today, we have just 1,000 paying clients, but what we are seeing is something that could be really big.
Alejandro: In this case, for you guys with Take, Roberto, is there anything that you can share to give an idea of the size of the company – anything that you can share around the number of employees or anything else?
Roberto Oliveira: Yes. We have around 500 employees today. More than half of those are on the product team, so we are investing a lot in the evolution of the platform. We have an amazing roadmap, and every day we are receiving other feedback, other assets, so a lot of things to do with the product. We are investing a lot in the service team, too, that can help the brand with best practices and deliver good support and good customer service too.
Alejandro: If you had the opportunity, Roberto – let’s say you go into a time machine and that time machine takes you to that moment in time when you were coming out of university, that moment where you had the experience of working with your father, you had the dogmatic approach that they taught you in university, and you were ready to launch your first company. If you had the opportunity to have a chat with that younger Roberto and have the ear of your younger self – we know that, obviously, our younger selves probably wouldn’t listen. But let’s say that younger Roberto was inclined to listen to what you have to say. If you were able to give that younger Roberto one piece of advice before launching a business, what would that be and why based on what you know now?
Roberto Oliveira: I think this answer should be different if I’m talking with a Brazilian entrepreneur or if I’m talking with a global entrepreneur. But for a Brazilian, I have a specific case because Brazil is a unique country. It’s not easy to build those kinds of companies here in Brazil. So I always suggest to them to really take care of the cash flow and be able to keep everything organized and don’t forget to take care of the cash flow. Keep all the accounts and be ready to build. In a global perspective, what I like to say is that the most important thing for all the companies, we start having a client because if you have a client, you can implement a strategy doing customer development and implement what I call a short feedback loop process. As we are talking about software companies, as I suggest to all the brands is that they need to look today as digital assets, and they need to have a software mindset and make the evolution using a short feedback loop. I think that today, that is the only way to build a software company is to work in a process of getting a lot of feedback from your users and implement this short feedback loop. At the beginning, we spent more than a year creating the first product. It was successful, but when we launched it, we started to learn lots of other things from the clients, and if we had started to do that earlier, it would have been better.
Alejandro: This is super interesting. One of the mistakes that entrepreneurs always make is, for example, the other day, I was speaking with an entrepreneur, and he was showing me this platform that he has spent – I think it was over a million dollars, and he was super excited. I asked him, “How many potential customers have you spoken with to build this?” And he said, “Zero.” I just couldn’t believe it. Right? Because I think that that’s one of the biggest problems that founders make, which is they build based on assumptions rather than based on data. I’m sure that there are a lot of entrepreneurs that are probably listening to us now and listening to what you’re saying around the feedback loop, which I think is critical. If you had to perhaps go a little bit deeper into this and perhaps make it more tangible and visible to them, what does an effective short feedback loop look like?
Roberto Oliveira: If you can collect and organize information about the interactions, and the one thing that this new conversational internet has that is really interesting is that for the first time in the internet story, you have a channel where you can use not only software or technology to deliver an answer or interaction with the consumer, but you can use people, human agents because you can use humans to answer some interactions. So what we are doing, usually, we suggest a brand to start as fast as possible publishing as marked content and use people to deliver the first interactions. The other thing that’s really interesting is that it’s a [31:30] conversations. The consumer is saying what they want. So using analytics or technology, you can really understand exactly what the people are saying, so we can have very real feedback about everything that your consumer is telling to your brand, so you can organize and this information you can get a lot of insights and prioritize your roadmap of automations and other new things that you want to launch based on this real data. I don’t know if it’s tangible for you, but I think all this new work and all the companies that have been able to really build very interesting things, they are implementing these processes where they are focusing on understanding how the consumers are interacting with their products and implementing this fast evolution based in launching new things that they understand that could be good because of the insights that they got from analyzing the interactions.
Alejandro: That’s very profound, and I’m sure that the people that are listening are going to appreciate that, Roberto. So for the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Roberto Oliveira: Just send me an email: [email protected]
Alejandro: Amazing. Roberto, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Roberto Oliveira: Thank you, Alejandro. It was a great pleasure for me, and I like your podcast and read all your episodes, so thanks for having me here.
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