In the world of entrepreneurship, success often involves navigating uncharted territories, facing challenges head-on, and making decisions that shape the trajectory of a business.
Gonzalo Parejo Navajas, a seasoned entrepreneur, shares his compelling journey from Madrid to Brazil, highlighting the lessons learned, the pivotal moments, and the birth of his latest venture, Kamino.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the details of his interview, exploring key themes such as the importance of product-market fit, the challenges of fundraising, and the passion that drives entrepreneurial endeavors.
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Early Years and Educational Journey
Born and raised in Madrid in 1979, Gonzalo’s early life was shaped by a family of lawyers. Despite the comfort of his upbringing, he sought more than the conventional path laid out before him.
At the age of 15, an opportunity to study in the United States through a scholarship opened his eyes to a world of possibilities.
This experience fueled Gonzalo’s desire for independence and a different life path than the one typically followed in Madrid. He spent around nine to ten months in New Mexico without any contact with his family.
This was way back in 1995 when there were no cell phones and limited internet services.
Gonzalo remembers the exposure to an individualistic atmosphere where his American friends were getting ready for university applications. He watched as they mapped out their lives, including working to pay for the tuition and finding a place to live.
While he could not stay because of the conditions of his scholarship, the experience of living in the US taught him valuable lessons.
Choosing a Different Path
Returning to Spain, Gonzalo pursued studies in law and business, a natural choice considering his family background. However, the corporate world didn’t resonate with him.
Gonzalo reveals how he got his first job offer even before he finished law school. The salary offered to him was 24,000 Euros, which may not seem like a lot, but he appreciated the opportunity and plunged head-on into working hard.
The turning point came during his time at Clifford Chance, a prestigious law firm, where he realized the traditional legal career was not aligned with his aspirations. Gonzalo decided he did not want to continue doing this for the next 10 to 15 years until he made partner.
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Pivoting to Working for the Municipality
Despite societal expectations, he boldly left the firm and explored new horizons. Gonzalo decided he was going to launch a public-private company in Spain. A family friend invited him to help build a company where he could become the CEO or CFO.
The idea was for Gonzalo to manage the company, but the municipality would remain the owner. That’s how he went on to join Empresa Municipal de Suelo, Urbanismo y Vivienda. Not only was Gonzalo able to make the company profitable, but he also delivered public housing and public equipment.
When the time came to take the company public, Gonzalo decided to continue with his career as he was uninterested in becoming a manager with political connections. His next position was at Global Consulting Partners, where he was tasked with taking care of many real estate assets.
As the Lehman Brothers crisis happened, Gonzalo moved from dealing with financial entities trying to buy large pieces online to trying to develop huge real estate projects in energy in real estate, etc.
He found himself trying to reorganize a very chaotic situation where the banks were unsure of the leverage they had with his company.
Gonzalo’s tipping point came when Grupo Lábaro, which was one of the main projects going to IPO, was stopped. This was sometime in 2008-2009, and the experience exposed him to the complexities of the business side, dealing with financial entities and reshaping real estate projects in the face of uncertainty.
This experience laid the groundwork for his future roles as an entrepreneur and investor.
Entrepreneurial Beginnings in Brazil
Gonzalo’s journey took an international turn when he discovered Brazil during a trip with classmates. The vibrant atmosphere and the enthusiasm of professionals working there left an indelible mark.
As he recalls, he flew to Rio de Janeiro and Florianopolis and encountered an entirely different atmosphere from back home.
The population was very young and ambitious, with most working in large corporates, investment banking, consulting, and retail. Most of the younger people were educated abroad, primarily in the US. They talked about their happiness in Brazil and said marvelous things about the country.
Inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit he witnessed, Gonzalo co-founded Bidu, an insurance broker, in 2012. It was similar to Geico in the US, basically reselling insurance instruments like car insurance through the Internet.
As Gonzalo realized, insurance was a booming market in most of the non-emerging economies of developed countries. Insurance is not mandatory in emerging markets, and Gonzalo saw it as an opportunity.
They raised $12M in funding from Palo Alto even though the investors were not based in Latin America. Gonzalo recalls the challenges they faced in pitching to investors and convincing them that they had a viable project.
This venture marked his initiation into the challenges of entrepreneurship, from raising funds to building a team and navigating uncertainties.
Challenges and Learnings
Bidu’s journey was not without hurdles. Gonzalo candidly shares the struggles of finding product-market fit and the importance of cultural alignment within the team. He remembers spending a lot of money on the company before they could put together the right business model.
Despite the challenges, the experience provided invaluable insights into the intricacies of entrepreneurship, setting the stage for Gonzalo’s future endeavors.
Venturing into Europe and Ontruck
Gonzalo’s journey continued as he moved to Spain and became a part of the founding team of Ontruck. The contrast between the Latin American and European markets became apparent, showcasing the challenges and advantages of each.
Ontruck’s success in raising substantial capital and building a robust team underscored the importance of timing and a clear vision. The company successfully raised $80M.
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Return to Brazil and Niche Partners
After a successful stint in Europe, Gonzalo returned to Brazil and co-founded Niche Partners, a private equity firm, with Vasco Oliveira Neto, a successful Brazilian entrepreneur who had recently sold his company to Coca-Cola FEMSA.
Niche Partners was founded under the umbrella of Tarpon (a well-known private equity firm in Brazil). Niche Partners raised $50M from wealthy Brazilian families and institutional investors and launched a vehicle (Nstech) focused on acquiring mid-sized companies in the logistics sector.
This experience provided a different perspective on the Brazilian market, emphasizing the profitability of businesses in emerging markets.
At Nstech, they wanted to create a platform to connect the software of these mid-sized companies with the underlying common focus on logistics. Nstech is an asset technology firm that essentially serves as a unified platform.
This platform integrates a vast database containing key players in the logistics market and offers software solutions to address fragmented pain points across the market, encompassing financial management, payment methods, and financial services.
Gonzalo stresses that raising funding in Brazil is very challenging. Founders need to bring investors impressive concepts and robust teams. However, building a company in Europe is far tougher since founders must navigate different languages and markets.
They must also deal with varying regulations and employment laws. The complexity of Europe makes it more competitive since there are many talented people who don’t find jobs and positions in corporates. This is why they prefer to work in startups, which typically have less access to capital.
Nstech went on to acquire several companies and rapidly grew to $150M in recurring revenues with a huge workforce.
Founding Kamino and Fintech Opportunities
Gonzalo’s entrepreneurial spirit persisted, culminating in the establishment of Kamino in late 2021. During extensive due diligence processes, Gonzalo and Vasco engaged in countless hours of discussions while acquiring over 14 mid-sized businesses in a span of 20 months.
Recognizing the challenges faced by mid-sized businesses in accessing financial management tools and competitive financial products and services, Kamino aspires to revolutionize the fintech landscape in Brazil.
The venture successfully raised a significant pre-seed round, signaling the market’s recognition of the identified problem and Kamino’s ambitious solutions.
Gonzalo Parejo Navajas’ journey from Madrid to Brazil exemplifies the resilience, adaptability, and passion required to thrive as an entrepreneur. From Bidu to Ontruck, Nstech, and now Kamino, each chapter of his story provides valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs.
As the fintech landscape continues to evolve, Kamino is a testament to Gonzalo’s commitment to transforming Latin America’s economic and social realities. With a focus on providing financial solutions to mid-sized businesses, Kamino is poised to impact the future significantly.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Emphasis on the importance of cultural alignment within the team, recognizing its impact on the success of a venture.
- The Lehman Brothers crisis served as a turning point, exposing Gonzalo to the complexities of the business world and shaping his entrepreneurial and investment perspectives.
- Inspired by Brazil’s vibrant entrepreneurial atmosphere, Gonzalo co-founded Bidu, experiencing firsthand the challenges and triumphs of starting a business.
- Ontruck’s success underscored the significance of timing and a clear vision, demonstrating the crucial role these factors play in the entrepreneurial journey.
- The return to Brazil with Niche Partners revealed the profitability of businesses in emerging markets and their untapped potential.
- Kamino’s founding addresses the financial challenges faced by mid-sized businesses in Brazil, aiming to revolutionize the fintech landscape with a unique, integrated approach.
- Gonzalo’s journey reflects the resilience required in entrepreneurship, from leaving a prestigious law firm to founding ventures across continents, each contributing to his wealth of experience.