Secrets to Scaling with Nuvemshop’s Santiago Sosa
“Never ever, ever give up. There is always a way.”
This post is part of Accel’s Secrets to Scaling series, where leaders from across our portfolio share their learnings and advice with the next generation of entrepreneurs and exceptional teams everywhere.
Growing up in Argentina, Santiago Sosa was one of the few people interested in computers and technology from a young age. As time went on, this unshakable curiosity led Santiago to pursue a degree in software engineering at the Technological Institute of Buenos Aires. There, he spent the next five years in an intensive academic environment, leaning on the support of his friends that would one day become co-founders.
Santiago is now the CEO at Nuvemshop, which is known as Tiendanube in Spanish-speaking countries. In 2021 Accel’s investment in Nuvemshop was our largest-ever investment in Latin America, a region we believe to be one of the most important tech hubs globally.
We sat down with Santiago to discuss the following: 1) the journey that led to Nuvemshop, 2) how the founding team learned to work together, 3) how he prioritizes time, 4) advice for fundraising, 5) habits he has developed as a successful entrepreneur, 6) impactful feedback, and 7) his advice for founders in emerging markets like LatAm.
Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first think about starting your own technology business?
My interest in technology started when I was five years old. My dad gave me a Chinese copy of the Nintendo Entertainment System, called The Family Game, which I loved. My father is a software engineer, so there was always technology at home. We actually bought a personal computer in 1995, a time when nobody really had a computer at home in Argentina. I started developing web pages when I was 12 and by the time I was 15, I had started playing with Linux distributions. They were very hard to use but I found them exciting.
When I went to university at the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology in Argentina, I decided to study software engineering because I thought I was going to be a video game developer. In my fifth year, we had to do a mandatory internship. Most students go to large companies, but my friends and I decided to go to the dean and ask if we could build our own business. This was a very unique ask, since entrepreneurship was not really the norm at our university, but she agreed. Our business idea was built around our thesis that eCommerce would become popular if people felt safe online and if they trusted the person they were buying from. At the time, people were still afraid of buying things online, eCommerce penetration was less than 1%, and social networks hadn’t come to Argentina. We ended up spending two or three years working on various ideas and none took off. But what we learned back then was that entrepreneurs and SMBs didn’t want another marketplace, they wanted more personalization. And we had this site that had our own brand, when what SMBs actually wanted was to have their own colors, their own identity, and their own connections with their consumers. We eventually decided to pivot from a marketplace to a platform model and that is when true innovation was born.
In the years building Nuvemshop together, what have you and your co-founders learned about collaboration and teamwork?
As I mentioned, I’ve known my co-founders for years. Most of us belonged to the same study group at a university. We were highly focused on academics like math and physics. The university was extremely rigorous, and after spending five very hard years there we learned to rely on each other. We used to spend a lot of weekends working together, eating together, and studying together. The challenges we faced together created a lot of union among us and we developed the resilience we needed for what was going to come next: building Nuvemshop.
Building a business is time-consuming, especially when growing as fast as Nuvemshop. How do you establish your priorities?
At Nuvemshop, I know the key initiatives we’re working on at all times. I’m always thinking, what is our number one priority? What’s number two? What’s the third? I think of these priorities in different time frames. We have a different year 5 dream, a different year 10 dream, then we have our 12-month plan, and our plan for the next two weeks. Everything else is noise. To anything that isn’t moving the initiatives we define forward, I say no. I say no to 95% of journalists that call us for an interview. I say no to meetings that are not necessary. The list goes on. I say no a lot. But I think it is important to cut through the noise.
In my own life, I have two priorities: family and work. All the rest comes second. I end up sacrificing some things that are important. Sometimes it sounds a little bit cold. But I think at the end of the day you have only 24 hours to live your day. And every time you say yes to something you're also saying no to something, and you have to be thoughtful about what they are.
When Nuvemshop was raising its latest round, how did you navigate the sea of eager investors? What advice would you give to founders managing a rapid-fire pace of capital accumulation?
We've been operating in a region where capital has been historically scarce. If I'm talking to other emerging market founders, my advice would be when the capital is available from a top investor, take it. Then, be disciplined and mindful of how you allocate it. I've seen many companies that were on a great growth trajectory, then they raise a huge amount of cash, lose discipline and start having crazy burn rates… and all of a sudden these companies disappeared. There is a fine balance between being aggressive and bold and being too cautious. You need to win market share, but you also need to eventually make a profit.
What are some habits you believe have helped you succeed over the course of your career?
There are four things I’d like to share. First, I try to be very deliberate about taking time to reflect. When we started Nuvemshop I would spend my entire day working in front of the computer, meeting after meeting, back to back. But today I try to have at least 30 minutes per day, or even more, to think when I’m not in front of the computer. Studies say people that take time to reflect usually tend to outperform those that don't, and it makes a lot of sense to me because if you never stop to think it's very easy for inertia to lead you in the wrong direction. Secondly, I am determined to listen and learn from everybody. Whenever a board member or a peer or an investor shares feedback on something, I try not to think about how I will react or respond. I remain silent and listen to what they're trying to tell me because there's probably some truth that I can use to get stronger.
I've also done some formal mentorship with an executive coach and reading to better understand how to deal with stress and emotions. I think many of us are raised emotionally illiterate. But it’s helpful to identify your emotions so you can effectively manage them. The last one I’ve developed is to learn from the amazing people I’m privileged to be surrounded by. Former entrepreneurs, mentors and VCs. They have given me many opportunities to learn from them as well.
Great to hear you’ve had influential mentors, both investors and fellow entrepreneurs. What was the most helpful feedback they’ve given you?
Over the course of my career, I tend to be focused on what's not going well. This has been useful for me because when you notice what’s wrong and spend time thinking about how to fix it, it helps you raise the bar. But I’ve had incredible mentors in my career who remind me to also recognize and celebrate the victories. And I think I'm in a much better position because of this.
What advice would you share with other founders in emerging markets like LatAm?
For us, the first five years were rough because the ecosystem wasn't ready, eCommerce penetration was super low, and there just wasn't capital. But we had this conviction that someday what we were building was going to be useful for someone out there. Things usually are harder than you anticipate. Things usually take longer than you anticipate. Things usually require more cash than you anticipate, particularly if you're executing in emerging markets, or if you need the whole broader ecosystem to evolve. There are no shortcuts. You cannot cut corners. You need to be consistent and add value. You can’t cheat your way to victory by advertising or marketing or inflating numbers. This might sound cliche, but ultimately, I will say: never ever, ever give up. There's always a way.