Episode 2: Elenas
4:33PM Sep 19, 2019
from Georgetown University, this is venture forward a series of conversations with entrepreneurs in and around Georgetown, in which we discuss the startups they've launched, the obstacles they've encountered, and the small wins that have made all the difference. Here is your host, Jacki Abbey.
Zach ocean is a Georgetown undergrad from California with one foot in the US and one foot in Latin America. He's running a business in Bogota, Colombia, while juggling a full load of classes at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. When Zach took a summer internship position with a venture fund in Bogota, he had no idea that within 18 months, he and a colleague would be launching a business in Columbia, that promises to modernize the sales and distribution channels. In the beauty product industry. Here is Zach ocean, co founder and chief growth Officer of Atlantis. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for having me. Let's start with this company that you've got up and running in Bogota, Colombia. Tell me about it and how you managed to launch it.
And then this is a social selling platform for Latin American women. We're based in Colombia. And what we do is we offer a platform for women to sell beauty, fashion and accessory products from a marketplace of brands to friends and family so that they can earn extra income. Great, and how long have you been doing that? We started the company back in July. But I've actually been living in Colombia off and on for the past two years or so. For what reason? So I started at Georgetown as a freshman in the undergrad ffs program in 2016. At the end of my freshman year, in 2017, I was looking to find an internship somewhere else in the world. I had previously worked in Amsterdam, I'd worked in the US, I'd worked in South Africa for a number of different startups and wanted something in Latin America, because I've been studying Spanish and had kind of a lot of interest in region had traveled there. But it never worked there. I ended up deciding to go work for a venture fund called polymath ventures. It's focused in Latin America based in Bogota, Colombia, and that a friend had worked out previously. So I went for the summer and started out there as an intern on what they call the business design team, where they do research into different markets to understand trends and demographic shifts and where they can invest money.
And it was in the course of doing that research that you got the idea
to start this company. Exactly. So I was working on that team for almost a year actually, I had worked over the summer loved it had the most incredible experience living in Colombia, working with an amazing team of entrepreneurs from around the world, and decided to stay after they asked me to stay on full time as an employee. During the course of that year, I did a few different projects, investigations into different markets and everything from education, space to healthcare, and eventually was on a team leading a team that was focused on understanding working women in Latin America. So a lot of moms this, and what they were spending money on what their needs were. Because actually Latin America, women control about 70% of household spending. And so they really control a lot of the wealth and a lot of the commerce that happens. And so we were investigating where that money was going and where they were earning from. And that's what led us to the idea for lent us and where I decided that this was something I was really passionate about. And then I wanted to actually start the company, you were running the company, it is based in Bogota, your market is all Colombia. So let us is made for the entire Latin American market. So the goal is for us to be in every country in Latin America. In the next, let's say 10 years. Currently, we're based in Colombia. Currently, all of our sellers are in Colombia. But we plan to go to Mexico starting early 2020.
Great. So you started the company, and you're essentially running it and going to school full time. Yes. Is that right? That's, that's more or less correct. And is, as I understand it, you're not really doing that remotely, you're going back and forth every week.
So I have a limited class schedule that I've arranged in a way that works for me where most of my classes are one day of the week. So essentially, about every week and a half, two weeks, I'm going to Columbia for somewhere between five and seven days. And then when I am here at Georgetown, I'm working basically full time during the day on the business remotely. I like to say that I'm actually 95% on the business 5% on school in terms of the actual time spend, but I am still a full time student and making it work between those two things.
Is it true that entrepreneurship comes naturally to you
also, to give a little bit of background, I grew up originally in Los Angeles. And during middle school in high school, I had already had this excitement for starting businesses. From a really young age, I started a car wash business. Initially, I had a cinematography business in high school where we had a drone taking videos and pictures of real estate. I worked for a number of startups during high school during the summers. And then and then before coming to Georgetown around the world. So it's always been in my blood and something that I'm incredibly passionate about what was is really exciting about being in Columbia. And when the idea came for this business was seeing this business is really about more than starting a business and making money, which was what a lot of my previous businesses had been about. What we saw here was an opportunity to affect the lives of millions of people. Because in Latin America, you have 11 million women currently sell for direct sales catalogues, where they sell beauty products and fashion products with paper catalogs to friends and family
lemonade. Women are already doing that.
Yeah, so 11 million women are doing that for companies like Avon, Mary Kay, those are ones that people may have heard of, because of the US companies, other ones like jumbo, not to the bell corporate role Latin American companies. But they do that because it's one of the only ways that they can earn extra money for their families is promoting these products.
Many of them are the primary breadwinner in their families.
Yeah, oftentimes, these are single mothers or supporting the family with alongside the husband. But it's really important for them to have that extra piece of income. And they're forced to use this really antiquated model because nobody's modernized the industry in Latin America. And that's what we're hoping to do.
So you were very entrepreneurial. As a kid. This is not the first business you've started. And this is not the first time you've worked overseas. Tell us about some of your overseas work.
Yeah, absolutely. So in high school, I worked for an aerospace company that had a majority shareholder in the Netherlands. And so I ended up in high school working in Amsterdam for a few months, I then worked for doing kind of international expansion work for a startup called Pargo that's located in South Africa that has it operates a network of pickup points for e commerce, logistics, and then obviously went to Columbia. But I think for me, I had had those experiences. And that was part of why I chose to come to Georgetown and specifically to the school Foreign Service, because for me, I was looking for kind of that global perspective,
I was an entrepreneur, have you found support for that in in the school Foreign Service? Yeah. Are you one of a kind? No,
definitely not definitely not one of a kind. I think this fest isn't traditionally known as the hub for entrepreneurship, a lot of these investors.
Yeah, I wouldn't think of it that. Yeah.
It's, obviously people think of the programs that are housed in MSP in business school as being where that is. I think, what I found, though, is that, well, the formal programs might not be as much in the SSD mentality of this global perspective of going out into the world, outside of our Georgetown bubble outside of our DC bubble, making an impact in the world, through policy, through business, through NGOs, whatever it is, is there. And so naturally, there's a lot of other students and a lot of other community members who are focused on building businesses that have an impact in the rest of the world, and in specifically Latin America, as well. We're not must be neat to be part of that
yeah, absolutely. And I think for me, it's been exciting to get to see all these people who have come out of the SF s, who have gotten to talk to you and speak about their experiences, whether they're from Latin America, and are studying here or have worked. There are businesses there and want to hear about my story and want to help me too, to achieve the goals that I'm working on there.
Okay, let's fast forward a little bit to bark tech, you were a winner at martech. You won $15,000. Congratulations. You had an excellent presentation. All right. So tell us a little bit about how you got there and where you're going?
Yeah, so as I mentioned, I started out working as an employee on the business design team at this venture capital fund. I then decided with Thomas, who's my co founder, we were working there together, and we decided together that we were going to start this business. And we did so that was in July of 2018. And at that point, we we left as employees from from polymath started the business and polymath invested in US pre seed funding for us to kind of get things off the ground. And so that had been basically six months before Shark Tank. And that had enabled us to build the first team get out the first version of the product, we actually launched the product and the application for our sellers. We launched it live at the end of September. And so that was a couple basically a couple of months before Park tech.
Yeah. Okay. And then you pitched it bar tank, obviously wasn't your first business pitch competition. How did you feel going into Shark Tank?
Yeah, I mean, I think for me, I had already done a few pitches at Georgetown actually pitched quite a bit externally. It was definitely exciting knowing that that was kind of the big stage at Georgetown for this kind of thing. And to be able to be part of that among a great group of other entrepreneurs around Georgetown, who I hadn't even known about beforehand. And
Yeah, absolutely. And to get to meet all of them and work with them over the course of that preparation was was amazing as well. Yeah. So then you won a prize, significant prize, and has anything in the business happened really, since it was six, eight weeks ago? What's happened? It's definitely been an exciting couple of months. So the time of shark tank. We had January. Yeah, we had only about 1000 sellers and Columbia who were promoting our products and selling them since then we've grown to now 7000 sellers who are on the platform, who are signed up to sell with us. Now how many did you have?
Okay, so you had 1000, and you've grown to 7000.
Sellers? And then we heard is traveling fast? Yeah, absolutely. So we're, we're really trying to push this and grow fast and reach more people. A lot of that's coming through word of mouth, because people are so excited about the product,
the sellers are telling their friends.
Yeah, so it's a mix. I mean, we have a few different acquisition channels. But there's a lot of there's word of mouth about the about the platform. And we were interviewed on national television in Colombia, about the business. And so that gave us some reach. And then also doing online social media based marketing and acquisition
do when you when you when you were interviewed on national television, was that one of
the new stations is it Yeah, new station, who's doing some segments about entrepreneurs and Columbia. And then the new station is kind of I guess, it came to CNN, in terms of being watched by a very large percentage of population, a lot of women who had been watching that and said, Oh, my God, this is something I've been looking for. And this is a great idea, because I can now earn more for my family, I can now do this in a more digital way I can reach people kind of in a new fashion. And so it's been really exciting for us the growth of the sellers. So we've seen that growth, we've seen our revenues have doubled every month since we've launched. So including since the Shark Tank event. We've doubled our revenues every month. And more than all of that I think what's been kind of this I don't know, this moment where I said, this is really something that's working.
Yeah, yeah, that was one of my questions. I was there a moment. Yeah, man, I think we felt like it went from an idea to a real business. Yeah,
I think we've actually seen that happen since spark tech. And I think what we've seen is that there's all of a sudden, all of these women who are actually earning tangibly significantly more than they were before. So we have a number of sellers who we have lunch with sellers, basically, every week, they come into our office, we have we invite them. Yeah, a lot of our top sellers who have earned the most in our platform, we talked to them about their lives and their families. It's amazing. You hear these stories about how before they were selling with these big paper catalogs, going door to door, now they're doing everything from their phone, they're able to reach more people, they're able to do the marketing and sales over social media, and they're able to offer more brands, and they're earning more, right. And that translates into a better life for them a better life for their kids, more opportunities for them. And that's amazing. Be here. And I think hearing those stories and hearing the quantity of those women who are now coming in every week and telling us it just hits you, right. And at some point, you're like this is working. And this is impacting the lives of other people. And that's amazing. So it's no
longer aspirational. Like we want it we want to begin to change women's lives. You've got women coming meeting you guys for lunch, telling you their stories. Yeah, this is what's happening in their lives. Yes,
absolutely. Yeah, it's happening. Right. And and the idea is that, you know, that's still small 7000 isn't
7000 people, well,
worth noting. But you know, the goal, the goal here is that we are reaching millions, a lot of these other direct sale networks, kind of the old school ones like an Avon, the other two or 3 million women across Latin America who are doing this for them. And so that's that's where we want to get to is we want to be able to to impact that quantity of people in that way.
You mentioned Dave on, I want to drill down a little bit on the distinction between aloneness approach, and a company like Avon,
you mentioned that, that with Avon and the other companies like it, the women need to go door to door to sell, they take the orders, then they fill the orders, the beauty products come to them, they go pick them up, and then they hand deliver to each other, to each of their clients, collect payments and collect payments. So I suspect that there's a lot of the clients who may change their mind had more money at the time, then when the products are delivered, they get to return the products. And it's up to them to do all these things. How are you different than that, we like to think about it kind of in three buckets of how we differentiate the experience for sellers and and those three things come together to really make it a vastly better experience for them. So the first has to do with operational complexity. So as you mentioned, it takes a lot of time and work out of your day, especially if you're working two jobs already and have a family to take care of and a husband and kids and all of that. It's a lot of work to have to go out, show people catalogs, place the orders go out and deliver the products collect the money that takes up the majority of your time. And so what you're not doing is you're not actually learning about the products, you're not actually reviewing them and testing them to see you know which products are right for different people. And you're not doing the marketing and sales that are necessary to make more money.
So the sellers aren't able to make recommendations about particular products, they don't have time to research the products, they can,
but it's to a smaller extent with our platform. Basically, how it works is women download our app, the lns app, and there they're able to have access to all the different products we offer, the Send them pictures of those products, videos of those products, links over social media over WhatsApp to the clients, their clients look, those products and their clients actually purchase online, more like an e commerce. And then we as a lender, ship the products directly to the end client and collect the payment. Instead of having to do all those operations, they now can do everything from their phone and from home, or from the university or wherever that we're targeting. A lot of these are younger women who are at university or young moms, they just don't have the time to do all those operations. To have a network. Yeah, they have the networks that they can, they're already using social media, they're already on Facebook, they're already on Instagram all the time. And so now it's a natural way for them to promote those products on there as well. So the first is the operations. The second is about debt, and about the risk. So as you mentioned, the traditional model, oftentimes, they'll buy products upfront and not get paid for that they have to pre purchase the products themselves. Exactly. And so we're taking that away, because ours functions like an e commerce, they never have to buy anything up front, there's no multi level schemes, there's no inventory, someone can sign up with us. And they're able to just start out without having to take those risks. And the final bucket is about brands. Currently, a lot of a lot of the women carry around multiple catalogs, because they're trying to show products from Avon from Dell Corp, because each of these has its own brand. With illness, we're offering a marketplace of products.
So one woman might be working for three different companies, or 10, or 10,
the average is probably more around three, but sometimes they're carrying around 10 different hundred page magazines every month to share to their clients because they want to be able to offer different types of products. Because one magazine is only beauty products, ones, maybe only accessories ones for younger women ones for older women. So what we're offering is on our platform, there's no limit to how many products we can have. So we have all kinds of different new and exciting brands that we're offering on the platform. And so they can share those products with the different clients knowing what those clients want without having to affiliate with different companies without having to do the logistics for all these different companies. I see. Yeah. So those three things come together and make it so that the women are able to focus on what they do best on marketing and sales and are able to earn more ultimately because of that credit differentiation. And
thanks for spelling that out. Absolutely. That's helpful. Since Shark Tank, you have doubled your number of sellers, or your sellers have have grown from 1000 to 7000. Your revenues have done anything else since Shark Tank.
Yeah, absolutely. So I think what's been really amazing to see is obviously the the money we want had an impact and being a part tank was great. I think what was really surprising, and really amazingly surprising, was it after Shark Tank, even in the moments afterwards, when people came up out of the audience. But beyond that, the amount of people who reached out who were interested in what we were doing, and in a number of ways. Some people who were from Columbia and just had family or friends who had previously sold for catalogues or were selling for catalogs are like oh my God, this makes someone right in the audience. Right? Yeah. Some people who were interested in investing men, people wanted to hear more about the idea and see if there was a potential in the future for them to get involved. And some people who had contacts, the different consumer goods companies or beauty companies that they wanted to connect this to, for those up to you. Yeah. And so there really was this amazing. And then a lot of people who just wanted to say Congrats, and who wanted to talk about the business. But I think what was really great to see is how big this community is Georgetown of people who are interested in entrepreneurship.
And surprising, isn't it? Yeah,
yeah, absolutely. And so I really felt that and I really felt that community first time.
Yeah. outside of your own school. Yes. And now you're, you feel like you are now a part of
that. Yeah. And so I've been in contact with a lot of those people since and a lot of the people involved with Georgetown, entrepreneurship that since then, and I think I've gotten to see the power of that community beyond what's just obvious, because I think it's one thing to go on the website and see who's involved. you're experiencing Yeah, there's a huge list of alumni who may not be the typical entrepreneur, but maybe their families involved in a fund in Latin America, and they want to hear more about it. And so I think that's what's been great to see is just the reach of the community and the impact that something like this made on the connections and on the network.
Yeah, so people you didn't you never expected to hear from types of people you never expected to hear from. So it sounds like you've got investors calling you to sit down and meet. Yeah. And between trips to Colombia. I suspect you're making time to do that.
Yeah, absolutely. And actually, in interestingly, the way we ended up on national television in Columbia, was that the US correspondent for that, that Colombian TV company, is a Georgetown master student, and was that the pitch event one of the pitch events and and was essentially introduced us to the people in Columbia. So that even that was a Georgetown connection.
Oh, that's great. That is terrific. As you look back on the short time you've had in business short, but substantial time you've had in business. Is there anything that you wish you knew when you started out that you now know, a glaring truth or a mistake that you you made, knowing that all entrepreneurs make many, many mistakes? Some small, some large? What stands out for you that you can share? Yeah,
yeah, absolutely. No, I think that's I think that's a great question. I think I'm sure I will have many more of those answers as I go through this process, because I think
we might have you back.
The mistakes I've made moving forward, I think what I would say is that it is never too early to start testing a business. What I saw is that I spent a lot of time and me my co founder both spent a lot of time thinking about the business and doing smaller tests and doing investigation and research researching. And that's great. And, and there's a place for that. But we accelerated things 100 times faster than we had been before, basically between August and September. So there's three months, when we when we actually launched our product, we actually had people on the ground selling for you. Yeah, so and what we did in that time was we said, okay, we need to actually build something, we can test all day. But we need to get a real platform built. And so we hired a junior developer, brought somebody on who knew how to code, built a technical product and got it out there. And it was horrible. When we put it out there was it was a launches, products off and on, it was a very bad piece of technology, the minimum viable product and the basic sense of the word. But was enough to get going. And once you have something out there, then you want to make it better. And then you want to improve on it. You want to talk to your users, you have to figure out what's working, what's not working. And so for me, I think what I would say miss my mistake was if you want to call it that was I just took too long, and we took too long to actually put out a product. Yeah. And I think that's an important learning for me is when you have an idea, build the first version, get it out there, and then everything moves much faster from there. So you regret it was not that you that you brought to market an imperfect version? Is that you wish you'd done it sooner? Absolutely. I hear you. That makes sense. What is the best piece of advice, or one of the best pieces of advice you have heard along the way? I think for me, we are definitely very excited about kind of all the opportunities that are coming across in terms of investment. We're raising a seed round right now actually, as a $400,000 seed round. And I think one of the best pieces of advice I've gotten so far was we had a meeting a few months ago with Sam Altman, who is a former partner and so very involved at Y Combinator, which is kind of biggest startup accelerator in the world. And so we had a meeting with Sam, with Sam kind of pushed us on was that whatever your and he talks about this and a lot of videos online, but whatever your metric is that you're pushing for, let's say we want to get from 7000 sellers to $20,000 10, exit, right now, look at that number and add a zero on to the end of it. Really. Yeah. So now we're going to saying we're going to go from 7000 to 20,000. In the next couple months, we're gonna go from 7000 to 200,000. And I think that's advice we've gotten consistently from entrepreneurs. And I think this also ties back into this get started fast. But in the other thing is push to grow fast. Because what happens when you set goals for yourself, that are remarkably unachievable, figure out ways to get there that you wouldn't have thought about before. It's easy to grow slowly, it's easy to make incremental improvements to your product and incremental improvements, your business really sets apart, the businesses that grow fast and are super successful, is the push themselves. And when you push yourself, you make product changes. And you make business strategy decisions that reflect that maybe you don't, maybe you maybe you don't reach the 10 X. But maybe you reach five x and it's a lot better to reach five excellent to reach your original goal. And I think that's what's been really cool to see. And we've seen that everyday with our business and we continue to try to push ourselves in that way.
I hear you on that, that makes me think of more than once I have been in Harare building. And after a pitch event or some other entrepreneurial event, standing there talking with an entrepreneur, a budding entrepreneur, in a group that also includes an investor and the student entrepreneur will ask the investor will say the investor will say, Oh, you know, well, how much you are you looking to get to take your next step? And they'll say something like 20 $500 $5,000. Thinking Out of zero here. They're talking to someone who, who makes major investments on a regular basis. dream big. dream big. Yeah, absolutely. Alright. Finally, if you could ask one question of deadliness. What would that be? to your question?
I think something that I find super interesting is how people respond and how really successful entrepreneurs respond to the question of what they look for in a team. That answer varies wildly across entrepreneurs, when you hear a Mark Zuckerberg answer it versus the SAM altman answer it, versus a Michael Siebel versus whoever, sometimes people say they want somebody who's super industry experienced, right? who really knows the ins and outs of that experience, that industry, sometimes they want a founder who has lived the problem, right? Sometimes people want just great problem solvers. And I think that differs across and I think what's really interesting about Ted, and why would it would present that question is, I'm sure Ted gets a million decks a million proposals for businesses across his deck. Yes, every day. He's run a number of successful businesses. He's seen every entrepreneur and I think I would love to hear his answer on that. Because I think it says a lot about what you value in entrepreneurship. Right? What is it what what part of it Do you believe personally causes you to succeed? reflecting on your own experiences? And I think I've gotten to hear him talk at the bark tank event, about how he started out in entrepreneurship about mowing the lawn and ending up at Georgetown and kind of selling ice cream here in Georgia. Exactly. And I think I think I would love to hear from him what that special sauces for entrepreneurs that she wants to invest in for people that she wants to work with in his in his work and in his investments. Very good question.
It has been really good to talk with you. No, thank you. This has been awesome. I've enjoyed this so much. And I think our listeners will as well. Thanks for coming in. Yeah, absolutely. And we'll keep tracking with you. Great.
Venture forward is a production of the Georgetown entrepreneurship initiative at the McDonough School of Business. Our production team includes Jacki Abbey, Christy pills, and Ben Zimmerman. Thanks for listening. Until next time,