João, why Mexico? What opportunities have encouraged you to go abroad?
It was an ambition for me to go abroad. Finding other cultures, impacting more people, and knowing different ways to live and work are factors that I consider fundamental for personal and professional learning. I started my Bachelor’s at the beginning of the international crisis and left Portugal when it affected our economy and local opportunities the most.
Mexico came about when I was living in London and wanted to leave Europe to work at an innovative and entrepreneurial company. Mexico City (CDMX) came by chance, but the potential is huge. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world, the Mexican market is in the top 15 worldwide, people are incredible there, and it is also in the top 10 worldwide as the country with more UNESCO world heritage sites (fun fact so you can visit. Not everything is about Cancun!). On the other hand, nowadays, the venture capital market is much more active in Latin America, and that is also something that attracts talent. I came just for a few months, but I have been living here for five years.
Did you always feel fascinated by the startup and entrepreneurship world, or was Rocket Internet the opportunity that led you that way?
Back in the day, startups were something you didn’t consider sexy, and no one ventured into it. Everything around us was about consulting or multinational companies. My goal was always to have a positive impact on society, not necessarily with a project of my own, but that was always the dream. When I graduated, I went to São Tomé and Príncipe with MOVE. We were developing an organization in a different country, and the final goal was to help people be more entrepreneurial, have more access, and create more sustainable projects. As for Rocket, it all happened later than that. And it did open that entrepreneurial world for me, so I learned how it worked and met the people in it, and it allowed me to think it is possible to create something from scratch.
When you met Renato Picard, did you already think about creating a startup, or was it something that you only thought of doing when you met someone who shared the same market insight and saw the same window of opportunity in mobility?
When I met Renato, I already wanted to start a project but not necessarily in Mexico. With Renato, the most important thing was that we shared values and the same vision of what we wanted for this business and also the goal of having more sustainable cities. Nowadays we are kind of like family, but that is a result of these three years. Mobility was always something I was drawn to because it is a huge problem that affects millions of people security and productivity-wise. It also has a substantial environmental impact. In Portugal, as much as we complain of public transportation (and that is good because we can always have something better and more accessible), there is no comparison with transportation in Latin, African, or Asian cities.
Why this area? With what resources did you start (I know you had five vans initially)?
Mobility in CDMX is a pressing and urgent issue, and the industry needs innovation. There are more than 35 million daily rides at CDMX, and on average, people spend two and a half days commuting to and from work. More urgent than the productivity issues, the lack of conditions, and the poorly constructed network that forces more than half of the passengers to need more than three different means of transportation to reach their destination, is safety. A clear example of that is that three out of four people have suffered some form of sexual assault in public transport. These are urgent matters, but they are not the only ones CDMX has, which means that people with fewer resources have to submit to these conditions. Those that can, end up buying a car because there are no safe and accessible. That’s why we created Urbvan! We started with a Venture Builder that allowed us to make our first investment in purchasing five vans and some technological solutions. That was enough to demonstrate a market fit and start having real numbers to show investors. Since then, it’s been a long way, and now we have 300 vans.
And now nine million in funding. How do you feel, and what is the evolution you have planned? Expand outside Mexico?
Yes, we managed to secure a good round of investment that will help us to grow. Our growth has been excellent, and I feel good about the team we created and the impact we have on our users. The goal for 2020 is to grow in a very accelerated way to be able to transport more people, optimizing the vehicles we have on our platform and continuing that way. This business’s idea is to be an international business, and for that, we want to expand and reach Latin America’s main cities. But for now, these are just plans.
João is a Nova SBE alumnus (something that makes us even more proud) having started his Bachelor’s in Economics in 2008. How fundamental was that journey for your professional career?
I entered FEUNL (Economics Faculty of NOVA University Lisbon) and left Nova SBE ((Nova School of Business & Economics). This name change demonstrates well what Nova SBE ambitioned for its students. I would say it was fundamental in giving me the foundations I needed so I could work in any industry, country, or area. Besides, Nova SBE was (and it still is) full of interesting people with great potential who always help you step up your game. And I am very proud to be a Nova SBE alumnus.
Which skills have you acquired in your Bachelor’s, and later in your Master’s, that you think are indispensable?
Being in a dynamic, very demanding business school with an international environment that wants its students to bring innovation to the market was definitely something important. Nova SBE gave me the tools to be an ambitious, methodical, responsible, rational professional who is not afraid of a good challenge. From my perspective, Nova SBE is better than it was eight years ago. It is less traditional, more international, and encourages students to find innovative and ambitious projects.
What memories from your time as a Nova SBE student do you hold dear?
I have so many good memories of Campolide. From Calculus classes at 8.00 am, drinking beer and playing cards in the bar to the study sessions in the library, and the endless study nights during exam season when we spent more time playing around and talking than actually studying. The Erasmus period was also a great experience. Even though everyone was in a different city, it felt like it brought us closer. Overall, what you learn and the friendships you make are the things that live on.
What advice can you give to our current students?
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. This is not necessarily related to your performance in your Bachelor’s, but there are certain elements that you must have. Being a good leader, an honest person who values others, a team player, have a lot of ambition and creativity, persist in the face of adversity, and care for a good challenge are definitely factors that help. If you have that entrepreneurial bug, my advice is don’t start something just for the sake of it. If you don’t see a good opportunity with a real problem, then learn first from others, whether already established companies or with startups, and start while you are at university. It is fundamental to have an idea that you love and that you believe in because the sacrifices you will make at the end of the day will be because of it and it will be your best years. On the other hand, choose rightly the person who you want to start out with, share values and insight but also your different skills and background. Lastly, Portugal is our special little corner, but there is a whole world where we can have an impact, so don’t be afraid to search for other opportunities. If someone decides to come to Latin America then reach out ;)