Monday, January 16, 2012

21212 - Building Companies in Paradise

It should not surprise us that the French, Greeks and Italians riotously defend their 35 hour work weeks and 40 days of annual, paid vacation.  Professional motivation can be hard to muster when surrounded by endlessly idyllic landscapes and perfect climates. Similarly, cariocas, as residents of Rio de Janeiro are called, could be excused for shirking the office.  Instead, I found entrepreneurs hard at work creating new technology leaders.

How motivated would you be?

I paid a visit to the offices of 21212, an incubator working to link New York and Rio that I have written about before. A logo’d floormat greeted me as I stepped onto their office’s 1950’s hexagon floor tiles – newly painted white, like everything in the open room. 21212 was founded by American Ben White and Brazilian Marcelo Sales this year to help entrepreneurs build great ideas into big businesses. They recently selected their first class; an article in The Next Web covered the announcement.

Ben told me they liked the model that General Assembly, a reasonably famous tech hub in NYC, has used and were seeking to recreate parts of the experience. Sharing its design with other incubators, the room’s wide tables supported team clusters while the shared marketing, design and technical specialists flitted from table to table. The whiteboard walls were filled with lists like “The 6 Parts of a Pitch” “Pitching in 30 seconds or 8 minutes”. A heavy focus of the program is how to effectively talk to investors so Marcelo suggested that the entrepreneurs “practice” pitch me. Below is a summary of the ‘oportunidades’ in these young, promising businesses.


Reselling is big business in Brazil. Companies like Avon and Natura sell $R 26billion of product every year there. Simpply aims to help these micro-entrepreneurs to work less and earn more. Because many resellers work with multiple companies (e.g. Natura and Avon), its platform allows resellers to combine and manage their customer accounts, inventory and social media outreach. It makes money through a freemium subscription model. They are currently testing the product with 30 customers and expect to launch in January.


Micro entrepreneurs drive a big portion of any developing economy. Helpin is focused on creating demand for small service providers like plumbers and painters. It resembles the recently-IPO’d Angie’s List with its reviews and local-focused search. However, they provide the service for free to the searching public. The founders’ goal is to make money through highlighted service providers and by offering bidding and payment services directly through the site. In that model, the customer submits a project and then local service providers can offer bids for the project. They are planning to launch in January.


In the US, groceries have been one of the most difficult large markets to move online. Webvan spectacularly failed in 2001 and Fresh Direct’s challenges in NYC are daunting. Igluu aims to simplify the online grocery experience. The current version of their site allows a customer to shop for items and assemble a shopping basket. The site then compares the prices at several online grocery chains and tells them where they could purchase the complete basket the cheapest. This technology recently won them an RBS Innovation award. Their latest project (and biggest potential revenue driver) is to work with famous chefs to create complete meals for each night of the week. The customer selects the meal and the ingredients are automatically added to the cart. The groceries arrive once a week with all of the fresh ingredients for that week’s meals.  Check out the Austin-based Food on the Table doing something similar.


75% of online customers abandon their shopping cart. Bloompa can dramatically improve purchase conversion and drive significant new traffic. It works by surprising the customer at the shopping cart with a price discount (of, say, 5%) if they “Like” the product on Facebook or send a Tweet. Customers are more likely to complete the purchase and, so far, the company is finding that each new “Like” drives 6 new visits. Bloompa’s application allows sites to test different messages and helps them to measure the effectiveness of different discount levels, among other things. They make money by charging each time someone shares the product on social media.


Square is a billion dollar company – VitalCred aims to be its equivalent in Brazil. The company is mobile payments processor that currently allows small businesses to take credit cards online and with an automated phone system. Their existing 5000 clients use their cell phones and computers to collect payments (i.e. no swipe machine). What is most exciting about the company is that it is rolling out a smartphone swipe device in January that works similarly to Square. With cell phone penetration at 110% of the population, there is the potential for this to be a huge market.

Soccer players are Brazil’s most entertaining export. Craques aims to improve the process of discovering and recruiting them. The site, which is linked to Facebook, allows players to showcase their statistics, videos and awards. Through a freemium model, managers can search the database and identify potential talent. This can be big business – check out the success beRecruited


Uber is on a tear (see their geographic expansion and fundraising). ResolveAi is bringing similar technology to Brazil. The company is currently focused on Rio (with advanced talks ongoing in Sao Paulo) and has 5,000 taxis in its fleet (about 15% of the market). Unlike Uber, ResolveAi works with both regular, yellow taxis and luxury, black cars. A customer orders a cab online and through a GPS system the site directs the nearest free cab to their location (which you can monitor on a map). The site makes R$1 from each ride and the customer pays as they normally would in the cab.

If you have more interest in these companies the 21212 Demo Day is coming up on March 16th in Rio de Janeiro.  Endeavor is partnering with them on the event and they are expecting a broad group of international and Brazilian investors. There will be several presentations designed to give a background on the tech landscape in Brazil -- including from Julio Vasconcellos, co-founder of Peixe Urbano.
21212 is currently recruiting their 2nd class. Check out the application here if you have more interest. Big thanks to Marcelo and Ben for the tour.

P.S.  Want to win an iPad or iPhone?  Check out the pre-launch site of and the Twitter account


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