On August 3, Mariano Mayer participated in a new episode of the podcast «Elige tu Propia Aventura» (Choose Your Own Adventure) and took a tour around his career, from his beginnings as a lawyer in the entrepreneurial world, reviewing his time as a public official in the government of the City of Buenos Aires and the Nation, and his present as General Partner and Co-Founder of Newtopia VC.
The 61st episode of the podcast Choose Your Own Adventure, hosted by Gabriel Gruber and Patricio Molina, Co-Founder & CEO and Chief Operating Officer at Exactly Finance, featured Mariano Mayer, General Partner and Co-Founder of Newtopia VC, who elaborated on his great career in the entrepreneurial world and the various stages that marked his career. Here you can relive the whole podcast episode.
For more than an hour and a half, Gabriel and Patricio inquired about Mariano’s first steps as a lawyer, counseling entrepreneurs for 15 years. They also addressed the challenge that assuming office as a civil servant represented for his professional and personal life, and the public policies adopted both in his role as General Director of Entrepreneurs of Buenos Aires, and as Secretary of Entrepreneurs and of the Small and Medium Enterprises in the National Ministry of Production.
Finally, Mariano elaborated on the creation and development of Newtopia VC in the midst of a pandemic, the current situation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Latin America, and the way each project that applies to Newtopia is approached.
– Who is Mariano Mayer?
I am from a large family, the eldest of eleven brothers and father of four girls. I wanted to be a journalist, but I studied law. In college I did a lot of social work, I was not attracted to dedicating myself to corporate law. I thought about changing to the career of Social Worker until a friend and I began to see that there were many colleagues undertaking ventures and I was excited to participate in the entrepreneurial movement as a lawyer. And so we started advising entrepreneurs in a borrowed office. I was 22 years old.
After a while, they invited us to join a law firm and set up a Department of Legal Counsel for Startups, that’s how I started, at the firm Uriburu & Bosh. We put together a nice team and gave a couple of free talks around the country, helping startups with their first legal steps. And 15 years went by.
– What did you learn as a lawyer when you saw the success and failure of entrepreneurs?
We got tired of seeing a bunch of startups fail because they didn’t have the awkward conversations between partners at the right time.
It is necessary to discuss and get ahead, establish what each one is going to pitch in, how much does that weigh, what happens if something does not happen, and how the pieces are put back together. Not having that discussion at the right time is fatal.
– After those 15 years seeing a few thousand projects, didn’t it occur to you to venture?
Yes, many times, but the truth is that it is hard when you are a service provider, which is a very important part of the ecosystem, because it is key that there are good accountants, good lawyers, good human resources providers, they all are a fundamental piece. Besides, I really like helping entrepreneurs, I feel very comfortable doing that, I love it, I always enjoyed it a lot.
– How was the leap into politics?
It had never even occurred to me to get into politics, but in 2013 they offered it to me. They were on a search for the City of Buenos Aires, they caught me a little sensitive for different reasons or with my guard down, I ended up accepting and after 4 days I was going to Israel to learn everything they had done.
I felt that I was someone from the ecosystem who was given the possibility from within to try to promote things that we had always talked about from the outside.
– Why was the model to follow the Israeli model? What were they able to take and implement from that model at that time in the city?
Israel chose at one point in its history to bet on entrepreneurs. They were in a terrible economic moment, I think with 400% annual inflation, a very basic economy, a very small country and at war. They had different drivers, at that time, they received almost a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of them scientists, which gave them important human capital. And they decided to bet on entrepreneurs and on technological innovation as economic development and, above all, as a way to make up time in a world in which they had fallen far behind.
They created support programs for tech entrepreneurs, but fundamentally, it was a public policy, the state wisely intervening to leverage the private sector. They put together a program of technological incubators, 24 private sector companies were chosen that were going to be selecting projects and supporting them, investing part of the capital and the state would put down the rest. It was an example of super successful public policy and all the countries tried to do something similar.
In the City of Buenos Aires, at that time we tried to undertake the technology incubator program, we did two pilots, seeking to call interested parties from the private sector, who wanted to invest in startups, and help them by putting a part of the capital, but trusting them to support the entrepreneurs.
– When I hear you talk about replicating models, I feel that I don’t know if it is of much use and that simpler actions could be applied there, such as simplifying processes, what do you think?
It was the first thing I asked myself: does the state have something to do here or is it not going to add up? From there we analyzed the best known models in the world and we realized that yes.
There is a book called «Boulevard Of Broken Dreams» by Josh Lerner, an American professor who analyzes the main public policies that attempted to have an impact in the world, those that failed and those that were successful, and why. He believes that the state can help to a certain extent when it does not occupy a core role and seeks to leverage the private sector and above all trying to level opportunities.
In Argentina, in terms of VC, there was an opportunity. The country had fallen to the last rankings in the region and it was noticed that beyond the direct financing that the state could provide, there were interested parties in the private sector to invest, but they lacked a boost. And that is what Israel did and I think we could take it as inspiration and adapt some ideas to the reality of some ecosystems. At all times we interact with the private sector to be able to co-create.
– What did you feel when you went from the Government of the City to the National Government?
Working for the city seemed enormous to me, but when I went national I realized how great Argentina is. It was fascinating when we took over because we saw everything that could be done that we had not been able to do in the city. We saw how we could help those who were doing things in the provinces and municipalities, in the public sector, and in the private sector, to empower and leave installed capacity. We had to seek that these be state policies that last and endure.
– What did you feel the day you left the Ministry?
It was very emotional, in those 4 years it was fascinating to be able to get to know Argentina in depth, all the work that was done with unicorns, large tech companies, entrepreneurs, with provincial and municipal governments, and the beautiful team that we had put together in the secretary where there was a vocation for great service.
It was fulfilling for a lot of things that were done: the entrepreneurs law, the SAS, the SMEs law, the knowledge economy law and thousands of other things. And at the same time, a frustration for many that were not done, but with the peace of mind of having given it our all.
– What is your VC stage like?
When I finished at the Secretariat, I thought I was going to have a hard time finding something to do that had so much purpose, impact and adrenaline. I didn’t know if I was going to find something like that. We began to do some consultancies with Marea Venture Partners, on open innovation and corporate ventures, while the fund was being developed. I really wanted to, because it was about continuing supporting entrepreneurs from another place, with something that attracted me a lot, which was funding.
And thinking about it during the pandemic, it called us into duty, we saw an opportunity because the digital transformation accelerated. And from those talks, the paths of some friends who were all part of the same came together and we were convinced to put together something that would have an impact and we could collaborate in Latin America, that’s how Newtopia strarted.
– What does Newtopia mean?
It has to do with a new life that we imagine is possible for Latin America. In all the years and forums in which I was involved, we always discussed the possibilities that the region had and how entrepreneurs could change Latin America, but it was more a wish than a real possibility.
The difference at this moment is that today it is something achievable and possible, combining talent and technology to solve all the enormous problems that the region has. Especially since the pandemic ended up breaking many prejudices and fears that existed in the entrepreneurial world about whether or not it was possible to transform and digitize sectors.
Now, entrepreneurs have come out in a tide seeking to transform and solve huge and urgent problems, which today are seen as great opportunities. In this scenario we thought of supporting those who were just starting the entrepreneurial path. It is a fund of 50 million dollars, the idea is to invest in 100 projects and then continue.
– What are the main aspects you identify in a business venture?
We as VC invest, above all, in a specific type of project, with the possibility of growing and scaling a lot and they have to be solving a big problem, it is a first filter that we have.
Then there is the filter around the team, we look for a healthy balance in the team in technical capacities, they have to know very well what they do, the specific project. But the storytelling capacity of the team to raise money and attract talent is also very important.
– How do you imagine the result of those 100 companies that you have invested in?
We want everyone to do well, so we support them. We are in very early stages and after that they have a long way to go, but we try to give them a lot of material. We have 10 intensive weeks, one week face-to-face and the rest remote. In that first week we take all the founders to a place in Latin America to give them a lot of knowledge, but also to encourage them to interact, make friends, build trust and have inspiring talks. And after that week, the rest of the remote work flows that have many more talks, one-on-one mentoring and once those 10 weeks are over and they graduate, we continue with activities where we invite them.
For us, it is key to give the entrepreneurs in whom we invest that support ring with other entrepreneurs who will be able to assist them.
– How does someone apply to Newtopia?
So.. are you an entrepreneur and you want to get in touch with us to analyze what you are building? That’s great! We really appreciate that interest. If after reading our Manifest, you consider that you check all of the boxes, do not hesitate applying to Newtopia!
– In what stages does Newtopia invest?
The ideal for us are the Pre-seed projects, we invest 100 or 150 thousand dollars and that is what we first look for. In some cases, we have invested between 300 and 500 thousand dollars in projects that are in the Seed stage, and if the project continues to advance and raises a series A, we can invest up to one million dollars.
– How many projects did you receive and how many did you invest in?
We received 1000 projects more or less, and we invested in 52 projects in a year in 10 countries in Latin America. It was an amazing year.
– What 3 things should an entrepreneur never do when applying to Newtopia?
We don’t really like it when it’s hard to talk about the project or the team. When the person talks a lot and focuses a lot on himself/herself, it will be difficult for him/her to build a team and lead, add better people. And that is immediately noticeable.
Another thing, start telling the solution to the problem when it is still not clear what the problem is. You have to dedicate the necessary time to be clear about the urgent and big problem that you are trying to solve.
And finally, we like that they show a long-term vision, the VCs bet on someone who is looking to solve something big.
– What do Newtopia investors expect in 10 years?
We want to be the best investment fund in Latin America and we believe that this goes hand in hand with being the fund that adds the most value and helps startups in their early stages.
– If you had to give a suggestion today to the Mariano from 10 years ago, what suggestion would you give him?
10 years ago, it was just before I joined public duties and I would tell him that it is worth joining and helping.
Finally, Mariano recommended entrepreneurs to analyze the article «How FJ Labs Evaluates Startups» where the main issues that a fund takes into account when investing in a project are explained in depth, and he anticipated that Newtopia is working on developing and writing its own.
Throughout the interview, Mariano managed to go through the fundamental stages of his professional life within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, emphasizing the challenges he had to face in each of the different roles, always seeking to support, advise, empower and encourage, from different places, for the growth of entrepreneurs.
Finally, he explained in depth how Newtopia works and how to work with each project in particular, highlighting the importance of the problem that it seeks to solve and the team of co-founders. In addition, he highlighted the importance of forming a nucleus or community of entrepreneurs that can support each other and highlighted the importance of partners having uncomfortable conversations in the early stages of the project, this being one of the main flaws that usually occurs in teams.
Remember that to contact us, you just have to send your request at https://newtopia.VC.