Nearshore Americas

Why are Expats Coming to Argentina to Launch Startups?

For all the political and economic uncertainty in Argentina, the local talent, low costs and advantageous time zone ensure that it remains a prosperous base for expat-led startups. Meet Uplifted and Revolution Productions, two such businesses that have minimized the risks and embraced the opportunities of Buenos Aires.

“Uplifted is a full life-cycle startup agency. We do basically everything that’s involved in startups and early-stage companies, meaning design, development, strategy, marketing and SEO,” explained Withers Davis, Director of the company.

Davis, originally from the U.S., moved to Argentina in late 2008. With a nearly decade-long career trajectory in software development with entities like Accenture and Harris Corporation, he started work on what would eventually become Uplifted at the start of 2009. The project began as a website building service for clients in the U.S. and has since transformed into the full-fledged startup creation service it is today.

Uplifted accompanies its clients throughout the startup process, from app development and web design to strategy and marketing. And while many entrepreneurs and businesses are focused on the former, a significant part of Uplifted’s handiwork comes in with the latter.

“I realized a few years ago that we had a lot of clients that would build a business or application of some sort, that would have a good idea, and expect it to go viral because their idea was so awesome. And then nothing would happen,” Davis remarked. “That’s because a lot of work that happens in the startup lifecycle comes after that.” Hence the second half of the Uplifted offer – marketing, SEO, PR, and social media strategy to help foster customer engagement, get initial users and develop traction.

An Uplifting Vocation

Also part of the agency’s work is ensuring its clients fully comprehend the time and commitment needed to build a startup. “You have to have the physical, mental and financial resources,” Davis affirmed. “It’s really hard to build an application for $10,000 and expect it to be awesome.”

Another necessary resource: time. And according to Davis, entrepreneurs need to have two to three years of it in order to experience some measure of success. “If you have a good idea, that’s just one part of it. Execution and ongoing maintenance are huge,” he said.

What sorts of clients is Uplifted helping through the startup cycle? Most of them are based in the States, though a few others are located elsewhere.

The agency has most recently seen an increase in business from the education realm. With Baltimore-based Curiosityville, it has helped to build an education platform with both online and offline activities for kids.  And for a cooking school out of D.C., it has created a custom class registration application. Other industries it works in include hospitality and real estate (Oasis Collections) and groceries (Avicar).

In terms of size, Uplifted works with well-established companies as well as pure startups in helping them get their ideas off the ground. Its approach to different projects is largely the same across the board. “You can apply the entrepreneurial mindset and startup concepts and theories to any business, regardless of its size,” Davis explained. “Big businesses often miss out on the opportunity to be entrepreneurial,” he added.

As Uplifted has taken off and risen up the ranks among international clients, its core has remained in Argentina, where it began, though it now does have some employees in the States.

“You have to have the physical, mental and financial resources,” says Withers Davis.

The time zone is one of the major factors keeping Uplifted put and, in Davis’ eyes, one of the main advantages of working out of Buenos Aires. “Being an hour from the East Coast time zone provides a lot of value,” he stated.

Argentina’s talent base of programmers, developers and designers is also a draw. What’s more, paying that talent is more budget-friendly. And because Uplifted’s base of clients outside the U.S. allows it to compensate employees better, it’s a win-win situation for all. Davis also emphasized the state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Argentina: “There are a lot of people doing a lot of different things, and it’s exciting to be here.”

Doing business in Argentina does, of course, have its drawbacks, such as legal rigmarole and hard-to-get hardware. A major and perhaps unsurprising obstacle for those familiar with the country is uncertainty. Davis commented, “You never really know what’s going to happen politically or economically.” But because most of Uplifted’s business comes from outside of the country, it is largely isolated from this.

Revolutionizing Video Content

Our second case study is Revolution Productions, run by U.K. native Anish Patel, who, like Davis, arrived in Buenos Aires in search of a change from the corporate pace. His business: video.

Patel is at the helm of Revolution Productions, a producer of animated explainer videos that turn complicated concepts into simple stories. “It’s a very effective tool that’s being used by companies, and it’s a much more visual way for people to understand something, rather than having reams of text to explain something or a brochure,” Patel remarked. “It’s more about educating people.”

Revolution works with clients from locations like the U.S., U.K., Australia, Portugal, Canada and Brazil to create explanatory videos to communicate products, services and ideas. Most of its customers are in technology and software, though industries like medicine, manufacturing and fashion are in the mix as well.

While many of Revolution’s clients come in with an idea of what they want to do, others don’t, meaning that it is up to the agency to come up with a concept. “First you have to understand your objective, what you want to get from the video, whether that’s increasing conversions, higher sales, brand awareness, etc., you have to understand what you want to achieve with the video and ask the right questions,” explained Patel. And clients also have to have the timeframe in mind: 60 to 90 seconds.

It is worth noting that Revolution does not provide post-production services. However, the team does advise its clients to a certain extent, pointing them in the right direction in terms of distribution and marketing.

Like Uplifted, Revolution Productions is doing quite well for itself. And while it, too, has done some hiring abroad, the base of its operations remains in Buenos Aires. Why? “The talent is just better,” Patel declared. “In our industry, in terms of design and creativity, I really just think the designers here are second to none. And I think that’s something you can’t get in other countries, even if you pay more.”

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And because the vast majority of Revolution’s work takes place in the digital world, it remains relatively unscathed by the political and economic issues to which Argentina’s real world is prone. “It works better than if you have a business on the street. The restaurants, hotels, bars, those are the types of businesses that are going to suffer more,” Patel remarked.

Another obstacle Revolution gets around quite easily is the potential discomfort of clients in the U.S. and Europe with doing business in LatAm. Patel is British, and he has both America and German staff. “I would say that the main barrier [to doing business in here] is that people know we’re in Argentina, but since we’re a U.K. company, that sort of goes around it,” he explained.

Hiring talent, despite its quality, hasn’t always been easy. In that arena, Patel was clear that recommendations, in his experience, have been the best way to go. Other than that, he also mentioned channels like Craigslist (which in Argentina tends to be expat-heavy in terms of candidates) and other local platforms. What matters in such cases is screening.

“Give them some tests to make sure you can work well with them,” he advised, adding, “There’s never any guarantee that it’s going to work out, it can end up in disaster, as it has for us a few times.”

Obstacles aside, Revolution Productions has slowly but surely climbed its way up and established itself as a strong player on the map. Beyond its client-capturing efforts via referrals and online marketing, the company also has a small sales team that targets Fortune 500 companies. Its clients include big names like Home Depot and the New York Stock Exchange as well as smaller entities and up-and-comers like SendGrid.


Emily Stewart

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