Chatting with Gustavo Caetano
We spoke with Brazilian entrepreneur Gustavo Caetano, founder and current CEO of Samba Tech, about his vision for Samba and the Brazilian startup scene. This interview has been translated from Portuguese and edited for clarity.
By: Claudia Repsold & Lianna Patch
Brazil & U.S Biz: In what ways do you support Brazilian entrepreneurs?
Gustavo Caetano: From the very beginning of my career, I’ve been invited to be a panelist at universities and startup events to talk about my experience starting my own company. I used that opportunity to tell people the reality of the trade — the backstage of a tech company with its up and downs. Back then, we did not have any kind of organization to help the young tech entrepreneurs who wanted to open a startup, so we founded the Brazilian Startup Association [ABS]. It’s been a few years now, and the association is doing great in helping connect new entrepreneurs with investors, and is providing startups with the supports they lacked before.
Brazil & U.S Biz: What’s the best part of running Samba Tech/Samba Group?
Caetano: It’s connecting to other people all the time. This hub of ideas is a very fulfilling process that keeps challenging you to improve. We work in connection with each other and other collaborative companies, making the whole operation more productive. Everybody pitches in to create a product that will address our clients’ needs, and it’s an open source of ideas to always do better.
Brazil & U.S Biz: What are you saying — that the old expression, “Secrecy is the soul of business,” can no longer be applied to the new tech business and collaborative economy?
Caetano: No, it cannot. The world has changed. Now, we really need to collaborate with each other to succeed; everybody adds up and is a part of the whole. We need to innovate and collaborate in order to survive in business.
Brazil & U.S Biz: What is your advice for new startups?
Caetano: First and foremost, keep your focus. It’s very easy to have an idea. We all have one. Having an idea is the easy part; making it happen is the hard one. To transform an idea into a profitable business is an everyday, sweat-and-tears kind of job that does not happen overnight. It takes time, hard work, and a lot of focus. The ones who succeed are not the ones with more creative ideas, but the ones who are able to execute a business plan.
Brazil & U.S Biz: What are the dos and don’ts for business?
Caetano: First, the dos: As a small entrepreneur, you should find a niche problem to solve. Do not try to solve a well-known problem that big corporations are already working on. It would be impossible to compete with them. Nevertheless, you should find some niche problem and stimulate your company to create a solution for it and keep focus on it.
The don’ts: Never forget your roots; always remember where you are coming from, and the core of your company’s existence. Do not try to be what you are not. Avoid at any cost what I call “small power syndrome,” which is acting as if you are a big corporation when, in reality, you are a startup. Being a startup gives you the unique advantage of speeding up your operation and changing as fast as the market demands.
Brazil & U.S Biz: How important to Samba Tech was FIR Capital investment? (Not just with regard to the financial aspect.)
Caetano: Closing the deal with FIR took Samba Tech to another level as a company. FIR is a well-known capital firm, and being acquired by them gave us credibility and visibility in the larger market. It also helped to organize our internal operations, since Samba Tech is required to follow FIR standards and guidelines. I’m no longer an owner of a startup business. Now, I’m a CEO who has to answer for [the company’s] actions to a board of directors from FIR. It is much more responsibility.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: How has the MIT G-Lab improved Samba Tech operations?
Caetano: We have been with MIT G-Lab since the beginning of the project. It meant a lot to Samba Tech, because G-Lab presented us [with] new ideas, angles, and technologies that were unknown to us. It helped us to keep our company connected with the trends that are not even available in Brazil’s market.
Brazil & U.S Biz: What was the tipping point for Samba Tech?
Caetano: The tipping point was when we realized that not only media companies would need a video platform. Nowadays, any company that wants to communicate better with its own employees and clients can use our service. Universities, colleges, and schools are using our service to deliver their content and classes. The online courses will grow exponentially in the next few years.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Caetano: We will focus on continuing to improve our video platform to better serve educational institutions.
Brazil & U.S. Biz: What is your personal motto?
Caetano: I have a Rocky Balboa motto that I heard when I was a kid, watching “Rocky,” and it’s still glued to my mind: “It’s not about how hard you are hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit; how much you can take it and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”