Dubai, Amman, Nairobi

As soon as I am alone at SFO, I morph into Travel Andrea mode. This mode is a quieter version of myself: pensive, ultra-focused, even a little aloof. I love traveling by myself, because it’s usually the time I process what's going on with me. 

 I have always wanted to spend time in the Middle East. Most Americans aren't exposed to Arab culture growing up; so, even just sitting at the Emirates gates waiting to board the 16-hour flight to Dubai - I am filled with questions. As I'm surrounded by white thaubs, a variety of Arab headwear, and a huge spectrum of other styles of dress, I begin Googling which traditional customs are local to which Gulf countries. This was just the beginning. From Dubai, to Amman, to Nairobi, I met so many hospitable, kind, interesting people and learned so much. 


Dubai

Just about everything people told me about Dubai was accurate: opulent, over-the-top, the “Las Vegas of the Gulf.” The Grosvenor Hotel in Dubai is the most luxurious place I have ever stayed. Someone knocked on my door every night to deliver me three chocolates. I sent my mom pictures of my hotel bathroom. Luxury isn't my thing, but damn. The entire city smells of Bulgari. I was in town for ArabNet, one of the tech conferences in the region, to talk about fundraising and pitching. 

 

ArabNet was a great experience. The audience was engaged and asked good questions. My time in Dubai was short, but it was worth it, even just for the excellent Indian food. 

*Special thank you to Zafer, Neil, and ArabNet team for having me and showing me around Dubai. 


Amman

I was so charmed by Jordan.

My first day was spent meeting entrepreneurs in a space called ZINC. Jordan has a very interesting startup community, and I met founders building social apps, edtech companies, and even a man trying to go up against Box, DropBox, and Google with his online storage software. 

Ziad, a Tunisian man I first met in Turkey, was working in Amman and happened to be at ZINC for the Mix N' Mentor event for his company, Snackable News. He took special care of me and showed me around, even introduced me to his kids and family. He taught me about Tunisian and Jordanian culture, and we had many great conversations, including the very important topic of sweets. Jordanian baklava is AMAZING, not too sweet, and plentiful: 

Thanks to my friend Zafer and Hashem, I got to spend a day visiting the Dead Sea. I floated in the thick, silky waters, covered myself with the clay mud, and enjoyed some time to rejuvenate, relax, and take a moment for myself.  

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After my day at the Dead Sea, I gave a workshop at ZINC with a very small group of entrepreneurs.  

At this session, I met an online subscription marketplace startup for medical suppliers and distributors called Aumet.me. My new friends at this startup took me to eat traditional Palestinian food, which was amazing. Then I went out with friends from 500 Startups, Hussam, Dina, and a new friend Majd. 

*Special thanks to Zafer, Rasha, Ziad, Yahya, Dina, Hussam, & Majd.


Nairobi - in 48 hours

Hour 1: Sunday night 

  • Arrive at Nairobi airport late at night, pay $50 for a single entry visa to Kenya, walk outside and struggle to find driver with a series of back and forth phone calls while police with guns kindly, politely shepherd your group of travelers off the curbs outside.
  • Find driver! Try to enter from driver’s side because you forget Kenya’s British ways.
  • Arrive at gracious friend and host, Aaron’s house, who has offered you a spare bedroom in his very trendy flat (and his friendly private driver Sam). Pass out. 

Hour 8: Monday

  • Meet Sam again from last night and befriend him. Ask him about his life, how he’s the only boy in his family with 6 sisters, how he became a driver, what he did before (ran a clothing shop with his family which his youngest sister now runs), what he cooks at home, his mother tongue, what each tribe is like, which Bantu languages he can understand, if he speaks his wife’s mother tongue, what language they plan to teach their young daughter. 
  • Go to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage. Learn everything you wanted to know about elephants.
  • Meet some giraffes. 
  • Meet a few startups, then give a pitch workshop at Metta, Nest.VC's global entrepreneurship community to this fun group. 
  • Drinks at “Cuban” place with beers and a hilariously multicultural menu (Beef Wellington! Red curry! Fajitas!)

Hour 36: Tuesday

  • Wake at the crack of dawn
  • NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK — see two normally elusive rhinos right at entrance on safari, as well as giraffe, gazelle, ostriches, warthogs, buffalo, and many beautiful living things. Yes, these are ZEBRA!!
  • Eat a local “chapati” with fried eggs and mixed cut fresh fruit, which locals call “pudding”
  • Masai market! Haggle for some art and jewelry. Check out a roadside fruit stand. 
  • Hear pitches from students at TunaPanda.org, an entrepreneurship program in Kibarra, one of the biggest slums in the world. Startup ideas included a mobile app for store owners to track inventory, solutions for theft prevention, affordable housing app, and online art marketplace.
  • Traffic for one hour with Sam
  • Say goodbye to Sam , who mischievously informs you that in Kenya it's not uncommon to take a second wife and that he can serve a goat when I return (as my dowry)..........
  • Meet friend, local VC, and hobbyist safari photographer, Mbwana, from Savannah.vc for drinks and other friends at Yaya Center. Learn about traditional Swahili in Zanzibar, how I must go to Arusha, and talk about the startup scene in West vs. East vs. South Africa
  • Another hour of traffic in Uber, which may be the most authentic way to end a trip to Kenya

Hour 48: Catch 10:45pm red eye to Dubai --> SF. 

What a trip. So grateful for the opportunity to travel. My life is so rich with friendship across the globe. 

#LOVE

*Special thank you to Aaron, Mbwana, and my new friend, driver, and potential Kenyan husband, Sam.

My 2015: conviction, mistakes & JOMO

2015 was one of the most rewarding and challenging years of my life.

In a nutshell, this year:

  • I joined the accelerator team at 500 Startups and learned so much about investing in early stage technology companies in Silicon Valley and abroad, and led a few of my first investments. It's been a true privilege learning from the entire team. I'm inspired everyday by the team around me.
  • I gave 10+ talks & 20+ pitching workshops, judged/spoke on 5+ panels, helped two batches of ~65 startups & two 500 Startups Demo Days, and mentored 100+ founders all over the world.
on stage
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3 Key Things I Learned: 

From my first year at 500:

1) Have conviction, and speak up more. There were moments this year when I felt terrified of speaking my mind, or worse, sticking to my gut when people disagreed with me or thought I was wrong. I learned when they were right and should stop, listen, and change, but I also learned when to trust my intuition and stand my fucking ground. This year,I finally learned not to abandon myself in those moments, to breathe through them, and it's made all the difference.

From deciding to speak Portuguese in public after 2 months: 

2) Be bold, and make mistakes.  Throughout my linguistics education, I was always studying languages. My journey with Portuguese has been unlike my experience with Tagalog, Chinese, or German - because this year I've never been much bolder about speaking and making mistakes daily. Like sales, every "no" leads to a "yes" - and every mistake led to faster learning for me. I still have such a long way to go, but I am feeling closer to fluency much faster than ever before. 

From all the travel: 

3) Embrace JOMO. Make quiet time for myself, no matter what. Health, sleep, water, activity, and filling my own cup comes first. #outgoingintrovert

What's On My Mind for 2016:

  • I miss building things. Stay tuned for some side hustles.
  • MOAR travel and investing in emerging markets with 500 Startups!
  • #empathywarrior, social impact, and diversity - stay tuned for launch of my new website and more.

Today, I feel so full of gratitude for all the new relationships, opportunities, and personal growth this year, and I'm so excited for the year ahead.

Now, onward.

Tech Startups From Belo to Floripa, 1st Trip to Brazil (of many)

Last month, I had an amazing opportunity to travel with Brazil Innovators to São Paulo and Curitiba to speak in three events with BRNewTech. I also checked out some startups in Belo Horizonte and Florianópolis.

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As a venture partner at 500 Startups, I get to work with entrepreneurs and startups from all over the world, but this year, I fell in love with Brazil. In a way, this began on my first official day at, when I got to interview companies in the same room as managing partner and multi-cultural badass, Bedy Yang, who grew up in Brazil, founded Brazil Innovators, and has led many of our most successful investments from Brazil, including ContaAzul and Solidarium, Then, last spring during my first accelerator batch as EIR, I met Gabriel and Carlos, founders of Linte, and Emilia and Elton, founders of Contentools.

Emilia and Gabriel came to me to help them with their pitch almost every week, and they gave two of the best performances on Demo Day. I wasn't their designated point of contact, but we still made time to work on their business models, pricing, and other challenges together. We got so close that they would sometimes forget I wasn't Brazilian and start speaking Portuguese to me.

In short, I loved them. I loved their energy, their warmth, their visions. I found them to be smart, extremely determined entrepreneurs. But, I also heard what people would often say: Brazilians don’t think globally. No one will invest in these companies. It isn't a good time to invest in Brazil. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the startup culture and ecosystem in Brazil.

First Stop: Belo Horizonte

One mineiro described Belo Horizonte to me as the "Texas of Brazil," since it sits in Minas Gerais, one of Brazil's largest states. The pace is quieter, the hills remind me of San Francisco, and the people are a bit more traditional, humble, and charming.

Almost all Brazilians are warm and welcoming, but BH is like a big hug, known for friends drinking together outdoors, passing the time. Averse to the hustle and bustle of São Paulo, I met entrepreneurs who prefer to run their startups in BH where technical talent is prevalent (some of the area's best technical talent come from local public universities).  I met Rodrigo at Sympla, a mid-size growing events startup from BH.

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Rodrigo knows everyone in the "San Pedro Valley" the neighborhood known for its small, but super tight-knit, community of startups. According to Brazilians, starting a company in Brazil is like playing a game on expert mode from Day 1. The infrastructure, lack of (good) early-stage angel funding, struggling economy, high taxes, and limited resources make starting a company here an act of pure will. It's a challenge that startups from many emerging markets understand all too well. Starting a company in Brazil also has its advantages: Sympla would have had a harder time growing to its current size in São Paulo or other big cities, where the costs of growing a company would be much higher, but enterprise companies, like Linte, flock to São Paulo to be with their customers - the big corporates. I really loved Sympla's modern, beautiful office:

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Their balcony:

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I left BH with fuzzy feelings and charmed by the community, but eager to explore other cities and give two talks!

Next Stop: São Paulo

São Paulo was everything that people told me it would be: huge, busy, "chic", full of skyscrapers, condos, big corporations, fancy people, etc.

News of local tension and protests by taxi drivers against Uber greeted me as soon as I arrived (in an Uber). I checked out the Plug coworking space, then gave my first talk of the trip at the Microsoft building downtown. Here's Andre Monteiro with Brazil Innovators, my gracious host, who helped arrange my trip, with the help of Sheila and Maira.

The audience was a mix of backgrounds, though like I'm usually accustomed, male entrepreneurs vastly outnumbered the women. Almost every female entrepreneur present approached me, and we discussed the similar problems with diversity in Brazil.

As a pitch coach and startup judge, I see many international entrepreneurs come to the Silicon Valley and struggle to pitch in English, and this has always filled me with huge respect. Can you imagine going to Korea and pitching in Korean? I became determined to make an effort and wanted to empathize with these entrepreneurs. So, with the help of Duolingo, a one-hour Skype lesson per week week for six weeks, and two months of wondering if I had the guts, I gave a minute-long introduction in Portuguese in front of a hundred people in São Paulo, and again in Curitiba, even doing a short interview with the local TV station, which I hope never airs. My audiences were all very surprised and delighted, and it was awesome to be able to practice my Portuguese during the whole trip. I'm in love with the language and look forward to getting more practice in November when I return for a longer stint.

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The next day, I led a workshop with startup founders about how I evaluate startups for our accelerator and the benefits of joining an accelerator.

Gabriel, co-founder of Linte, a #500STRONG company going after the huge, inefficient legal industry, showed me their new office, still under construction, which will become a new startup hub and coworking space planned in São Paulo.

Oh, and pizza in São Paulo is divine:

Quick Stop in Curitiba

After São Paulo, I spent some time in Curitiba, another growing tech hub, where I was told that people would be shier, quieter, and more reserved and the pace would slow down again. Right now, I'm working with a company in Batch 14 called Pipefy, a workflow management tool - from Curitiba. The startup community there was great:

I've given my talk about inDinero's journey from Vitamin to Painkiller in Croatia, Brazil, Portland, and SF, because our journey from failed flashy startup to revenue-generating painkiller business is a story many entrepreneurs, especially in other markets, need to hear. Failure is often not tolerated or talked about, and I don't leave out any details about just how awful it was to work for a year on a idea and have to admit that we were wrong. People come up to me and say, "This story really resonated. I haven't found P/M fit either. I'm freaking out. What do I do?"  There's no better feeling than meeting with an entrepreneur and seeing weight lift off their shoulders from not having to pretend everything is going well, when it's not.

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On stage, Andre asked me what advice I would give to Brazilian entrepreneurs. Short summary:

  1. Be brutally honest with each other. That's the kindest thing you can do for each other.
  2. Focus on the pain you are solving, and charge your customers more.
  3. Think globally, even if you act locally first.

Last But Not Least: Florianópolis 

I feel especially alive on islands, so not surprisingly, my last stop in Brazil was my favorite. As soon as I got off the plane, I loved it.

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Florianopólis, or Floripa, is another tech hub, but it just happens to be on a beautiful, huge island. 

 Another #500STRONG company in Batch 12, Contentools, a content marketing management tool, built their company in Floripa. Now, they have 20+ employees and are helping over 300 businesses manage their content marketing. Elton and Emilia were born and raised there, but their San Francisco influences are clear as soon as you see their office and experience their company culture: Silicon Valley style workspaces and call rooms with lots of ping pong, a hammock, a mermaid painting, and plenty of Macbook chargers lying around.

I will be back in São Paulo in November to speak at CASE. I look forward to a lifetime visiting Brazil and helping the entrepreneurial community flourish and grow.

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Special thanks to all my lifelong friends, especially Gabriel, who took care of me throughout my whole trip, Emilia and Elton who housed, hosted, and helped me, Carlos and Thiago for sharing wine, pizza, and Chico Buarque, Andre, Sheila and Maira @Brazil Innovators for organizing everything and helping me, Daniela my Portuguese tutor at @StreetSmartBrazil, and Bedy for introducing me to Brazilian startups and making the whole trip possible.

#obrigada #saudades

Follow me at @abarrica

Short list of favorite/cute/unexpected things about Brazil:

  • kiss rules are not uniform, varies from 1 to 3 kisses, depending on where you are
  • dental floss in bathrooms! I love this!
  • long lunches, sometimes up to two hours
  • if you ask for lime or lemon, sometimes you’ll get a mini cup full of squeezed juice? uh, yes.
  • espresso after lunch, without fail
  • noticed that most women have beautiful, perfect painted nails
  • everyone smells good
  • pão du queijo is everywhere, and it’s amazing. People say the best come from Minas, but I honestly liked it everywhere, even Starbucks.