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The 92 Report

Oct 16, 2023

Show Notes:

Ivan Montoya, a graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe, shares his journey since graduating from the university. He married a woman he had been dating at Harvard and moved to California and Stanford for business school in 1995. Ivan worked in McKinsey in the Houston office and in Mexico City. He moved to New York in the third year, but moved to the Bay Area just as the internet went public and he started working on projects in technology. About four years ago, Ivan started angel investing in early-stage Latin American startups. 

Ivan was born in Colombia and moved to the US when he was young. Both his parents were doctors, and Ivan was expected to go into the same field, however, after agreeing to finish pre-med, he decided to focus on development economics and did his thesis on Colombia during his time at Harvard with the goal of helping Columbia. After working at McKinsey in Mexico City, he returned to Colombia in 2013, and went back in 2018, and this was a hugely influential experience for Ivan. He believed the next 20 years in Latin America were going to be just as important in technology as China was in 2000 and that he needed to get involved.  Ivan shares the beginning steps of this journey that led to 40 investments and involvement in the ecosystem with accelerators and startup communities in Latin America.

Ivan talks about the startup tech scene across Latin America, focusing on three areas: FinTech, property tech, and supply chain and mobility. He shares stories about his investment  in early-stage companies, mostly in Spanish-speaking Latin America. The hotbed in Spanish-speaking Latin is Mexico City, which is considered the Mecca of the tech scene. The other Mecca is Sao Paulo, and Bogota, Colombia, which he refers to as the Mountain View of the tech scene. Ivan also discusses the accelerator scene. He is involved with several Latin American companies that go through Y Combinator, including Platon Ventures, which started in Chile, and other startup communities like Latitude and TechStars. He also mentors at TechStars in Miami, where many Latin American founders attend. Ivan's experience with Y Combinator has been invaluable, as it has helped many Latin American startups gain access to the tech ecosystem and accelerator scene. He also highlights the importance of fostering strong connections with local startups and accelerators to foster growth and success. 


Proptech and Fintech Startups

Ivan explains the issues facing Prop Tech such as access to credit and the availability of credible property listing platforms.  Some companies working with Prop Tech are addressing these issues, such as Go Home in Peru, which aims to create the Zillow of Latin America, and other real estate systems. Access to credit is also a challenge in Latin America, with only 20% or less of the population owning a home using a mortgage. He explains that, in the informal economy, many people lack access to credit bureaus, making it difficult for them to access services like renting apartments or buying a car.  Ivan talks about his investments in startups with the goal to improve the financial infrastructure and improve access to credit for those in the informal economy. He invested in a company called Jeeves, a B2B credit card and talks about a concept in Chile, called Built Rewards, which allows people to pay rent and utilities with a credit card to earn rewards and improve their credit score. He talks about how he invested in a 20-year-old founder with no college degree who wanted to start a car ownership/lending company. 

How an Investor Sources Startup Founders

Ivan has a unique approach to sourcing founders. He believes that there is a lot of bias in the market, as many founders come from wealthy families and have a background in the US. However, Ivan's approach is inspired by Silicon Valley which is more meritocratic, focusing on founders who are doing great work and have traction. He takes numerous first meetings with founders, often focusing on metrics and traction. His primary referrals come from other founders, and he works with these founders for anywhere from one to three months before making an investment. This allows them to learn more about Ivan and he learns more about their company. Ivan illustrates how this works with a story from a startup he invested in. 

Ivan has been investing in startups for four and half years. He has backed 40 founders and helped hundreds of founders active in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. He also uses WhatsApp to connect with founders in Latin America, and he receives numerous referrals from founders, which is beneficial as they can vouch for Ivan as an investor. He is involved in the startup community and mentors in big groups, which has led to referrals from founders. One founder reached out to him after watching him talk on a webinar. He states that his job is not to refer a startup lead to an investor and how a selfie on LinkedIn helped raise the profile of many founders and shares what he learned from posting a profile for his cat on Instagram.

A Freemium Model to Help Startup Founders

Ivan talks about his approach to helping founders with his freemium model. He focuses on three areas: pitch decks, professional brainstorming, and connecting founders with potential investors. In the first 30 minute introductory meeting, he listens to the founders' pitch or describe their model, and then engages in 10-20 minutes of professional brainstorming. He provides constructive feedback and helps them understand their business model in more depth and explains how he helps them dig deeper to relay the benefits to an investor. In the second meeting, he introduces the founder to other investors. He talks about the pitch deck as a strategy document that is high leverage, and how he uses his experience as a consultant and McKinsey to help them refine their pitch. He believes that the first meeting should filter out potential investors and focus on assessing traction, product market fit, and indications of people wanting what the founders have created. He shares the key points of what he looks for when investing in both the founder and the startup.

Ivan states that he is an equal opportunity investor, with people from all backgrounds and shares stories of some of the founders he has backed, including a company called Foodology and a company called Pick App. He believes in the laws of economic gravity and believes that even those without connections to the US may still have resources. 

Coco the Cat - An Instagram Success

Ivan shares his story of starting an Instagram account with his Bombay cat, Coco. It started as a bet with his daughter that he could gain 1000 followers within a set time period. So, he started posting pictures of Coco on Instagram and using various tactics, such as following other popular cats. He eventually got banned from Instagram for a day or two because he’d followed so many people the bots thought he was a bot. He then discovered that pictures with kids perform better, and he started doing pictures with kids. However, he hit a wall when he reached 6000 or 7000 followers, but he noticed a lot of comments with Japanese characters and decided to post during Tokyo rush hour, which took him over the top and he reached 10,000 followers.

Influential Professors and Courses at Harvard

Ivan talks about his experience with Professor Dominguez’ Cuban Revolution course at Harvard. He highlights the content's interesting structure, which included a three-day class with one position on an argument and the another on the importance of individual on the issue. One of the key takeaways from the course was the importance of being open to different perspectives and seeking the truth. He also highlighted the importance of being a lifelong learner and never assuming one's knowledge is the truth. This experience has helped him meet many people he is still close to. 


02:50 How Ivan became an investor in startups

08:56 Ivan’s areas of focus 

11:39 The accelerator scene in Latin America

15:09 Investing in Proptech 

19:47 Companies Ivan has invested in

23:12 Ivan’s investment model

28:50 How Ivan builds awareness as an investor

34:41 How Ivan helps founders through his freemium model.  

39:01 How Ivan assesses founders and startups

43:48 A view on investors’ bias

47:13 Ivan’s criteria for getting a cat and what not to do on Instagram



Coco the cat:

The Tim Whitmire episode: