‘Copycat’ startups in Latin America are killing it

Image Credit: Luana/Flickr

While everyone is fretting over the Asian slowdown, the European debt crisis, and the fiscal cliff, a few entrepreneurs in Latin America are rapidly building businesses in their home countries and beyond. The companies are often based on business models ripped from the pages of VentureBeat and other tech journals.

It’s often said that while ideas are great, what matters is execution. Search existed before Google. E-commerce existed before Amazon. Social existed before Facebook. But these ideas were executed well, and execution endures.

Here are a few Latin American companies that have taken existing business models and are making headway in their own markets:

Ubimovil:  Just as car service Uber is being bullied into charging a ridiculous minimum by the Washington, D.C. city council, UbiMovil of Chile is giving residents of Santiago an easy, safe, and quick way to get a taxi. And although they don’t offer towncars like Uber, UbiMovil has implemented a number of features that Uber doesn’t have, such as free rides for loyalty and even a “panic button” for passenger safety.

Elo7:  A pretty transparent copy of Etsy, the American marketplace for handmade things, Elo7 has been fabulously successful in the Brazilian market. So successful, in fact, that it recently bought an Etsy clone from Buenos Aires, Bixti, to ease its transition into the Argentine market.

Idea.me: Crowdfunding existed long before anyone heard the name Kickstarter, but Kickstarter has made its mark in the U.S. as the go-to place for new projects. There are actually several crowdfunding startups throughout the region, but Idea.me of Argentina has made a name for itself by getting the word out and bringing in projects from all over Latin America. Ironically, it too recently bought a local competitor, Brazilian company Movere.

PagPop: If you can make payments easy, you can make a mint. That’s what mobile payments enabler Square is on its way to doing, so it makes sense that imitator PagPop is taking off, too. The Brazilian payment gateway uses the same type of technology as Square to make payments easy for smartphone users. But don’t worry — it’s not a total copy: PagPop is oblong.

Torneo de Ideas: People everywhere need good design, but not everyone speaks English, so it seems only logical that someone would take the business model of graphic design marketplace 99Designs and adapt it to their local market. Mexico-based Torneo de Ideas has set up a marketplace for designers of all types to produce web pages, T-shirts, logos, and the like. And they want to expand into other areas, including architecture and video.

Interestingly, all these companies were products of incubators, business accelerators, or small venture capital investments in their home markets. That suggests that a robust, if small, entrepreneurial community is developing in Latin America that is capable of sustaining and building businesses.

M. Christopher Johnson is a strategy consultant, entrepreneur, investor and writer. Editor of the Latin America Startup Blog, he speaks Spanish and is based in Mexico City.

[Top image credit: Luana/Flickr]

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