Increasing Opportunities through Technology in Latin America: An Interview with Fellow Leandro Schlottchauer
2020–21 Legatum Fellow Leandro Schlottchauer has always been “passionate about leveraging technology to build scalable and affordable products to serve the lower and middle segments of the Latin American populations.” Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Leandro experienced first-hand how high unemployment rates impacted the lives of many Latin American families struggling to make ends meet, yet unable to find employment.
After receiving a BA in Business Management from the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires and working in mobile marketing for about a year, Leandro became a Founding Member and CMO at Trocafone, a late-stage tech startup based in Brazil focused on the second-hand smartphone industry in Latin America. It was through this experience, selling smartphones to over a million Brazilians at half the price, that Leandro realized the power of technology in creating opportunity and transforming lives for Latin Americans — and it was ultimately this realization that formed the backbone of his new venture, Amanda. We sat down with Leandro to hear more about his experience at Trocafone, how he plans to increase employment for Latin Americans through reselling, and what it’s like starting an MBA during a pandemic.
Before coming to MIT Sloan, you were Founding Member and CMO at Trocafone. Can you tell me a little about this experience?
I was working at Despegar on the mobile marketing team for almost a year when I was invited to join Trocafone as its second employee and Founding Member. It was funny because none of us had real startup experience. We are all Argentinians trying to launch a business in Brazil, and there is a lot of competition between Argentinians and Brazilians. So a lot of people thought we were crazy.
But I loved the challenge, and working at Trocafone has been a really exciting journey. We sold 1.4 million smartphones to date, but most importantly, we generated a really big impact broadening the technological reach and enabling access to technology and the internet for millions of Brazilians who never had a chance to browse online or check Google. Many of our customers never held a phone in their hand, and we basically explained to them how it worked. There are a lot of nice stories behind our work and the phones we sold — some of our customers were farmers and never knew when it would rain or not, and now that they have a smartphone, they can predict the weather. There’s also a sustainability aspect to it. Most of those second-hand phones that we sold would have ended in landslides as e-waste, so there was a lot of electronic waste that we prevented.
At Trocafone, we are currently operating the biggest trading program in the Latin region. The Trocafone brand is carried in more than 4,000 retail stores in Brazil with different partners, such as Samsung, Apple, and many other brands. So that is also a really nice achievement.
Can you tell me about your latest venture, Amanda?
Growing Trocafone from scratch was difficult because we were selling really good products, at an even better price — lots of people thought that was too good to be true. As a result, getting those first sales was really tough. We had trouble building trust around our company, we didn’t have a brand at that time. So one day, I had an idea — what if some companies (like Trocafone), who at one point didn’t have a strong brand, but offered a good, reliable product, could sell their products through the voices of friends, family and other consumers?
The reselling industry in Latin America is really big industry, mostly consolidated by cosmetic firms such as Avon and Natura. I started talking to some of these resellers, trying to understand who they are and why they had gone to do reselling. I found that most of them had been pushed out from the labor market: there were many stay-at-home moms who had to take care of their children, or laid-off fathers who were considered too old to start a new career, so they turned to reselling in order to make a flexible income. I then started to talk with manufacturers — most of them family-owned, selling cosmetics, clothes, kitchenware, etc. — and asked them how they were selling their product. These manufacturers spent many years building and crafting their own product and improving the quality, but since they didn’t have a brand, they didn’t have the chance to sell by themselves. They had to rely on expensive distributers and ultimately ended up losing a lot of the margin.
This was when I identified this gap and realized this could be a real business opportunity. I could build a marketplace and match these manufacturers who have really great products, but no brand, with these resellers who are interested in earning a flexible income. That is how I came up with the idea for Amanda. I already finished the primary market research or design thinking phase, and I’m now launching an MVP in the next few weeks — I am very excited to get the product in our user’s hands, and hopefully start getting a lot of feedback.
How exactly does Amanda work?
The difference with Amanda is that it’s a digital product. Anyone can download the app and sign up for an account — it’s totally free. Once you have an account, you receive an online catalog that shows the stock of the product up to date in real-time. And then, with a tap of a button, you can share that product with a friend or a family member through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Facebook. So that makes it really convenient for the reseller who needs to stay in the house or needs to work on their own schedule. This also makes for a better value proposition than other well-known, established reselling programs, in which many of the resellers need to attend training sessions on how to use the products, or have to manually fill out forms in order to get their orders through. The idea with Amanda is to make reselling more modern.
What would you like to achieve through Amanda, and what change would you like it to make?
Basically, the goal with Amanda is to create opportunity. My hope is that we can build a more inclusive world where anyone can make an effort to become the best version of themselves. With Amanda, there are no requisites — it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, if you have an education, if you were in jail or whatever, you can have a chance. That’s really the primary goal with Amanda: to improve people’s lives. And I think Legatum is a great community to help me pursue this goal, because in the class, we will be looking at how to measure impact and how to build a company around the belief that companies have a social demand, that they also need to be socially good for everyone. Rather than focusing on maximizing profit, the class focuses on building a business for society and for creating a better world.
Interview & Article by Rafaela Marinello