Unicorns Club: Brazilian startups valued at US $ 1 billion

100 Open Startups
7 min readJul 9, 2019

Brazil already has eight companies in this select group — the last to enter was Loggi. They make a revolution not only in technology, but in the way they work

Loggi employees celebrate the fact that the company has become a unicorn

At the end of the expedition on Wednesday, June 5, snacks and drinks were served on the ground floor of the Paulista Avenue building where the startup Loggi is based, a platform that connects 25,000 motorcyclists to deliveries in 36 Brazilian cities. While a DJ played pop music, professionals guaranteed their selfies inside a polka-dot pool amid dozens of colorful balloons. The date had been a milestone in the company: founded in 2013, Loggi announced that after an injection of investor resources led by Japanese SoftBank, it had become a unicorn — as it is called startup(a young independent technology company) that reaches a market value of at least 1 billion dollars. To celebrate, the image of the mythological creature was repeated everywhere, in inflatable dolls or horned tiaras worn by officials.

Since Instagram left the jaw-dropping world by being sold for $ 1 billion to Facebook in 2012, technology companies that reach that mythical figure are compared to enchanted horses for having become legends in the jungle of entrepreneurs. Until January 2018, when the 99 was completed by the Chinese Didi Chuxing, Brazil had not heard of representative in this select club. Today, the moment is one of effervescence — of the more than 300 representatives of billionaire startups in the world, eight have been painting here since then. And hundreds are willing to repeat such a ride. Just last year, the country attracted $ 1.3 billion in investments, distributed among 259 startups, 55% more than in the previous year.

But what about the crisis? Well, for these organizations, it sometimes helps more than it hurts, by using technology to reduce costs and thus differentiate themselves from the competition. The Cearense Arco Educação, the only non-Paulista in the group, is a good example. Created from a set of schools in Fortaleza, the company now offers an educational system that is present in 1,400 Brazilian schools with strong distance learning components, such as video lectures and digital books. The digital didactic material is up to 40% cheaper than the physical. The greater the number of students attending the lessons, the more the advantage increases. The big push for technological expansion was the entry in 2014 of the American fund General Atlantic, which now holds a fifth of the business. In September, Arco raised 780 million reais in the Nasdaq electronic stock exchange, for the sale of 25% of its shares. With his pocket full, he bought the Positive System in May for 1.65 billion reais.

CEO Leandro Caldeira (Gympass)

No wonder, euphoria is what you breathe inside the offices. The lively and playful aesthetic (sometimes infantilized, for the looks of some) is the rule. Fridges with free beers and “decompression” rooms with yoga mats are repeated in several of them, but there are particularities. At Loggi, there is a 1.50-meter-high teddy bear (nicknamed Loggon) and a sparring doll in which the most stressed can throw boxing blows. Once a week, CEO Fabien Mendez links his notebook in a common area and employees are welcome to talk about any topic.

At the iFood headquarters in Osasco, employees ride their scooters from corner to corner (it’s not just modinha hipster, the building, all ground floor, has 13 000 square meters) and there are videos in the internal circuit (sometimes live ) to share with all the news. “We try to make communication flow like we’re still in a garage,” says CEO Carlos Moyses, co-founder of one of the companies that originated iFood. Former pizza delivery in Australia, he spends ten days a year in China to connect with the innovations.

In addition to the originality in the visual, it is in action that these businesses seek to transform the work environment. Take the Movile application developer as an example. If in traditional companies it is unusual for a woman to be hired during pregnancy, seven pregnant women have won their badge in the last twelve months. When they return from maternity leave, they are greeted with a picture of their baby in picture frames and a summary of important decisions taken in their absence. At Nubank there are no specific wings inside the office — a software engineer can sit next to someone else’s human resources; each position your notebook wherever you want. Besides that,

There are a few inescapable clichés in the discourse of these companies: to say that they need to identify the “pains” of society (problems to be solved) and announce a “mission” more charming than mere profit. The “mission” of Gympass, creator of a pass that allows to attend thousands of academies, is “to fight the sedentarismo”. This is carried out inside the building in Vila Olímpia, and there are meetings that begin with everyone sweating the shirt literally in a workout. The monthly meetings show a ranking of employees who use their service more frequently — the CEO of the Brazilian operation, Leandro Caldeira, is often among the first. He wakes up daily before 6 am and has already cycled indoor climbing. Gold tip for the participant of the firm’s selection processes, present in fourteen countries (from the United States to San Marino): If you win a free one-month pass from HR, do not leave the toast aside (recruiters will be able to monitor usage). A curious rule of top management is not to mention the work of a third party if it is not present.

Being in a different firm, of course, is not for everyone. “The purposeful speech, the hot little things in the fridge, are all used to make people have long journeys, often on the weekend,” says a former 99 employee, who describes an environment (exciting or strenuous , you decide) of constant changes. Count had half a dozen bosses in a year. “In the environment where you take more chances and correct the quick mistake, you have to prepare to change your goals overnight.” The report heard similar reports of workers from other unicorns. An engineer dismissed from Stone for failing to meet the goals nevertheless recommends the place, for easy access to the boss to give ideas.

According to Michael Page, startup salaries are up to 20% higher than the market average. Interested? Headhunter Juliana Fiuza, an innovation specialist at Follow Recruitment, points the way: “These companies are looking for a creative, flexible and intra-entrepreneurial profile.” The latter term designates employees who go beyond their obligations and act with the owner’s head, creating opportunities.

The CEO of iFood, Carlos Moyses

The young faces seen around the office are not an impression. In 1999, only 6% of workers are over 40 years old. In other companies, it’s not much different. “This is related to the use of recent technologies and social networks, but there is room for older people, especially at the management level,” says Cristina Junqueira of Nubank, the only woman among the billionaire founders (40% its team is female, 30% of the total is LGBT).

Movile is one of the most admired by the dynamism. Its eight main businesses are called there inside larger and more complex transatlantic ones, while the initial projects receive the nickname of jet skis. “If the professional has an idea, go there, deploy and present the data. Jet ski can crash when a wave comes, then the person gets up and corrects the route, “explains co-founder Eduardo Henrique Lins, who now heads from Miami to Wavy, an arm of the artificial intelligence group for the communication of companies with their customers . The PlayKids video and games application for children in 187 countries is one of those boats that have grown. It was born after the shipwreck of twenty attempts to merge a segmented platform of videos, from country music to stand-up comedy.

IN HOME — Nubank’s office in São Paulo: dogs are welcomed at headquarters

In Brazil, there are about 12,800 startups. But to enter the elite of unicorns, the entrepreneur has to catch the attention of investors in several steps — the counterparts range from membership to board. In a universe where even well-established companies can make a fortune without profit (see interview) , the potential is that it sharpens the punters. Remember the example of Instagram, sold for 1 billion dollars? Six years later, the social network was worth 100 times that figure. “I look more at the dream and commitment of the founder than at the business,” says Hernan Kazah, who founded Free Market in 1999 and today invests in new ideas. “There are many replications with merit of what is done abroad, but we are looking at cases of innovation worldwide, such as Embraer and Natura,” says Bruno Rondani, accelerator 100 Open Startups.

In Silicon Valley, those who want to be boss should keep an eye on Brasília. Announced on May 1 by President Jair Bolsonaro, the provisional measure of economic freedom, dubbed the MP of the startups, provides incentives to young companies, as a dispensation from the license in the initial phase. The government’s proposal needs to be approved by Congress by the end of August to become law. For Caio Ramalho, coordinator of the private equity and venture capital MBA of Getulio Vargas Foundation, the incentives are welcome, but the priority should be to facilitate closure if the project does not work. “A healthy startups environment exists where companies can be born and die because failure in a business can be a lesson for what comes.” As long as the bureaucratic ocean continues to disrupt the birth and death cycle of Brazilian ponies.