Our dream as a tech startup has always been to connect the world by making it easier to travel and learn languages. We do so by creating Internet tools that link language schools, sales agents and students.
So when the opportunity came up to go to Brazil through the Canadian Digital Media Network’s Brasil-Canada 3.0 competition, we jumped at the chance. We had recently launched a new product, which is a web-based tool that collects information from language schools around the world, allowing agents to stay up-to-date with courses, availability, promotions and pricing.
Companies like Sabre and Amadeus have solved this challenge in the airline and hotel industries, but this is totally new to language travel. Given that more Brazilians choose Canada to study English than any other country in the world, this a natural market for us to target.
Our goal for the trip was three-fold: to sign up our initial customers for this product, get feedback from Brazilian users and make connections with potential distribution partners.
We spent the first day in Sao Paulo meeting with potential customers. We focused on small- and medium-sized language travel agencies who signed up straight away as beta users.
Equally important, we were able to collect their feedback on how the product works and how they would use it.
As our mentors at Communitech and HYPERDRIVE have taught us, building a product that nobody uses is one of the top reasons startups fail, so early and continual customer interviews significantly improve the odds of success. And as a company focused on international markets, it’s essential that we understand our customers outside of Canada as well as those at home.
We spent the second day in a conference learning how the Canadian and Brazilian governments foster innovation and facilitate trade across borders. We were impressed to learn about Canada’s extensive network of trade commissioners mandated to help Canadian businesses enter new markets by making connections, setting up meetings and advising on the local business culture. This is a crucial resource for any business looking to expand outside of Canada.
This was also an opportunity for us to improve access to distribution channels for our product, most notably through the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association (BELTA), and through the networks of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and the Brazil Canada Chamber of Commerce.
Day 3 was spent travelling away from the chaos of Sao Paulo to the much smaller beach city of Joao Pessoa, on the northeast coast. Here we spent our final two days participating in an Internet steering conference learning about the startup scene in Brazil, incubators and accelerators, and lessons from local companies that had already left their mark.
The trip went by in the blink of an eye. We met our goals of signing up our first customers, gaining important feedback and making the connections necessary to ramp up our distribution. But we also learned a ton about Brazil as a market for technology, which will be incredibly important for us moving forward.
It’s no secret that Brazil is an enormous market. Perhaps less known is that its population is extremely young and adopts technology faster than almost anywhere in the world. With a 100-million-strong smartphone user base and a rapidly growing middle class, it’s an exciting market for tech startups.
But Brazil also has challenges: a complex tax system, a business culture dependent on personal relationships, and labour laws that hold founders personally liable. Yet, these are surmountable obstacles, and initiatives like Brasil-Canada 3.0 help Canadian startups scale outside of our comfortable borders. Plus, for Canadians in the winter, it doesn’t get much better than doing business on the beach.
Nicolas Miller is co-founder of Edvisor.io, a global distribution system for Language Education Travel. An M.Sc. graduate of Queen’s University, he was previously the co-founder of Miovision Technologies and can be reached at Nicolas@edvisor.io.