Childhood dreams don’t always pan out the way we thought they would. Many future business-owners don’t envision a life of entrepreneurship for themselves. Instead, they have dreams of being in careers that have nothing to do with business. It is not until something sparks the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey that they even consider that possibility. This was certainly the case for Victoria Alonsoperez. Victoria is the founder of Chipsafer. Chipsafer is a platform that can track and detect anomalies in livestock behavior at any time and in any place. The goal of Chipsafer is to isolate any issues and eliminate catastrophic loss due to illness or disease. In 2001, Victoria’s home country, Uruguay, was hit with an agricultural event that destroyed much of the country’s livestock industry. As a child, she couldn’t solve the problem then and there, but it eventually became the catalyst for the birth of Chipsafer. Today, Victoria shares with us all of the details of her startup story.
Childhood dreams don’t always pan out the way we thought they would. Many future business-owners don’t envision a life of entrepreneurship for themselves. Instead, they have dreams of being in careers that have nothing to do with business. It is not until something sparks the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey that they even consider that possibility. This was certainly the case for Victoria Alonsoperez.
Victoria is the founder of Chipsafer. Chipsafer is a platform that can track and detect anomalies in livestock behavior at any time and in any place. The goal of Chipsafer is to isolate any issues and eliminate catastrophic loss due to illness or disease. In 2001, Victoria’s home country, Uruguay, was hit with an agricultural event that destroyed much of the country’s livestock industry. As a child, she couldn’t solve the problem then and there, but it eventually became the catalyst for the birth of Chipsafer. Today, Victoria shares with us all of the details of her startup story.
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The Startup Story - Victoria Alonsoperez
Victoria Alonsoperez: My name is Victoria Alonsoperez. I am the founder of Chipsafer, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
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Our guest this week is Victoria Alonsoperez, founder of Chipsafer. Chipsafer is a platform that can track and detect anomalies in livestock behavior at any time and at any place with the aim of isolating any issues to eliminate catastrophic loss due to illness or disease. This idea came to Victoria because of an agricultural event that took place in her home country, Uruguay, in 2001. That event destroyed much of the country's livestock industry. Now, at the time she was only a child so this was not something she could solve right then and there. In fact, it wasn't until she came across a contest that seemed interesting to her that she fully thought through a technical solution to that agricultural problem. What is even more interesting about Victoria's story is that she spent her entire life pursuing a dream of being in the aerospace industry and never thought about the idea of entrepreneurship. In fact, when she submitted to that contest I mentioned earlier she did not read the fine print that the prize included money to fund your business venture. It was in that moment that her entrepreneurial journey began. Well, I guess that's not completely true. That moment was really just the decision point. The journey actually began a whole lot earlier.
Victoria Alonsoperez: My dad is an accountant and he used to have this very big sheets of paper and in these sheets of paper he would write lots of numbers. So I asked him what was the use of those numbers. So he took me to the window and it was a full moon day. He asked me how many numbers I knew. I told him only the ones that I could count with the fingers of my hand, and he told me that humans had been to the moon thanks to the proper combination of those numbers. So I was so impressed that since that day on I knew I wanted to work in aerospace. I loved aerospace and I was very passionate about it. I used to tell everyone in my class that I wanted to be an astronomer. Then I realized that I actually wanted to be an engineer because I actually wanted to create the machines or the rockets to be able to take humans into outer space.
So yeah, I did science. I was a very big nerd and I would do science projects. I presented a science project about how humans could live on Mars when I was 14 at the science fair. Then I was invited by the science university from Uruguay to go and present my project there. I was the only high school student there. Again, I did that on my own because when I asked my classmates if anyone wanted to do it with me, they just bullied me. They made fun. So I presented myself. I kind of hacked the system in the way that this was for clubs of science so you had to do it with other people, but the only thing that they asked was to have a tutor. So I asked my dad to sign as the adult as a tutor and I did it on my own. Yeah, that's what… I was always very, very curious and wanting to do science projects and very curious about everything in general.
James McKinney: So let me ask this question from a cultural perspective. Born and raised in Uruguay and so is there a big aerospace scene in that country?
Victoria Alonsoperez: No. In Uruguay there is… well, now there is a bit more but when I was growing up there was no space industry at all. Everything seemed so far away. When you talked about NASA or something like that, it looked like something very intangible. So I remember that I was bullied in school all the time. Everybody would make fun of me because I was a nerd that wanted to work at NASA and people were like, "You will never get to work in NASA. I don't know, for me that was kind of like a fixed goal that I had and I never let anyone tell me otherwise. So I couldn't care less what the others were saying. I knew I was going to work in aerospace. Then, that was really good for entrepreneurship because that clear goal of not caring about what other people can say is very important.
James McKinney: But up to, let's continue to walk down this journey, so up through the end of high school your eyes are set on NASA. Again, I assume NASA, somewhere in aerospace but you've mentioned NASA a few times so I assume your goal is NASA, right? So again, we haven't really touched the entrepreneur gene yet, haven't had that itch that you needed to scratch when it comes to owning your own business. You're still talking employment with NASA. So you go off to college I assume. Where did you go to college?
Victoria Alonsoperez: So I went to college in Uruguay. I did electrical engineering and the reason was because there was no aerospace engineering here in Uruguay, but I saw like I would record every single Mars documentary that there was in Discovery channel. My dad and I would record it and we would watch it, and I saw that a lot of the people they interviewed were electrical engineers. So I was like okay, there's a lot of electrical engineers working in aerospace and I saw the satellites and everything, so I decided to go into electrical engineering. My idea was to get a degree first here, because I'm my parents couldn't afford for me to go to a university outside of Uruguay, but a friend of mine that I met he told me, "You know the best thing you can do is study in Uruguay and then when you go to do the master's go to the US or to Europe. It's way easier to get a scholarship if you're doing that." So I did that, only that I didn't do the master's then, I just started the company.
James McKinney: That's incredible. So what age do you finish your undergrad degree?
Victoria Alonsoperez: So in Uruguay it takes five years and a half to do the undergrad, so I was 22.
James McKinney: 22 years old. Now in scanning across your LinkedIn profile, there are quite a few accomplishments that you have on your resume if you will that most people don't. There's UN associations that you've been connected with I should say. How did those elements and those opportunities present themselves as you were we'll say journeying all the way through Chipsafer which is why we're talking to you today? But there's so many things you've done between college and Chipsafer.
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes. I guess it seems there were not many opportunities for me here in aerospace. I would check everything that there was online and one day, I remember I would tell everyone. So every single person I met I would be like, "I'm going to work in aerospace." It was like this big thing, which some people were like, "Why do you tell that to people? That's weird." But anyways that was kind of my thing of like hey, I'm Victoria, I love space. That made it so one professor that I had in university, obviously I told him that I loved space and there was a call for students and young professionals from all over the world that had a space project, and there was a scholarship to go and present that project at the International Astronautical Congress, which for me was like oh my God. I mean just to tell you how far away I was, the only connection I had to aerospace was in university there was a professor that at some point in his life had worked at a project in the United States that was part of a NASA project. That was the only connection I had.
So for me when I see this call I'm like oh my God, yeah, I can present my Mars project that I have been working over the years. At the time I think I was 20 so I had been working a lot, and I'm like okay I can present this. So I submit the application and I'm so worried and I thought I would never get it because I was like okay, this must be like… it was for students so that included PhD students too. One time I came from college, I didn't even have a laptop, we had the big computer. So I come back from school and I go and I open to see my mail, and I see that there's a, "Congratulations, you won the scholarship." I just couldn't believe it. So I start screaming in my house saying, "I'm going to South Korea! I'm going to South Korea!" and my mom is like, "What? Where are you going?" Because I didn't tell anyone, because I never thought I would get it.
So I couldn't believe it. Since I got that opportunity, I said I got this opportunity, I cannot waste it. This is the best opportunity of my life, being able to go and present to the International Astronomical Congress. So I think I made the best out of every single experience. I started meeting people and I was like you know going around. When I got to the International Astronautical Congress I couldn't believe it. I always say that for me it was like when Harry Potter gets into Hogwarts, you know? All your life you feel like an outsider and then suddenly you get into a place in which you can talk about, "Hey, have you seen the Mars Rover?" And people are like, "Yeah, that's so interesting," instead of like what a loser, nerd. So I think that I was so surprised. I couldn't believe it. I was like what, people are not making fun of me because I talk about space? People actually want to talk about space here. And people my age, which I couldn't believe it. I never had someone my age being interested in aerospace.
So I became friends with a lot of people in that congress. I learned about space generation and viceroy council, that is an NGO in support of the United Nations program on space applications and I first became the national point of contact for Uruguay, then I was regional coordinator, then I was chair for the whole organization. I also went to International Space University, which was mind blowing for me. I didn't even know there was Space University, and when I found out I applied immediately, and I got in and couldn't believe it. I think that one thing led to the other. Just because of that I had that small… well it was not small, for me it was gigantic opportunity. I just needed to make the best out of it and that's how I did it for everything. If I go into one thing, I put all my energy and make the best out of it because I know what it is to not really have much opportunities. So if you have one, make the best out of it.
James McKinney: This is what I love about the internet, podcasting, whatever it is that brought us together but the fact that we were brought together in some way. It just goes to show that there are such amazing stories out there like yours. To hear how driven you were to be associated in aerospace, working in aerospace, at such a young age in a country where there really were no opportunities in that but you refused to set that dream aside and you just went full tilt on it. You made the best of every opportunity given to you. But I have to ask, because you did make the very best of every opportunity given to you, it was a lifelong dream for you. How did you get to Chipsafer, which is why we're talking today?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes. So the reason why we got to Chipsafer is I got involved with a lot of different projects in that time. One of the projects I was working on was small satellites which you know the cube sats or the small sats that are like shoe boxes that you launch into space and they need to send and receive information.
James McKinney: Now quick question on that, and again maybe this is a little nerdy for me if you will, but I thought I read somewhere that on those smaller satellites that are shoebox size in our orbit right now there are 10,000 plus satellites in our orbit. Is that accurate information? Am I distorting that in some way?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes. I do not have the exact numbers but there is a lot of satellites and there is a lot of junk too, so obsolete satellites or parts, or satellites that broke. So we need to be very careful with also what we have in space. So there are a lot of projects like deorbiting satellites and how to prevent this space junk from happening because that can be really bad, especially for space missions when a rocket is going maybe to Mars or to another planet. Going through all that amount of things that are going around earth, it's complicated.
James McKinney: Interesting. And again when we think of satellites we often think of the huge ones, the ones that we see being built in the hangars if you will, just a multiple trip mission to assemble some of them. But to hear the shoebox ones that you were working on, it's fascinating because when we think of some of the projects Elon Musk wants to work on or Facebook talks about providing the world with internet. Is it Elon Musk or is it Google that wants, no it's Elon Musk that wants to have satellite driven internet everywhere at 1 Gig speed I think it is. So when you think of those things they're accomplished through the smaller satellites I assume, and that's what you were working on you said that led you to Chipsafer. So let's get back to that story. I just got excited about the small satellite conversation. So you're working on these smaller satellites.
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes, so I was working with the satellites and I actually had a paper because I was working with satellite regulations. So exactly that thing of you know all the satellites need to be registered. In order to register them you need to register them with the International Telecommunication Union. So I had this paper about the regulations that I had done and I was looking for a conference to present it, and of course I decided to go to International Telecommunication Union. When I opened the website I see that there is a call for young entrepreneurs that could solve a problem in the region using telecommunications. Very, like when I was a teenager I was around 11 or 12, I saw that there was a very big foot and mouth outbreak in Uruguay, so a lot of the animals had to be killed and we couldn't really export any more beef for a while so this had terrible consequences interesting he economy because the main source of export is livestock product. So I saw that and I was like oh, you know isn't there a way to track these animals?
And so many years later, 10 years later, I see this call and I'm like okay, I'm working with small satellites, maybe I could track the livestock now. I go online and I see if there's anything going on, and there's nothing that I could see for tracking the animals which I thought that was very strange. So I decided to put that idea that I had in mind into paper about how to track the animals. Basically I decided to do a collar just like the satellites that I was building, which was the collar had to transmit and receive information from very remote locations, so the middle of rural areas, and also recharge by itself because it was getting GPS signals so it was consuming a lot of battery. That's what the satellites have to do too, so they have to recharge themselves.
I designed the whole project. I submitted it for the competition and I won the competition. When I win the competition they tell me, "Here's a spreadsheet in which you need to say what you're going to do with the funds." And I was like, "What? Maybe there's something I haven't read." Because I mean I thought it was a really cool project to do, but you know? So the terms and conditions said there is funding for you to start your own venture. I literally went to Google and put like, because it said startup there too, I put "startup" definition. That's how. So I say oh my God, this is for you to start the company, start the project. At the time, I was going to do a PhD in aerospace. That was my idea. So I had to call the people that I was talking to about doing the PhD and be like, "Hey, no, I'm not doing that." But still I didn't know very well so the International Telecommunication Union paid me a trip to go to Dubai to receive the award, but also to have some entrepreneurship courses, because I didn't know anything about business.
So then we had a class in which it was investment, and I was like investment? Why would anyone invest in my idea? Why wouldn't they tell me you invest? So I had to start from scratch on understanding how investors work, and I still did not understand it very well I think after eight years because I never had investments, like real investments. Only now we're actually getting to the investment part, and it's still like okay how does this work. So yes, it kind of came by accident, but I think a really good decision.
James McKinney: That's unbelievable. It's so amazing to me with the life successes you've had within aerospace that you accidently fall into what has become a successful company through an idea and an application, and a contest of sorts that you won and didn't realize it was to launch a business. I love that you had to accelerate your entrepreneurial learnings. The idea of not understanding investment, you look at most startup cap tables, most startups don't understand how investors work, so you're not alone in that whatsoever. So when would you say the beginning of Chipsafer is?
Victoria Alonsoperez: I think the beginning was when I put the idea on paper. I remember so here's another funny story. I thought that was something you had to do on your own, but I didn't know anything about business, you know? And my dad who's an accountant, as I said before, he helped me with the numbers. So I was like oh, maybe I'm cheating because having my dad helping me with the numbers, I don't know. So my dad was like, "Oh, okay, but I give you some ideas but then you do it on your own." And then I had my sister who still works with me in Chipsafer, she did the logo because I didn't know how to use Photoshop and she's a graphic designer, so she did the logo based on a design I did. If I don't say that she's going to kill me because she doesn't like the logo, she always says it was my idea. But she did it. She executed it.
So between the three of us I had the idea, I did all the technical research, my dad helped me with the numbers, my sister helped me with the logos and the presentation, we submit the idea. So then when I get to Dubai, I was actually told that I was one of the finalists. There were five finalists for the idea, five finalists for the startups. My competitors were actually people that came from MIT, Harvard, there were all these teams which had all this background in business and everything, and I was alone. And I remember the judges being like, "This is a really great idea, but who helped you?" And I'm like, "Okay, my dad and my sister." "You didn't have a team behind or anything?" And I was like, "No, we did it on our own." That was interesting when I saw that the others had entire teams from the best universities in the world.
James McKinney: I love it, absolutely love it. So when you win this, there's obviously funding that comes behind it and maybe it was a lot, maybe it wasn't, but it was enough to just get you started. What was your, after you had your accelerated courses on being an entrepreneur and understanding business, what were your next steps? Because again this was to start a business, this was to bring your idea into reality and into the market. So what were your next steps after you won that?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes. So my next steps were I thought I needed a cofounder so I, in this course that I had in Dubai they said you need to find people that complement you. So I went to a friend of mine that was kind of the exact opposite of mine, and I asked him to cofound the company. In the beginning it was good but then in the end, we were so opposite. I mean he's a great guy but we had very different visions of what we wanted, so in the end we decided to split. I bought his part and I stayed with the company. But I think that it was the first years it was a lot of trial and error. We got funding from the National and Research Innovation Agency from Uruguay which was great, because that allowed us to do our first prototype without having to get any investment.
James McKinney: Let me ask that question though. So that step alone in pursuing funding from a government agency, in the US we call them grants, I don't know if they're that same name, but that step alone is a level of thinking that most new entrepreneurs don't realize there is government assistance in some things. One, how did you know that? And then how did you know to pursue it?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Before becoming an entrepreneur I was getting scholarships and so as I was getting scholarships, I knew about the grant money a lot because of that, because when I went to International Space University, I got a scholarship for it. I think it was 75% of it so I was looking around in Uruguay for other places where they could cover the 25% rest, and I went to this agency and they were like, "No because it's not, we can't help you because it's not part of our program to help people with scholarships in universities that we are not collaborating with." So I already kind of knew from that, from that experience that I had, that there were grants. I think that because I was always getting scholarships and grants, because I mean we couldn't afford otherwise, that's how I got to know about the grant world. That was a world that I knew. The investor worlds I didn't know at all. So that's why we went to the grant first, and that allowed us to delay the part of the investment.
James McKinney: Got it, okay. So you have the funding from the award, you have some grant money that came in. what other funding vehicles did you have that helped set up your infrastructure so that you could begin manufacturing?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Everything that was free we would get it. If there were mentorships for women or mentorships… I think that when I started it was 2012. So I think 2013 was kind of the boom of the startups in the sense of a lot of in Uruguay there was not much, but then a lot of accelerators and programs and things started. In the US you had this huge boom with Facebook so they were really kind of trying to help entrepreneurs in that sense. So I think I got into those mentorships. For example I think that Amazon Work Services or Microsoft they would give you free credits, so I used that. Anything that we would get like free type of credits or something that we could utilize, we utilized it so that was really good for us.
Then we applied to a lot of pitch competitions. I think the one year I was just pitching the whole year. Which I was actually criticized for that. I was criticized by other entrepreneurs who were actually getting VC money, and I was like look, you get VC money, you spend your time on that. I get grants which I don't have to give any equity for so let me do this. It would take I think in my opinion it would take less time for me to do the competitions which were I just go, pitch, win, okay get the money. Whereas when you have to go to a VC it's the term sheet and all those things. So we got a lot of funding from competitions. And the competitions and things it's not just the funding, but generally there is a lot of connections, network, publicity. We won a competition from Chivas Regal, it's called the Venture, and in that competition the really good thing was there was publicity all over Uruguay because they were doing this competition about who gets more votes from the different competitors. So that gave me a lot of exposure for customers and everything. So I think that those competitions really helped us not only with the funding but with the network and a lot of different things.
Another one that was very important for us was the Inter-American Development Bank did a competition and we won, and that was great because then they even took me on a trip to go to Japan and to South Korea, and to get to know the Asian environment and so that was really good for me.
James McKinney: That's incredible. As you were talking I was thinking there's that song that hopefully as the podcast gets released have that song playing in the background of "All I do is win, win, win no matter what" because every time you enter something you win. I just love that about your story. From the beginning of the determination to be in aerospace, to submit for a competition for something you didn't even realize was going to be the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, for you to then take that and run with it as you have. And I realized as we were talking that my audience may not know exactly what Chipsafer is. So can you unpack what now, especially that we're if I'm not mistaken we are eight years into the Chipsafer journey I believe, exactly what is Chipsafer as it is today.
Victoria Alonsoperez: Chipsafer is a platform where we can track and detect anomalies in livestock behavior completely remotely and autonomously. So the farmer can know at all times where the animals are. Also receive an alert if an animal goes beyond a specified perimeter or if an anomaly in the movement is detected, and receive insights to better manage their herd. We started in Uruguay, then we have an office in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and now we are having our headquarters in Singapore.
James McKinney: Incredible. So let's go back to the foot and mouth disease of 2001 I think you said where much of the livestock in Uruguay had to be put down because of infection, and therefore obviously the economic decline that took place from that. How does Chipsafer address that? Because if I'm not mistaken it sounds very much like a location tracking mechanism versus a biometric tool for health and wellness. Can you unpack how that solves something like that?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes. So the idea was to be able to detect when an animal gets sick early. That is something that you can detect by the movement of the animal. So many times they remain in one place or they, one animal just moves away from the whole group. There are several traits that you can detect just by the movement, that you can detect if an animal is sick or not. That's how it started. Then we moved into more, for example in Latin America where number one reason why people contact us is for cattle theft, which is a gigantic problem in Latin America. So that's why we moved more into that thing but also we can detect if there's an anomaly in the movement, which can mean many things. What we want to do in the future is being able to tell you which exact disease the animal is having and for that we're working on algorithms, and a lot with machine learning too. So that is kind of work in progress that we have for the next year.
James McKinney: How big is your team right now?
Victoria Alonsoperez: So right now we are 10. We used to be a bit bigger, then we had to reduce because of some funding issues and now we are in the process of hiring. Yeah, we set up a call a few days ago. Yes, we're hiring for our Singapore office.
James McKinney: I want to ask this question knowing that business did not really come on your radar until eight years ago. What has been the greatest challenge for you?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Oh my God, so many challenges. I think the biggest, I think if you were to ask me for one it's definitely the hardware part. Hardware has been our bottleneck and the reason is when you're in the US you ask for a component, an electronics component, and you ask for overnight shipping and you get it 9 a.m. the next day, you know? In Uruguay, unfortunately there were not many components so when we ask something from the US it would take like a week or more to get to Uruguay, and then we had the problem with customs. That was always a nightmare. So we had to, in order to take out a component, sometimes… one time, the worst time, it was four months for us to take out. So that took a lot of time. So that's why we started thinking about manufacturing outside. We always had the prototype, but we wanted to move into product. So the first experience that we wanted to do that was we went to a factory in China. We went to several factories, we decided on one. And then when they sent us the device it was nothing like what we asked for. The components were completely different so it was really bad, so we cancelled everything. That set us back like one year. It was pretty bad.
But in the same time it was really good because at the time, I decided to move into Brazil. So when I was in Brazil I realized that the technology that I had in Uruguay was not useful in Brazil. The reason why, the technology we had in Uruguay depended on cellular connectivity, so 3G or GPRS whereas in Brazil like the places where we went to the farms they didn't really have cell phone coverage. So we had to look into another type of technology. We were one of the first ones to actually do testing with LoRa technology and we changed entirely. We kind of started from scratch in the development again to be able to have this device that was worldwide.
Then we had another problem. So here is one of the worst experiences that we ever had, and this is something that I generally get asked. So we get a manufacturer recommended by someone that we knew. It was a big company that we knew. So we were talking with him and we gave him a lot of money. We had this project in Namibia that we had to start. The customer is already in Namibia and we had funding from NCS Networks that it is a satellite company in Luxembourg. So they had already installed satellite dishes in Namibia. The customer was there waiting to see, you know, like okay where are you. So they are calling us and we had arranged that a manufacturer was going to go himself with some samples to Namibia to do this project. The day that he has to go, and he disappears completely. We don't know where he is.
James McKinney: Oh man.
Victoria Alonsoperez: So we start calling everyone and being like where is he? Nobody knows where he is. My business partner goes and is like you know what, I'm going to fly to where he is because he always told us that he had an office at a city. He's like okay, I'm taking the flight tonight, so just pass me his address. So we contact this other big company and we're like, "Hey, Bruno is taking a flight right now so pass me the address that he's going to go and fetch him." And this big company is like, "Um, I have a problem. Whenever actually went to the place where he says he has. We checked and there is nothing."
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Victoria Alonsoperez: So we were like oh my God. So with my business partner, we start calling every manufacture in the world that could help us, and we were like okay, what do you do, what do you do. We couldn't find anyone. In the end, we have to call the satellite company. We were terrified of calling because we were like okay, they're going to kill us. So we call them and they're like, "Oh yes, we knew that this was going to happen." It's like what? They're like, "Oh yeah, we always had our doubts because every time we talk to him he couldn't give us right answer, straight answers so we thought this could happen. So don't worry. We can put you in touch with another manufacturer." So what I did was I got a ticket to Namibia and we got another manufacturer, which sent us some devices.
So I took this flight, but I couldn't take the flight because I needed a visa to get to Namibia because Uruguayans need a visa. The visa took like one week to get. When I get it, I do the whole trip which is super gigantic. I think it's a whole day. When I get to Namibia, they're like, "No, you have the wrong visa so you're going back." I'm like what? No, please don't tell me this. They're like, "No, no." So I start getting in touch with everyone in Latin America and the people in San Paolo, and the person in San Paolo goes, "No, that's the visa that you should get. It's correct." "Yeah, but the people here are saying no."
So in the end, what I arranged was they gave me two or three days to be in Namibia and get a new visa, but I was like no, I'm going to be on the border with Angola, so there is no place there. I found a place three hours from where I was and so yeah, I had to wait two or three days to go and get the new visa that I needed to be able to stay there. So I got it. But then it was one problem after the other. So we broke the satellite dish because it was in the wrong place. When we tried to put it in another place, we broke it. I was alone there doing all this with the customer. I'm like I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry.
So yes, up until today I feel bad about that project. But the only good thing that I can think about is when I was at my very low, because I remember spending a whole day crying when we couldn't find this guy and thought that the customer was going to sue us and everything, and so I was really, really what do I do? And I allowed myself I think to be feeling terrible for a day, and then I said okay we need to get things going. And I just took a ticket to Namibia and went. Yeah, I did everything that was in my power to make this work, even with all the bad things that happened.
James McKinney: That's incredible. Where do you stand today with customers? Can anyone with a large herd can they call Chipsafer to sign onto the program? Where are we at with your customer base?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes. So with Chipsafer right now, we finally were able to get from prototype to product. We got accepted into the Advanced Incubation Center from Flex, which Flex by the way they used to be called Flextronics before. Me being an electronics engineer, I knew about Flex forever and that was the manufacturer I always wanted. But of course we were too small so it was kind of complicated to get them. But they were like the best quality, they were the exact thing that I wanted and I knew that since I started in 2012 that I wanted to work with them.
In 2018, they started the Advanced Incubation Center in Singapore, and a friend of mine tells me about it. I'm like yes, please. So we were the first startup to get accepted because as soon as I saw the opportunity I was like yes, that's what I wanted. We spent like two years going from prototype to product with them. They helped us. So now we are in the mass production phase, and we are mass producing in Singapore. We're getting big orders from customers from different parts in the world. We have a big order now for Uruguay. So yes, we are in full commercial mode.
James McKinney: Now that you actually have a product where customers can contact you for order, you probably are breathing a little easier because now you've gone through quite a journey to get to where you are today. But I have to still ask even though you're still breathing easier, is there still any bit that brings you anxiety as to… where's the next hole going to be that I'm going to step in?
Victoria Alonsoperez: So right now we're asking for investment for the first time, so it's complicated. You have a ton of meetings and I'm more of a technical person. I think that is where our efforts are going are into that, and the reason is we want to grow and we want to grow fast. So yes, we're talking to different investors from different parts in the world, and I think that is it. But I don't think that we are ever going to be able to breathe well being an entrepreneur. Things completely out of… so we were going to do this big event in February and we had to cancel it because of the COVID situation. So I mean come on. When I finally feel, like in January I remember feeling like okay, this is so good, finally a good year. Finally we are getting our break. The event is happening, we are doing so well, and then COVID happens. And you're like come on, come on, seriously.
James McKinney: Seriously. In the world of entrepreneurship we already have so many things stacked against us, and then a virus comes and just complicates things even more. We can plan for a lot. It's amazing how many things can be thrown at us that we just had no idea about. And obviously you're going to be stronger because of it, now having gone through this. Any business that can survive through 2020 is going to be stronger because of it, but there's still going to be something that's going to come across our path that's going to knock our legs out from under us and we're going to have to learn from it. It's just time and time again. So I want to ask you this question. Was there ever a moment in the eight years of growing Chipsafer from the time you submitted the award to today when we're recording this, was there ever a moment where you just thought to yourself I don't think I'm the one that can do this?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes, definitely, like a million times. Even though I had the goal, I never said I don't think I can do this. I always thought kind of the opposite, like okay my drive in having this very straight goal and stuff is very important, but I need help. So I thought about a lot of times like I need help, I need help, I need help. So yeah, that definitely happens and happens a lot, and questioning. You know, I think that during this really hard times that I had with the manufacturers, one thing that was really important for me was having mentors, people that have been through this. An advisor in my company is actually a mentor that started with me in Chipsafer since 2012. You know, many times when I was in the worst times, I would call him and he was like really, really helpful.
Another thing that helped me a lot was talking to other entrepreneurs. When I say other entrepreneurs, like other entrepreneurs doing something similar to what I was doing. For example, I remember talking when all this thing was going on with China, I remember talking to some entrepreneurs from Argentina that were actually doing hardware, so they really understood the whole thing of doing hardware in Latin America and then trying to manufacture in China and everything. They were like, "Yeah, that happened to us too." It's fine. They only thing they said was kind of that, but it kind of made me feel a bit better in the sense of okay, I'm not the only dumb person in the world. So that happens.
The thing is when you're an entrepreneur too, you have to be in so many things. For example, I think I only put founder and CEO of Chipsafer recently, and that was just because of the talks with the investors. I always had only "founder", not CEO and the reason was because I think that I'm doing so many other things. It's like we're all having tons of different roles. You know when you see a startup with really few employees and everybody is a vice president or a director or something, and you're like of what? That's why I was like okay, I didn't think about titles much. Only now because now we're kind of forced to say okay, who does what and all that.
James McKinney: I love it. One of the things you said that I think is so critical, and I guess if I were to look back on your journey even as a child who had aerospace dreams, you always had people pouring into you through mentorship and assistance, and even obviously your teachers, your professors at the university level, all the programs you've had, the opportunity to sit and meet with people. Would you say that is probably the single greatest asset that has carried you this far is just how willing and how humble you are to accept the help given to you?
Victoria Alonsoperez: Yes, I think that is something very important to do. Sometimes you see entrepreneurs when they just start they have a bit of arrogance, but then that goes away pretty fast. Once you start getting your first failures and seeing that everything is not as you see on the Facebook movie or something. I think yeah, once you start realizing that there's a lot of struggles, I think that's… even with entrepreneurs that can be competitors, you generally can talk pretty well and everything because you know how hard it is. Sometimes you're competing against big companies that they have like huge resources and everything, and you're kind of like you feel like you're alone sometimes. There are several things, but one is having a clear goal is really important.
James McKinney: You know one of the things that is great about mentorship is hearing from those who are farther down the road than you. So when we think of the road that you've travelled and all the things you've done over the eight years in growing Chipsafer, if you were speaking to Victoria from eight years ago what are some things that you would tell Victoria to do differently than you have over the last eight years?
Victoria Alonsoperez: I don't know because I think that I learned so much during all these years. Every single experience , even the Africa experience which was really scary and when I think about something right now I'm like okay, that was really helped me grow a lot. So I don't know. Now that we have this product and we are doing things well, maybe if I would have closed the company then I would have said something. But I think that definitely these years helped me grow a lot, to grow a lot the product. We made changes into the product that if we didn't have those bad periods, I don't think that we could have done.
I always remember a story which is very funny but a friend of mine, super beautiful, probably one of my friends the one that always had every guy flirting with her, and I remember… she had some boyfriends which were really bad. I was like wow, why are you with them. Then she met a guy that was adorable and super nice, and she was so in love with him, like so in love. They ended up getting married. When she's getting married, when she tells me that she's getting married, one of the things she said is, "You know I'm so glad about all my other ex-boyfriends which were terrible. Because if any of them would have been like slightly good, not so bad just like regular bad, maybe I would have stand it and stayed with them. But since they were extremely bad, that gave me the strength to just like cut it with them, and I could move on, and now I could meet this guy which is actually the love of my life, the one that I want." So when she was saying that I was immediately thinking about Chipsafer, and I was thinking you know if maybe the Chinese factory which had given me a product that was actually not really bad but like just borderline bad, maybe I would have stayed, and stayed a couple more years and keep trying and everything. But since they gave me this that was something I could never work with, then it was like okay no, that's it, end the contract. So I think that all the experiences, if they were instead of having been really bad they would have been okay or just bad, maybe the outcome would have been different.
James McKinney: That is so insightful and the perspective is incredibly helpful so I hope for everyone listening that you caught that right. Sometimes the extreme things that we're going through, it's actually best for us than the mediocre things, the lukewarm things because sometimes it takes the extreme to move us away from this path that we're on. What a great perspective. So let me ask this question as our time is slowly coming to an end. Do you think anybody can be an entrepreneur? And I'm really excited about your response to this question because of your journey specifically.
Victoria Alonsoperez: I think it depends. I think that everybody has to do what they are best at. That is one thing that my dad used to tell us. I have two siblings and one of those things that he said is, "Do whatever you want but make sure that it's something that you love because that's the only way that you're going to be the best at it." So for example I went to engineering school and I decided to focus more on my career and on Chipsafer and everything. And I have a friend of mine, she is one of my best friends, and she did engineering too. After that, she got married and had kids and really focused on the kids because that's what she loves. She's really happy when she's with her daughters. So that's why I think that you should really understand what is the best for you.
Also, I've spoken with people that I'm like I remember when I started as an entrepreneur I would tell everybody, "Oh yes, you should do it," and all that. And then I spoke with some people that were like, "No, I really love having a paycheck at the end of each month. That is what I really love. It makes me feel comfortable, it makes me feel great. I cannot stand the risk of not having that." And so I was like okay, if you cannot stand that then maybe entrepreneurship is not for you.
James McKinney: I love it. Oh, it's so good, so good. Let me ask this question because as I think back to your journey and how limited the resources and opportunities were for you, yet you continued to make something for yourself and for the journey that you wanted to pursue. Do you think it would be easier for you to grow Chipsafer in let's say the United States than in Uruguay? And if so, why haven't you relocated the company?
Victoria Alonsoperez: So now we have relocated to Singapore. I think that since we are manufacturing everything in Singapore that is the right place for us. We also want to tackle a lot of the Asian markets so that's why we are there. But I think that maybe when I started, I think that it might have been easier if I would have been in the United States. But at the same time, I think that the grant opportunities that I got in Uruguay I would not maybe have gotten it if I was in Silicon Valley.
Another thing that is really good about being in Uruguay or Brazil is that we get really good engineers and we don't have to pay the prices of Silicon Valley. For me, that is really… I don't know how the companies do it because when you see that a company raises millions and millions in Silicon Valley, but then you see the salaries that you have to pay it's also you say wow, if I raise the same amount I can do four times more. So of course always paying well, that is very important. But different markets, you cannot compare I think the salaries of Silicon Valley with even the salaries of Florida in the United States. So even inside the United States you have difference.
I know many companies that went out of Silicon Valley in the recent years. They went either to Colorado or New Mexico or other places because, and it's very competitive also. If you have really getting good engineers that are not going to go to Google or Facebook if you're in Silicon Valley, it's complicated. For most of it, it was really the good decision to start in Uruguay. Also we had the market which was very important and everything. I think that the only thing maybe the development for hardware. In that case, if we would have been in the US it would have been easier.
James McKinney: Got it. Understood, understood. Well you know unfortunately all great conversations have to come to an end so our time is slowly wrapping up. There's two questions that I want to ask you that I ask every founder of every episode. The first is about gratitude. The reason I ask this question is that I truly believe that if we forget all the people that poured into us to help us to get to where we are today we will think that we did this on our own, and then we'll begin to isolate ourselves because we think it is truly of our own doing, and that will ultimately lead to our failure because we are where we are today because of the shoulders of others. So when you think back to your journey, who are all the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your story?
Victoria Alonsoperez: I think there is so many. It would be really hard to start naming people, because I don't want to make anyone feel left out, you know? But I mean starting from my family for sure, of course. When I was bullied at school and everything the good thing is I could always come back to a really supportive family. I never had any person in my family saying you cannot do it. My aunt or even the extensive family were always really supportive. Especially obviously my parents, my siblings and my grandparents. My grandfather would buy me as many space books as I wanted. I was this big nerd and they were expensive, but he would buy them from me. And all the investment into my education.
And then in the entrepreneurship journey, I have a mentor who is an advisor in the company now. But when we started, we started as mentor and without him I could not have done it. So many other entrepreneurs too that I contacted. There is really a lot of people. At some point also you know when bad things happen, you have really good people but at the same time you have also not so good people. I decided I would only focus on the good people. So I made a list of all those good people. You know there's people that make a list of the bad, I make a list of the good and if I ever get really successful with Chipsafer then I would send them… I already know what gift I want to send to everyone from my favorite store, so yeah I hope I can be able to do that.
James McKinney: I love it. I love the heart behind that as well. That's incredible. So our final question, and we've been talking to over 60,000 people at a high level of your story, just hearing, allowing them to hear about your journey and the challenges and the pursuit and everything that comes with bringing especially a hardware product to market. But now I want to bring the conversation down to the one. This is what I call like a mentoring minute, the equivalent would be you sitting down with a cup of coffee with one of my listeners. So whether it be my listener who is the frustrated entrepreneur who has been trying to grow their business with many, many challenges, never feels like cash flow is right, customer acquisition is always a challenge and obviously maybe Coronavirus has completely jacked up their business. Or maybe it's the wantrepreneur, the one who has a book full of dreams and ideas but they're just not sure they want to move forward on their dream because of maybe they thought I've never trained for entrepreneurship, I don't know anything about business, or I have a mortgage and spouse and kids I have to care for. Or maybe I'm 60 years old and I'm just too old for this. Whatever the thing is that's causing them to move forward on their dreams there's some narrative. Or maybe you want to talk to the defeated entrepreneur, the one who has been kicked time and time again just can't seem to execute well. What would you say to one of those people if you were sitting down with a cup of coffee with them?
Victoria Alonsoperez: What I would say to you is make sure that what you're doing is something that you're in love with. If you really believe in the project, if you really believe in the startup, if you really believe in the product, then go for it. There's going to be a lot of complications and a lot of roadblocks, but you will be able to go through them. The good thing is that each time that you go through a roadblock you feel way more strong. You feel way stronger. You feel like you defeated something, that you were able to win this. And every single thing makes for a great story that you will then be able to tell in a podcast. So you know in the end, all the bad stories are generally great narratives for experience and for making you grow, and for making you feel better once you are able to overcome the roadblock.
James McKinney: once you've had a few moments to process all the value Victoria brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. And lastly, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. Victoria loves connecting with likeminded entrepreneurs so do not hesitate to reach out to her on LinkedIn. In fact, we've included a link in our show notes to her LinkedIn profile. She's also accessible on Instagram @Victoria.Alonsoperez and on Twitter @Vic_Alonsoperez. Connecting with other entrepreneurs is critical, so make sure to reach out to her and share your thoughts on her episode. Remember, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's show up for Victoria in a huge way. And now for my personal ask.
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