Episode 370 - Todd Westra / Andres Rico

00:25  Hey, welcome back to the show. And today we are bringing you all the way down to South America for an amazing guest today. Andres, would you please tell us who you are and what you do?

00:35 I'm an entrepreneur. I started a company back in Bogota. Now the company's in the States and Europe. Basically, I founded a company called Twototango, like it tastes Twototango.

00:50 I love it.

00:51 We founded the Tinder for Business. So we were basically helping SMEs and entrepreneurs to match with the best, with potential clients and partners at events. So every time you go to an event, you create a profile and we match your profile with those attending the conference or the big trade show.

01:08 So who hires you? Is it the trade show or the event manager? Or is it, how does it all work? Who are you servicing there?

01:17 So basically, we go throughout the US and throughout Latin America and sponsor various events, victory shows, conferences, we sponsor them. We don't charge them a penny so they can solve their networking needs. They use our platform and promote the platform throughout the conference. The one paying for the service is the attendee, the one going to the conference. We have a free meal package so they can use it for free. They have three interactions for free. And if they are convinced they can pay $10 and unlock all the different features and start matchmaking with potential investors, clients, partners at the conference before, during and after every conference.

01:59 Well that's kind of a no-brainer.

02:04 And so usually what we do is we split the revenue with the organizer. So it's, that's what we wanted to do. I know right now. Let's solve your need and also give you a cut on the revenue. 

02:17 Nice.

02:18 And also support the SMEs and startups attending the event.

02:21 That's a very creative model. I would not have thought that going into this, that that's what you were doing, but I like it. What kind of adoption are you seeing? Does it just depend on the trade show?

02:33 So basically we started with 7% adoption, 10% adoption. And then now we have an average of 67% adoption because we changed the model a little bit. It was once the way we started was basically people will register as an option. When they registered to the conference, they will opt in into Twototango. They will decide to opt in or not into Twototango. Now, when they registered to the conference, we asked you, do you want to network with potential partners, clients at the event? Pay $10. So usually it's by default. And they pay. So now we have events that are even 100% of the optimists are paying the $10 or 98% of them are paying the $10. And they want to use the positive end features, they can do that and they subscribe for the year.

03:35 That is very cool. So you've got, are there pre-posts, during the event and after the event tools?

03:41 Yes, we have, we have, yeah, we have three moments. And for those specific moments, we have different features that add value, uh, to the specific guest.

03:53 Super creative, I love it, I love it. And did you come up with this idea in Bogota or is this something you came up with when you moved to the States? Or how did this kind of, where did you see the need pop up?

04:04 And throughout many years, I lived in the States for many years, almost 10 years, attended over 300 events. And then at some point, I was in private equity, I was working for an investment fund, looking for opportunities for different investment opportunities. And I was also leading international missions with a number of different companies. Once I took this group of 10 companies to Brazil, we attended this big conference of 3,000 people in Rio de Janeiro. And it was a long, it was a week long conference and no one was able to really make meaningful business connections. So I grabbed the list of attendees and I was able to do a little bit matchmaking in Excel. So I came up with a solution, a very, very basic solution. And then after the conference, I reached out to one of my colleagues in India. And he said, Oh, this is super simple. We can just build a matchmaking algorithm. And then once everyone goes to an event, we will be able to match that person with all the people at the event.

05:23 I love it.

05:24 So simple that seven years later, we're still figuring it out.

05:26 Wow, yeah, that sounds really easy. That's so cool. So you literally have solved the problem of trying to matchmake people at conferences, making it easy for an event creator to want to adopt it because it's free, and it takes a huge burden off them because they don't want to have to manage selling the list and all the other garbage that goes along with it, right?

05:54 Right.

05:55 So smart, so smart. So who are your ideal clients? Are they the ones, I mean, obviously, the more attendees, the better, but are you finding people who run a lot of small events as beneficial as the ones running just large events?

06:10 Anything from 100 events and above, that works.

06:14 Gotcha.

06:15 The bigger the variable, yes, but anything from 100 and above.

06:17 Right. Cool, cool, very cool. Well, there's a lot of those around. So you've got a wide open marketplace, it sounds like.

06:33 It is, it is, and we have been very surprised with what's happening in the, in the past five, six months. And we started receiving calls from event organizers from Cairo in Africa, from Europe, from Southeast Asia.

06:49 Wow.

06:50 We have already supported a few of them, but we're not there. We're not ready with a, with the entire team to fully expand we're in the process of hiring the team to be able to expand. But for now, us and Latin America, and going back to the previous point, one thing that actually inspired me thought was that when, when I left the event in Brazil, uh, I was, I created a very strong bond with those 10 people that I had. 

07:23 Right.

07:24 Introduce with different people. And a year after that, or 10 months after that, I ran into one of these people that attended the event in Brazil. And he said, hey, Andres, when he saw me, he hugged me. He said, hey, you changed my life. You actually introduced me to my biggest client today. Because of that, I tripled my sales.

07:50 Wow.

07:51 I hired more people. And now my son is part of the company. That introduction actually changed my life. That's one nugget that I wanted to bring up, because that made a difference.

07:58 I love it. You know, anytime you're making a real difference where people come back and tell you and hug you and tell you that you changed your life, that is the right business to be in. So congratulations on discovering a solution to something that should have been solved a long time ago. 

08:15 Thanks, we're in the process. We actually came up with some real-time analytics that are showing us the number of different meetings that people are having in various conferences, industries, cities. We have a room that shows us that and so now we're glad that case that we have in Brazil now we have multiplied by almost 200,000 people that have helped, that we have helped.

08:44 I love it.

08:45 So far through Twototango.

10:05  I love it, I love it. You know, it always is so awkward now that we live in a day when people don't really carry business cards as much as they used to. To get those connections, those real-time connections at an event is more challenging than it used to be, in my opinion. So I think it's awesome.

10:22 It's very challenging. It's, it's almost like planning serendipity a little bit or increasing the chances to meet the right people at various venues. So it's not.

10:37 All right. Well, this is awesome. I mean, now we have a really good idea of what you do, who you serve, and how you're helping them. Talk to us about the business itself now. Help us understand, you know, you started this by yourself after a conference and you reached out to some friends in India, and I know how that thing goes, but how did you form the structure, the entity, and tell us about the growth in the past few years as you've been developing it.

11:03 The growth in the past two years. So, basically we were able to bring a strong case into an accelerator in Boston. We got selected by Techstars in 2021. So we created a company in the US. Thanks. Then we started expanding to the US. We started in the Northeast, Boston, New York. Then once we'd received the first investors into the company, we started making some very strong changes. We started hiring some key individuals into the company, sales, engineers, mentors. We actually organized the first advisory board and that made a huge difference.

11:56 Nice.

11:57  So what started in Bogota at a living room, we connected with a friend in India. Two years ago, thanks for the investment in the US, to start supporting events in Mexico, Argentina, Central America, US, various cities in the US, North, South, Central, and a little bit in Europe. And then, so a little bit of cash started to come into the company.

12:29 Nice.

12:30 And then now we're looking more into scaling and stabilizing the company and really scaling.

12:33 Very cool, very cool. So as you've taken those steps to grow, I mean, for a lot of people, especially US-based people, they think, oh my gosh, thinking about doing work with people out of state is finally something that's new. But for you, working with people in three different countries to establish one product, that's a lot to handle. International business is not as easy as some people make it sound. What were some challenges that you've kind of faced along the way as you've been able to build and grow your business to this point?

13:08 I would like to highlight three topics. One big challenge was when things started to grow a little bit. And then one of my only partners at the time left all of a sudden from one, one day to the next. 

13:24 Oh my gosh.

13:25 That was a huge punch that I had to recover. It took me a few months, several months to actually record from that one. 

13:33 Yeah.

13:34 Yeah. The, the, when, when you have only one partner and that person leaves that puts the best of you to the test and put the business at a huge risk. Then the second one was the fact that at some point with the ups and downs of creating a company and then launching and then building a team. It's sometimes hard to avoid, but you run out of cash when you don't have money. Then to start asking for money. And then you have a huge debt. One of us, I learned that was a very difficult to manage and very difficult to manage as well, because I had just gotten married and then so being recently married with a huge debt is not fun.

14:31 No, that's not fun.

14:33 And so overcoming that is another, is another huge win.

14:41 No kidding.

14:42 And then the third one is actually going to a different country and being present at various, various countries and being away from your family. So some of the time, sometimes throughout the year, fortunately that has passed. And now I have people pressing at various geographies where I don't need to be longer present all the time. So I also lived in 15 different countries for several years.

15:07 Oh my gosh.

15:08 Thanks to my career prior to starting a company. So I lived in Asia, Europe, US, Latin America. So that was a little bit traveling was the easiest part or jumping into a plane. But then once you get married, you look for something, a little bit of a stability and that was the hard part to deal. Now, much is much easier.

15:29 That's a lot. That's a lot of transition though. That's a lot of transition going from, yeah, I mean, that's a huge series of events in your life that had to have weighed a little bit heavy on you, especially with the marriage and trying to commit to that stabilizing force in your life. You know, it's one thing to be this guy that can just go take off any day of the week and there's nobody waiting at home for him. Changes that dynamic.

15:57 Right? Thankfully, right? Thankfully, as much as I love the Northeast, New York and Boston, I have people already there physically and in Central America and Argentina and Mexico so that I do no longer need to be there so I can be with my family's.

16:19 That's awesome. Awesome. Well, that's exciting. I love your story. I love what you've done. As you look forward and as you're trying to develop strategy for moving forward, is it, how do you feel about software? I mean, it sounds like you're looking to potentially raise money to expand into some of these other marketplaces. What is the game plan? What do you hope to be in six months and in a year and even three years?

16:44 Six months, a year, three years. That's a good question. That's a question I get usually from the investors. And yes, we're in the middle of a fundraising round. We're actually 50% through the round. We have some checks coming in already. We have the latest investors that came in a few weeks ago.

17:12 Good.

17:13 And we have more conversations going on halfway through the round in a moment where it's hard to raise money. That's a big win for me for the entire team, actually. Six months for now, I want to be launching our new version in Las Vegas.

17:34 Awesome.

17:35 Which is a huge epicenter of various events. Then a year from now, I would like to, we will always talk multiples with investors and scaling is a huge part. So I would like to say that we would like to multiply by 10 a year from today. And three years from now, I would like to be potentially raising a series A or B or having conversations about potentially selling the company.

18:23 Love it, love it. You know, exit planning is a big deal and a lot of people don't think about that. And so I think it's awesome that you are. I think it's a really, really strong move to be thinking of how can I build this to exit and get the biggest multiple that you can when you do. So I think it's awesome that you're thinking that way. Who are you leaning on for support? Is it your investors? Is it, do you have a team of solid people? Who's kind of advising you through some of this? Is there somebody you want to give a shout out to?

18:56 Right. I have definitely, there's one coach or one of our mentors and now investors. His name is Derrick Duplessy. So big shout out to Derrick. He lives in Boston. He's the one who actually built, he's one of those who believed in Totwotango, believed in me and actually support us all through pandemia where everything went to zero, because this is where the events conferences and people attending events space. So during pandemic, there was nothing for half a year. So this person actually took us through a very hard period and we overcame, we overcame together a number of different things. And he saw was we meet every rigorously, religiously, every Friday morning, presenting to various investors. We got some money and we're speaking at conferences and yeah, he's kind of an angel in our path.

20:06 That's awesome, awesome! You know, I love hearing about stories like that and I love shout outs like that because, you know, the reality is as a business founder or even a business operator as a CEO, oftentimes it feels very lonely and it feels like there's a lot of burden on your shoulders and there is a lot of burden on your shoulders, but to have a mentor or a group or someone in your corner who's able to give you advice and to keep you motivated to the right objectives is so powerful. And so thank you. Thank you for Derrick Duplessy for blessing you with their presence and their guidance on this journey.

20:42 Absolutely. He's actually an NGO. He leads an NGO that supports Latin American founders expanding into the U.S. and becoming potentially leaders in various industries.

20:53 Awesome, awesome. Well, we've got to have a conversation about that later because I've been networking with a lot of Latin American leaders here in America. And so I think there's a good couple of connections we can make here after the call. I love it. Very cool stuff.

21:12 Awesome. Thank you, Todd.

21:13 Well, Andres, looking forward and looking to people who may be two steps behind you, maybe two years behind you in development, is there any last bit of advice you'd like to share for them to kind of avoid some pitfalls as they're trying to build their way up.

21:29  Right, don't try to build products that are too expensive because you may find yourself in huge depth all of a sudden. Make sure you have someone like you said it before. Make sure you have someone in your corner because yes, to start a company, it's a place where you sometimes find yourself very lonely. It's a lonely place. So if you find that mentor or a mentor, it's something that you should be very respectful and very committed to so that the relationship is going to last and it's going to make the difference in the path.

22:21 Agreed. Agreed. Great advice.

22:22 So grab a good mentor, get a good mentor and make sure you have your finances under control. If you don't have the money, stop and go and find some money and don't go into debt endlessly because that's a dark place.

22:40 That's a bad place to be, especially for a newlywed, as you discovered. 

22:44 Oh yeah, don't get married. I'm good. Don't get married.

22:53 I love it. Marriage and debt are the best partners. They're not the best partners. Hey, Andres, I appreciate you taking the time to be with us today and thank you for sharing your story with us. We sure hope that we can add some value to Tutu Tango. I look forward to using it at some upcoming events that I'm going to, and I can't wait to encourage event planners to use this tool because it sounds like an amazing way to connect the dots between everybody at these events. So way to go, keep it up.

23:23 Right. Look forward to having you on the conferences. Oh, thanks for the invitation. Congrats on the podcast. Take care.

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