Interview at “On Startups Magazine”

Check a great time and talk that I had with On Startups Magazine. For Portuguese version just click at the link bellow

Tim Vieira, needs no introduction. He tells us a little about his path as an entrepreneur, but also about the present and future of the ecosystem. He speaks to us in Portuguese, with some accent, and naturally lets out a few words in English. Among the various subjects he shares with us, he tells us about what it was like to be an entrepreneur in South Africa, his presence in the entertainment television program – Shark Tank and also about investing in startups, and his project Be Brave, an Entrepreneurship and Mentoring Association.

“I think traditional education has been at a standstill for 200 years. We are still preparing people for an Industrial Revolution”

Talking about entrepreneurship, for Tim, is like talking about something trivial, we imagine… 

  • No, I think entrepreneurship is something that is alive, always changing. We have to always be talking about finding new opportunities, what is happening in the market, the new talents that are coming in… I think the ecosystem is nothing trivial, it’s very, very alive, there’s a lot going on and for me that’s what makes me enjoy being inside this ecosystem, because that’s where everything that is good, and everything that can possibly improve our future, begins.

You had your first experience as an entrepreneur in the early 90’s (1993) through your bet on a beverage company, especially beer. What was it like to be connected to that area? It was an area that attracted your attention, we imagine that you are a beer connoisseur. 

  • I think we have to like what we’re doing and obviously beer is something I like a lot, and it’s one of those things that you can’t just invest with your soul. I probably also invested a little bit with my belly, with my tongue, with everything. And that was interesting, because if we only do something for the numbers that appear at the end, we lose a lot in life and, for me, it was a great adventure to be able to make a beer. When I started this beer, basically the market was a monopoly, and I thought life was too short for us to drink bad beer and I thought let me try to make something I want to drink, that I know my friends want to drink, and it was so it all started. So, it all starts with us, thinking if we can do something better, something that we are looking for and then we have to have some passion, some purpose. For me it was a little bit like that.

What was it like to be an entrepreneur in South Africa, a country with a completely different context from that of Portuguese and with such a particular historical dynamic? 

  • South Africa at that time was going through sanctions, so everything had to be very self-sufficient, we had to produce and have solutions. All we need these days is a little bit of what was going on in South Africa at the time. We had to be creative, have a motivation, a resilience, a persistence. Everything that was happening there was a little bit what the world is today. We couldn’t be comfortable, because we didn’t know what tomorrow was going to be like and if we didn’t do something nobody did. I think that’s how I realized that it wasn’t worth it to be thinking about governments to solve problems, it had to be us, entrepreneurs, who were able to make decisions and improve, managed to do something better every day. So, we were all going forward, our companies, our community and in the end, maybe even our country. This was a little bit the mindset I had. Do I think this gave me different DNA? I think so. Now we look at one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world, from my years in South Africa, Ellon Musk, and I think it also gave him a different DNA, a willingness to solve, try, experiment and know that there is a bigger world. Because at the time, we felt like we were locked in a box. We got comfortable, waiting for everyone to help, when maybe not before. We had to do it. And the world is that way, always waiting for someone, or pointing a finger. At that time it was our fault, our decisions.

Still talking about that “box” and the roots, and the fact that people often talk about Portuguesespeaking communities, what weight did the integration in that existing Portuguese-speaking community in South Africa have for the start of the business? It was important? 

  • I think that the Portuguese, in whatever country they are in, are seen as entrepreneurs and people who make things happen, they are very family oriented, to create things and create value. People who are not afraid. We look at the businesses they do and see that they are able to adapt easily. I think the Portuguese, when they leave Portugal and are not in their comfort zone, do spectacular things. I wasn’t in the Portuguese community so much, I was in a more English area (that’s why I played cricket and rugby), but for me it was never a disadvantage to be Portuguese. It’s a bit strange, because when I’m in South Africa they say I’m Portuguese, when I’m here [Portugal] they say I’m South African, I never know where I am, or what I am.. But, I think that in South Africa, or on any country in the world, being Portuguese opens doors, it doesn’t close doors and that’s something we have to use. We have to use this Portuguese network, because it’s everywhere. We can look and see that we are, in many ways, like Israel, we have Portuguese everywhere, like Israel does, but they communicate better and help each other more, open more doors and believe in a bigger dream; They have a clear big picture. I think this is what Portugal lacks, if we can improve this, 10 to 15%, we can change the GDP.

“I think I like to invest in startups, because it puts me forward. Finding talent and helping them grow is what binds me to startups”

It is curious to mention this, because of the contact that we are having with many immigrants and, in particular, businessmen who created their activity outside the country, the focus that exists is precisely the fact that there is no mutual help. Do we lack that ability to help each other, which perhaps you found among the population of South Africa? 

  • Things are changing now. In the old days, we would go there and get away with it ourselves and then see what happened. Now, the second and third generation, who are already successful and who are starting to come to Portugal, want to give back to the country and are seeing how they manage, for example, to take the “Pastel de Nata” to their country. That’s good, because we’re seeing a lot of talent starting to look here. Now it felt that it is even in fashion, because we have Swedes, Germans, Americans, English, coming here, starting to do the same thing and they are not even Portuguese. It’s much easier for a Portuguese to think “I’ll even do that”. I can see this network opening up, because talent is not lacking in our ecosystem. This network is missing, so that we can do a quick scale-up. Instead of knocking on only local doors, we have to start knocking on global doors and I think that’s starting to happen. We are seeing many young people of Portuguese descent, sometimes they can’t even speak Portuguese well, but they want to see how they can create a connection with Portugal. They want to see how they manage to bring technology and products, how they manage to set up an office here and use their talent to carry out development. That’s what’s interesting for the future. What we need to do is let that happen, because if we have that connection, our market becomes global. I think that when we have Portuguese descendants abroad, many with great contacts, a huge market opens with strength to take the country forward. We look at our PSI-20. It has 17 companies. We have good companies, but we don’t have the one that will be the next Google, or Facebook. We need to start seeing how we are going to have companies in the future starting to internationalize. Companies that think globally, and that, as Portuguese, we can buy shares and say that we are not buying shares only in Portugal, but we are buying globally.

Could this moment of crisis that we are going through be an opportunity for the entrepreneurs of the future?

  •  It can be a great opportunity, not only for entrepreneurs, but also for the Portuguese. We are now starting to see so many companies saying that teleworking is not an issue. The Portuguese before had to immigrate, now they don’t need to immigrate, through the internet they can be in Ericeira, Leiria, Algarve, working for the world and earning worldwide salaries. They are having a Portuguese lifestyle and a mixture of everything that is best. I think this is a great advantage and the Portuguese companies that are here will have to adapt quickly, because if they don’t, they will lose that talent, the programmers, people who solve problems. We have to start producing now. The demand will be great and in Portugal what will save us is our human talent and the Portuguese lifestyle. I think we now have a unique opportunity to take advantage.

Taking this challenge, are you one of the advocates that traditional, or vocational, education should include a discipline of entrepreneurship, for younger people to learn from an early age?

  •  I think traditional education has been at a standstill for 200 years. We are still preparing people for an industrial revolution, to work in industry all at the same time. We had a 3-month vacation, because it was the time we went to agriculture to help our parents, all that is obsolete. So yes, I believe we need a new eduction. We need an education in which our children leave school at 18 with a skill, and they can, if they want, take another six-month course, but they already have a job and know that that job will only last from 3 to 5 years and that, later, they will have to do a reskilling, but they manage to get a job and start producing soon. Because things have changed and we cannot think that we can continue to do as in the past. And the countries that accept this more quickly will be the countries that will win. We look at the market, as companies were 30 years ago, it was all industry. Now it’s all technology, they don’t produce anything, there’s less creativity. We need people who can make this type of company come here, or else we will work for this type of company abroad, but managing to bring the money here.

We continue to talk about business, but now about Tim’s business. Currently, you have investments in Angola, Mozambique, Ghana and also in Portugal. In such different areas, what place do startups play in your activity? 

  • think I like to invest in startups, because it puts me forward. It entails an increased risk, no doubt. I think finding talent and helping them grow is what binds me to startups. It’s one of those special things that we sometimes see and say “look, we bet well”. This is worth a lot and it’s a legacy that we’re going to leave and, at times, we manage to mentor someone who has changed many people’s lives. I would like to see more Portuguese “entering” startups and large Portuguese companies becoming distribution channels for new startups. The R&D of Portuguese companies is not big, so instead of having R&D we will invest in startups that do this R&D and we help distribute it and help them grow, but this has to be good for everyone. If we copy a few functioning ecosystems, we can go a long way. We’ve had some successes already, and I think the more success we have the more success we will create. I think we have to keep betting, because if we don’t bet then we’re not going anywhere.

We couldn’t stop talking about associativism and about the particularity of having an organization that helps current and future entrepreneurs. “Be Brave”, what are we talking about? 

  • Be Brave, that’s a little bit like that. It’s not just about investing in money, but bringing in mentors. We are staying with an ecosystem of many people who come here to live and many of them have already had success in life. We see companies that are probably startups, or scale-ups, and that want to grow, and that in order to grow they have to leave here, also to open the market, or that need mentoring that shows more the financial or marketing side and we present these companies to these people. Before it was done in person, but now we are doing it by Zoom. So we have people from Israel, Canada, the United States, everywhere. We have many more foreigners than Portuguese, who look at Portugal and see the potential, and want to be part of this ecosystem, and help. It’s good because sometimes, instead of funding, they find a customer who buys, or starts to bet. That’s what we do at Be Brave is giving our time and our mentoring. And it’s hard, because we have money, but sometimes we don’t have time.

The presence in an entertainment program like Shark Tank – which has had a tremendous impact in the United States and in other countries where it has been – what weight did it have in the way you looked at, and look at, the entrepreneurs of the future? 

  • When the Shark Tank took place in Portugal, we were in a crisis and now we are, once again, entering a crisis that we are still not seeing well, but it will come. I think we have to be open-minded and positive and I think Shark Tank gave that, because our banks are not prepared to finance startups, in other words, to finance businesses. People were able to see that there are other ways to raise capital, other ways to have investment, they started to hear talk about crowdfunding, at a time that our ecosystem needed, because it was “down”. Now, we’re more mature, but at the same time, more than ever, we’re going to need many of these big companies and banks to pay attention to startups. The country is made up of 85% of small and medium-sized companies. Successful startups employ people and are companies of the future, but they’re a little forgotten often. I think shows like Be On, and the magazines you guys make, bring that attention. But, we need to be serious and realize that companies like startups will need two years without fees, because these companies take time to start producing, but they start paying right away. In this crisis, they had no support and we lost, perhaps, some talent with it, or some were stagnant. So yeah it’s super important to have programs and all that. 

At the end of the Shark Tank chapter, he was widely considered by the public and those who participated as the “gentle shark”, that is, they saw themselves as a more humanized figure, closer to the entrepreneur. How did you manage that participation? Did you feel it was necessary to humanize this contact? Because if we look at their peers, investors sometimes had a tougher, more skeptical attitude towards entrepreneurs. 

  • went to the show as I am, in some things I probably did well and what they did was also very good, because it’s good to be skeptical, it’s good to tell someone that maybe they have to think more, or that the product won’t work. right until they think otherwise. I think both ways have value, there was a balance. On my side, I just started being who I am, I also wanted to have fun and meet people. It wasn’t just business, it was even betting on some people, because I could see how the market was doing. We forgot, but we were having a hard time in that crisis. But, I learned a lot with my fellow sharks, and I can say that I get along well with everyone. Being different is good, because that’s what makes us see from different angles and create solutions. I think it was a good mix in the end.

“A positive mindset makes the world a better place.” Considering this phrase, written by you, does a more optimistic and less pragmatic businessman have more chances of success?

  • I like to choose whether I’m going to be positive or not, I think it’s a choice I like to have. It’s that idea that we can see the glass as half full or half empty. I like to see it half full and know that I can fill it even more, because that’s how it is in life. Be positive, look at something that someone sees as a problem, I see it as a challenge, as an opportunity to solve and if I do, I’m probably already a step ahead of a lot of people who only see it as a problem. But, this is a habit I’ve started to create and it’s a difficult habit. Because there are days when we also doubt and it seems that everything is against us. But on these darker days we have to believe that we are doing the right thing, with values, with ethics, for one day, in the medium or long term, we can see that those clouds disappear and the sun comes out. It’s a little bit the way I think, thinking that way helps a person a lot to get through difficult times. It is knowing that if we only look back we will never look forward. So, we have to try to overtake and look ahead. Being positive is much better, it’s more fun, maybe I even make friends, I get invited to more events. 

What advice would you have liked to have been given to you when you entered the business world, and that would have helped you in that early stage? 

  • If I had focused more, I would have earned more, but it’s not something I wish someone had told me. Because I gained so much in other ways, in experiences, in meeting people… What I could tell someone is to gain experience, to work on things where you have to serve coffee, to be at McDonald’s until we go to a place that has nothing to do with us, but to try it for a month or two, because that is what makes us use places in our mind that we didn’t even think about, also puts us on the other side and makes us more human. I think the world needs to solve human problems in order to move forward, we can think about technology, we can think about a lot. But, in the end, it is: how are we going to solve problems for people of the new generation? How are we going to respond to problems for people who might not buy a car or a house, live in rented spaces forever, or work in coworkings? Or thinking that traveling is more important than working? What I can say to entrepreneurs is, don’t just study, but have experiences. Looking to the future, experiences will start to count for much more. And focus on strengths and forget about weaknesses. Focus on your strengths and then find others who will cover your weaknesses better than we ever would if we had to spend time on them.

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