TIJUANA.- Much has been spoken about Tijuana in terms of a new generation of startups being generated in this city. It was a pleasant surprise to learn of “Ahorro Libre”, which we’ve nominated as our Startup of the Month. Ahorro Libre, which translates to Free Savings, is the solution that those who want to start their own business, but don’t have savings, have been waiting for.
SanDiegoRed.com sat down with Miguel Marshall, one of the founders of Ahorro Libre, to learn more about the startup project. The meeting took place at HUB STN, one of the new spaces in the city designe to bring together the startup community in flexible office space to work on their projects.
It is not easy to catch up with Miguel and sit down with him, as he has been busy promoting the project including trips to Silicon Valley to work on Ahorro Libre. The service is coming at a time when technology plays a bigger role in the entrepreneurial sector, and startups.
So, what is Ahorro Libre? According to Marshall, basically, it is a way for entrepreneurs who are strapped for cash and have an idea for a business to reach out to their community for money. Previously, a person would have to rely on personal savings, as banks are usually unwilling to lend money to these types of ventures. The concept behind the service is similar to the very traditional concept of “cundinas”, or group saving pools – an informal practice that is very common in Mexico and other cultures.
Cundinas typically take place in tight-knit settings, amongst co-workers, neighbors, friends, or family members, where each week or month each member contributes money together, and every determined period of time they take turns receiving the pool of money. So, if five people contribute $100 each month, each person will get a turn at receiving $500 every five months.
The novelty is that with Ahorro Libre this traditional savings fund will be combined with technology and geared toward entrepreneurs. According to Marshall, “It came about as a way to fill in the need for financing of small businesses and entrepreneurs, where, on average, only 3% have access to credit.”
With payments of between 100 pesos and five thousand pesos, Ahorro Libre allows users to save up to 70 thousand pesos. Payments may be made on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis and up to fifteen people can participate in a given pool.
The project is the result of efforts of Miguel Marshall, in collaboration with Rafael Jimenez, Walter Gonzalez, and Juan Gutierrez. They were recently nominated by the Plug and Play program, wherein investors from Silicon Valley sponsored a project to accelerate its growth. It is worth noting that Ahorro Libre’s technological platform was created in 2013, and was launched in the market in 2014.
According to Marshall, a fundamental part of any startup is the planning phase, which is why it took so long for Ahorro Libre to launch, despite the platform’s completion. Marshall understands the struggles startups endure, including having to work around the clock, and be flexible, often times expending lots of money and energy before anything comes as a result. Another common issue is that few people understand what it is you are trying to achieve with the project.
VIDEO : The story of "Ahorro Libre"
The solution to this is to have clear goals, and short, medium, and long term planning. Also, you must be realistic when it comes to what can actually be accomplished. According to Marshall, “We raised capital, which sets us aside from many entrepreneurs that just launch themselves. So, it has been more comfortable for us, but we still have to keep a budget and set goals, and know how much we can stretch the money, and that can make you worry or be pressured into launching sooner.”
The team hasn’t had trouble formalizing the company, thanks to the extensive experience of its members. They have prided themselves on doing things right, and have brought in attorneys, accountants, and other experts to ensure that they get started on the right foot and avoid making common mistakes.
What is his advice to startups?
“The idea will never be perfect, but one thing you can control is the team that you surround yourself with, surround yourself with smart people…. you must know what your weaknesses are as a person and as a company and fill those voids quickly. Another thing I’ve learned is to give your employees portions of the company, you must share the company, so that they aren’t employees but rather co-owners buying into the dream… share, put together a smart team, and figure out how to fill in the gaps.” According to Marshall, “lots of times you only need some cash to make your idea a reality, and Ahorro LIbre will enable you to raise those funds to get started and take you there. It can help you a great deal. Once you have a prototype you can take that to an investor.”
The young entrepreneur emphasized that when it comes to Mexico, one of the biggest problems is when to leave the steady job, especially given the fact that the average wage doesn’t allow you to save up enough to turn your idea into a viable project. This is how Ahorro Libre can help.
This is a project to keep an eye on, not only because of what it can achieve as a startup, but because of what it can do to help future startups..