I did this interview in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during my recent trip consulting with Mercado Libre, Latin America’s largest online marketplace. I found the story fascinating, and wanted to capture it for my readers all over the world.
SM: I would like to hear the story of how you built Mercado Libre. Let’s start with your background; where did you grow up?
MG: I grew up here in Buenos Aires. When I was 17, I went to college in the US. I studied at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania from 1990 to 1994. When I graduated I came back and worked for an oil company which was the largest oil company in Argentina. It actually has just been privatized through an IPO on the NYSE. I did finance there for three and a half years. Afterwards I went to do an MBA at Stanford. When I came back I started Mercado Libre.
Actually, I started it when I was at Stanford. I wrote the business plan and contacted investors in a class there. One of my professors put me in touch with one of the founders of a private equity fund; he let me drive him back to the airport after he came to speak to our class. I gave him an abbreviated business plan, and he thought it was great. They were investing pretty heavily in Latin America at the time; he thought it was great and told me he wanted to invest. That is how it all started.
SM: Your co-founder was also in your Stanford class, right?
MG: Hernan [Kazah] had accepted a job at a different company which was also a startup, but he agreed to help me out with some marketing ideas. He basically never stopped, and he became my cofounder.
SM: And your idea at the time was eBay of Latin America?
MG: That is exactly how we thought about it. Through Stanford, we contacted classmates and people at EBay to get a sense of where Latin America was on their radar screen to see if it made sense for us to launch something or not.
SM: Things turned out somewhat differently due to the market dynamics … we will find out how over the next few segments.