Eduardo Lefort is part of a family with entrepreneurial tradition in Ecuador. The export of natural and preserved flowers, premium chocolate and the recent launch of an online marketplace of exclusive products, originating in Ecuador, make him know very well how to grow internationally and cross bridges between LATAM and Europe. Eduardo, general manager of Hoja Verde, share his experience as a successful Eurolatina company.

Why Europe?

We are farmers producing roses for export since 1997 and we have been part of the flower boom in Ecuador. We export the 100% of the roses we harvest and Europe is our main market followed by the United States and Russia. We have always had a clear international and export vocation. We comply with all the certifications and we havegone through a process of continuous improvement as a company with certificates among others such as the FLP (Flower Label Program) that gave way in 2002 to Fair Trade.

Hoja Verde was our first company and then came Hoja Verde Chocolate Gourmet which sells top quality chocolate. We sell chocolate in Ecuador and among other countries we sell in Spain.

In 2015, we bet for a new business of preserved flower,through an industrial process the sap is removed from the flower and with a treatment of alcohols and waxes we preserve them, and our main market is Europe. Currently we have just launched a new company, Sense Ecuador, an online marketplace to market exclusive products manufactured in Ecuador such as the famous toquilla straw hats, our chocolates, etc … our goal is to be the “Marketplace of reference in LATAM” and sell those premium products in Europe and LATAM countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, etc.. From these countries to Europe and the world.

The German, Dutch and Northern European consumers, who are already our customers, value the quality of LATAM’s good products and are open to pay a premium for quality.
They also value our social and environmental commitment, as well as the positive impact on the communities we work with, as a B company. In Ecuador we are only 6 companies that are certified as B companies and for that we went through a tough testing process that lasts 6 months. We already meet the requirements to be a company B, and among our goals we take responsibility to have a positive impact in the community in which we operate and improve the life of our workers and pay them a fair wage.

What are the main challenges faced by startups when expanding from Latin America?

Tariff and trade barriers are always a challenge and now, for example, with our chocolate company we are facing to deal with cadmium in Europe. Europe prefers to import unprocessed cocoa because cadmium levels are said to be lower and processing at source raises them. In our case, that our product is totally organic, the more organic it is the more cadmium it has because we do not fertilize and the cadmium is in the ground. We see that there is no uniform regulation, that some countries are laxer than others and for example, in Germany and Holland it is easier to enter than in Italy that the regulation is more complex.

In our new entrepreneurial bet, the marketplace of premium Ecuadorian products, the challenge is different. We need to create a branding for Sense Ecuador and sell online, engaging with new clients, creating trust for our website, etc, and that is always a big challenge.

Key learnings/recommendations for companies planning to grow internationally

Having a local partner is key to international expansion. And that those partners are the best fit for you, to your knowledge, etc. even more important. Entrepreneurs have to lose the fear of sharing a percentage of their company with those partners that are essential for the business. In our preserved flower business, we source the flowers, but we need a chemical team to do the whole industrial process and without them there would be no business! There are many types of partners and they are all important. From the visionary partner to the financial partner, to the operational partner everyone contributes and enriches the business.

All entrepreneurs live days of glory and months of suffering! Perseverance and having a clear goal help you move forward.

Financing is another crucial issue for the entrepreneur. I recommend not getting into debt to start your business, it is necessary to have an initial investment capital. I am aware that it is not easy to become an entrepreneur, in an non mature entrepreneurial ecosystem like the Ecuadorian, and there is a lot of risk aversion! The famous round of FFF financing is key to run your business for the first five years!

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