Demetrio Santander, co-founder and president of Waykana shares his experience as a LATAM-based entrepreneur, focused on exports to the European market.

Why Waykana?

Waykana was born in a very organic way. After practicing criminal law for some years, Demetrio, a trained lawyer with a newly completed master’s degree under his arm, realized that this was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. All his cases and clients had one thing in common: poverty. In this context, poverty acted as a source of inequality and represented a lack of opportunities in life. While Demetrio traveled through the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle with his friend and now partner, Juan David Gomez, the duo found a common food among the region’s communities: an ancestral and vitamin-packed leaf, the guayusa.

Guayusa is an energy leaf originating exclusively from the Ecuadorian Amazon and its surroundings. It has been used for centuries by the indigenous people of the Amazon as a natural energizer and is now the ingredient of Waykana products. When infused, guayusa was the perfect ingredient to lead a healthier life full of energy.

Together the two entrepreneurs founded Waykana, a project to transmit the benefits of this leaf while supporting development initiatives and fighting poverty among Amazonian producers in Ecuador.

Why are you betting on the European market?

It was always clear to us that the European market was “our market”. Germany is the main importer and re-exporter of tea in Europe and the German market for organic food, organic food, etc. is the largest in Europe.

In Europe, due to the characteristics of the market and the type of consumers, tea consumption is more widespread than in the United States. Waykana has a strong social commitment and positive impact with the farmers with whom it works. The fact that the leaf comes from the Amazon is a benefit because of the richness and fertility of the soil

This way, if the European client values the process and is willing to consume a product with these characteristics, it is a perfect fit.

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

Almost all the challenges we face have to do with regulatory issues. Having the necessary permits in order and compliance with the different legislation across different juriscitions has taken us a long time. For us, quality is our differentiation and we have worked hard to obtain all the certifications that we believe are important to demonstrate our social commitment to environment sustainability, etc. Currently, we have the certifications of USDA Organic, Vegan, Kosher, and the important HACP certification.

Another challenge has been growth and have the necessary facilities and factory capacity to meet the demand. We have even had to reject projects because we did not have the capacity to manage the volume of orders.  Fortunately, we have a new factory that will permit growth and increased volume. When you are an entrepreneur who creates a product from scratch, in our case, infusions from the guayusa leaf, you don’t know very well what is going to happen and the demand you are going to have.

Why your commitment to social commitment and impact on communities? What have you done differently?

We have worked to create a paradigm shift by working with farmers. Normally there is talk of reaching as many farmers as possible, but then the difference in the impact on their lives is much smaller than it should be. In our commitment to the fight against poverty, we believe that it is better to reach a smaller number to ensure a greater impact on their lives and on their families, local communities and economy. We have a commercial relationship with them and we set the price of the leaf so that they can sell without the risk of price fluctuation. We pay for the training and certification of the farmers and in return we ask them for quality requirements. We buy the fresh leaf and the preparation and packaging is done in our facilities.

Key learning/recommendations for companies planning to grow internationally?

If you want to be an exporting company, everyone recommends to consolidate the local market first, but we wanted to export from the beginning and we did. In fact, we are just now entering the Ecuadorian market… Contrary to all the advice we received, this worked!

The team is the key to everything. Have a good team and you will succeed! We are two very complementary partners and between the strengths of one and the other, we cover the needs of our company.

Innovation. No copies. Create your value proposition. We did it and created a product that didn’t exist. Through the process, we changed the way guayusa was used.

What was the best advice you were given?

My mentor gave me good advice when he said, “If you are going to start or if you have an entrepreneurial soul, sooner or later, you are going to do it. Don’t waste your time and do it now!” I am so glad I followed his advice!

Additionally, learning to never lose focus. Always be clear about what you want and if you fail, always try again with focus. As an entrepreneur, time, money and effort are lost or diluted if you don’t have the necessary focus.

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