Why Brazil’s New Generation of Entrepreneurs are a Joke

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Photo: Simon Robinson

What you are seeing in the photo above is the Hughes telegraph from 1860. It is a particularly beautiful piece of equipment, especially as it was the first to incorporate a keyboard for the sending of messages.

Not only was David Hughes an inventor and practical experimenter, he was also a professor of music, and contributed a great deal of ideas on sound to the development of the microphone. Hughes also had a sound business mind, patenting his designs, some of which made him a great deal of money.

If we fast forward to 2012, we find Brazilian comedian Fábio Porchat on the phone, trying to cancel his mobile subscription. It is a fabulous sketch, which resonates with those of us having to suffer with poor customer service around the world. I use this to teach MBA students about customer experience design, and have already written a break down of this video in a previous article.

At one point the phone company asks Fábio to send a fax, and hugely exasperated Fábio exclaims “but fax doesn’t exist any more!”.

Fax certainly does exist for the business hotel in Rio de Janiero which I was forced to book into for a recent conference. In order to gain my speaker’s discount, unlike any other business hotel of this type in other countries where you can use that new-fangled interweb that people keep talking about, I had to send a fax. This fax would have all my person details including the three-digit security code on the back of my credit card.

I’m not kidding. Sometimes in times of frustration – and it can be extremely frustrating and energy sapping living here in Brazil – I call it business model Brazil.

Economic crisis? What crisis? Welcome to Business Model Brazil – screw the customer – you have no other option so we will treat you with a haughty disdain.

You can never switch off from needing to be alert from the myriad of ways of getting ripped off. Multi-packs of every-day items such as loo rolls and razor blades are often more expensive than buying packs of two or four. Special offers on the shelves of supermarkets often fail to materialise at the till and you have to watch like a hawk. That 40% discount in the high street clothes store – it has ended up more like 3%.

These rip-offs are possible due to the low rates of maths literacy, and it often surprises shop managers when you do complain due to being able to do mental arithmetic.

There is a huge amount of work to be done in Brazil relating to the concept of customer service, developing long-term customer relationships and understanding even simple measures such as Net Promoter Score. However, I am happy to report that a number of major brands and businesses here are aware of the size of the challenge, and there are of course some hidden gems in all of this, such as Multicoisas who have their own corporate university, and where you are treated respectfully, without hassle by educated and informed shop staff.

For all the talk of São Paulo being the startup hub of Latin America, there is one place where even fax still seems like a long-distant unattainable dream, and that is the dreaded cartorio.

What is a cartorio? There is a building some miles from my house, one building not many, and in this one building there is a piece of paper with my signature on it. You can forget any concept of the computer or fax in a cartorio.

The cartorio is a privately-owned business where if I want someone to accept any kind of official document such as my rental agreement, birth certificate, university degree, I have to take time out of my day to travel to the cartorio where for a handsome fee they will photocopy the document and place an official seal on it – making the document valid.

Of course this validity is limited to probably four weeks, so for any legal process lasting more than four weeks, say buying an apartment, you have to go back as your document is no longer valid, and pay another fee for another photocopy.

Insane huh? As I said, welcome to business model Brazil. You can’t even use an 1860s Hughes telegraph in a Brazilian cartorio. You still have to go there in person. Every time.

If we return to Fábio, and if we return to 2012, we discover that Fábio and four of his friends from Rio are also suffering from the frustrations and hassles of daily living in Brazil, and their extremely well-observed comedy is making them ever more popular. But they are also becoming frustrated by the curbs being placed on their creative freedoms from the commercial pressures of television, and so they decide to create a new comedy-collective called Porta dos Fundos (Backdoor).

Porta dos Fundos launched as a Youtubube comedy channel in 2012, and within six months reached 30 million views with a mixuture of the absurd, the sometimes crude, but often cuttingly critical sketches. The brand exploded, and a new merchandising off-shoot in the form of an on-line t-shire store was also launched.

Porta dos Fundos

What is remarkable is that with over 10.8 million subscribers, Porta dos Fundos recently celebrated their two billionth view on Youtube, making them the largest channel in Brazil, and the fifth largest comedy channel in the world. (That’s over 2,000,000,000 views). The sketches now also have English subtitles, so are now reaching a new audience worldwide.

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Gregorio Duvivier

I had the chance to meet Gregorio Duvivier earlier this week in São Paulo at the launch of his new book Percatempos. Gregorio was also one of the founders of Porta dos Fundos, and at the launch he spent time speaking about many personal aspects of being a creative person in the media spotlight.

For budding entrepreneurs, not just in Brazil but globally, and also for business leaders too, I really feel that this particular comedy collective have some extremely potent lessons to teach us.

The first is that they have an authentic shared vision, which is to push the envelope for comedy. This shared vision clearly translates into a phenomenal passion for everything they do, be it their sketches, their films, their stand ups, their tv shows, their books, and also columns (both Gregorio and Fábio are newspaper columnists).

This passion is allowing them to maintain an extremely high level of consistency in both quality and quantity of their output. It takes four weeks to produce one Porta dos Fundos sketch, and each week two sketches are aired, along with out-takes, subtitles and the-making-of extras for super fans.

They say that you only really know who your friends are in times of trouble but I am not so sure. For creative people, sometimes you only find out who your friends are when you achieve a certain level of success. What strikes me is that this whole collective have managed to overcome any issues relating to ego, and they clearly enjoy working with other, feeding off each others’ creative sparks and also the different blends and styles of comedy and characters.

Ego can be a real creativity killer, and I see this happening in business both large and small, where the fullest potential is never reached due to the interpersonal dynamics and clashing of egos. Porta dos Fundos would never have reached the stage they are now if there were some people subverting others, putting others down with cutting remarks, wanting to have all the success for themselves.

The creative flair and team dynamics in the interactions between Neymar, Messi and Suarez are clear and out in the open for all to see, be inspired by, and learn from, although of course this psychological aspect of team work is certainly lost on many “leaders”.

We do not see the creative process leading to the writing of a comedy sketch, and so Maria asked Gregorio about this, as it is a theme that we really work on with out clients who are seeking to implement programmes of profound organisational change:

Empathy is so important, and it is a part of our learning process. Animals have a natural empathy. In comedy we need to have humility, or perhaps I can describe it as fragility. Comedians such as Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen were like this. Fragility is absolutely fundamental for my art. It is dangerous for the comedian to be vain. For me, humour is connected with humility.

Time an again this notion of humility and vulnerability comes up in group and creative dynamics and it was great to hear Gregorio explore these.

I have tried to use a little humour myself in this article to relate to the way in which actually living a daily life in Brazil really can sap you. But if it is annoying and frustrating for the likes of someone like me, I can assure you that I regularly have times when I feel a deep gratitude for the life I am able to live, when I see the infinitely greater challenges of those who can only but dream of having my lifestyle, people here who really suffer and who do not have the resources to fight for their rights and who are heavily exploited.

This is where there is a huge opportunity for the younger generation looking to create their own startups. Mobile penetration and internet use is huge in Brazil, and with the same degree of passion and commitment and an ability to let go of ego in the name of a higher cause, I can really see many more younger Brazilians achieving their successes too, to the benefit of the whole of society.

This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse Nov. 20th 2015.

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In Conversation with Gregorio Duvivier

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