For the November 2022 SV Angel Founder Profile Series, we are proud to feature Gerry Giacomán Colyer, Co-Founder and CEO of Clara. Clara is the leading spend management platform for companies in Latin America. Gerry founded the company with his Co-Founder Diego Iván García Escobedo, and SV Angel partnered with the Clara team in 2020. We hope you enjoy learning a bit about Clara and lessons learned along the way.
Name: Gerry Giacomán Colyer
Hometown: Monterrey, México
Company Name & Brief Description Blurb: Clara is the leading spend management platform for companies in Latin America. Clara’s end-to-end solution includes locally-issued corporate cards, Bill Pay, financing solutions, and their highly-rated software platform used by thousands of the most successful companies across the region.
The company is backed by top global and regional investors such as Coatue, DST Global, General Catalyst, monashees, Kaszek, Canary, A*, BoxGroup, SV Angel, GFC, Picus Capital, Avid Ventures, ICONIQ Growth, Goldman Sachs, and dozens of prominent angel investors.
Clara is creating the future of how company finances are run and helping customers be more successful. Clara aspires to empower companies to operate with agility and financial clarity, ultimately increasing the economic competitiveness of Latin America.
Year Founded: 2020
Q: Tell us about yourself and your path to becoming an entrepreneur.
I grew up in Northern Mexico and moved to the US to pursue my undergrad degree at Yale. As a teenager growing up near the US-Mexico border, I wondered about what was behind the differences in development between the two countries, and what I could do to improve things on the side where I grew up.
At Yale, I majored in Ethics, Politics & Economics under the mentorship of former Mexico President Ernesto Zedillo — thinking that I might follow in his footsteps and through public service make a difference at scale in my home country. Instead, after helping found a startup during college, I discovered instead that a technology-driven company would be a better way to have the sort of maximal impact at scale that I’d envisioned, and I’ve oriented my career towards this since then.
After graduating and helping start a company that became a victim of the 2008 financial crisis, I dusted off my CV and spent my analyst stint as a consultant at Bain. I used all of my savings from Bain to build a company in Mexico back when the startup ecosystem was completely different to what it is today. After exiting that company, I went on to pursue my MBA at Stanford. I worked at early-stage companies hoping to cut my teeth, learn from the best, and eventually return to LatAm. While in SF, I led business and growth functions at Siftery, a startup where we built a spend management platform, and I helped the company get acquired by G2.com.
I then moved back to LatAm and became Chief Growth Officer at the micro-mobility startup leader in the region which grew to 7 countries within a year and >60% market share regionally. To match that agility with better financial management, that startup would’ve really benefited from having a solution like Clara (which at the time we couldn’t find), so this became the spark that started us on this journey.
Q: What was the impetus for starting Clara? Tell us about the moment you decided to start the company. Did you have an “aha” moment?
Diego and I were working together at this mobility startup. I greatly admired his work taking on the most complex technical and product challenges we faced, and I knew I wanted to work with him even before the idea for Clara fully solidified. Reflecting on our own experience, we realized there was a clear gap in the market for an easy-to-use platform that companies in the region could use to manage their entire spend.
We created Clara because we wanted to help more companies in LatAm be more competitive and fulfill their own visions.
We’re driven by a belief that companies here deserve partners that are dedicated to building optimized technology from the ground up just for them — rather than as an afterthought or as one more “flag” in a global expansion.
Q: What were you seeing in the market that made this the right time to build Clara?
Banking and financial services are incredibly concentrated sectors in LatAm. They’re many of the largest businesses in the region (by market cap) thanks to their high fees and profitability. Many of the leading local banks are owned by US or European banks, which means that the LatAm operations move more slowly and are seen as cash rather than core markets in which to innovate first.
As entrepreneurs, Diego and I both experienced the following phenomena firsthand:
- A lack of innovation for the CFO suite — no real agile and cutting-edge tools to empower LatAm companies’ financial clarity to underpin significant growth.
- Unjustifiably high barriers to access for the few products that did exist in the market.
Q: What’s a really difficult part about being a founder that no one talks about?
What we do as an industry is possible only because it’s laid on a strong foundation of trust. Dealing with individuals or firms who violate that trust can be especially painful.
Q: What’s the most important attribute a founder needs to start a company?
Resilience & openness to change.
Q: Given the many demands you’ve had as a founder, how do you allocate and prioritize your time daily?
I find that this is a question that needs to be answered frequently. First, since we are a rapidly growing organization, I need to reinvent myself to go from doing many things myself to doing them through influence and coaching. Secondly, it’s because the most critical demands on the business can also change on short notice. Just in the past 12 months, we’ve shifted gears from raising a Series B (led by Coatue) and hiring leaders to help us scale 10x+ in a year while expanding to new countries, to focusing the entire team on keeping costs down and optimizing all key levers in the business, and then going back to market to close a debt facility (from Goldman Sachs) to ensure we had the capital to keep growing through 2023. I try to keep enough flexibility in my schedule so I can lean in more into whatever our most critical priority at the time is.
Q: You’ve quickly scaled across Latin America. How do you think about launching new markets and what kind of playbook has led to your success?
At a high level, we can grow on two vectors: expanding into new markets/countries, or going deeper into the ones we’re already in. I don’t think there’s a single recipe for success, but what we’ve chosen to prioritize is to quickly expand to the three major economies in LatAm (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia) that make up 2/3 of the region’s GDP, and then focus on going deep in these core markets before expanding into other countries.
We’ve found a balance that allows us to reutilize a lot of our code and learnings from one country to the other two, while also prioritizing building locally for each country where it matters (e.g. cards issued domestically in each country and run on local rails with local functionalities).
Q: What do your customers love about Clara?
We’re passionate about being Latin Americans building for Latin America, and we hope that the passion for our product comes across from the first interaction a customer has with us.
We’ve put a lot of focus on building unique functionalities like taking advantage of local central invoicing systems to automatically match all spend that goes through Clara with its corresponding invoice — a much more seamless experience than having to find receipts, snap a picture, and send it or upload it into a system.
Q: Did/do you have a mentor, and how were they most helpful?
While I find that there’s something that can be learned from almost anyone, I particularly seek out and enjoy speaking with entrepreneurs who are 1–3 years ahead of us.
Q: Was there an unexpected piece of advice, or something you heard or read that has stuck with you or reframed your thinking as you’ve grown as an entrepreneur?
I first started a company over a decade ago, but between that experience and Clara, I also spent some time working on myself and took on leadership roles at other companies. Thanks to those experiences, I think I’m a better entrepreneur and leader now than if I’d toiled away on a single idea for all this time. Being prepared to adapt like the water that flows through a river might be the best way to get to our destination.
Q: How do you think about fundraising and capital management in the new market environment we’ve recently entered?
Times like now with limited or more expensive capital can be challenging, and for certain business models even fatal. The key is to adapt quickly and be in control of your own destiny by reducing burn as much as possible and in proportion to the availability of capital.
Other companies will be forced to respond in the same way, so the discipline in fundamentals and sound economics that this forces will be healthy for the industry and especially the companies that are able to deliver on those sound fundamentals.
Q: You have a strong mix of investors from Latin America and the United States. How did you think about that construction and what were the benefits or considerations you had there?
Three things that we look for in our investor relationships:
- As Latin Americans passionate about building for the region, we seek the best local partners who can help us build important relationships and help us see around corners. We’ve partnered with monashees, Canary, Kaszek, and over a dozen angels and family offices from the region.
- As a fintech and SaaS company, having globally-minded partners that can help us understand what best-in-class companies ahead of us look like so we can set our sails.
- As a company with an aspiration to have a massive positive impact at scale, having partners that share the long view with us.
Q: You’ve always promoted diversity within the company and on your cap table. Why is this important to you and how should founders think about it as they scale?
As an LGBTQ+ CEO, inclusivity in the workplace is important because I know from direct experience that if I couldn’t be my full self at work, I probably would not have started this company.
As the older brother to my entrepreneur sister, I know that women face additional challenges in the workplace too.
Beyond diversity, we think about inclusivity; at Clara we value each other for our shared mission and our contributions to it. Building teams where anyone regardless of their background can be welcomed and supported to do their best work I’m convinced leads to better outcomes.
Q: Why did you choose to partner with SV Angel? What is it like to work with the SV Angel team?
It’s not just that the SV Angel team has partnered with many of the best companies out there and brought an incredible network and wealth of experience. For me, it also matters that they’re great people who care.
Team & Culture
Q: How would you describe the culture at Clara to a prospective hire?
Clara’s culture is driven by our six values — clarity, simplicity, ownership, pride in quality, ABC (always be changing), and inclusivity.
Q: Can you share any valuable lessons about recruiting and scaling a world-class team?
We always try to hire for cultural alignment (against our six core values) and growth potential first.
Some of our most productive team members today came to Clara to do something very different than they were doing before, but they’re quick learners and highly motivated. Diego and I have pretty different backgrounds, and we know that great talent can be found in many places.
To scale the team, we try to keep a cadence and rhythm to what we do. We kick off each week with a data review. I think it’s important to operate on a shared understanding of how the business is doing before going in to tackle the week’s challenges and priorities.
Q: What are you reading, listening to, or watching for inspiration right now?
I love reading biographies about people in very different fields. “Born a crime” by Trevor Noah is a recent standout. I love a great story put on film.
Q: Quotes you live by?
“To keep your balance, keep moving.”
Q: What causes are you passionate about? How do you support them and why is it important to you?
I care about supporting other entrepreneurs, especially women and LGBTQ+ founders. I believe I can have the most impact today by focusing on Latin America.