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Ask HN: How is your Start-Up Chile experience?
84 points by boolean on Apr 7, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments
I applied for the current round and will know by next month if I get accepted. What I read are mostly positive, however I'd love to hear your experiences.

Are the required events very time consuming? Can you get by easily with the maximum salary you can take? Is it easy to find local talents with good English skills? What's the average salary for an intermediate web developer?


Most of the advice here is rock solid, so I'll summarize it/my experience (2nd round, arrived in Nov 2011):

-Work on your Spanish ahead of time. It helps a lot, but you don't NEED it (I knew nothing before coming down).

-Stay in a hostel/hotel for a few days when you get down here in order to find a better place.

-Bring down at least $10K. It took me two months to get my first reimbursement and I was running pretty low by then.

-Accept that at least one full day a month will be wasted on bureaucracy (reimbursements & mandatory presentations to locals)

-Don't expect to get high quality talent here that speaks English fluently. Those that have found talent are far outnumbered by those that haven't (technical & business).

-Don't expect to have strong mentorship like 500, YC or TechStars. It's all peer mentorship.

-Realize that the strength of the program is the international component. There's a lot of market opps in Latinamerica that a lot of people have no idea about. It's also rare to have such an global composition of entrepreneurs.

It's not perfect for everyone, but if you're:

-pre product/market fit

-interested in international markets

-cool with trading some time wasted with bureaucracy for equity free funding

then it's a great choice.

isn't 10k a little too much? they suggest 5k and that supports what i have read about otherwise.

5k is just enough per team member, but not per team. I write this based on our recent experience; Our team of three arrived about two weeks ago to participate in the Startup Chile program. My suggestion is that your Startup Chile team needs to have 2 months of up-front expenses covered as it takes time to get the reimbursement process started. Between travel insurance, flights, apartment rental ( guarantee, deposit, two-months payment ), dining out and getting to know Santiago, bureaucratic payments ( such as the $470 USD immigration payment at the airport of US citizens upon arrival ), Visa application payments etc. You will be reimbursed for all of these expenses but combined together all within two months they are considerable.

We are enjoying very much participating in the program so far. It truly is the deal of a lifetime. The atmosphere is great and the impact it is having on Chile is becoming visible. Santiago is a great city with a higher quality of life than many cities in North America or Europe today. We are honored to participate in Startup Chile and I can already suggest it without reservation to any serious entrepreneur.

It definitely depends on team size, but we brought down three people and were pretty close to running out of the $10K.

I'm not an isolated case either. Quite a few other people were depending on that first reimbursement to pay the next month's rent.

but they only reimburse for two people other than the founder. so you paid for the flights out of your pocket?

You pay for everything out of pocket and get reimbursed later. So when you put flights, rent, rent deposit, food, external monitors, etc. together for three people over two months it adds up.

We were part of the first batch of Start-Up Chile. It's a good program if you are really at the very first stage of your product. We had just a basic prototype of GrabInbox and hence it was the right decision for us. The program gave us money to survive the 6 months and we also had enough to spend on building the product.

Can you get by easily with the maximum salary you can take? As far as living by on the maximum salary is concerned, it can be a little difficult but it's possible. You might have to try and cook your own food at least a few times a week or may be eat at a cheaper place. The accommodation allowance is different from the salary and is more than enough.

Are the required events very time consuming? The process for reimbursement can be a bit time consuming but if you start saving bills for your expenses and not scamper at the last minute when its time to reimburse, it would help. As I find out now, saving receipts right from the beginning is a habit I would suggest every entrepreneur to inculcate because once you start running your business it's important to stay organized. It helps in filing your tax returns.

Is it easy to find local talents with good English skills? Local talent with good english skills is hard to find.

What's the average salary for an intermediate web developer? Won't be able to answer that as we did not hire any local developer.

The average salary for a good web developer should be around $1500 - $2000. By good I mean someone with a CS degree from a good local university (U. of Chile, U. Catolica or UTFSM). If you pick a about-to-graduate or a recent grad you could get someone by a bit less, but that's about the right salary for a good developer. For less, you would get someone that knows how to write some php or something else. Not someone that will help you create something. Hopefully you will bring someone in your team with good tech skills (if your startup requires that).

Thanks for the information. Did you stay after the 6 months? It's probably cheaper to live there than North America, so do many companies prefer to continue working in Santiago?

I'm from India and it made more financial sense for us to go back. But, a lot of friends from my batch are still there post the 6 months (many from the north). It's definitely cheaper than North America and if you can find the right developers, nothing like it. And unlike us (30+ hour travel back to India) it's more convenient for you to visit your country and be back in Chile.

Santiago is not cheap. Prices are comparable to many North American cities. Sure, it's cheaper than NYC or SF. I'm from Whistler, Canada, which many people say is an expensive place to live, and Santiago is probably less than 10% cheaper.

I have been taking part in Start-up chile since January 15th. Overall - it has been a fantastic experience. I came primarily to receive the 40k but quickly realized that the connections with other entrepreneurs is the best perk. Where else can you go in the world to acquire a network of 300+ internet entrepreneurs from all over the world who are currently heads down working on their companies?!

The program does have issues - the reimbursement process is one of them. You should plan to take about a day each month to thoroughly go through your expenses documenting your expenditures for a review committee. After your claims, many times they get rejected at which time you have a day to scramble to re-submit. All in all most of the time they get accepted after a bit of a struggle.

You are also required to give back to Chile in some way (this is called RVA). The process actually isn't too time consuming and is pretty fun to get to know other aspiring entrepreneurs. The easiest way is to just mentor a Chilean student 20 hours (which fulfills your requirements) but you can go so far as to organize a conference or teach a course on entrepreneurship (i am).

About your other questions: 1 - you are allowed to draw a salary of 600 per month, you are also allowed to expense your rent. 2 - Most of the upper class in Chile speak fluent english, you'll be surprised how developed Chile is, Santiago is the most developed city in Latin America that I have visited. The metro is a dream, there's plenty of green space and things run very orderly. 3 - You can hire an intermediate web developer for between 500-1000 a month. Salaries here are much cheaper.

I didn't see much of anything green in Santiago: quite the opposite. Perhaps you living near a park or the mountains or my standards are higher.

I do live right next to a park. You can also see the Andes from pretty much anywhere in the city.

Sure you can see the Andes, but it is obscured by the smog in addition to the high rises.

You can get free Wifi at Parque de Los Reyes next to the convention center, but it is unusable when there is activity in the center.

I don't if I get this, but I'm having a hard time picturing just who are you able to get for less than USD 1000 /month, since most developers here would scoff at less than ~USD 1500 (CLP 700000) a month as a starting salary, maybe less if you really like the company.

That's about right. For less you wouldn't get someone that could help you, unless you just need to setup a simple web page (html + css?)

Great info, thanks. Glad to hear your positive experience.

I'm in the second batch and am in Chile right now.

The required events are not that time consuming. The reimbursement process will always take longer then you would like but it is not that burdensome. Also other Startup Chileans can help you out with the process if you need it. As for the other requirements they are not that time consuming at all. In particular if you are in a team you can divide up events as not the whole team has to go to everything.

Compared to Canada I find Chile and we can get by easily with the maximum salary. That being said finding housing as each successive round takes up the already limited supply of furnished 2-3 bedroom apartments.

As for local talents, I have not personally had to look for any but from what i've heard finding talent with good english skills is quiet difficult

In terms of social isolation, and cultural issues, I would say one of the advantages of the program is that there is an instant, English speaking, community for each round, so everyone has an instant social network. That being said, I personally find it frustrating that my lack of spanish skills mean my social network is limited to the program, as I would like to connect more with chileans and chilean culture.

The biggest culture shock for me was the lack of trust. Coming from Canada, I didn't know what to expect by the term 'chile is a low trust country'. It means security guards everywhere, it means retail processes are more complicated (buying an electronic product involves 3-4 different stations you have to go to) and it means nothing happens unless there is a contract.

Overall I find Chile a wonderful place with incredibly friendly people (and very patient when you butcher their language).

When I moved to Canada I felt the opposite culture shock :) Trust was everywhere, I was shocked to see in Vancouver, skytrain fairs were just checked randomly and rarely.

What would you recommend for accommodation? Do you think it's better to arrange before arriving there? Craigslist is probably not popular there, what's the popular local classifieds website?

I'm Rimbo's teammate, I'll pitch in my two cents. mercadolibre.cl is your goto classified site, however most people in the program don't use it. There's also olx.cl. For housing homechile.cl is pretty good.

We arranged an apartment through homechile.cl before we got down. Honestly I would only recommend that if you've never really travelled before as the place we ended up getting isn't really the nicest. Most people come down and stay at someone else's place, their padrino's (a local arranged to be your goto person) place, or hotel/hostel it for a while. I'd recommend to take your time once you get here finding a place to stay as there are some amazing apartments that you may miss out on if you search online.

I am going to note that you should come down with at least 10k in your pocket. The first reimbursement is very slow, it usually takes about a month and a half to two months. This is because you first need to get your RUT card (identity card, you use it for everything), then have the program prepare the contract, then sign the contract, then wait for their lawyers to sign it. After that (about 3 weeks) you are officially in the program. For our round we could expense things up to this point however a round 3 wave 2 participant told me that they could NOT expense anything until this point as a rule change. This means all those expenses are out of pocket. The reimbursement phase takes about 2-3 weeks and you will NOT get all of your expenses approved the first time you submit. As an example, we only got about 52% approval. There's a lot of little things you need to do for every expense and it's really hard to keep track of them all.

I participated in round 1.5, arrived in July 2011 and stayed in Chile until the end of March. If you have the right expectations you can make Start-Up Chile a fantastic experience. The biggest mistake I and others made was to compare it in any way to accelerators like Y Combinator or TechStars.

Unless you have well in excess of $10K in the bank (credit doesn't count) expect to be constantly stressed about cash flow.

Don't expect to have any of the $10K that you bring left at the end of the 6 months, you won't get 90% of everything you spend reimbursed.

Don't expect to have any pressure or external deadlines from Start-Up Chile to actually ship anything.

Don't expect to find mentors that can help you with all too common startup killers like co-founder disputes.

Don't expect to be impressed by the quality of all your peer teams and startups.

Don't expect to be impressed with Santiago as a city or the food, culture and natural beauty in the surrounding area. The best bits of Chile are well outside the central part of the country.

Don't expect to find a technical cofounder or a development team in Chile.

Do expect constant change, mixed messages, a little chaos and inflexibility on things that seem trivial to you. Startup Chile is run by a team of good people with great intensions that are probably the most entrepreneurial people in government. However they are not entrepreneurs, they are a government department with lots of rules and regulation that is effectively run by committee. Sadly they don't have the leadership or the power to make Startup Chile as good as it could be. Start-Up Chile would be much more effective if a startup veteran were given $40MM to turn Chile into a startup hub by investing it in 1000 startups independently of government, but that was probably felt too much for the electorate to stomach.

With those expectations set hopefully you can come to Chile and focus on building something awesome and creating a strong support network for yourself rather than wasting any time being frustrated by imperfections in the programme.

I've been quite negative in this post to provide some balance to all the positive press which you've already read. Overall I'm grateful for the experience and I have recommended it to my friends, some of which are now in Chile. There is also no doubt in my mind that Start-Up Chile is doing great things for the country and I think more developing world countries should replicate the approach.

@jot's a friend of mine, we (http://strongsteam.com/) followed out in January in Round 2.5. His notes match my experiences and those of others here in Round 2.5.

A group of us have just started a weekly self-mentorship group, frankly I should have started such a group 2 months back (I've been here 10 weeks now). Get on with this quickly when you arrive (and expect to iterate, experiment and change all the time)

Definitely come with spare cash - $10k is probably about right. Better yet - have a client lined up before you come who pays you as you hit your deadlines whilst here. It kept us on our toes, we delivered, we had cash-flow.

In addition, here are 3 blog posts which might help:




The third is about the AI/data meet we setup - over 100 folk turned up to hear 4 of us speak at the just-opened hackerspace, a founder of Skype also spoke and a local entrepreneur brought local beers. It was a darned fine evening.

Hi guys! I participated in Start-Up Chile, my project was selected in round 1.

The experience is amazing and overall positive, you get to know a lot of cool people, learn a lot, experience other cultures and have the resources to make your startup better.

Answering your questions I can say that the required events are not time consuming and a good opportunity to meet and connect with other people. You can skip a few events if you are busy, but its good to stay in touch with the other teams.

The maximum salary that you can take is enough to do the regular things (buy food, transportation, night life, etc). That salary plus the money to pay rent is enough for a decent stay.

Finding local talent with English skills is not that easy but you can do it. I've seen some teams that were able to get good talent fast, for some others was difficult. I wouldn't say that its going to be easy, but they are there, you can find good ones. The salary of a intermediate web developer may go from 500-1000 dollars a month to 2K or 3K (for some super experienced ones), it all depends on the conditions and the experience of the web developer.

The only "not-so-fun" part about the program is the reimbursement process. You have to fill a spreadsheet and gather all the receipts and bills, somethings some items get rejected because a paper was not the right one, etc. I don't say "bad" part because its a more than fair price to pay (and completely understandable from their point of view, trying to control that you are not going crazy with your money) to be a part of the program and get the money. I rather go to a reimbursement process than to give equity for the 40K.

Here's an article from a round 1 friend that explains some other things: http://bit.ly/IkBzo5

I arrived in Chile one week ago as part of the 3.2 batch. So far the experience has been positive. While it's true that it's more like a peer mentorship, there is a good supply of talents in the program. Some have had exits, some worked at great companies like 37 signals and pivotal tracker, Google, Yahoo and etc. We also have some awesome speakers. Just last week, we had Ahti Heinla, the cofounder of Skype.

So far for people in our batch, the biggest source of stress comes from finding apartment while speaking little English. Each company is assigned a padrino, local Chilean entrepreneur to help out with picking you up at the airport and finding apartment. So, you will want to take advantage of that. I exchanged emails and setup Skype call with my padrino prior to arriving in Chile. It definitely helped with relationship building.

The other tip is to really use social media. There is a private Facebook group for Startup Chile participants. I found my current apartment through that. Also, if you are looking to talk to more participants before you get accepted into the program, try to join the meetup group at http://goo.gl/Hw67S.

Hope that helps,


I guess you are very lucky with your padrino. I saw mine once at a party and that's it.

Finding an apartment/house for 3 people is tough especially when you don't speak Spanish. It took us several weeks to find. Apart from that we had to pay $3600 usd upfront for the house. As many people mentioned above you have to bring at least 10K to Chile.

Our padrino has been ace - we drink with him every week and he drove me to the FIDAE air show last Saturday. We seem to be an exception, many others only meet their padrino(/madrina) once or twice. As ever if you put time into a new relationship with a stranger there's a chance it'll pay off, you have to work at it (and accept it might not work out).

Here's a detailed run down of the latest version of the reimbursement process: http://emilytoop.com/2012/03/20/my-first-reimbursement-proce... Emily's in round 2.5 which started in January. I was in round 1.5 which started in July, things have improved a lot since then.

As @jot's friend, member of Round 2.5 and Emily's other half I'll add: reimbursements took 2 days for us the first time and 1 day the second time. The first time it took about 20 days for the money to come back, the second time about 10 days.

The stories from Round 1 (e.g. @jot) scared the bejeezus out of us, we spent a solid Sunday getting every scrap of paper to prove our expenses (from invoice to credit card to bank account to our names on a bank statement proving ownership). They're more on top of the process now than in Round 1, we did have to get some extra docs but it just involved a few phone calls back home.

I believe for Round 3 it is a bit easier and I'd expect it to keep improving. Assume 1-2 days admin on this every month regardless (just with less follow-up stress after you submit your docs).

Such a drilldown is very helpful if you have applied and figuring things out. I thing the reimbursement process can be a little less cumbersome (from what it looks like from outside). I have applied too but I am not very excited about the said process.

I would like to throw some random thoughts:

1) It seems like people coming from Lat Am makes the most progress out of the program. Not only they get contracts from recognized companies and banks like Telefonica and BBVA, but they seem to find private investment after the program far more easily (Eg: Junar, Taggify, inbed.me, Safertaxi, Hadza, AgentPiggy, etcetera). Why? You can prolly draw your own conclussions as i don't have an answer just hypothesis.

2.- It is hard to find good developers that are fluent in English and if you find them they will be expensive. In the other hand it is a far easier to find good designers, business development employees/founders.

3.-While Chileans are shy and elusive the first time you met them, they are incredibly welcoming with most of the foreigners and WILL appreciate any effort you make speaking Spanish (even if its the most awful Spanish in the world)

i'm a strong developer located in US. demonstration of competence: [1].

i'd be interested in considering opportunities in chile. if you gave me the time and financial comfort to enjoy chile a bit, I'd totally do six months if i found a team i vibed with.

just tossing a dart here. my availability starts around summertime.

[1] dustin's awesome monad tutorial for humans: https://github.com/dustingetz/dustingetz.github.com/blob/mas... [2] resume http://careers.stackoverflow.com/dustingetz

I'd be interested to know if anyone felt social isolation, or culture shock, being in a foreign country.

It will take a while to realize knowing English would not really help you much. IMO, it's important that you know some basic Spanish. But this isn't a deal breaker as I did not know any Spanish but eventually figured out enough words to get the job done.

Be ready to see people making out in the open, on the streets, in the metro stations and inside the metro standing beside you.

The food is generally bland, deal with it.

heh. the making out is partly because people here live at home for much longer, and, in the areas where i imagine startup chile people live and work (the idea that having to cook a couple of times a week is unusual made me smile...), there are also maids that live in people's houses (and so have nowhere private for guests).

also "making out" here would be petting, not sex...

food here is not spicy, but it is made with fresh, good quality ingredients (the sandwiches are awesome, imho). and the variety of food you can get in santiago is increasing (when i first arrived here, over a decade ago, there was just one indian restaurant - now my favourite place to eat is russian!)

Where is the Russian place? Being a Russian myself I would like to take a look at it.

Overall, I didn't have a culture shock after coming down to Santiago. The only thing that really surprised me is that many young people don't speak any English.. You can get by any where in Asia with English but it's different in South America.

Olivie http://www.olivie.cl/ in SW Providencia, not far from the N end of Av. Italia (my quick review - http://acooke.org/cute/RaiandOliv0.html).

Also, you can buy Arsenaloye beer in Jumbo/Santa Isabel supermarkets at the moment, if you miss that... :o)

"Be ready to see people making out in the open, on the streets, in the metro stations and inside the metro standing beside you."

It shouldn't be a culture shock for most people on HN.

Shiv Sena doesn't exist outside India.

Speaking spanish definitely helps. That said there are about 200 start-up chile people in the program at any given time. Everyone wants to make friends, so there never is an issue of who to hang out with.

Chileans also aren't used to meeting foreigners so in areas outside of Santiago - foreigners are kinda treated like celebrities.

Are there many limits on what you can have reimbursed? I'm especially curious about hardware (would buy a Macbook Pro, monitor, Android phone+tablet, DSLR - all business related) and lawyers fees (for incorporation in the USA, privacy policies, etc).

Also, is it easy to find a nice place near the coworking spaces? Ideally, I'd love just a short walk between home and the "office".

The limits depend on the rules of each round. That being said, so long as you incur the hardware costs and legal fees during your 6 months in the program it should be reimbursed. However consult with your rounds rules first, and when in doubt ask your account executive.

As for how easy, I'd say it depends on what you are used to. Finding a place, now that there are two full rounds in Chile, is getting harder. You'll have to look on a bunch of sites (I recommend homechile.cl) Sometimes you can get lucky doing door to door to apartments. In June the first participants in the second round will be starting to leave chile so it might be worth asking the community then.

Thank you, that's encouraging. Note to others: use www.homechile.cl.

I think the key to smooth reimbursement is meticulous documentation of everything! (Invoice, receipts, bank statements, credit card statements, etc.) It's not uncommon for me to have 4 different docs for a single expense item, but you'll get used to the bureaucratic ways of Chile soon enough. That said, I've been here 3 months, and so far have gotten most hardware purchases including a new Android phone reimbursed. One more thing to mention is that electronics here in Chile have like at least a 30% markup compared US prices, more for iPads and such. Just FYI.

It's one of the ways to be able to work 6/7 months stress free on your product, with a real budged. It doesn't increase your success rate, but gives you a longer runaway and an amazing experience. It will connect you and you'll make a lot of important friends. I was in round 1

My experience (round 1) wasn't good nor very popular among the most "pro-startupchile" individuals. It's documented here: http://hervalicio.us/post/14915671294/on-startup-chile

Basically, it's a good opportunity if you don't have a business network (or a business) and go there with the sole objective of networking and getting to know people. Other than that, it's a great opportunity for tourism (most people I hear saying they "loved the program" were very focused on getting girlfriends and visiting the idillic places of Chile). Not much more than that, I'm afraid...

In any case, I heard from more recent batches that things changed a lot in rounds 2 and 3 (not sure if for better or worse).

Excuse my ignorance: By skimming through the program rules, I got the feeling that you can only expense up to $40K over the 6-month stay in Chile, but not save some to take away with you when the batch finishes, am I not right?

That's completely dependent on what you submit fr reimbursement. There's absolutely zero rules stating you can't outsource $40k worth of work to a company in your home country that you just happen to own. As long as the work has been 'completed' in they will reimburse it. Start-Up Chile will not pay for things that will happen, only what has happened, so you can't get advances.

You do also earn a small monthly stipend, around $700/month/team member, which technically you can take away with you.

That's correct. Some teams have struggled to spend all the money within the 6 months.

I'm from the second badge of the 2nd generation. It's simply awesome :)!.

- Greetings from Mexico.

Is it possible for people outside Chile to connect with local developers in Santiago? I speak some Spanish. The talent pool must be growing.

Well, yes.. I am a chilean developer myself, and run a meetup.com community of chilean developers called Huevapi (read as "web api" in spanish)

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