BUENOS AIRES -- Marcos Galperin has done what many from the dot-com bubble couldn't--he's survived, and swimmingly.
Galperin, 40, co-founded MercadoLibre in 1999 as an MBA student at Stanford University, entering a field teeming with competitors in his native Argentina. There were already four-to five e-commerce websites in each country of Latin America, his expansion target. But as others plowed millions into splashy ads, Galperin, who had come to the fray from trading bonds and oil derivatives, built steadily with a tight team and a view of the long term. He wasn't in it for the fast buck. This paid off.
While competitors crashed or sold out, MercadoLibre emerged from six years of losses as a growing and profitable enterprise.
California-based eBay bought 20 percent of the company in 2001, bringing expertise, experience and recognition. MercadoLibre soon acquired operations from its home-turf rival, DeRemate.com, widening its operations across the region. Galperin took the company public in 2007, listing on NASDAQ, where its trading volume now triples that of all stock exchanges in Argentina. Four million vendors hawk wares over its platform, likely to reach five million by 2012. Revenue shot up fourfold to $217 million in 2010 from 2006, pushing profits to $52 million from $1.1 million over the same period.
Pleased? Yes, but Galperin is not satisfied.
The chief executive is building bigger by creating what he calls an ecosystem of e-commerce platforms and services. This drive has been his signature from the beginning. "When I see challenges, I see opportunities," he says.
He got his start in the 1995-2000 dot-com boom, when wads of money were flowing to Internet ventures. He and two partners set up an online auction website, persuading friends to list 1,000 used items. It was a hard sell. "People told us, 'This will never work,'" because consumers won't buy what they cannot touch from vendors they cannot see, he remembers.
But his bet paid off and MercadoLibre became synonymous with e-commerce as it gained traction in Latin America with the advance of broadband and falling computer and connection prices. Galperin kept a lid on ad spending and introduced a listing fee, drawing fears of a bust. Instead, the fee--there's a free option, as well--perked up confidence by reducing concerns of credit card abuse and online fraud.
MercadoLibre, which makes money through ads, fees and service commissions, has come to be...