StarMedia founder and CEO Fernando Espuelas is the hottest of a growing number Latin American Internet entrepreneurs. The high-strung digital maverick has raised more venture capital than anybody else, has taken his company public and has led the firm to a market cap in excess of US$2 billion. Espuelas spoke with LATIN TRADE associate
You were recently quoted as saying, "I was 29 and making really good money but really unsatisfied." You are now 33 and making even better money. Are you satisfied?
It has never been about the money for me. StarMedia represents an opportunity for me to build a new Latin America for the new century.
What do you mean "build a new Latin America?"
The Internet is comparable to the French Revolution. Before the revolution, the individual in French society had no role unless he or she was a nobleman. After the revolution, every individual became important. That's what the Internet will do in Latin America. We are talking about a complete and permanent shift at every level of society. For me to be in the middle of it all is a very exciting opportunity.
The name StarMedia seems an odd name for a company that targets people who speak Spanish and Portuguese.
There are very few words that translate both into Spanish and Portuguese. We wanted to have one brand that could be identified in both languages. In fact, we wanted to have a name with no meaning, so that we could create the meaning.
Everybody's launching Spanish-language sites, With the field so crowded, who's gonna make a buck?
That's the million dollar question. If you want to know how it's going to shake out just look at the U.S. market. You have five top brands that control 65% of the audience and collect 85% of the [advertising] dollars. I see four or five brands in Latin America: StarMedia, AOL, Yahoo! en Espanol and Telef6nica. Everybody else is either going to be acquired or will go out of business.
You didn't mention billionaire Carlos...