Changing a life in two years

In December of 2015, I deliberately put on hold one of my favourite hobbies. I was in a difficult situation in Brazil and knew I needed to eliminate some things to stay focused on what mattered at the time.

As a child's happiness on Christmas, you can imagine how I feel now, two years later, with a new board and ready to jump into the water, here in Australia.

Getting back to the ocean after two years
Getting back to the ocean after two years

Entrepreneurship in Brazil

Rewinding a few years, I had just returned to Maranhão, an under-developed area in Brazil, in 2010, after a work season in Perth, Australia. I was full of energy to kickstart some software ideas. As a basis, we had Intertech, a firm I founded with Fernando Belchior a few years before, to do website and systems development for small and medium-sized companies. Nothing very innovative, but it paid the bills and became the weapon that enabled us to form a team of super talented professionals at the beginning of their careers - the perfect environment for innovation.

After that, we ran several experiments. We launched some products and had both success cases and failures. We were, still unknowingly, applying the lean methodology of startups to launch each idea. How to forget the launch of Cafufa.com? With the first design done by a developer (the great Almir Filho, who works and lives in Hawaii, nowadays) and with my project partner, Breno Pessoa, asking all our friends to buy tickets from our website instead of directly from the ticket office.

In 2013, I seemed to be face-to-face with what appeared to be my "big break". Wanna Migrate was born, a set of tools to aid the decision-making and immigration process of millions of individuals who dream about migrating to other countries, that is, almost 15% of the world's adult population. Before writing a line of code, we obtained support and capital from the Government of Chile through the Startup Chile program.

We quickly captured thousands of users from all around the world and started experimenting with various revenue streams. What comes next, I consider my biggest professional mistake so far.

We had real possibilities of raising investment for the project in Canada, São Paulo (Brazil) and Maranhão (Brazil). As someone fighting to improve the innovation environment in Maranhão, who founded the Startup Maranhão community, along with Bruno Lima and who dreamed about a large technology office in the Jansen Lagoon (where I grew up), with local professionals producing global solutions, the decision was swift. I chose Maranhão.

The fine print? The capital came through a contract and partnership with the Government of Maranhão (rarely a good idea). We had an approved twelve-month project, which we started executing line by line and at full speed. We made several commitments: We signed a contract with a team, with other third-party companies, and scheduled trips and meetings on critical dates.

By partnering with Márcio Oliveira, we were able to achieve good results very quickly. We attracted 15,000 users, started to generate revenue, won a prize in the Brazil Innovation Challenge, and were invited twice to interview with YCombinator, the most prestigious accelerator of Silicon Valley, with the largest number of success cases in the world (Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, etc.)

The Wine Gallery
The Wine Gallery

We received 50% of the capital at the beginning of the project and never saw another dime. We never received the final payment. Any surprises? That's what happens when you partner with the public power in Brazil. The worst thing is knowing that it was my decision. The mistake was mine!

The rest is History, but even with the company taking the first steps in generating revenue, I had to take money out of my pocket to honour the contracts we had signed, but always with the information from the Government that "next month the payment will be released." The months were passing, and even the company living its best moment, I was personally breaking financially. I am blessed to have had financial support from my parents, or the story would have been even more complicated. Still, I was in that situation: Thirty years old, very close to a dream, but I would have to stop everything and start all over again.

At the same time, my wife, Leticia (girlfriend at the time), had just quit her job, with the goal of redefining her career by trying out different areas, starting from scratch as well.

Like many other young people, frustrated with Brazil, the decision was clear: To leave!

Two years in Australia

And here the connection with the decision of stop surfing for a while.

Even though it was a small thing, I mentioned it symbolically to make you understand that moment: The first step would be to stop everything and make the decision that I would search for a traditional job. Financial health and quality of life became the focus, and like almost everything in life, giving up other things was inevitable. Entrepreneurship, surfing...? It would all have to wait for another time.

While still in Brazil, I was able to find a job in Sydney, in a company willing to "sponsor" our visas. With that, Lele and I spent Christmas 2015 on a plane (the lowest rate we could find) on the way to the country that changed our lives.

Those who have already started their own business, know how difficult it is to have a traditional job again. But I focussed 200% on the goal of balancing the finances, to one day go back to my startup ideas.

I joke that for those who have had the war training of growing up and working in Brazil, Australia is "too easy" from the moment you can communicate in English. It's an extremely fair country, if you try hard, you will definitely get good results!

In a few months, I met Tom, who along with Banjo, was starting out the Wine Gallery, a wine subscription startup with the ambition to build something more personalised, like Netflix (or Spotify) for wine. After a few experiments, we decided to join forces for the project: Tom is the most talented guy I've ever met to lead, run strategy and marketing, Banjo is one of Australia's top sommeliers, and I came in to write the technology from scratch.

I changed my day job schedule from 6:30 am to 2:30 pm. With that, I had time to spend the rest of the day on the wine business. Long days, but again, with full-on determination. At the same time, Leticia was already working in an entirely new area for her: Logistics, in one of Australia's largest e-commerces.

As I said, everything here happens faster. After ten months in Australia, I was able to quit my job to work only on my own business. The finances were balanced, and I had full support from my wife.

After a lot of sweat, focus and money saving, we also completed our immigration process and became permanent residents of Australia. Since then, everything has been even simpler: great public healthcare, no work restrictions, greater ease of housing, etc... (I think I've already written a lot about this on other posts).

We were closing the first year, but we still had some small challenges to face to be able to settle down completely. In the first year, we shared a house with Tat and Daniel, who became great friends. The next step was to have our own little place, so we moved to an apartment we loved in early 2017. A few months later, in November, we had our dream beach wedding in the Caribbean. We had magical moments with our families and friends.

Another great news from the past year was the relocation of a couple of friends from São Luís (my hometown) to Sydney. Céres and Fernando arrived and brought not only our accent to Australia but also that sense of family. I'm in touch with at least five other acquaintances who are planning to move here, in addition to my family. Also, my surfing buddy here is Thiago Guará, who was my friend from elementary school in São Luís. Small world!

The Wine Gallery keeps accelerating at full speed: We closed the year with a 1000% increase in the number of subscribers, with more than 100 thousand bottles of wines sold, and the best part, with many happy customers and a strong referral growth rate. Wanna Migrate has been terminated, but I created a similar project, which I take today as one of my hobbies. For those who are thinking of migrating to another country, I always try to make myself helpful via Duoflag or Quora.

Well, I feel completely settled and relaxed here and extremely grateful to have the health and determination to chase whatever I need and desire. It's great to look back and know that every night of lost sleep has its reward.

May 2018 bring many challenges and surprises to everyone.

Happy New Year!

- Humberto de Castro Moreira