This is key because if you’re able to take care of yourself, value yourself properly and understand your own thoughts and behavior it helps you understand other’s thoughts and behaviors, it help you to don’t get carried by the value that others place on you, but stay focused in the value that you perceive yourself, and then take care of yourself according to that. For me that’s core and that’s really important and I always try to work on it.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ximena Aleman.
Ximena Aleman is Co- founder and Chief Business Developer Officer of Prometeo. She has an extensive background in B2B sales and more than 5 years of experience in the fintech industry in Latin America. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she advised companies in Communications and Marketing Strategy, was Digital Publishing Director at EME, a content creative hub for newspapers across Latam, and worked in the leading media in Uruguay and Marketing Head at Dentons Uruguay.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
In my third year at the School of Economics in the Universidad de Montevideo, I switched my major from Economics to Communications and Marketing. After graduating, I was lucky enough to gain early working experience with some of the most important media outlets in Uruguay, before I ended up building a digital content hub inside a publishing house. Before discovering fintech, I served as the Head of Marketing for the Uruguay office of global law firm Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas, and also worked as an advisor to companies who needed help shaping their communication and marketing strategies.
Later, while completing my MBA with a specialization in Business Technology, I met the group of friends with whom I would found my first fintech startup. The year was 2015, and our product at the time was a payment wallet. Back in those days, we had heard about the Open Banking trend happening in fintech in Europe — especially in London — but we continued on with our project while keeping a close eye on developments in the fintech world. After a couple of years, we decided to pivot and take advantage of the new open banking trends and the technology we had built previously, and that’s how Prometeo started developing APIs. We worked hard to grow our network while continuously developing our tech, and are the largest Open Banking platform in Latin America. I’m proud to say that today we provide a single point of access to banking information, transactions, and payments across multiple financial institutions to people who live in the region. We currently support fifty data, transaction, and payment APIs in 33 financial institutions across nine Central and South American Countries.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Founding co-found a company makes you see the world differently, especially the region you were raised in. The Latam market is unique because it spans a huge amount of territory but, unlike a territory like EMEA, all the countries in Central and South America speak one of two major languages (Spanish and Portuguese) and all reside across about the same number of timezones as the US. So you have all these people doing business in more-or-less the same language, with similar but different and unique cultures and histories, all more-or-less during the same business hours. So Uruguay and Costa Rica can do business in the same language the same way Miami and San Francisco can, however the two cultures have their own unique business climate and way of doing things. Each country in Latam is as vastly different culturally, and in terms of how they do business, as they are in terms of their geography. It’s really interesting how there are so many similarities but so many differences. That said, I consider myself not only an Uruguayan entrepreneur but a Latam one. Through Prometeo’s process of scaling things up to accommodate new APIs and the latest tech, I have been able to see how people do business in places like Peru, Panama, Mexico, and Colombia. What I’ve noticed is that people living in these different places all have a quite definitive but unique understanding of how their own financial services ecosystems should operate. They understand the limitations of their financial services networks, and see where things could be improved to better accommodate their business community’s entrepreneurial ecosystems. The word “Latam” has taken on a completely different significance for me since I’ve started on this journey.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t have been able to build Prometeo without my co-founders — Rodrigo and Eduardo have helped me improve myself in ways I could never have imagined. They have supported my growth and I have supported theirs. This has allowed us — as a team — to surpass our personal limitations and achieve not only personal success, but success as a startup as well.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
When we talk about things that hold back women from founding companies, we can talk about cultural reasons, structural reasons, and personal reasons. In recent years, I have focused my attention on structural and personal reasons. On the structural side, there simply seems to be a lack of funding for women.
Women found around 28% of fintechs, but women-founded startups raised a meager 1% of total investments made across the fintech sector over the course of the past 10 years. Similarly, the proportion of male and female founders among the community is disproportionate compared to the proportion of funds received by male investors versus female investors. One third of founders are female but 99% of funding goes to male founders? There’s something wrong with that. Also, the average deal size for female-founded or female co-founded companies is less than half that of startups founded by a man or co-founded by men. Companies founded by women or co-founded by women are simply more likely to get less investment than those founded solely by men, and that is something that needs to be addressed.
On the personal side of things — women face a lot of pressure when they try to be entrpetenueal and start a company. It sounds like it might not matter, but understanding and practicing ways to destress and stay focused in a highly competitive and traditionally male-dominated sector is extremely important if you’re a woman founder. You can say that about anyone, but it’s especially important if you’re a woman, given the pressure we face outside of the workplace in addition to all the pressures you face when trying to scale an international financial services business.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Female and Latin American entrepreneurs are often called “Overlooked Entrepreneurs” so for Latam women trying to start a business, it’s key to emphasize the importance of emotional skills in the professional working world — it’s not just about being emotionally resilient.
You have to focus on yourself and on your abilities to overcome the obstacles laid out ahead of you. You have to find your inner strength and learn to draw upon that. What you inevitably create is what will provide you with the strength and the energy that you need to keep going, so just build what you can, and learn to relish your achievements as you accomplish things and pass milestones.
Women are culturally conditioned to take care of others, and we learn to perceive our value as society perceives it, but when you become an entrepreneur it’s important to understand your own value. In order to do that, you must create your own set of values and live by them, vigorously, and remember to keep taking care of yourself at all times.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I think as founders we are constantly reshaping the world, and that’s why it’s particularly necessary for women to become entrepreneurs. If women want to see a world that better understands the value of women and women’s perspective, we need to see more women-led companies. That means we need more young women and girls to strive for entrepreneurship.
The good news to me is that I feel like this is happening right now. We’re starting to see more women founders enter into the fintech space, and I think that’s good because it helps propagate new perspectives and ideas. Business can’t run without new perspectives and competition thrives on new ideas, so this is inevitable when you’re talking about a sector experiencing growth.
I always stress that the financial world as we know it was built by men, and we are used to managing our financial activities and viewing our relationship with money from a male perspective. So now with this potential that fintech has the ability to serve everyone financially, I think that it’s very important that women entrepreneurs start to create products and services that can integrate the female perspective, or that can attend to females as a customer segment in a way that simply works better than the way things have been done for years. Only by adding in new perspectives can you build a world that is ultimately more inclusive for everyone.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
There’s this business myth that you should have a tech background if you want to be a tech entrepreneur and this isn’t really true. Right now there is a disparate number of men compared to women studying engineering in universities, so that could be one reason why there are more male tech entrepreneurs, but I also think that tech companies are culpable for why there are more male-dominated tech startups than female ones.
The best way to break this up is for companies to form their business plan, marketing goals, and overall strategy around the idea that they need to attract people from diverse backgrounds in order to build a strong enterprise. And I think this is a very important thing to talk about, because it will encourage many women with non-technical backgrounds to jump into the tech space.
The next big business myth I want to dispel is about how difficult it is to have a balanced life when you are an entrepreneur. True, as an entrepreneur you face uncertainty after uncertainty as you navigate to goals you have to dream up and set for yourself, and that is perhaps harder to deal with than when you have an ordinary nine-to-five, but at the same time being able to manage your schedule, and prioritize things as you want to prioritize them helps you to create your ideal work life balance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, but finding that balance is doable. It harms neither your family, nor your ability to create a successful company when you prioritize time to both — on the contrary, both come to compliment the other.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I think we all experience moments in our lives where we know the decision we choose to make will carry us towards one direction or the other and that’s sometimes how people become founders, so I wouldn’t say that there is one particular trait that will make you more or less likely to accept the challenge if the circumstances are right.
From my experience, and from talking with other entrepreneurs, I’ve come to believe that there are certain skills and characteristics that founders always have in common. Curiosity, for instance. Entrepreneurs are quite curious people; they are always thinking about how they can improve something. They like to figure out what can be done to make something better or easier or more efficient.
Additionally, there’s always this ‘inner call to action’ that founders feel drives them forward. We are action-driven decision-makers. Another characteristic I think all entrepreneurs share might be referred to how we as a group perceive uncertainty and risks. This is key, if you feel risk averse, or if you normally shy away from uncertainty, it becomes really hard to become an entrepreneur because being a founder means not knowing exactly what you’re doing, but still having to make decisions.
And this is why having co-founders is extremely beneficial. Sometimes not every entrepreneur on your team will have the same curiosity, or can manage uncertainty in the same way. Some may be better at executing on tough decisions. But having a team allows you to translate each of your individual strengths into actionable ideas, directions, and goals that you can use to measure growth and scale up your vision into that next stage of growth.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Three Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?”
Everyone is different, so I will point out the three things that helped me to create my own success.
The first one is emotional or inner skills: self-esteem, self-care, and self-awareness. This is key because if you’re able to take care of yourself, value yourself properly and understand your own thoughts and behavior it helps you understand other’s thoughts and behaviors, it help you to don’t get carried by the value that others place on you, but stay focused in the value that you perceive yourself, and then take care of yourself according to that. For me that’s core and that’s really important and I always try to work on it.
The second thing is communication skills. I think it’s very important to be able to communicate what you want, what you want to become, where you want to get to. Not only as an entrepreneur or as a founder but as a human being. So being able to articulate complex thoughts and also being able to express them and attract people toward those goals, that’s a strong component of leadership
The third thing is a strong family foundation. When I’m referring to this I’m talking about choosing a partner that can understand your professional goals and help you pursue them and push you to your better version.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As our company grows I try to share that growth with other entrepreneurs. I always make sure to take time to mentor entrepreneurs into building a better and stronger community of entrepreneurs.
I’m especially interested in female funders and also in funders from small countries like Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay and Bolivia, and I try to mentor them to help them to create global companies from their countries.
Sharing my experience and the journey that we have built in Prometeo can help other entrepreneurs to avoid mistakes that we made, grow faster, better and stronger.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to inspire a community of people that can foster financial wellbeing amongst women. As a society we have built a financial structure that is mainly dominated by men and for a long time women have been financially harmed and this is something that extends to women no matter what their culture, country or financial situation is.
It would be great to be able to join forces between different initiatives to address this particular problem that our society has, of course you have to approach this problem with a segmented strategy.
We should understand that as a society we have been unable to provide the financial resources and tools to help half of the population to prosper. I would love to be part of a community that can look at this problem in the long term and create actions to promote financial inclusion and wellbeing among women from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, and different financial situations.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’m a huge fan of inspiring stories particularly. I’m very fond of every self-made so I would love to have lunch, coffee or breakfast with any woman that can share her story and perspectives. In particular, I’m a big fan of Meghan Markle.
Meghan has been able to overcome stereotypes in a world where it is extremely difficult to take a step back and not be part of the narrative of the person you are supposed to be a component of. She has been able to speak up and tell the world her story, share her perspective, and surround herself with people that help support her. She’s managed to create a community of women that share her values and a platform from where she can help create a better future.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.