Buenos Aires — Gastón Taratuta’s first investment to found IMS Internet Media Services, today part of Aleph Group Inc. was $5,000, and which was nearly 20 years ago, in the United States, after he sold the car he owned in Argentina. He had arrived in the U.S. a short time before that with only $300 in his pocket.
Today, the holding company focused on adtech, or digital advertising, which has among its partners and investors MercadoLibre (MELI), Twitter (TWTR), TikTok and Snapchat (SNAP), has achieved unicorn valuation, and along the way has surpassed $1.2 billion in sales, thanks to its operations in 90 countries. And today it is moving forward with its IPO plans, despite the volatility afflicting global markets.
“We made our application in November in the hope of going public at some point,” he says, while clarifying that there is no estimated date for the IPO yet.
Recognition As An Entrepreneur
Taratuta’s journey was highlighted this week by EY Argentina, which named him Entrepeneur of the Year.
“This is a recognition to all the global and local team for this opportunity they gave me. It is an award for everyone. It would have been impossible to achieve this award without the support of the team I have and the partners,” Taratuta told Bloomberg Linea in an exclusive interview, hours after receiving the award.
He envisions increasingly strong growth of the digital sector, but globally and not only in Latin America, a region that already represents just 10% of Aleph’s total operations. And he believes that this growth, which he wants to capture with Aleph, will more than offset in the long term any downturn in the sector in 2022 as a result of the pandemic, rising interest rates and the war in Ukraine.
In the near term, he projects a scenario in which tech companies’ growth will be increasingly focused on profitability.
Earlier this year, Twitter acquired a minority stake in Aleph, and regarding Elon Musk’s incursion as a shareholder of that social network, Taratuta highlights the figure of the Tesla founder, for his “trajectory, his vision and innovation”.
“We are partners with Elon Musk, directly or indirectly, which is an honor,” he adds.
River Plate Talent
Regarding the startup and fintech sector in Argentina and Uruguay, Aleph’s CEO says that “today there is a digital soybean that exists because of the talent that these markets have, because of the investments made in recent years”. However, he challenged Latin American entrepreneurs to look beyond the region and “position themselves in the world”.
Regarding Argentina’s current political and macroeconomic situation, Taratura believes that a redesign and a root change is needed, which will not be achieved in five years, but in two decades.
The following conversation was edited for reasons of length and clarity.
What have been the most difficult moments for Aleph since its launch?
The beginning is always the hardest part. When you are starting out and you have two or three employees and you are looking for the first business. I started in 2005 with $5,000 of investment and one employee. Somehow it’s motivating to look at that over the last few years and to be able to get this far: $100.2 billion in sales, present in 90 countries globally, and helping to develop the digital advertising business in emerging markets through the 15,000 clients we have worldwide, 30 partners and more than 1,200 people working in the company.
In February, Aleph announced its revenues had risen by 85% in 2021. How has the first quarter of this year been?
I am very happy with the results obtained and we see very promising growth in digital advertising, at the digital level, which is going to grow with the transfer from offline GDP to digital GDP, which is where we observe that 15% of GDP in the United States is e-commerce, and in the rest of the markets where we operate it is 3% or 4%. So we see a great opportunity for growth by helping companies in the old and new world to develop on the digital advertising path.
What impact do you see amid the global context of rising interest rates and the recession effects of the war in Ukraine?
The pandemic, the supply chain problems, the changes in the labor market, and now the war, which is adding to the global turmoil of rising fuel and grain prices. That is creating a perfect storm that is going to cause the value of credit to be higher. History shows that the United States chooses between recession and inflation. And in that sense, in a normal economic order, when you’re riding the transformation from offline GDP to digital GDP, a lot is not going to impact our business. Because there is a transformation. There may be slowdown in the economy, but the transformation of the organic that already exists is going to continue to happen. Amazon is 2% of the GDP of the United States. Amazon alone. Think about the world that has $87 trillion GDP, there’s a lot to grow in terms of digital transformation.
Aleph is one of the few companies currently continuing with its IPO plans, despite the adverse global scenario. Why is Aleph an exception, and what are your main aims with the IPO?
We submitted our application in November with the hope of at some point going public. We are waiting for the window to come. We are ready as a company. We are waiting for the right time. The timing for the company is ideal, which has an exceptional financial business situation, with opportunity for growth. We believe that launching an IPO generates discipline in the company, gives liquidity to the employees, is a sign of validation to the work of so many years, to our partners, shareholders and customers globally. But we do not have an estimated date.
How is Aleph doing in terms of net profits?
I came to the United States in 1996 with $300 and I sold my car in Argentina for $5,000 and made a deposit in a bank and they paid you 6.5% for the money. In the last few years they pay you 0.20%, 0.30%. In the last few years there has been a lot of betting on growth. But growth without profitability. Today, with a rate that is not zero, but 3%, and who knows how much more in the next 12 months, I believe that now it will be more growth with profitability, and profitability will be higher than growth. So, I think it’s going to be more cherry picking. I think the market will go back more to fundamentals, cash generators, and I think portfolios are going to rebalance.
That is what your partner MercadoLibre has highlighted in recent investor calls, with more talk of net profits.
I think it is important. Growth is important, but at some point you have to generate liquidity for investors, or more opportunity for growth. Growing at 10% is not the same as growing at 40%. I think all companies are going to look at both at the same time.
What are the medium-term growth goals in terms of investment, customers and growth in general?
On the investment side, we see mergers and acquisitions as a growth driver. Also the current partners we have in the current markets, with the customers we have buying more media, and new customers coming to the platform. The same partners, partners like Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, giving us new markets around the world. New partners coming in and acquisitions, those are the avenues for growth. A lot of our business is going to grow by new customers trying our products, in 90 countries around the world. If we had 100,000 customers per country, that would be 90,000 advertisers, we see a lot of opportunity for the future.
In last year’s announcement of the partnership with CVC Capital Partners for $470 million, an expansion into Africa and the Middle East was also announced. How have operations been in those markets?
We made acquisitions in the Middle East and Africa between November and December. We operate in Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and some North African markets.
Taking into account that Twitter is an investor in Aleph, how does the recent news of Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter affect you?
I am happy that Twitter, Snapchat and MercadoLibre have invested in Aleph. Elon Musk has already bought 9% of Twitter, so we are partners with Elon Musk, directly or indirectly, which is an honor. More than anything because of his track record, his vision and innovation. There are people who have vision and believe that Twitter can have another business model. And I think it’s good that Musk can share his vision. I always believe in innovative ideas.
How do you see the startup and fintech sectors in Argentina and Uruguay?
Both countries are very rich in natural resources, land. The gold of these countries has been soybean and livestock for many years. Today there is a digital soybean that exists because of the talent that these markets have, because of the investments made in recent years. My vision is positive and I also suggest that entrepreneurs to produce ideas, products and services for the world. I observe that Latin American entrepreneurs undertake a lot for their own country, or the surrounding countries. It is a good way to start. I see that in Argentina and Brazil there is a lot of talent to export services and products with global legs. Soybean had it. They have to position themselves in the world, like Globant did. That is what I would like to see in the future.
Is that something you had proposed from the beginning?
No. I aimed at Latin America. But then we started to draw the route and realized that Latin America alone was not enough.
How do you view the current situation in Argentina, in political and macroeconomic terms?
I’m neither an economist or a politician. The numbers indicate that printing currency to sustain the crisis is a path to failure. That is my vision. What will get Argentina out of the constant failure is to generate value. To be able to serve the local market and export. With commodities you cannot just trade, because the price is set by Chicago. Argentina has to redesign itself to be able to operate. On the other hand, it does not matter who is going to be president or economy minister. The country needs deep-rooted changes that will not take five years, but two decades. Credibility must be gained. The negative side of this is that access to credit will be very difficult with these rates. Argentina has important gas and oil resources, and food, and also has talent for the development of the new world, this transformation from offline to digital GDP, which is where Globant captures the opportunity. Argentina has to transform itself.