Yup, you read that headline right. Sure, I’m being a bit of a provocateur: Of course founders are still massively influential and popular. But, as the tech sector matures, grows, and expands, there is space for a greater diversity of all sorts of competing, coexisting, and ultimately mutually reliant people — an “ecosystem,” if you will.
When Rest of World started to gather a list of the 100 most influential people in the global tech scene, a few famous Latin American founders certainly cropped up: Cristina Junqueira of Nubank, Simón Borrero of Rappi, and Pierpaolo Barbieri of Ualá. We wanted them there not because they’d set up big successful companies, but because afterwards they went beyond and helped build more of the community we know today.
With this list, we also wanted to shake things up by adding sometimes clashing and unexpected people to the list. This includes people like Angélica Salgado, the president of Chile’s Cornershop workers’ union, who often actively works against her employer’s interests by fighting to keep delivery workers as employees. Or someone ike Felipe Vallejo Dabdoub, the guy who got the photo-op with the first Bitcoin ATM set up in the Mexican Senate building. He isn’t the CEO, but the legal wonk who sorted the regulatory affairs needed to get his company — the crypto exchange Bitso — inside the building, as well as into the heart of El Salvador’s Bitcoin experiment.
This isn’t an exercise in provocation, but a reflection of a new — and I’d reckon, positive — development in Latin America: The end of an age in which founders and CEOs of startups are the sole protagonists of the regional tech scene.
Most will celebrate increasing diversity, for the most part. The death of El Club de Tobi — the monopoly of the startup world by rich, white, Stanford-educated bros — will be welcome, but it is not a foregone conclusion. The slow rise of regionally, socially, ethnically, and gender-diverse technologists faces myriad challenges and consistent setbacks: None of the $4.4 billion in funding in Latin America in 2020 went to female-founded startups, and the growth in that sector continues to improve at a glacial pace.
Other changes will be less welcome to the old boys’ club: Rockstar developers charging an arm and a leg; powerful union leaders outshining founders’ glossy personalities; the looming shadow of the gray blob of old business finally turning its attention to technology in the form of corporate venture capital initiatives. A Y Combinator founder detected a hint of elitist protectionism when his fellow YC alumni privately complained that the quality of the prestigious accelerator was being watered down after it announced it was expanding the size of its cohorts.
Of course, in reality, all of this diversification makes founders increasingly important, but they will no longer be the center of attention 100% of the time. My hope is that what we’ll be provoking is your imagination, as we inspire you to look beyond what you’ve already seen.