How the Trakto platform empowers professionals to express their ideas visually--and created startup opportunities in Northeast Brazil
Graphic designer Paulo Tenorio got his idea for a startup while in business school, where he was bombarded with requests from his fellow students to help them build slide decks for presentations. A native of the state of Alagoas in Northeast Brazil, Paulo began landing freelance gigs outside the school and even around the world. He realized that professionals everywhere struggle to present their ideas visually, particularly small business owners and entrepreneurs who can’t afford to hire an agency.
So Paulo partnered with programmer Jorge Henrique in 2013 to launch Trakto—an easy-to-use design platform that empowers professionals to create their own marketing and sales presentations. They founded the startup in Maceió, the capital of Alagoas and Paulo’s home city. With dramatic income inequalities, poverty, and a poorly-developed business infrastructure, Maceió was an unlikely choice for a startup. But Paulo believed that by bringing the kind of tech opportunities found in other regions to his hometown, Trakto could tap into the potential for talent right in Maceió and change the entire local economy.
Growing a startup
In 2016, Paulo and Jorge were selected for the first Google for Startups Residency cohort at the new Google Campus in São Paulo. Over a critical six-month period, the program provided Trakto and 14 other startups with immersive Google product support and one-on-one mentoring. Their startup's biggest problem, according to Paulo, wasn’t demand but credibility: Investors didn’t take them seriously since they weren’t from the more prosperous southeast region of Brazil. Alagoas is a tiny coastal state whose economy is dependent on agriculture, fishing, and tourism.
“As a Northeastern startup, with our accents, investors did not take us seriously,” Paulo recalls. “The Google stamp of approval was very important for us. When I told people I was a resident at the Google for Startups Campus, it opened doors not only in Brazil, but abroad as well.”
Shortly after the entrepreneurs completed their residency, Trakto earned its first million in revenue, tripled their number of subscribers, and quadrupled their staff.
Giving back to the community
Once the startup was financially stable, Paulo wanted to make good on his commitment to bring opportunity to his hometown. Kickstarting the tech industry in Alagoas would require the founders to provide all the necessary training, tools, and expertise. Inspired by his Google for Startups Residency experience, Paulo created the Trakto Marketing Show in 2017—an entrepreneurship and marketing event to drive local connections, knowledge sharing, and opportunities. The event became the largest of its kind in Northeast Brazil, drawing more than 3,000 participants, 40 percent from outside of Alagoas."Despite regional difficulties and stereotypes, the entrepreneurial digital community exists everywhere,” he said.
At their 2018 event, Paulo and Jorge met Renato, a young neighbor whose livelihood depended on fishing sururu, a shellfish used in local seafood dishes. Renato came from an underprivileged background, with a family of six living on a combined monthly income of about R$1,200 BRL (approximately $240 USD). He dreamed of being a programmer but lacked the opportunity and skills to achieve his goal. The partners knew that the startup experience could lift a person out of risk and make an impact in their community. They bet on Renato's potential and dedication, hiring him to work at Trakto.
“Renato is not being trained to be a Trakto employee, but to be a programmer—so he can develop his own business,” Paulo said. Renato has already developed his first app, Zap do Sururu, to help mediate the sale of sururu in his region. “If one startup is able to do that, imagine if several others could do the same thing. There are a lot of people thirsty for a chance.”
Making an impact in the world
Having recently launched a new version of the platform in Brazil, looking ahead Paulo and team aim to double the number of employees and achieve an annual revenue of R$5 million BRL (approx. $1M USD). A new global version of the platform is also in the works for later this year. And they’re not slowing down anytime soon. “As soon as we scale our sales and are a little stronger financially, we want to have a project for training boys and girls (13 and up) in design/programming—a kind of junior tech program to help youngsters from the Favelas and slums all over the world, starting in Latin America” Paulo said.
Paulo’s commitment to making a positive social impact grew when he was invited by Google to represent Brazil at the 2018 Google for Startups Alumni Summit, an annual gathering of startup founders who participated in Campus Residency and other Google for Startups programs all around the world. Over two days in Tel Aviv, he participated in panels, exchanged experiences, and mentored fellow founders at a partner organization in Palestine. For Paulo, the most impactful moment of the trip was observing how these founders navigated their day-to-day operations with limited resources amid a politically turbulent environment.
The motivation, dedication, and positive attitude he saw in the Middle East motivated Paulo to further develop the local Alagoas startup ecosystem. “We live in a technology bubble, which makes us forget what a large impact we can create with even a little effort,” Paulo said. “Any startup has the potential to transform the ecosystem around it.”