- Former Facebook executive Hugo Barra is now an investor at Atlantico, a new LatAm-focused VC fund.
- Barra tells Insider why he’s so excited about startups in LatAm, and what he’s investing in.
- “We’re still in the very, very early days of the LatAm tech boom,” he tells Insider.
Facebook’s former head of virtual reality Hugo Barra has been quietly investing, since the start of the pandemic, as a venture partner at Atlantico, a Latin America-focused VC fund, he tells Insider.
The fund was created in 2019 by serial entrepreneur Julio Vasconcellos, along with LatAm unicorn cofounders Mate Pencz and Florian Hagenbuch.
Barra said he started to help the Atlantico team back when he was still an employee at Facebook in January 2020. At the time, he intended to stay at the tech giant full-time and focus on Oculus.
“We jointly designed a role as a venture partner so that I could meet potential portfolio companies and provide input in the final investment decisions of Atlantico,” he said. Shortly after this arrangement, Barra announced he was leaving Facebook in May 2021.
At Atlantico, in addition to writing checks, he’s also an LP in the fund and supports portfolio companies on an ad hoc basis with specific needs they may have, usually around product strategy, team design, and talent.
Barra said he was drawn to the fund mainly out of his desire to get involved and stay close to Latin America’s growing tech ecosystem, especially Brazil, his home country. He also sees a lot of similarities between Latin America’s scene, and the one he experienced while living in Asia.
“China was the fast follower to Silicon Valley, and I feel like I was there when the curve was at its steepest point from 2013 to 2017,” said Barra. He believes it’s not a matter of if, but when, LatAm reaches the same critical mass of talented and highly ambitious founders launching dozens of startups every year.
Last May, Barra announced he was leaving Facebook ahead of the highly anticipated launch of the Ray-Ban smart glasses. He joined Facebook in 2017 after four years as head of Xiaomi’s global business, based in Beijing. Earlier in his career, he was Google’s VP of product for Android.
“Having spent my entire career working on global businesses — including Android, Xiaomi and Oculus — I am particularly excited about LatAm founders and companies with a global ambition and the vision to transform an industry,” Barra said.
He’s particularly drawn to companies that are focused on solving social and economic impact problems in a local market, like the carrier-as-a-service platform Oxio, Pipo Saúde, a Brazilian provider of healthcare services and XpertSea, a marketplace for sustainable aquaculture.
Last week, Atlantico published a comprehensive report highlighting the LatAm tech ecosystem compared with other regions like the US, India and China.
If LatAm does take off the way in the same way as India and China, Barra expects “many hundreds of billions of dollars,” to be created in the region. “We think there’s ample room for 10x of growth in the next decade, to the point that tech is more like 30% of GDP,” he said.
Although he’s investing now, Barra is careful to say this isn’t a full-time career shift. “I’m an operator, so I’m never going to become a full-time VC.”
In addition to his work with Atlantico, Barra has been keeping himself busy as the cofounder and CEO of a new consumer health-tech startup. He declined to provide additional details, only saying the pandemic inspired him to invest a lot of time looking deeper into the health tech space.
“It’s been really terrific to spend time with a renewed sense of purpose learning about a completely new industry after two decades dedicated to mobile computing platforms,” he added. “I hope to be able to share more details soon.”