Creating a Conversational Commerce Tool for WhatsApp to Help Small and Medium-Sized LatAm Businesses

Roby Peñacastro of Leadsales

Spending time with family was an essential part of Ulupreneur Roby Peñacastro’s life growing up in Querétaro, Mexico. His parents were both entrepreneurs and ran businesses out of their home. The life of an entrepreneurial family was not without its ups and downs, but at an early age that spirit inspired him.

It wasn’t until he was in an exchange program in Finland that Roby became more passionate about tech and entrepreneurship. His first job out of school was at a tech startup in his hometown in Mexico doing SaaS logistics for e-commerce business. There, he met his now co-founder David Villa Cañez.They stayed friends and believed that someday they would build something together.

Leadsales founders

Roby went on to work at several different startups and ended up at what he called his “dream job” at Google. During the pandemic, Roby came back to Querétaro to help save the family business.

Previously, he’d been involved in mobile bar catering in Mexico, but when things shut down during COVID, they pivoted into selling online courses in mixology. It was then he realized they needed a tool to better handle all the inquiries that were coming in through WhatsApp. And that’s where the idea for Leadsales came—it was initially an internal solution to scale the mixology business. They launched in 2020, bootstrapping most of their initial funding. Now they have $1.6M in annual recurring revenue and are in 20 countries.

We caught up with Roby just as Leadsales made a big splash with its $3.7M seed round led by Ulu Ventures and Blue Pointe Ventures. He shared with us why the time is now for conversational commerce and his big dreams for the firm.

What is Leadsales?

It’s a CRM for WhatsApp and social media that helps businesses organize their chats into columns. Those columns can be for product questions, billing, deliveries, or just about any subject. From there, companies can use the columns for the best sales leads or for supporting current customers.

What are your tips for other founders fundraising?

Be adaptable and be ready to take rejection. But don’t just brush the rejection off, you need to dive deep and ask why. When I asked myself the reasons behind a “no,” it gave me insights to work on the things that I needed to change. Maybe we didn’t fully understand the potential of the market, or maybe I need to change my pitch. Embrace those rejections and use them in your favor to get closer to your goal.

Why Leadsales…why now?

One of the things that I realized while I was working at Google is that the world is changing toward conversational commerce, which means people are starting to buy through messages—whether it’s text message or, in our case, WhatsApp. In China we know that people rely on the WeChat app to conduct commerce. We’re seeing this happening in Latin America, Brazil, Africa, Southeast Asia, and India. COVID accelerated the digitalization of small businesses, and the trend is growing exponentially. More people are demanding a quick response via message.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The main challenge is growing sustainably. We’re really good at selling but sometimes growth can derail you from stability. That’s something founders often don’t take into account. Startups want to grow quickly, but you need to understand how fast is too fast. We went too fast initially, and it broke our infrastructure. So that’s been a challenge. You know you can achieve exponential growth, but—let’s fix the base first. Once your foundation is ready, you can launch again.

 What are your dreams for Leadsales?

I believe that Leadsales can become the next Salesforce, the next HubSpot of its time. My dream in the next five years is to get so successful that we can actually build a Leadsales tower either in San Francisco or in Mexico, preferably in Mexico.

Now is the time to help small businesses grow their sales. Today we have 1,400 businesses, but I believe we can get to one million. When you put the numbers that are just in Latin America, there are more than 20 million that could use our platform.

Leadsales team group photo

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Rusty Dornin
Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics.
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