Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Felipe Vila, the chief executive officer of Bolsiyo. Let’s learn what’s happening at Bolsiyo and how Felipe is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Felipe! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Bolsiyo?
Felipe: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! In Latin America, retail is 62% hyper-local. Fifty million families rely on their independent shops to survive. However, they have no bank account, business license, or bookkeeping. This makes them invisible to the financial system, and blocks them from accessing fair credit and financial products. They are forced to borrow from loan sharks, risk fraud in payments, and loss of margins. At Bolsiyo, we’re committed to making shops visible via our cash register app. With minimal effort, shops are able to keep detailed accounts of their operation; access payments, deposits, and—soon—credit products. This means they have the base level tools to become more efficient in a way that works for them with all the fair financial tools at their disposal.
Spiffy: Wonderful! What motivates you to do it?
Felipe: I was living outside of Colombia. Whenever I would come back, I’d see how consumers were getting advancement in peer-to-peer and retail experiences. However, this innovation never reached shops, and they were falling behind. Their formats were innovative, but their experience and tooling was not. These shops, which were extremely relevant for local low-income communities, were being threatened by their inefficiency. I knew we could break the vicious cycle by making them visible and providing tropically empathetic tools.
Spiffy: That’s inspiring! What is the impact of your work?
Felipe: Currently, we’re in over 50,000 shops in Colombia, enabling better operations, safer payments, and growth for these shops. For those that do not have a clear path forward, we enable them to meet market requirements in order to grow or remain competitive.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience and community?
Felipe: We’ve just signed two important deals. We’ve been focused on product more than growth, and after we became comfortable with our product and its capacity to take on growth, we looked for partners to scale distribution. We’ve joined forces with beer giant conglomerates AB InBev and Unilever to reach three million shops in two years across Latin America. Along with them, we will be opening Mexico and Peru within the next year, and we’re developing a product to enable financial tooling on another level.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Felipe: Our work seems basic for many readers and that’s exactly why we’re so proud. Limitations in education, connectivity, and market capabilities make it harder to build the business. I still struggle to explain to non-Latin American people how a shop runs in Latin America. It’s inconceivable that a single person without a bank account—and sometimes even without a national ID, an education, financial record of any kind, or any sort of admin tool—runs a shop that serves thousands. That’s why we say that we need tropical empathy: the capacity to understand what they do now, why they do it that way, and build from that, not the other way around. If we go the other way around to help these micro merchants, we risk failing, as many others who have tried.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Felipe—it’s been an honor!
Felipe Vila is an American-born, Colombia-raised founder who has a special passion for traditional shopping in Latin America. Before founding Bolsiyo, he worked at Equifax, where he discovered the power of non-financial data applied to financial scoring. With that in mind, he built Bolsiyo, a cash register app that enables access to financial products for micro merchants in Latin America. (Nominated by Unshackled Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 9, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Shikha Tandon. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.