Sourcing Data in Peru, Chile and Colombia

Jade Boneff-Walsh My eyes are drawn west to the vast expanse of the Pacific where it merges seamlessly with the grey sky of this early morning. I shift my gaze down and see a few brave surfers in full body suits riding waves into the narrow beach far below. I am standing atop cliffs which drop almost vertically down from the verdant beauty behind me.

Cliffs of MirafloresThe Miraflores district is a jewel set in the city of Lima, Peru, where I arrived late the previous night. I landed at the Jorge Chávez International Airport, which takes pride in its selection, for the sixth year in a row, as the best airport in South America. If Best Airport is based on a smooth immigration and customs process, I can see why it's a consistent winner - I was on my way to the hotel 20 minutes after landing.

A large part of my work consists of locating, and cultivating relationships with, new international data partners. I travel around the globe to renew existing partnerships as well as forge new ones. This three country trip includes Chile and Colombia as well as Peru.

Although I am always happy to come back to this region, Peru is special to me. My great-grandmother was an Inca woman called Espiritu. Her son, my grandfather, had a French father, and immigrated to Brazil as a child, yet always referred to himself as Peruvian. I see Peruvian men who resemble, and evoke memories of, my grandfather.

I am excited about several of the meetings I have scheduled for this trip. They were difficult to arrange, but I believe there is potential for some rich new data sources. We have been getting increasingly frequent requests for data in these three countries, and I have been on a hunt for new sources. 
Doing business here is very different than in the States, and it has taken effort, perseverance, and quite a bit of time to arrange in-person meetings.

Whenever I arrive in Latin America I try to press a virtual “Reset” button and adapt to an alternate time perspective. Timeliness is just not expected here, so I constantly struggle to suppress my punctual compulsions.

The vagaries of traffic add to the impossibility of sticking to a schedule . Bogota is always particularly bad and I rate it in the top 3 for Cities with Nightmare Traffic. While in Bogota I had hired a driver for the day and he helped me to plan my route and determine how long it would take to get from place to place. Of course none of it came true. We would be cruising along when traffic would suddenly screech to a halt. At some point it begins moving again with no discernible reason for either stopping in the first place, or starting again.

Aside from the traffic, the area of Bogota I stayed in was very pleasant. Many peoples' expectations of Bogota and Colombia are formed by hearing about the drug wars. But there are lovely areas - quiet and beautiful, where people are comfortable wearing jewelry and carrying Louis Vuitton purses as they enjoy their surroundings without a care.

Business relationships here, as in much of Latin America,  usually begin with an introduction from a mutual acquaintance. It is the norm to develop trust and a personal connection before undertaking any business, and "cold-calling" is generally met with a cold shoulder. But I had no other option, so I had begun my hunt for new sources by doing web searches for companies that might be in possession of data.

Contacts are unlikely to respond to outreach from strangers, especially to email. Many times a company won't have a website at all, or it will be a simple, perfunctory one. Contact forms are common and often the only way to connect. At times it felt like the Submit button did nothing other than erase what I had just typed into the form, and my message wasn't going anywhere at all.


Data driven marketing is in its infancy here. Marketing in general lags far behind what we're used to in the USA, with companies focusing on other ways to grab market share, such as finding manufacturing efficiencies to lower price.

Minimal focus on marketing often means not recognizing the potential value of data. A company might own a vast sprawl of data but not realize that connecting all the pieces results in a rich and valuable file. One of my earlier meetings on this trip was with such a company. They ended up being delighted with the value of what they had long ignored, and I left with a new resource to feed the growing appetite of our clients.

An appetite for data isn't the only thing getting fed. Peru boasts world class cuisine, and Lima is known as The Gastronomical Capital of the Americas. Lima is home to acclaimed restaurants and chefs, and is exporting its amazing cuisine all over the world. Last year, Michelin Guide awarded its first 3-Star honor to a Peruvian restaurant (Lima, in London). Our local partner had suggested we should meet for dinner later and I am looking forward to an authentic Peruvian meal.

I have several meetings to attend prior to having dinner. I always enjoy Lima - it is a unique city, rich in history, and full of personality. The crime rate is low and the country is thriving. Long known as an exporter of raw materials such as copper and zinc, the earth also yields a dazzling diversity of tubers. Over 4,000 different varieties of potatoes grow in Peru, in an array of colors, sizes, and shapes.

The country has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with a 6.3% GDP growth rate in 2012, and the lowest inflation in all of Latin America. Poverty has decreased sharply from almost 60% in 2004 to 25% in 2012. Unemployment continues to decrease steadily, and there is a vibrant middle class.

Other than the hellish, but expected traffic, my day goes very well. I visit an existing and reliable contact who has been a great partner to us. Developments with new contacts go even better than I hoped. The data landscape is young and it is possible to discover new, untapped resources. It's exciting!

Delicious AppetizersI am feeling celebratory when I arrive at the restaurant, La Rosa Nautica. We begin, of course, with appetizers. The selection includes Parmesan scallops, fish kabobs, sweet shrimp with tiny potatoes, and ceviche.

To drink I have Pisco Sour, the signature drink of Peru. Pisco is a kind of brandy, and the tangy taste of the drink is a perfect accompaniment to the delightful flavors of the food. Just when I am certain I cannot eat any more, the main entrée arrives – tender chunks of steak over fries, with onions and tomatoes cooked in gravy, and topped with a fried egg. Unforgettable!

As always seems to be the case, I encounter a peculiar person or two in my travels home. While standing in line at the airport I glance toward the queue on my right and my eyes catch on a gorgeous Hermes bag of supple leather in a rich caramel color. Holding the very pricey bag is a beautifully dressed woman in her 40s wearing a pair of stunning suede pumps. I look up to check out her hairstyle, thinking it must be equally fashionable. 

YIKES! Her "do" is a head full of pink foam rollers. Utterly incongruous in an airport, and atop her many thousands of dollars’ worth of apparel, it looks so very bizarre.