Nicolas Grichener, Cofounder of Infopan [InfoBread]
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
July 19th, 2019: I interviewed Nicolas Grichener, the cofounder of Infopan. This conversation was translated from Spanish to English.
Eight years ago, Nico Grichener decided to start Infopan with Rodrigo Dos Santos, his friend from university. They knew they did not want to start a company for the sole purpose of making money. They wanted to start a company that would make a social and environmental impact on the world. He said that what motivated them was to find a way to unite three things: starting their own company, making their own money, and supporting their society.
In 2010, Grichener and Dos Santos were both working for different companies. Dos Santos was pursuing a postgraduate degree in marketing strategy where he encountered case studies of successful entrepreneurs. What he discovered from these case studies was that successful entrepreneurs were regular people. There was nothing magical about them. They were normal people, but they had dedicated time and energy to starting their own companies.
Grichener noted one defining moment during this time. He was injured playing soccer and had to stay home for fifteen days to recover. This injury gave him fifteen days to think. It was the catalyst for a new life. They had started the company in theory by registering the company name, launching the website, and putting together their business plan. However, they had yet to actually start the business. Grichener’s injury in combination with the knowledge that all entrepreneurs are regular people gave them the strength they needed to start.
In 2012, they left their jobs and focused all of their attention on creating Infopan.
Infopan gives bags made from recycled paper to bakeries throughout Argentina for free. To pay for the bags, they sell space on the bags to advertisers. When a baker hands an Infopan bag to a customer, the customer brings the bag home, and the bag essentially transforms into a newspaper. Infopan markets to advertisers that their Ad placements reach every person who buys bread. Infopan makes a positive impact on the environment by replacing the plastic bags typically used by bakeries in Argentina with recycled paper bags, therefore, reducing plastic waste in Argentina. Infopan makes a positive impact on society because every bakery receives the bags for free in exchange for donating freshly baked goods to local charities in their area to feed people in need.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The first challenge we faced was starting. The first challenge all entrepreneurs face is overcoming fear – the fear of leaving what you know and starting something new – the fear of leaving your comfort zone. The second challenge we faced is confronting that reality is not always what you planned or projected. We had to make a lot of adjustments. Another difficulty is that here in Argentina our society was not used to paper bags. We used plastic bags. When we went to the bakeries to offer our paper bags, the bakers did not know if the customers would use the different bags. We had to make a culture change. This was a big challenge because there is a much greater environmental and social consciousness today than there was seven or eight years ago.
How did you make that culture change?
We had to believe and work and insist and keep strong. We were lucky because the context was going in the same way we were. The government released new laws that prohibited plastic bags. We were backed by the laws.
How did you come up with the idea for Infopan?
The main idea is not ours. I saw this idea in Spain, but there it was only used as a new manner of supporting advertisement media. It did not have a social or environmental impact. I discussed it with Rodrigo and knew we had to add something that would help society. So, we took one part of the idea from Spain and customized it with our own impact.
How many bakeries use your bags?
We started locally. We started in my city of Ramos Mejía with ten bakeries. We wanted to try the idea in another zone, so we went to San Miguel where Rodrigo used to live. There we had ten more bakeries. Then, we went to Morón, the city where we studied together at university, and tried the idea there. From this, we saw that we could grow and scale this idea. Then, we began franchising the model. Now, we have more than 1,000 bakeries using Infopan throughout the country. We have more than 100 franchisees, and each franchisee distributes the bags to around ten or fifteen bakeries. Now, we have plans to expand internationally.
Map of Infopan Franchises in Argentina:
What recommendations do you have for scaling a social impact business?
From the first moment you have an idea, think big. Don’t think one step at a time. Think about where you want to be, and create it. From the moment we sold our first advertisement, we knew that we were going to franchise this. We knew we were not just selling advertisements. We already knew that in two to five years we were going to begin selling franchises. To scale a business, the first thing you need to think about is the first moment when you will begin to scale.
What recommendations do you have for raising funds?
My answer may surprise you. We never asked for a loan and we never needed to finance anything. Everything that we did was from the profit of the company. Our goal was to scale, so whatever we made, we reinvested in the company.
What recommendations do you have for a foreigner who wants to do business in Argentina or Latin America in general?
We are in the same situation because right now we want to expand into Mexico. Right now, we are asking people for recommendations on how to expand into Mexico. What they have told me is similar to what I will tell you about Argentina. First, you have to understand that we have different cultures. It is not just a question of business. We are different as a culture and as a people. You need to have a partner or someone very close to the culture to help you translate or decode situations. It is important because we are very distinct in the ways we work and the ways we live. We are all human, but we are different. That is why it is important to have someone close to them to help you adapt to the culture of the new country. You have to know how the people are in the place you are.
What is the best advice you have received?
Trust in yourself, and everything will be fine. No one deserves to do something they do not want to do.
What is your biggest piece of advice for a young entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is a life change. Two years ago, I became a father. I have the ability to decide how I spend my time. To see my daughter grow, to be with her, to take her to the park, it is invaluable. It is the most important. It is not an easy path. It comes with ups and downs, and you have to know that. You are going to encounter problems, but you are also going to encounter very beautiful things. You have to really understand this before you choose this way. Enjoy it. Once you make this life change, you will not want to return to working for someone else.
What recommendations do you have for managing stress and fear?
You have to be conscious that the path is going to be like this. You cannot be surprised by this. First, you have to know where you want to go. Second, you need someone at your side who will take the journey with you – someone to tell you that it is going to be ok, someone to talk with. In my case, it was my partner and friends. Find a space where you can discuss what is happening. You are not the only person dealing with these situations. There are many people dealing with these things, and many of these people can tell you how they resolved difficult situations. Networking is very important.
Do you have any books or podcasts that you would recommend to young entrepreneurs?