Gustavo Caetano: constant reinvention as a business plan

Do you know the story of Gustavo Caetano, CEO of Sambatech? In this article, he tells how he pivoted the startup 3 times to now have 20 million students in distance learning.

A native of Araguari, Gustavo Caetano left his city when he entered Marketing college in Rio de Janeiro. When he received his first salary as an intern, in the last semester of the course, he bought a very cool cell phone for the time. But, when trying to distract himself with the new gadget, he soon saw that something was missing.

“I tried to download a game, but there was none. I thought: 'Wow, if I want to buy it and there isn't one, there's a business opportunity”, says Gustavo. “I went looking for a solution to that problem.”

Intrigued, he looked for companies that made games and found an interesting one in England. When he said he wanted to bring the brand to Brazil, the executives asked for a business plan, which he prepared with the help of professors at the college. “My dream was never to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to be an executive at a big company. But I went after the opportunity to see what would happen.”

That's how he founded Sambatech in 2004. In the beginning, the company distributed games to telephone operators in Latin America. In three years, however, mobile games became popular and operators began to squeeze the margin they passed on to the startup. “We would go with 30%. When that happened, it hit me: either I got out of this market or I would be crushed. It was time for a change.”

In 2007, following the market, Gustavo felt that the next sensation would be video streaming. “I thought that as soon as people had more bandwidth on the internet, they would watch more videos. So we created a video management and distribution platform on the internet for those who didn't want to use YouTube — which in our minds were television stations”, explains the entrepreneur.

The following year, the startup received investment and began taking major media players to digital. “We sold our solution to 8 of the 10 Brazilian TV stations”, says Gustavo, who at that moment made a pit stop to update himself with new technologies.

“I always really liked studying. My background is in Marketing, I didn't know how to create digital products, what this sprint, agile, cloud business was. So I went to Silicon Valley to take a course and learned how to create software with a cloud service”, he reveals. “When I came back and we launched the platform, my competitors sold installation in the data center, and we said that the videos were in the cloud.”

Pivoting to EAD

The boldness paid off: Sambatech grew and became the market leader in Latin America. But anyone who thinks that Gustavo has calmed down is mistaken. After dinner with Edson Bueno, founder of Amil, he left with a flea behind his ear. “He told me, 'You're a shark, but you're swimming in a lagoon. And shark swimming in the lagoon dies, you have to go to the ocean'. I realized it was time to reinvent the business again.”

Reflecting on how to explore an even larger market, the founder of Sambatech set his sights on education. “It was a sector that was starting to go online and had a high demand for videos”, explains Gustavo. “We went after the biggest player at the time and helped this and other education companies go digital.”

Today, more than 20 million people use Sambatech technology to offer distance learning courses in various modalities — from quick refresher courses to university. For Gustavo, this is just the beginning. “I think we are still in version 1.0 of distance education. The metaverse will be the big turning point to reach 4.0.”

In almost two decades at the helm of Sambatech, he continues to keep his radar on and is determined to always learn. “The broader your repertoire, the more likely you are to bring innovation to your business,” he says. “Sometimes you become so focused on your work, on your area, that you can only do more of the same. We need to open our minds more.”

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