It was not an epiphany—nor one of those ideas that reinvents the wheel—that took Ascenty to the exclusive club of Brazilian unicorns. The path taken to success by the company, headquartered in São Paulo, was a traditional one: lots of sweat, investments, and a strategic gamble in a sector that, nine years ago, was still incipient in Brazil and Latin America: the data centers.
“Data is the future,” affirmed the vice president of marketing and cofounder of Ascenty, Roberto Rio Branco, in an interview for LABS. A business enthusiast, he reveals that the company should grow 50% this year alone and is planning an expansion to Chile, Mexico, and Colombia. In five years, the number of data centers that is spread throughout Latin America has gone from 13 to 35.
The business of the cloud is a crazy business. It grows at rates of 40%, 50% per year. And this for the next ten, fifteen years.Roberto Rio Branco, the vice president of marketing and cofounder of Ascenty.
Ascenty became a unicorn last year, after being bought by the American Digital Realty for $ 1.8 billion. Nine years ago, they made an audacious wager: to invest in fiber optics and data centers in Brazil, during a period in which the global economy still suffered the impacts of the financial crisis of 2008.
“Brazil was extremely lacking in terms of providing data center services. But it was a sector that was growing steeply, even in the USA, amidst the crisis that they were experiencing. It is a significant investment, but it pays off,” says Rio Branco.
Ascenty’s partners, led by the American Chris Torto who resides in Brazil, had just sold Vivax, a subscription TV company, for BRL 1.3 billion. And they saw the opportunity to invest in a promising sector, taking advantage of the fiber optic network that they already had in the country.
Nowadays, Ascenty has 13 data centers throughout São Paulo and Fortaleza, and began this month the construction of its first data center outside of Brazil, in Santiago (Chile), with an investment of $ 70 million. The company has plans to invest BRL 2 billion and wants to reach the year 2020 with 17 data centers in operation.
From Latin America and for Latin America
Having the necessary know-how in Latin America, alongside partners with a deep knowledge of the local market, was crucial in their growth trajectory—to begin with, it helped them adjust to the challenges of investing in Brazil. One of the important investments of the company, for example, is to bury the fiber optic network that today is strung in the air, on the poles of electric companies—making them more susceptible to the weather conditions and connection issues: “It is a difficult process, expensive, that demands municipal permits, from all the state-owned agencies… It is the cost of operating in Brazil,” comments Rio Branco.
The company currently owns 4,500 km of fiber optic cables throughout the country. That is one of the factors that distinguishes them from competitors, according to Rio Branco, and that has set them apart in the sector, since it ensures the connectivity of data centers.
“In terms of technology, we are all equal. If you have money and a good project, you can have the infrastructure of the first world. Yet what our clients need is service. Data is their lives,” affirms Rio Branco. “So, if there is a problem at 2 am in the morning, they need someone who will take care of them at that hour. This is what happens with Ascenty: a quick call to any of our cellphones, and the issue is resolved.”
The news plans for Mexico, Chile and Colombia
For him, Latin America represents a great opportunity for businesses—and it is in this region that he envisions the future of the company. Chile, a country chosen to begin the regional expansion of Ascenty, is described by Rio Branco as “a fantastic country.” “It is a strategically privileged country because of its location, being open to investments, technology. For us Brazilians, to do business with Chile is a pleasure. The cost of operating in Chile is far less than the cost in Brazil,” he affirms.
For Mexico, the second largest economy in Latin America and the neighbor of the giant North American market, Ascenty has hired directors and defined the location where its data center will be established. In the case of Colombia, the plans are still being studied.
“Those are the three most thriving economies in the region. Colombia is growing in a completely unregulated economy. It is a country with a vision of internationalization that is quite advanced,” says Rio Branco.