From Entrepreneurial Students to Start-up Founders

Introducing the co-founders João Jönk, Guilherme Alvarenga ,and Guilherme Nazareth de Souza | Jun, 28, 2021

When you meet Guilherme Nazareth de Souza and João Jönk, Class of 2019 and 2020 respectively, their determined work ethic becomes immediately apparent. They are the definition of entrepreneurial; when they speak about founding their company, Zapt, you can tell that their world has been all consumed by the project at hand — and they enjoy it that way. When I first met them as a peer at Minerva, I remember their entrepreneurial energy as nascent but rapidly emerging — their fervent dedication to create and develop.

A distinct memory I have of Guilherme was during our first year at Minerva when I walked in on him sitting in the common room alone on a Friday night. I asked him what he was up to and, with bright curious eyes as if nothing was more natural, he told me that he was reading books on economics and finance. João’s fascination with the business world was similar. I remember our conversations outside the Seoul residence hall where he eagerly shared about his side hustles and the various other projects that he was working towards outside of class. For example, João hosted a daily physical training club, which he ran as if it were an experimental business. Namely, he found ways to utilize his class learnings in communications, human psychology, and business strategy to create a program that was motivating and enticing for the participants. This was a huge feat, given that instruction took place every day at 7:00 am.

Five years after those early days at Minerva, it is evident that Guilherme and João’s boyish drive has evolved alongside their academic studies and their career-driven pursuits. Since their graduation, they have continued to stoke their business-savvy minds on entrepreneurial ventures — while both maintaining full-time jobs in finance and venture capital. After stumbling upon the concepts of bulk purchase market opportunities in books about economics in China, and doing some impromptu on the ground research in Brazil, they both realized a huge gap and a business opportunity. After getting connected to their third founder, Guilherme Alvarenga in September, they decided to go all-in and found their first company — Zapt.

Integrating with Whatsapp, Zapt makes bulk-purchasing easier for local communities in Brazil. Bulk purchases enable buyers to save money on large quantities of goods but smaller businesses or individuals are often unable to access the initial capital to purchase these deals. Using Zapt, individuals are able to band together to make purchases as a temporary group, allowing them to reap the financial benefits as a collective and save together on business costs.

While their company was only two weeks old, they applied for Y Combinator, a prestigious and selective startup accelerator, and got in — a stroke of confidence from the start-up world that Zapt would be able to meet a real-world need. Once accepted, they fully committed to proving their business acumen by the end of the program. The rate of growth for their company, which recently raised 2.8 million in their first round of funding, is a testament to the ways that Guilherme and João have changed since graduation. The story of their process, and how they got to this apex so fast, is equally indicative of the characters of these two Minerva alumni.

To turn their idea into a reality, at the beginning of November 2020, Guilherme, João, and Alvarenga moved into a nondescript hotel in Nova Lima, a small town in the outskirts of Belo Horizonte that João describes as “the middle of nowhere.” For the next three months, they allowed themselves to be fully consumed with the work at hand. Over the course of this time, they would shuttle back and forth between the hotel room and office, hotel room and office, spending hours stewing over their approach as a company. Their main focus was to prepare for the final event of the program, where they would be given the opportunity to pitch their company to potential investors. “It was all about Zapt, and it was all about figuring out what story we wanted to tell,” says João.

They needed to show that their mission had proof of profitability, which in layman’s terms meant that it would need to succeed and make money in the real world. First, they developed a sound narrative for Zapt built from their years of market research and cultural context. How could Zapt be formed in such a way that spoke to the zeitgeist of community collaboration in Brazil? What areas of the market clearly needed re-imagining? With support and advice from fellow founders in their Y Combinator cohort, the team spent these three intense months articulating answers to these questions and testing their hypotheses.

They also set a brand tone for their team and future community to be one of mutual respect and interest. While the product would deliver a seamless tech experience, the co-founders knew in order to succeed in the long-term, a company needed to be underscored by a leadership team ready and able to oversee all aspects and projects. Within the first week of working together, they created the name for the company, ran their first design sprint, and had already met their first customer — a well-connected Brazilian socialite who was ready to evangelize and bring her community on board. To show that their model was viable to investors, they hacked together an online store to start selling their first bulk products: Pão de Queijo, a popular, tapioca-based Brazilian cheese bread, and shrimp, a mainstay in the Brazilian diet. Within about four days, the store exceeded $1000 in revenue, confirming the team’s confidence that Zapt would entice investors.

“It wasn’t just ideas, we were executing since Day 0,” notes Guilherme proudly. “We built something really fast, we put it in front of people.” Although Zapt seems like a highly expedited, overnight project, in both its emergence and success, the team had a strong foundation leading up to it.

As a member of the Founding Class at Minerva, Guilherme speaks highly of how his classmates’ diverse perspectives encouraged him to reassess his rigid understanding of himself. Coming to Minerva, Guilherme was dead set on going into finance — a career path unlike the rest of his small cohort. But by the end of the first year, his mindset had completely changed. It was clear to him that although he would end up in an industry tangential to his interest, there were so many other options for him to pursue. Throughout Guilherme’s time at Minerva, his friends and classmates continued to push him to grow in unexpected ways. During his sophomore year, he worked as a fellow for Learn Capital, a learning-focused venture capital firm, where he quickly became engrossed with the future of technology. Following this experience, he incorporated computer science and statistics into his major and would continue to intern at technical start-ups to build a strong network of other entrepreneurial-minded people.

After graduation, Guilherme joined Handle.com, a financial software company, as their Head of Data Science. After a year, while he enjoyed his work with his team, Guilherme wanted to return to his home country of Brazil to explore new opportunities and start tackling local challenges. Curious about the world of wholesale commerce in Latin America, he flew to São Paulo to interview small businesses and investigate his next career move.

In a similar vein, João also credits Minerva’s unique education for nurturing his entrepreneurial mindset and cultivating a diverse skill set. He transferred to Minerva from Imperial College in the United Kingdom after experiencing unengaging academics. In his opinion, his first-year courses lacked creative expectations or influence, which made it difficult for him to be excited about his learning and projects.

Luckily, his courses at Minerva were tangibly different. Over his four years, João was given the freedom to apply his interests in photography and creative writing to his courses helping him develop transferable skills. Outside of class, João also signed up for civic projects with local organizations, like Dalberg, and participated in Continuum Innovation as a way to connect with local communities. These unique opportunities helped him learn how to operate under contextual constraints and approach new challenges with excitement rather than fear.

In João’s third year he worked at Astella, a venture capital firm in Sao Paulo, where he was so energized by the tech and start-up field that he knew he wanted to carve out his own story in that space. He spent the following summers doing similar work in equity research and investing at Kapitalo, a leading Brazilian hedge fund and, currently, also an investment partner in Zapt. Like Guilherme, however, João always wanted to become an entrepreneur. So when Guilherme called to ask him if he wanted to start this company — knowing João well from university and excited about working with someone who had local context — it was the perfect storm of mutual encouragement. They embarked on a partnership that is already providing evidence of its success.

Nine months later, Zapt is a fully-fledged company with investors from Silicon Valley and Brazil. They have outgrown their hotel space with the addition of 10 employees but have retained their commitment to making thoughtful decisions amidst their rapid growth. And the response has been positive, users have shared success stories highlighting the app’s transformative power to connect communities. With plans to scale their operations, João and Guilherme know that the hard work has just begun but the past five years have shown that they are not ones to shy away from a challenge.

If you were inspired by their story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.