The tech scene in Brazil is one of the most exciting in the world, and one of the best and brightest new Brazil tech writers is Anna Heim, a French expat and polygot who covers Latin America for The Next Web. She writes about countries throughout the region with a focus on Brazil, and has written about everything from e-commerce and smartphones to Orkut and lanhouses, as well as following some of Brazil's fastest-growing startups. I caught up with her recently to find out more about her interest in Brazil and technology, and about life as a gringa in Rio.
So you're French and work at a Video On Demand site. You've also lived all over the world. What brought you to Brazil? And how did you become interested in web technology?
It's true I used to work at a video on demand website in London, but that was before I came back to Brazil for a few months in March this year (I left two weeks ago). I'm saying 'coming back', because I've lived in São Paulo and Rio for 18 months in 2006-2007.
My initial connection with Brazil is through film: I'm a fan of Latin American cinema in general, and Brazilian movies in particular. I did an internship in Brazil after my Film & Business degree and ended up staying for one more year, working at Rio Film Festival first, and then at an indie film distribution company, where I was selling Brazilian short and feature films to foreign distributors and broadcasters.
As for my connection with web/tech, it was mostly a hobby until recently; I spend a lot of time online (especially on Twitter) and I love to follow breaking news and trends. This is how I connected with Blue Bus, which is a Brazilian niche media (it's read mostly by advertisers and creatives). I wrote for Blue Bus from March to June, and started writing for The Next Web in May about the Latin American web/tech scenes, with a particular focus on startups. (I was already somewhat familiar with the startup culture as the company I was working for in London was one.)
What do you like most about living in Rio?
Unfortunately I'm not there at the moment, although I've lived there for one year and a half in total. As I'm sure you know, living there is like living in a postcard. It may sound like a cliché but the scenery is one of the things I enjoy the most: walking along the beach, seeing the morros in the background... I'm writing this and already feeling 'saudade'! I also enjoy the Carioca culture and how relaxed, friendly and informal it is. Although I like my gym, the city isn't as superficial as some think. I have a few close friends, the cultural life is quite vibrant, there are many French and foreign films at the local theaters, and from a tech/startup perspective there are some very interesting companies in Rio.
You really are quite the polygot (since you speak French, English, Spanish and Portuguese). How did you become fluent in Portuguese?
Thanks! I studied Portugal's Portuguese in Paris at Instituto Camoes for a few months but I only started speaking when I arrived in Brazil. Being fluent in Spanish helped me a lot (but my Spanish isn't that good anymore...)
You write for TNW, a tech site, about a number of topics but also about Brazil and Latin America. How long have you written for them (looks like maybe just a few months?) and why do you enjoy it?
I've been writing for The Next Web since May and I'm enjoying it very much. Besides the fact that I love to write about stuff I'm interested in, I also get a chance to connect with movers and shakers in the LatAm tech space. I'm very grateful for all the help I've received in connecting with the right people for my articles. I've found the local startup communities to be very supportive and it's a great opportunity to let people know about what's going on in the region, which is getting a lot of momentum.
You also write a blog on Le Monde about Brazil, in French. What topics are most important to you to convey to a French audience?
I do have a personal blog on Le Monde, where I write from time to time about culture, film, media, life in Rio, the connections between France and Brazil and the image of Brazil abroad. To be honest, I mostly write about what I am interested in and I don't really think about my audience :)
What do you think is the biggest misconception that foreigners have about technology or internet in Brazil?
I'm not sure there are any misconceptions, but probably a lack of knowledge of the local ecosystem and its specificities. Foreigners still have a limited knowledge of all that's going on, although investors and foreign companies are showing a growing interest in Brazil. I hope that my articles will help spreading the info about the local tech/web scene.
What do you think is one of the most interesting internet or tech trend in Brazil, and why?
Social interaction is very important in Brazil, and social media has been very successful in the country. Along the same line, I think crowdsourcing (the power of the crowds) could do very well. It could have a big impact on many areas, from film to design and politics, and even change the way we work. I've written a post about it a couple weeks ago, called Beyond the Buzzword: How Crowdsourcing Can Disrupt Brazil.
To read all of Anna's work on TNW, click here.