We’re back in action after my radio silence while crossing the Atlantic on a cruise and this week’s interview is with Gerardo Sordo, the Founder and CEO of BrandMe.
A native of Mexico City, Gerardo is currently participating in the Wayra program in Mexico and, while we discuss many of the same topics that come up over and over again with most of my interviewees, he also went a bit deeper and shared some of the personal costs of entrepreneurship.
To start, of course, we had to discuss the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City, which Gerardo says is just starting out and is lacking in capital, a cooperative community, success stories, and cultural acceptance of entrepreneurship as a respected career choice:
“Here in Mexico the ecosystem is very ‘baby,'”
Gerardo said, “because the investors want to invest in very safe investments. In the USA, for example, the investors want to invest in the next big thing but in Mexico it’s not like that…
… here in Mexico the investors are more old school.”
He continued: “In the United States you have a lot of venture capitalists to maybe become a part of your idea – here in Mexico there are very few…
…opportunities for venture capital are just starting.”
“In Silicon Valley and in the United States, in my opinion,” Gerardo said, “it’s more open to share ideas. Here in Mexico, if you have an idea, the culture is more like oh, no, no, no I don’t want to share my idea because maybe someone will take it.”
He describes the overall culture as more competitive than cooperative and, while he hopes this will change as the ecosystem develops he did say that,
“Here in Mexico, it’s very challenging to change the minds of the people, even the startup people…It’s more competitive.”
“I think we are creating a very strong entrepreneur stream. The problem is that in this entrepreneurial group, in this ecosystem, are people that don’t think about other Mexicans, people that just want money or want to steal.”
Another issue that Gerardo notes is a lack of success stories for entrepreneurs to aspire to. This issue has come up in nearly every interview I have conducted in Latin America. Luckily, Gerardo thinks this will change soon:
“I think that in the next 5 years we will have one [success story] that will be inspiration for Mexicans….one startup that will be a case study,” he told me.
Hopefully, some success stories will also help change the culture to be more accepting of entrepreneurship as a legitimate career choice as Gerardo noted that it’s still not seen as an acceptable path by many Mexicans.
“This world [of entrepreneurship] is very new for the people that think traditionally,” he said. “They think you should go through school and get a job at a big company.” And that disconnect between an entrepreneur’s passion and ambition and what those around them think they should be doing can put great strain on a founder’s relationships:
“The downside to becoming an entrepreneur is the friends that you lose on the road” Gerardo said. “We’re from different worlds now.”
This mentality is changing as the ecosystem in Mexico continues to grow, however:
“In our parents’ day,” he continued, “people were not called entrepreneurs; they were called independent workers, and that was seen as a euphemism for not having a job… [But] the culture is growing up…Now it’s cool to be an entrepreneur in our days.”
So what’s Gerardo’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? He actually had quite a bit:
“My first bit of advice is to become passionate,” Gerardo told me.
“An entrepreneur needs to become very strong for the good times and the bad,” he continued. “If you have passion you can survive [the ups and downs of entrepreneurship].”
Secondly, “it doesn’t matter the idea…It’s more important the strategies, the partnerships, the investors…For me, the idea, okay, it’s important but the strategy and the implementation is more important,” Gerardo said.
Finally, Gerardo urges aspiring entrepreneurs to take initiative:
“Nobody is going to just give you money; nobody is just going to give you anything; you have to go and search it out,” he said. “We are one click of distance from everything,” he continues. “We need to make contact with the correct people…
If you are very smart and very motivated, you have a lot of power. If you are proactive you have a lot of power.”