This week we’re chatting with Paul Wilson, the founder of PR Wilson Media, your social media personal trainer, and a Guinness World Record Holder. Check out the interview below to hear about Paul’s interesting journey into entrepreneurship and to learn what’s going on in the U.K. Then be sure to subscribe to Paul’s channel on YouTube and to follow him on Twitter.
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.”
My Startup Nomad interview this week is with Michael Goldberg, a visiting assistant professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management and the co-founder and managing partner of Bridge Investment Fund. He is teaching the upcoming Coursera course, Beyond Silicon Valley: Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies (which I am taking) and was gracious enough to meet up with me on a Google+ Hangout to talk about the differences between mature entrepreneurial ecosystems – like that in Silicon Valley – and those that are still developing or in transition.
Check out the interview below and leave a comment to let me know what you think of what Michael had to say.
If you’d like to sign up for Michael’s Coursera course: Beyond Silicon Valley: Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies, just click the title of the course to see the Coursera page for the course and sign up. Please let me know if you sign up and we can work through the course together!
The book Michael mentioned in his interview is Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed — And What To Do About It by Josh Lerner and you can buy it at Amazon by clicking the title.
The podcast he mentioned is Plant Money podcast and you can check it out by clicking the title
After my Latin American adventures last year I felt like Mexico City is just too big a city and I needed to come back and dig a little deeper into the entrepreneurial ecosystem before I head off to Spain (and maybe some other parts of Europe). My first interview back in D.F. was with Beto Marquez, the Marketing and Project Manager for NextLab Ventures Group.
Now that I’ve had time to explore a large chunk of the rest of Latin America (Mexico was my first stop on the Startup Nomad tour), I have a bit of a broader perspective on Mexico and its ecosystem, so it was interesting to come back to where I started with a more mature view of the overall Latin American ecosystem and Mexico’s place within it.
According to Beto,
“Mexico is seen like this country that is more Americanized than Latin Americanized…we’ve been kind of segregated from all of the activity and all of the agreements that they make. We’re not really a part of it.”
This is partly because of Mexico’s physical proximity to the U.S. and partly because of its sheer size. With a population of roughly 121 million and a GDP of just under 1.2 trillion USD (the next largest Spanish-speaking Latin American country has fewer than 50 million people), Mexico’s in a bit of a different position than it’s much smaller Latin American neighbors. That could explain why, despite its separation, it’s been attracting foreign entrepreneurs who want to set up their companies and lives in Mexico City.
“[The entrepreneurial ecosystem] is a really nice mix of Mexicans and foreigners,” Beto said, “but not as many from the United States.”
While Mexico has a large enough market to sustain major business growth, however, there are still a number of issues holding back its entrepreneurial ecosystem, one of which being a lack of a mature investment ecosystem.
“The exits here are much more difficult than in the US,” Beto told me.
“Going for an IPO is not really a likely exit option here, so it’s not attractive for investors to take risks on startups here. What I have seen is a VC invests and then a bigger VC buys out the first VC but, eventually, the biggest VC firm has to IPO the company and that’s where it gets it’s return. But here that cycle gets cut off because there isn’t a proper way to make a company public” and so investors have reduced potential for successful exits.
Because of that, Beto believes that,
“the biggest challenge [to the ecosystem] is the investor part.” He continued to say that, “we [Mexico] have some firms but we are really green. We are not even close to being mature yet.”
At the same time that the economic factors hold back the growth of Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, there are also cultural factors in play that make it more difficult for the startup scene to develop. “There are two issues that I’ve seen that I really struggle with in young people,” Beto said. “The first one is that, I don’t know why, but they are somewhat apathetic. You have to really push this entrepreneurial view of life…The other one is our culture. This is a country that has suffered a lot of macro-economic devaluations …and our parents have this way of seeing things that you have to work, you have to make money as fast as possible, and, most of all, not to take risks and not to take loans. So most young people still have this way of seeing things from their parents…
…We are not raised to take risks, just to get a job and ‘yeah, that’s life, deal with it.'”
Beto believes that mentality is slowly changing, however.
“A lot of people more and more are trying to get out of this square way of thinking and be more entrepreneurial,” he said. “It’s definitely a trend here.”
Startup Nomad will have to come back to Mexico in a few years to see how the ecosystem has developed.
What’s your take on what Beto had to say about Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? Do you agree that both cultural and economic factors are holding it back? Please weigh in in the comments section below.
Also, please let me know where I should go and whom I should interview next. Let me know below 🙂