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Miami Gets Hot with the eMerge Americas Conference

emerge2This week I had the opportunity of delivering a session at the eMerge Americas Conference in Miami Beach. This time, my session wasn’t focused on technical or market analysis topic. Instead, I joined Michael McCord (CEO of Learner Nation) to speak to the audience about the experience of building companies in South Florida and other interesting topics related to the emergent tech startup scene in Miami.

The session at the eMerge Americas Conference was a very important moment for myself and the KidoZen team. Two years ago, my good friend, the legendary founder to Terremark and now Medina Capital Many Medina told me about this crazy idea of organizing a conference that will put the Miami and Latin-American startup scene on the map. Since then, I’ve seen the Medina Capital team and other folks work tirelessly to build what became the eMerge America Conference. The forum brought together a diverse group of personalities from tech visionaries such as Paul Maritz to celebrities like PitBull.  I am certainly very proud that the KidoZen team had the opportunity to contribute to this conference and can’t wait to get involved in the next edition.

In terms of my session, Michael and I explored different topics related to the dynamics, challenges and opportunities of building companies in South Florida. Our moderator did a phenomenal job focusing the discussion on aspects such as access to talent, raising capital, the relationship with Latin-America or comparisons with other startup hubs which are, not only relevant, but also incredibly unique to the Miami startup scene. Even though is always a nice feeling to have a packed room for your session ;). This time was incredibly gratifying to see how engaged and knowledgeable the audience was about the topics we were discussing. These are exciting times for the MIA tech scene.

Here is a picture taken during our session courtesy of my good friend Adriana Cisneros

emerge

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Importance of Spending Time Together with your Team

I am working from Buenos Aires this week as part of a very intense week of product planning for our KidoZen platform. Spending time with the new team, has reaffirmed my believes about the importance of face-to-face communication.

In previous years, I didn’t devoted enough time to visit our team overseas and, instead, invested a lot of energy on implementing the right communication infrastructure to mitigate the challenges of not having the majority of the team in the same office space. While the results were great from a productivity standpoint, it became obvious that the team was missing that chemistry that builds-up when you meet people in person and share a glass of wine while discussing the company vision. Sadly, that lack of chemistry remains hidden most of the time but always surfaces when the team faces difficult decisions that can test the core of your team values. I learned that one the hard way.

With KidoZen, I made the promise of changing those dynamics and our team member in the USA and Argentina are regularly spending time together working on different product planning and strategy sessions.

What a difference that has made!

I am firm believer in distributed teams and the globalization of talent. As a company, KidoZen likes to hire the best talent regardless of the geographic location. The advances on communication technologies, the cultural evolution of most societies have lowered racial, language and religious barriers making it exponentially simpler for organizations to build distributed teams. However, there are still very tangible benefits of co-located teams.

  • Showing that you care: Getting on a plane to go visit a team member signals to everyone how much you care for the team.
  • Learning what motivates your team: Spending time with your team will help you learn their passions, motivations and goals in life which are important drivers when you are building your future together.
  • Observing how people work and analyze problems: You will get to observe your team working dynamics, how they approach problems, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • Building trust: In-person communication builds trust. People can look into your eyes and determine if your message is honest and strong enough to resist the difficult times.
  • Reinforce your vision: Spending time together with your team will give you a great opportunity to reinforce the company vision, goals and make your team aware of their importance in the execution of that vision.
  • Building friendships: Some of the relationships you build with your colleagues will have the opportunity to evolve into friendships. While is not always a good idea to mix friendships and work, I never run away from cultivating great friendships with amazing people. Quite the contrary, I feel blessed for having the opportunity to spend time with some many spectacular folks.

I hope some of the items above make sense. I would love to hear your thoughts about the importance of face-to-face communication in a startup. I believe that, as a CEO, is your job to put that burden upon yourself and fly everywhere to spend time with your team. I am certainly enjoying my time in Buenos Aires. I will leave you with a photo of a team dinner a few nights ago:

KidoDinner

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Enterprise Software Lessons: The Importance of Building on Disruptive Platforms

I have been learning a lot about Bitcoin recently and I am excited about the possibilities that opens up to provide an anonymous currency to the internet. Apparently, I am not the only one excited about it. Lately, we’ve seen an explosion of startups trying to build technologies around Bitcoin. This fast growing ecosystem is an example of startups building on a foundational platform, in this case Bitcoin.

For any startup, there are very quantifiable advantages of building products on disruptive platforms but these benefits are even more obvious in the enterprise where technology disruption happens at a slower pace. For enterprise software startups, customer acquisition and awareness are well known challenges that end up consuming a lot of time and resources. Disruptive foundational technologies such as the IPhone or AWS can provide very interesting side effects for enterprise software startups to help them overcome some of those early-stage challenges. Below are some of my favorites:

  • Indirect customer acquisition: Once an enterprise decides to embrace a disruptive technology such as the IPhone or AWS they will be one step closer to needing your complementary product or solution.
  • Customer Network Effects: Being part of a selective group of technologies needed to implement a foundational platform in the enterprise will put your company on the radar of any enterprise looking to implement those type of solutions.
  • Indirect Marketing: The marketing developed around the foundational platform will bring more visibility to your enterprise software product.
  • Product Evolution: As the underlying foundational platform evolves, adds more features, etc you will have additional avenues to leverage those new capabilities as part of your enterprise software product.
  • Being part of a bigger ecosystem: To complete the cycle, being part of the ecosystem around a foundational platform or technology, will allow your enterprise software product to indirectly benefit from the efforts.

Obviously, not all enterprise software startups have the option of building on a disruptive platform neither is this a requirement to succeed. Quite the contrary, the startups that can capitalize building on a disruptive platform or technology movement are a very small percentage of the general enterprise software ecosystem. However, there are no doubts of the indirect benefits and network effects that a disruptive platform can bring to your enterprise software startup.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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This is Water, This is Water

It’s been a crazy and insane week filled with exciting developments that have prevented me from blogging but I still would like to share something with you today.

Yesterday, while having coffee with a friend, we started debating the importance of awareness in our professional lives. That conversation reminded me of one of the most inspirational speeches about this topic I watched years ago. Delivered by David Foster Wallace, this brief commencement speech reminds us  about the conscious choices we can make every day :

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Stay Away from Workaholics

workaholicI find writing this post a bit ironic and I am, without a doubt, a workaholic. Between the rapid growth of KidoZen, leading the strategy side of TelIago and some third-party projects I work around 16 hours during weekdays and another 8-10 hours during the weekend. I don’t complain about it. I have the privilege to be at a point in my life on which I enjoy what I am doing more than at any other time in my career and I am convinced that it takes that kind of effort to make a difference in this highly competitive market.

Having said that, I tried very hard to not encourage that type of behavior within our team. At KidoZen, our teams work fairly regular 8-10 hour days and although, occasionally, we end up putting insane hours at the end of each release cycle, we never encourage or reward that type of behavior. At this point in my career, as I am convinced most workaholics are damaging to the team dynamics.

My reasoning here is very simple: If you are going to regularly work insane hours you need a structure to sustain that rhythm and most people don’t even think about. I can work long hours because I meticulously divide my focus during the day on different aspects that help keep me fresh. Contrary to that thinking, I found that most workaholic behaviors are completely triggered as a continuous and disproportioned response to short-term needs with little strategy or structure around it.

Here are some of the reasons why, I think, you should stay away from workaholics:

  • Workaholism is contagious: When someone regularly work insane hours to accelerate certain delivery, their colleagues feel compelled to do the same even if they are not equipped to do so
  • Competitiveness: Related to the previous point, workaholism indirectly foment a level of competitiveness within a team that can be detrimental to the long term goals of a specific project.
  • Long term performance degradation: Unless you take the time to structure a method that allows you to regularly work long hours, your performance will degrade over time as an inevitable consequence of exhaustion.
  • Burnout factor: Being burnout as a consequence of working long hours ends of affecting the overall performance and attitude of the team.
  • Short-term focus: If you are constantly burning hours focusing on short term objectives, it becomes really hard to keep thinking and contributing to the long term strategic vision of a product or company.
  • Working hard for the wrong reasons: Ultimately, I can live with workaholics as long as they are driven for the right reasons but I found out that, more often than not, you encounter people whose only objective with working long hours is not passion or motivation but a selfish desire to score some points with their management team.

Those are just some of the elements why I fundamentally try to not encourage workaholic-type behaviors within our team. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about it. More about this topic in a future post….

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Want to Be Creative? Be Happy!

creativity

Cognitive science has become one of my favorite non-technical subjects during the last year. For the last few months, I have been reading a ridiculous amount of books and research papers about different cognitive science subjects ranging from psychology to neurosciences. It never ceases to amaze me how a basic understanding of human’s reactions can help us to make better decisions in the business world or influence the culture of an organization. A great example of this are some fascinating studies that a good friend sent me about some of the elements that influence creativity.

Creativity is one of the most important aspects of successful entrepreneurs. The ability to make creative decisions can influence different aspects of a company ranging from a product design to the culture of an organization. However, creativity is rarely constant. Sometimes individuals can make incredibly creative decisions but that creativity seems to dissipate at times.

Influencing people’s creativity is not an easy task and certainly not one that has a magic answer. However, cognitive science teaches us that there is a very simple factor that can help to increase creativity: happiness!

Yes, you read it right. It turns out that there is a direct correlation between being happy and what psychologists call “intuitive performance”. By that fancy term, scientist refer to people’s ability of making accurate, intuitive and creative decisions. As a lot of studies prove, when in a good mood, people are more likely to make intuitive and creative decisions. Following that argument, it’s pretty clear that we can influence people’s creativity by fomenting an environment and a culture that makes them happy.

However, some other unexpected things derivate from the effects of being in a good mood. It also turns out that, while undoubtedly creative, people that are in a good become less vigilant, analytical and more prone to logical errors. A good mood, is obviously a sign that things are going in the right direction in certain aspects which makes the brain be at a “cognitive ease” state on which we are more relaxed but also less analytical or vigilant.

There you have it, happy people are more creative but can also be less analytical!

Hmmm….interesting dilemma…..

Not really!

From a company culture standpoint, I will always pick creativity and happiness every time. I am convinced is a better formula to win in the long run.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Dreams Fly High at Venture Hive: The Hidden Treasure of Miami’s Startup Scene

venturehiveLast Friday was demo day at Miami’s startup accelerator Venture Hive. This was the opportunity for the companies in the program to present to potential investors and other influential people in the South Florida business community. For me, Friday represented the culmination of three months of my first role as a mentor on a startup accelerator program. While watching the presentations and trying to revisit all the wonderful memories and experiences of the last few months, I couldn’t avoid but feeling very proud of having had the opportunity to contribute to such an important program to help build the startup community in South Florida.

12 weeks I was introduced to Dr. Susan Amat by my great friend David Walsh was crazy enough to propose me as a mentor for the Venture Hive program. I was very hesitant for the obvious reasons: I didn’t know if I have a lot to contribute in terms of experience to the new companies and I my time was very constrained running KidoZen and Tellago. However, after talking to Susan for a few minutes I was completely dazzled by her passion and big dreams to transform a city known mostly as a touristic spot into a startup hub for the South East of the US and Latin America. To this day, I would never forget David’s description of Susan “Jesus, you really need to meet this person” he said “because she is the only person I know who has more energy than you” J and he was completely right. After meeting Susan and her team, I didn’t know exactly how but I knew I wanted to help.

The rest is history, for 12 weeks I had the privilege of mentoring NightPro: a company that is disrupting the nightlife event management scene and which platform is being used by some of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The founders: Juan and Francisco are the core of a super talented team that never seems to stop working and have managed to capture a segment of the market which has escape to the powerhouses in the space like EventBrite or TicketFly. Week after week I worked with that team trying to help in the few areas I knew I could contribute such as technology readiness, raising capital, strategic alliances, etc. Even when I was traveling all over the world, we managed to have online meetings at 3am to make sure I stay on the loop on NightPro’s current activities.

During my time at Venture Hive, I witnessed the evolution of the different teams from small technical solutions or ideas to companies with an structured vision, execution plan and, in some cases, sophisticated technology solutions.

Living in a highly competitive environment, it’s gratifying to see how the different startups managed to compete and yet collaborate intensively in order to make everyone better. That’s the secret of Venture Hive: everyone pulling together to achieve a bigger dream. Obviously, a lot of the startups in the program are going to fail but as long as some of them succeed (and they will) Susan’s dream will continue on and Miami will be able to open its doors to those entrepreneurs from the South East of the US and Latin-America that are dreaming to change the world.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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I Want Control, I Want a Pretty Tittle, It Makes Me Feel Happy

controlThe story sorts of goes like this:

One of your employees continuously express the desire of leading or managing specific activity and have more control over certain decisions given their particular expertise on that specific area. After months of hearing this argument, you finally decide to promote that person to that management position to implement some of his ideas. Immediately, you realize that, even though your employee is very happy with the new “title” or position he constantly struggles to make any decision and is constantly asking for the involvement of his superiors to address some of the tasks that fall under his new role.

Sounds familiar?

As recent research studies proves, the sense of control is one of the elements that contribute to people’s true happiness. The ability of influencing the outcome of a situation based on our own actions gives us a sense of comfort and confidence that ultimately becomes an important factor in our happiness.

If we extrapolate this to corporate environments or startups, is not strange to find people who constantly request greater and greater levels of controls for no apparent reason other than to feel important or appreciated. Contradicting with that addictive desire of acquiring control, we must acknowledge that most people have no idea how to exercise control effectively. Quite the contrary, most people struggle when making decisions and going through the pain of taking ownership and responsibility for specific situations.

Even though most capable people like the feeling of having control over specific outcomes, they are constantly challenged by the responsibility that comes with any level of control and start making erratic decisions that affect the rest of the team or, sometimes, making no decisions at all. However, there is no doubt, that people are genuinely happier when they feel in control over specific situation. To address this contradiction, most big organizations create all sort of vague mid-management titles like “Director of X” or “Manager of Y” titles that gives employees the illusion of control in very constrained environments that prevents from causing any harm.

During his days at Opsware, Silicon Valley legend Marc Andreeseen famously said something around the lines of “if titles make employees happy, give them titles….”.

Whether you agree with that philosophy or not (I personally don’t ), there is no doubt  that granting the right levels of control to the right people is a continuous challenges for most Sr. managers in organizations. The easiest answer to that challenge is to hire really talented people that are also solid team players and granting them the right levels of ownership and control so that they can also influence the rest of the organization.

Easier said than done though :)

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Inspire With Your Vision Not With Success

At dinner last night, we had a very interesting debate about different strategies for building great teams. While hiring well is, undoubtedly, one of the most difficult elements of startups, the winning formula seems to be very clear: Hire great people that work great together and are inspired by the company’s vision. The first two factors of the equation need no further explanation; great people that can work well together is a winning formula to build great things. However, great people and great teams are not enough to build great companies; you still need an inspirational vision.

In the early stages of a startup vision is everything. When you don’t have a lot of traction or financial success, only a great visions can inspire people to join your team and help to make your company better. However, after the company grows a little bit and achieves some success, I’ve found that a lot of startups stop emphasizing their vision as the cornerstone of the company and, instead, they focus on inspiring employees with their initial success.

Success can be projected in many ways: industry awards, financial rewards, killer offices etc. Some of those versions of success can definitely attract people to join your company as most intelligent people prefer to join a successful venture than an unsuccessful one. However, success is rarely a factor to inspire people to do great things. When a successful image becomes the center of your company instead of an inspirational vision, you are likely to attract people that are only there in the good times and that can only execute in short term goals. It’s not a surprise that a lot of companies go through a transformation process after they achieve an initial wave of success in order to find their soul again.

As a founder and/or CEO, your MOST IMPORTANT JOB is to clearly articulate your company vision to the key players in your company so that they can communicate it within their teams. A solid vision will keep your team together and focused during the difficult times and it will serve as the inspiration to take your company to the next level during the good times. Financial success, a fun culture, awards are important but rarely inspirational. Selling a great vision can help create successful companies but selling success will only help you to create mediocrely successful ones.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Startup Moneyball: Talent, Passion, Experience, Perspective, Work Ethic

Hiring a great team is one of the most difficult aspects of a technology startup. However, attracting the right people is not nearly as difficult as building an environment on which their talents can blossom and contribute to the company. Despite the hundreds of books written about team building, I still think there is no magic formula for assembling a great team. Having said that, I think the quickest path to build a spectacular team is to simply hire great people.

When thinking about the mechanics of building a great team, I can’t avoid tracing the parallel to the moneyball science. In its 2004 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, bestselling author Michael Lewis tell us the story of how the Oakland Athletics(OA) General Manager Billy Bean and a group of baseball enthusiasts applied an accounting method for assembling a baseball team. As a result, with a very small budget and using underrated players, the OA were able to win as many games as the top franchises and even make the playoffs.

While the moneyball science is based on factoring baseball elements such as home runs, stolen bases, hits, etc in a the software startup world we can apply a similar formula to build a great team. In my experience, a great team in a small software startup is a combination of factors such as talent, experience, passion, perspective and work ethic.

Even though is not an exact formula, you can use the following equation to relate to a great team.

Startup Team= %Talent + %Experience + % Perspective + %Passion + %Work Ethic

As a startup CEO, your job is not only to find the right combination of the aforementioned factors but to provide an environment on which they can nurture and applied to the productivity of the overall team. Let’s think about each factor individually.

Talent

In order to be successful, it is key for a startup to attract the right groups of talent. Whether you are referring to great programmers, analysts or business development people, having a uniquely talented staff will allow you to efficiently execute in your specific products or strategies.

How to nurture talent? : Skill is the natural complement of talent and the best way to nurture it. As a startup founder, make sure you are providing an environment and culture and that allows your team to acquire new skills to improve their talents. A classic example is facilitating your best programmers (talent) to learn and apply a new programming language (skill).

Experience

Regardless of how talented you are, there are things that manifest itself throug experience. Having experienced folks in staff helps the team to avoid common mistakes and to focus on the things that really matter.

How to nurture experience? : The best way to nurture experience is to surround your team with the right group of advisors that will help guide them through specific decisions. In that dynamic, the less experienced team members will quickly be exposed to a new pool of wisdom based on the experiences of the other folks.

Perspective

Talent and experience are not everything. When facing specific circumstances, there are people that have the ability of thinking outside the box and trace parallels to examples of different industries, different times in history or complete different subjects. I like to refer to that skill as perspective and, arguably, is the hardest talent to find and nurture in startup

How to nurture perspective? : Knowledge is the natural ingredient to broaden people’s perspective. Some people acquire knowledge by reading books, others prefer to constantly talk or interact with more experienced people, other prefers to travel, etc. Regardless of the method you use, providing the right channels to acquire more knowledge will broaden the different perspectives from which your team can assess a particular situation.

Passion

Passion fuels all the other aspects of a startup. Being passionate about a problem, a product or a specific goal will make people go to the extra mile to accomplish a specific objective. Differently from talent, experience and perspective; passion is highly contagious and it quickly changes people’s attitude towards a specific circumstances.

How to nurture passion? : Passion nurtures itself. As a startup founder, make sure you are giving your most passionate people the right space to leverage their talents and to influence the rest of the team. Also make sure you are getting rid of all obstacles that can affect your team’s passions.

Work Ethic

You can’t build a successful software business working 8 hrs a day, it just doesn’t happen. Having a strong work ethic, making the right sacrifices and being a team player are essential ingredients to succeed as a software startup.

How to nurture work ethic? : Lead by example! Make sure your most hardworking people have the opportunity to mentor and influence the rest of the team. From time to time, I find it useful to run a few sprints and fight a few fires that test and train the work ethics of the team.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in entrepreneurship, startups

 

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