What do you need to be an entrepreneur? A love for what you are doing. Being an entrepreneur is pretty much a roller-coaster ride, so if you don’t absolutely love what you are doing, the dips will be unbearable.
What did inspire you to start your business?
I’ve been starting businesses since I was 10 years old. I can’t really pinpoint an “ah ha!” moment when I was inspired to start Sensis. If there was one moment that set me on a course to eventually start Sensis it was getting my first computer (an Apple IIc when I was 9 years old).
How did you finance it?
I didn’t have any outside financing when I started Sensis. I built the company organically based off of revenue (novel idea, huh?). It was tough at first (I moved back in with parents and started living off “Cup O’Noodles” for a while). A few years in, I was approved for an SBA Small Business loan that helped with expansion.
Being Hispanic…Does it have any influence on your business?
Absolutely! A big part of our business involves marketing to Hispanic online. In fact, that is how we started – building bilingual Web sites for major brands. Being Hispanic (and bilingual and bicultural) provided me the knowledge to service our first clients.
Probably more importantly, I feel that having grown up as the child of Cuban immigrants gave me the work ethic and determination to become a successful entrepreneur.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
Adversity is a daily part of the game when running your own business. I have faced serious adversity more than one time, in the form of possibly having to close my business. I got through it with the support of my family. I couldn’t have gotten where I am today were it not for my family.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
We have faced the possibility of going under many times. About 5 years after starting the company I faced the biggest challenge. We were not doing well financially, and my sole partner decided to leave. I faced two very unpleasant scenarios – 1) shut down the company or 2) let go of all of our employees, drastically cut overhead and essentially start-over. I chose starting over.
If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
We have grown very quickly over the last few years and there have not been a lot of processes in place for how we do things. I would like to have these processes established for all aspects of the business (that is one of my goals for 2008)
What was your childhood ambition?
I wanted to be just like my older brother and be a successful businessman.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire?
My father Jose R. Villa, Sr.– Along with being the man I admire most in this world, he was an honest, pragmatic, and analytical entrepreneur that understood both the costs and benefits of owning your business. My father taught me the importance of integrity and honesty, and that life and business success require balance.
My older brother Jorge Villa– my older brother Jorge was my childhood idol and the entrepreneur I modeled myself after. My brother taught me the importance of relationships in business, and that you have to have fun to succeed.
My friend Danny Allen – Danny is a good buddy of mine from business school and a colleague that started his own business, Admixture, about a year and a half ago. He is one of the most natural entrepreneurs I know. He’s a great salesman, he loves what he does, he has such an infectious personality and he’s funny as hell. If I wasn’t an entrepreneur myself, I would want to work for someone like Danny.
For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
I am a morning person and love breakfast. I am all about early morning breakfast meetings.
What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success?
I have had to give up a lot of personal time to be successful. That is one of the most difficult issues I grapple with today – trying to find a healthy balance between my work and personal life. I naively thought during my early entrepreneurial years that when my business grew I would have more personal time. Boy was I wrong!
What is your favorite quote?
No hay mal que por bien no venga
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
Yes, especially as your business grows and matures. When you start a business, it’s usually because you’ve come up with a better mousetrap. But as you grow, you need to establish process and scale. It becomes much more difficult to innovate. A key challenge I think mid-sized companies face is the ability to innovate and do things in unconventional ways.
Biggest mistake made?
Partnering with friends and family to start my business.
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why
Yes – I like to think that I am constantly trying to innovate and offer new capabilities and services to our clients. I love the fact that I’m in an industry that is constantly evolving – I feed off the change and it spurs to me innovate!
Sensis is a full-service multicultural interactive agency providing technology, creative services, and strategic insight for top-tier clients looking to target U.S. General Market, Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and GLBT consumers and business audiences.
Founded in 1998, the agency has made an impact for many of its powerhouse clients, including the U.S. Army, the California Lottery, United Healthcare and Southern California Edison. Sensis’ interactive marketing experience includes strategy, analytics and emerging media capabilities, such as mobile marketing, blogs, podcasting and online video. For more information about Sensis and to experience its work, visit www.SensisAgency.com
Contact Jose Villa at http://www.sensisagency.com/