What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
I don’t think that an individual needs to posses one specific, single characteristic to be a successful entrepreneur. Rather, it is a combination of characteristics that are necessary: unwavering belief in oneself and in the business one wants to create; awareness that it will be a long, difficult road; having the cash resources to weather periods of not having income coming in; self-discipline; strong support group (personally and professional); having a thick skin (not being deflated by being rejected); having flexibility; being open to suggestions, but not being swayed by them; ability to function on little sleep.
What did inspire you to start your business?
I had always known I wanted to be a writer, and the genre that interested me the most was the mystery field, specifically the one that featured a female private investigator as its protagonist. In order to write credible, believable books, I was convinced that I had to actually work as a private investigator, so I interned at an investigative agency here in Miami to acquire the necessary knowledge. I stayed at that firm for two years, and, then applied for, and was granted, a private investigator’s license (C-8800297). After acquiring my license, with a partner, a former Federal agent, I set up a private investigative agency where we handled all sorts of cases, both criminal and civil. I worked for ten years as a private investigator before writing my first novel, Bloody Waters, which was published by G.P.Putnam’s Sons in 1996. The experience I had acquired during that time proved to be invaluable for writing the novels.
How did you finance it?
My partner and I used some of the money we had saved from working at the agency to pay for the minimal start up costs (corporation fees; liability insurance; stationery; telephones; etc.). Additionally, we made a deal with two attorneys and a former judge who shared office space in a building they owned that we would work three cases a month for only costs and in return we could have use of two empty offices; have the services of the receptionist; share a conference room; use the copy machine, etc. It was a beneficial arrangement for all concerned.
Being Hispanic….Does it have any influence on your business?
Yes, being Hispanic is definitely an asset in my business. I live and work in Miami, a city that is overwhelmingly Hispanic, so the fact that I am Cuban and fluent in Spanish is extremely helpful. I understand my clients’ background and culture so I can relate to their specific situations.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
Fortunately, I have not faced too much adversity- I consider myself to be extremely fortunate in that respect. However, the times when I’ve faced adversity, I’ve always told myself that I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am in life to let a setback stop me. I visualize how I will feel after I’ve resolved the problem, and that is usually enough to help me overcome whatever it is. I transform the situation into an “objective” one from a “subjective” one. In other words, it’s not personal. It is what it is and I just have to deal with it in that way. No feeling sorry for myself, ever, no matter how unfair it might be.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
There is not one “biggest challenge” that I have faced- there are several ones, not surprising, given the field in which I work. Most of my business as a private investigator is as a result of referrals from attorneys. As a private investigator, I usually work alone. After discussing the case with whoever hired me, I study the particular situation and figure out the best way to work the case. The attorneys I work with- especially on criminal cases- rely on my expertise and work product when deciding how best to proceed when crafting a defense. Although I’m very thorough when conducting an investigation, a huge challenge is if I’ve missed something and the final report that I present to the attorney is incomplete. When first starting out, a majority of my cases were domestic- infidelity, bigamy, how genuine so-called “green card marriages” were- but as time passed, I could become more selective. I started working as a private investigator in Miami in the 1980’s, when the city was considered to be the cocaine capital of the world. At times it seemed as if every case I worked had a drug angle to it. Given that, I had to be very, very careful when choosing my clients.
If you could change on thing about your business, what would it be?
I would like to change the perception that private investigators are all sleazy, alcoholic individuals who lurk around wearing trench coats and videotaping spouses screwing around. The public at large believes that we only work cases involving infidelity. Domestic cases are only a small part of our business, a fact that is especially true in Florida, a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that infidelity has no bearing on any financial settlement between spouses. Private investigators work cases that deal with all sorts of situations- financial, insurance fraud, money laundering, wire transfer fraud, tax evasion, background checks; etc.- but it seems that we cannot get rid of the “sleazy” label.
What was your childhood ambition?
I always wanted to be an archeologist. In college, I was a history/political science major, so as a requirement for graduation, I had to take many history courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I suppose that working as a private investigator fulfills my need to conduct investigations and look for clues as to what has taken place, a skill that archeologists must possess to discover secrets, albeit ones that took place centuries before.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.
For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Definitely lunch. I am not a morning person, so meeting at breakfast is not an option. I’m Cuban, so I have to have consumed a serious amount of coffee before I become what could be considered operational. Lunch is perfect. Whatever business needs to be discussed can usually be concluded in an hour. Dinner is not good for me, as I like to drink red wine with my meal, and I don’t want my faculties affected by liquor. It’s not that I get sloshed, it’s that I like to be totally clear headed when discussing business- it’s just too important. Also, at dinner, the temptation is to linger at the table after a meal, and I’m not one to do that when discussing dinner. I do that with family and friends.
What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success?
I am the mother of three daughters. When I started working as a private investigator they were three, eight and ten years old. Although I tried not to let work affect my time with them, there is no question that I was forced to make sacrifices if I was to be successful. I could not tell a client that I could not attend a meeting because I had to drive a ballet carpool. After some hits and misses, I learned how to manage my time so that the impact on my family for me to be able to successfully work my cases was minimal. On the other hand, my daughters were able to learn from my juggling my personal and professional life how hard choices are made. I hope I’ve been a good role model for them. Thankfully, they’ve turned out well. My eldest daughter, Sarah, the lawyer, is also a mother to her baby Violet- proving that, with careful planning, it is possible to have both a personal and professional life- although not easy by any means.
What is your favorite quote?
“The harder I work the luckier I get.”
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
No, not at all. For me, it’s way easier being unconventional than conventional. I became a private investigator in the mid 1980’s in Miami, at a time when only 20% of the investigators in Florida were women, and, of that number, only a very few were Hispanic. I’ve never really considered my career choice to be unconventional- additionally, much to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve never much cared what anyone thought of me. I never set out to be a private investigator and run such an agency; for me, working in that field was a means to an end. I knew I wanted to write a series of books featuring a Cuban-American female private investigator protagonist who lived and worked in Miami, and becoming one was the best way to achieve that goal. It also gave me “street cred”.
Too many to mention- but, thankfully, nothing that could not be corrected, or used as a painful learning experience- until I got smart. Examples: getting stiffed on fees; trusting the wrong people; doubting the good ones.
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
No, I definitely do not consider myself an innovator. I had a goal, and I limited myself to working towards it.
Cuban-born, Miami Beach based Carolina Garcia-Aguilera is the author of ten books as well as a contributor to many anthologies, but she is perhaps best known for her Lupe Solano mystery series. Her books have been translated into twelve languages. One Hot Summer, her seventh novel, was made into a film for Lifetime Television. Ms. Garcia-Aguilera, who has been a private investigator for over twenty-five years, has been the recipient of many awards.
I’ve been very, very lucky (see answer #12). I’ve finally been able to live my life as I wish: I set my own work schedule, working from my office at home, accompanied by my four dogs (all huge; all rescues), often being visited by various members of my family and friends, drinking as much red wine as I want, going to bed at whatever time I want. Perfect.