What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
You need to have controlled fear. It would be easy for me to say that in order to be an entrepreneur you need courage, tenacity and to be fearless. All those attributes are a given and often utilized to inspire people to do the same. I believe, however, that it often times discourages people that might be on the brink of entering their own entrepreneurial experience. While it is true that you need to have courage you also need to have the ability to control the fear of failure and use it to your advantage. This doesn’t mean you should not take risks. It just means that you can’t forget those that depend on you in order to drive you to over perform. In my case, I started my first company well into my 30s after leaving a great job as an IBM executive. I was driven by the fear of failing and having to face the people that assured me I made the wrong move to leave a great job to face the unknown. This fear was not debilitating in any way but a way to get inspired to work a little harder, a little smarter every day. Entrepreneurs should recognize that this road is not easy and fear is a great asset when you managed to use it to your advantage.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was inspired to start Digital Union in 2011, after I agreed to sponsor an event for DiscoverHope, a nonprofit providing microcredit loans and education to women in the northern Andes of Peru. I was immediately drawn to the DiscoverHope mission, but when I learned that all of their Board of Director’s were non-Hispanic white, I felt guilty and angry at myself for being so disconnected from the needs of others, especially Latinos in poverty, who were being helped through DiscoverHope. The anger inside me helped me to quickly get involved in the organization, where I came to know the Founder, Maggie Miller, who soon became my Digital Union partner.
Maggie and I wanted to combine our worlds. With her experience building and fundraising for nonprofit organizations for nearly 20 years, combined my experience as a tech entrepreneur and executive management background, we thought we could use our skillsets to inspire business leaders and create social impact. We wanted to help companies be an active part of solving issues. We soon formed Digital Union, and have never looked back.
How did you finance it?
Digital Union was started using our own funds. It is hard to raise money when your product is based on new, unproven methodology. For the first two years, we actually performed our services pro-bono for a myriad of industries in order to prove our methodology. This investment proved to be key to our success as we now work around the world with companies that want to create meaningful social issues using their core skills and strength.
Does being Hispanic/Latino have any influence on your business?
Our culture puts a lot of value in human interaction. We like to get close to people in any situation. When you use this skill in business it really makes a difference. Most of my business discussions are at least 50% about personal matters. I like to get to know the people and care about them at a personal level way before we talk business. When done genuinely, business flows a lot smoother.
Our culture is known for being passionate, caring and hard working. It is in our social DNA and in our business it is a definite asset. With the current political situation, it is important to show what we can do to advance ourselves, our communities and our country. We are all Americans and want the rest of the country to know we are contributing in major ways to the advancement of our economy and society.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to drive ahead?
You can’t forget or lose focus of why you started your own business in the first place. I still have not met a single entrepreneur that is not passionate about their company. In my experience, surrounding myself with successful entrepreneurs helped me realize I was not alone in this journey. Successful entrepreneurs have failed and recovered and their experiences have taught me that there is always a way to move ahead.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
What Digital Union does is so new that the hardest challenge was convincing company owners and executives that they could alleviate social issues while their business reaps benefits from it. Once we were able to prove that many business issues could actually be solved by building social impact strategies, our business started to grow.
If you could change one thing about your business. What would it be?
Honestly, I only wish I could have started this business earlier. We found the formula to help the world and businesses while making money. However, everything happens for a reason and the experience that I gained from over 15 years of working in the tech industry and from building and growing my first company (Verdtek.com) gave me the tools that I utilize every day to grow this business.
What was your childhood ambition?
I wish I had a magical answer for this question. Honestly, I was never great at one thing. But I do thank my parents for pushing me to try new things. I had the fortune of being exposed to many sports, musical instruments, other languages, etc. All these experiences helped forge the person I am today.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.
Steve Jobs for his innovative vision. Elon Musk for his disruptive thinking. Benjamin Franklin for being a jack of all trades and never giving up.
For business meetings, which do you prefer: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Happy Hour. I love connecting at a personal level before we talk about business. I enjoy people when they are open about who they are and their motivations.
What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make in order to become successful in your business?
While building my first company I went through a divorce. The time, effort and focus on the business made me lose focus on other parts of my life.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is by a Mexican historical figure named Benito Juarez: “El respeto al derecho ajeno, es la paz”. Which means that peace happens when people respect other people’s rights.
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
Absolutely. It is very hard to swim against the current, especially when others don’t believe you are going to be successful. I always advice young entrepreneurs to have a good balance in their close circle of friends and family. You should always have a mix of positive people, negative people and everything in between.
Biggest mistake made?
My first job during college was working at Dell in Austin doing tech support. I got stock options and awards. I had no clue what that meant. I ended up selling stock in the early 90s that would be over $60M now.
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I do now. However, I did not use any innovation when I built my first company, Verdtek, Inc. Verdtek is a technology consulting services company. We were merely trying to offer high-end technology services at lower prices which is nothing unique. With Digital Union, we definitely innovated by building the methodology to walk companies through building their own social impact strategies. When they follow our methodology they will create programs that impact the world while their companies reap the benefits of having elevated brands, elevated image, increased employee attraction/retention and higher revenues.
About Digital Union
The Digital Union helps companies merge purpose and profit. As a social impact consulting firm, the company guides businesses through creating and implementing social impact strategies that align with business objectives.
During the past decade, corporate philanthropy became commonplace, but today it is evolving from simple giving into strategic programs that inspire and unite stakeholders, while generating competitive advantages.
Digital Union’s five-step approach modernizes traditional CSR program by using client’s core capabilities to generate impact programs that create financial and social profits. Throughout the process of working with Digital Union, clients are offered clear goals and guided steps to ensure impact programs support core business objectives, including employee engagement and retention, investor relations, and community relations.
To date, the company has helped more than 75 for-profit companies develop impact ideas that integrate stakeholder systems and are authentic and transparent. Digital Union was founded in 2012 and is based in Austin, TX.