Maveriqs Profile: Larissa M. Miller, Founder, Pi Yoga Pants
Video Interview Recorded on January 16, 2017
By Lamin Turay
As we continue our series of video interviews with entrepreneurs across all walks of life, we are proud to have had the opportunity to discuss the journey of Larissa M. Miller. Larissa is a well-traveled and very worldly yogi and entrepreneur, who's founded a fast-growing yoga pants company called Pi Yoga Pants. Through creative ingenuity, natural inspiration, and a zest for connecting with her community she has experienced rare forms of success in only her first year of doing business. It was a pleasure to discuss her path to success and learn more about her overall vision for the company. Here's how our discussion went...
How did you get started with your company, and what problem is it that you solve?
When I first started Pi Yoga Pants I was originally traveling in Southeast Asia, and had just quit my previous job to travel the world for a year. I invested two year of my saving into the trip, and decided to finally make the move - make the jump and start traveling. I always knew while I was doing it (traveling) that I wanted to start a business. That was always in the back of my head. I always had my eye out for different business opportunities or different things that other countries were missing. I thought that, eventually I would bring a new business to another country, but what I didn’t realize was that I could bring a product or an idea back to the United States.
While I was traveling over there I was wearing regular yoga pants, and I was trying to do yoga. When you’re in Thailand you have this vision ya know? You’re gonna go to that pool by the beach and do some yoga (laughs). But it was really hot over there, like 90 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Super hot! The pants (regular yoga pants) got super uncomfortable super quick. If you’re walking all day, (which you do) and you’re in Bangkok which is 90 degrees, the first day I walked 13 miles and you start to get some chaffing. That’s a little uncomfortable. Your pants start sticking, and yoga pants in general since they’re so tight, actually start to block up your pores and your skin is not really breathing either. Day 1 I realized that, and decided that I needed to find some different clothes. All of the clothes I had brought pretty much weren't going to help.
I started designing in my head a yoga pant that would be more versatile for hot weather, while also being a little bit more comfortable. In the back of my mind I was trying to solve this problem of what would work for yoga or for travel, and would be more comfortable. So I started looking for a seamstress in Thailand. I look around for about a month, and no one wanted to give me their seamstress. I was having such a problem (finding a seamstress). All of the little boutique shops that I went to only wanted to sell me their merchandise. They didn’t really want to do any custom work. They just say, “Oh, you can buy one of these or those!” No one really wanted to help me.
My visa was up and I decided to go to Bali. That was the next place on my list. When I got there I was super excited to start the brand. I was telling a guy (my taxi driver), “Ya! I really want to start this brand of yoga pants called “Pi” Yoga Pants!” I had the name, and I had the vision. I was also telling him about how I wanted to give back, and have a conservation aspect be a big part of it. My taxi driver was like, “You’re kidding!? I actually know a seamstress!” It literally fell into my lap. I was like, “Are you kidding me!? This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!”
So where did you take it from there?
While you’re traveling for such an extended period of time you can kind of change your plans any minute. While we were taking the taxi toward our destination, the driver told me about the seamstress. I was like, “Oh my god! Turnaround!” He literally took us back down, and we met the seamstress. I ended up staying another two or three days down there working with her to make a prototype.
It was a little bit of a struggle to be honest, because when we first got down there I realized that she (the seamstress) didn’t speak any English. Obstacle number one! That was definitely a big struggle, and it was really hot in Bali during that time, which was March of last year (2016). It was 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity. There was rain and lightning every day, and we’d be in her little house trying to make the internet work so we could use Google Translate to try and explain the designs and get the prototype made. The next day she came up with the prototype based on the design that I had given her. She said, “This is really good. Let me take you to my label maker, who’s my friend.” She always has a friend! (laughs). She then said, “I have a friend who can make a tag for you.” So after that we met with the guy who could make the tag for the labels. As soon as we got the prototype for that made, and put it on the pants, that was definitely the moment when I was like, “OK, I’m 100% in! What do we need to do to take this to the next level?”
So essentially the problem that your company solves is the same problem you experienced while traveling. You needed versatile and comfortable clothes for both yoga and travel?
Yes! Especially in the heat, and when mosquitoes are around, if you’re wearing long pants for protection in that kind of heat you’re going to be sweating. However, with the pants that I’ve designed, we use rayon instead of cotton. It’s much more breathable than cotton and actually dries a lot faster too. In high heat, especially doing hot yoga, sweat or water evaporates much faster and leaves your skin feeling more comfortable. Not only are the pants not tight (like normal yoga pants), but they’re flowy so you get air ventilation and a product that dries faster. We’re solving that problem for travel and yoga at the same time.
What else is unique about your brand or product that helps you to differentiate?
The fact that they’re made from rayon instead of spandex or Lycra material definitely sets them apart. We also have a wide range of colors and designs. I currently have over 50 different styles and patterns available online, and I’m looking to develop more for the spring collection that I have coming up. There’s a lot of variety there, and I’ve tried really hard to make sure that there’s something for everyone.
We have dark color schemes, boutique designs, solid colors like the “Crimson Confidence,” just something for everyone. It’s great! Now when I see customers, there’s so much selection, but there’s always one that they’re drawn to, and they (the designs) all have their own name. When Someone picks out a pair of pants they start to create that bond with those pants.
When did you decide that you were 100% in with entrepreneurship, and that you wanted this to be your career and profession?
The moment when they put the label on the prototype was when I knew that I definitely wanted to fulfill the dream of making the pants and the company. However, it wasn’t until about 4 months later that I really decided this was where I wanted to put 100% of my attention. At that time, business was going good. I was going to a lot of yoga festivals in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle. I was getting good feedback from a lot of people from all the places I went. That’s when I was like, “I could really make a lifetime career out of this.” Knock on wood! (laughs) It’s only been about eight months, but I think that if I continue in the direction I’m going and I’m able to adapt to change, which is one of the biggest problems that a lot of companies encounter that I’ll be OK.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I quickly learned, that the fashion industry is nine months ahead. Let’s say I’m selling clothes to everyone here (in San Diego) in the winter time, but the big stores or big chains are actually shopping for Fall of 2017 already. So even when I started doing business I was already nine months behind.
What are some challenges that you have faced during this eight month entrepreneurial journey, and how have you overcome them?
Starting from the beginning I feel like almost everything was a challenge. Aside from meeting my taxi driver who introduced me to the seamstress. That was an honest blessing. It was something I just had to take. Up until that point it was challenging to find a seamstress to work with. Another challenge is the communication barrier. I still work with this woman (the seamstress), her husband, and their daughter. None of them speak English. We’ve had to get her daughter-in-law to help us translate. So we’ve got a way. It’s kind of a roundabout way.
The next challenge I think, has been the internet. I was hoping that I could do all of this overseas. I wanted to start it in Bali, and be based over there. I wanted to live in Bali in order to really embody the culture of the brand, but the wi-fi is so terrible. We are so lucky to have good and fast internet. What took me almost a week over there, took me a matter of hours when i came back.
When I came back to the states from Bali I got things launched in about a week. Since then I’ve been going to events. Those have been a bit of a challenge, but also really insightful. I see a lot of different demographics, and how I can work in different markets. Every market has different trials and errors. I’ve taken chances to see if this market is good for me. Some events are good, some are bad. I’m quickly learning that the demographic is very important. Yogis! You’re my girls, you’re my guys! I love my yogis!
With all the different methods you could use to promote your brand what made you decide to attend events? What have you gotten out of it?
The inspiration behind the events actually started because the first two events that I went to were hosted by friends that I met. One was the International Day Of Yoga in San Diego. She’s (the event runner) actually hosting it again soon. She has an event coming up at Balboa Park. She’s been doing it for almost three years. I told her, “OK. I’ll go to your event. I’ll support you, and you’ll support me.” It’s good to help out with people in the community. That’s how you start to grow an audience, which is so important when starting a brand.
Another one of the festivals that I’ve been to is Tulafest up in Seattle. My friend Alondra started that. She also a big influencer in my brand as well. I met her about a week after I had this idea. She was telling me how she wanted to start a yoga festival in Seattle. She doesn’t live in Seattle though. She lives in San Francisco. She definitely gave it her all. She was working on the website while we were traveling. I just thought she was so ambitious for trying to do it ya know? I was like, “If she can try to start a yoga festival that takes place in Seattle, a place where she’s never lived, while traveling in the Philippines, then I can certainly accomplish my goal.” She’s gonna try to pull it off, and she probably will. If you never stop trying, then you’re going to make something happen. So I promised her that if she started the festival that I would drive up from San Diego to Seattle to support her. I then ended up going up there for the actual event. It ended up pretty good. She had about 300 attendees.
What are some interesting partnerships that you have been able to establish from attending events on behalf of your company?
Yeah! I think collaboration is the funnest part for sure. When I met you (Lamin Turay of Maveriqs) at the Pineapple Project event, that’s collaboration right there. Collaboration is key because you may meet people in person, or meet them online, or you see that their Instagram is in parallel with what you’re doing. One of my big marketing aspects is Instagram, so if I find someone who is in parallel with that who I can cross-market or work with, it really opens up your audience and brings people together. That’s one of the really big things you can accomplish with collaboration. Working together to expand your market.
How do you interact with, and bring value to the following that your brand has generated?
That’s a really good question, and to be honest, it’s one of the vital parts of my company. I think that for me personally, it’s not just about starting the business, it’s more about creating the lifestyle. With fitness, with yoga, with staying healthy, and having a positive life. I’ve really tried to embody that with the brand, but also with all of my friends. Everyone that I’ve met, all of my girls that come to my photoshoots, and the constant events that I’m hosting in San Diego, are all part of it. I’m constantly posting events on my Facebook page if you guys ever want to come. Everyone is invited.
We’ve really created a nice community that is all of my friends, and all the people I’ve met who are friends of other friends. I’ll post something on Instagram, and four people may show up who I’ve never met before, but they’ll give hugs and be like, “I’m happy to be here. Let’s make some magic happen!” It’s grown into this really nice community that is my personal favorite part of the business. It’s also nice in that, as my friends travel, they’re taking their yoga pants with them. I have a friend in Minnesota right now, and she’s taken some really nice photos. She’s spreading the word. It’s not only the community, but I think it’s become a sort of “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” It’s brought things to life!
What techniques beyond events are you using to grow your business?
I’m constantly trying to grow my business online, mainly through Instagram. That was the main marketing tool that I used from the very beginning. Even when I first had the idea I was like, “OK! (I’m gonna use Instagram)” . I bought the website, which was like 99 cents. Then I went on Instagram and it (the name Pi Yoga Pants) was there, so I started building that by posting travel photos. Even though it wasn’t directly related to the yoga pants yet, I knew where it was gonna go, and I didn’t add any of my friends from back home. I just wanted to create a real organic audience based around travel and yoga.
So I decided to take that (the brand message of travel and yoga), and grow the Instagram with that. I would use that as my main outlet. I’d get that going from the beginning. Pre-marketing is a really big part of business too. You can’t just come out with an iphone and have no marketing, then no one knows what it is and they’re like, “OK. Well why should we buy it?” You have to give people a reason to want it, or to want to be a part of it.
We’re doing our own events all the time as well. We have an event coming up at the San Diego Yoga Festival. We’ve also done a couples yoga retreat that took place on Valentine’s day. We were also at the Sedona Yoga Festival, and brought a three-car caravan to that event.
What about the design? How do you come up with the various looks for your products?
Part of it is my own personal design, and a lot of it is collaboration with my seamstress as well. I really wanted the pants to have a Balinese, international influence. I wanted them to be something different, something that people in America or in other countries have never seen before. I’ve been working directly with them (the seamstress group) to make sure the pants have the Balinese influence...to keep it tropical.
I originally started with a bunch of bright colors, and a bunch of white. Everyone was like, “We need some black. We need some blue. Tone it down a bit!” (laughs) So the crimson one and the “Onyx Flower Of Life” were later editions, but the bright ones are still very popular. We still get a lot of people that are very interested in the bright ones. However, for everyday wear the “Blue Boutique” is really popular, and the “Bohemian Princess” is really popular. They’re something that you’d wear right now.
San Diego is more of a metropolitan city, but we still have the beach. We have the best of both worlds in a sense, but in some places where they don’t I want to make sure that they’re not wearing this (the pants) and feeling totally out of place.
Moving back toward you as an entrepreneur, how do you self-educate so that you can continue to improve your knowledge?
That’s a good point. I feel like I know things, but also, when I started I felt like I didn’t know anything at all. I’m constantly going online and reading forums. I also watch a lot of YouTube channels on advice for how people have started their businesses. I just started listening to some podcasts as well. I’ve come to the conclusion that starting a business is like taking a class with no teacher. You just kind of have to figure it out. Talk to your friends who have done it before. At the events that I’m going to I’m constantly asking questions, because those people have been through the same things, but are a year or two ahead of me. They have the answers, and people are so willing to help out especially when you want to collaborate with them right then and there or in the future. It’s all about working together, and knowledge is power. You definitely have to harness those opportunities when they come by.
What advice would you give to someone who has an idea or solution that they want to put out into the world?
There are two things I would mention to someone that wants to start their business or start their idea. The first one is to test it. Test it in your market, and ask people if they would buy it or use the service. Ask online as well. Sometimes your friends and family don’t exactly know the industry that you’re trying to get into to so it doesn’t hurt to go online. If it’s on Instagram, post about your product and see if people are even interested in it. I’ve seen a lot of mine friends want to start businesses where they have this idea, but it’s very very similar to a lot of other things that people are doing. For example, t-shirts or water bottles, more generic things. You have to give people a purpose to want to buy yours versus somebody else’s. So I would say definitely test the waters before you just dive on in.
If you’ve done that, I’d say don’t be scared. Everyone is scared. I’m scared! (laughs) You’re starting something new, and you don’t know if it’s going to succeed, but the worst case is that if you try it and you fail, you know another way to go about it. That takes you a step ahead of where you were before you started.
What about your role models. Do you have any rock star entrepreneurs that you follow?
I know there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there, but the people who have influenced me the most are my mom and dad. Don’t let that go to you guy’s ego (to mom and dad). They’ve been entrepreneurs since before I was born. My dad started his own business buying and reselling antiques. He got into that industry by buying stuff, and learning the industry, which is hard since every industry has something that you need to learn. So buying stuff, fixing it up, and then reselling it. He even got to the point where he started creating his own furniture. Even if it would be a mock of a name brand, he’d still do it in a good way, and making a profit on it. He’d be selling his own art. He’s been doing that ever since I was born.
In more recent years they’ve (my parents) started turning their entrepreneurial side to real estate. They got their first house , and started to pay off their mortgage to the point where they could buy a second property. Now they’re at the point where they have seven different properties all around San Diego, and they’ve finally found storage for all that furniture. So they’ve put the furniture in the apartments that they have for rent, and they’ve been using them on AirBnB. They’ve definitely given me a different outlook on entrepreneurship. There’s no wrong way. It’s always OK to take a different route. If my dad had stuck to just antiques I don’t know if he would have been as successful, but by adapting to his environment and adapting to change, he found a way to maximize profits while learning a new industry. So they’ve (my parents) definitely taught me the most.
What are some habits that you’ve acquired in working as an entrepreneur that you may not have possessed before?
The number one thing that I’ve adapted to doing everyday is self control, and the aspect that if you try to do everything then you get distracted. You lose your self control because you’re focusing on ten things at once. For example, when I first started the company I promised myself that I would give the business 100% of all my energy, all my effort, all my time, and make Pi Yoga Pants become successful as a company. I’d take it like I was approaching school, and try to get A++’s in doing as good as a job as you can. Trying to impress yourself! I was really trying to do something where I could look back on it and be proud of myself. I feel like a lot of times people get scared and aren’t willing to fail. I’ve really wanted to make this my best.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and what’s the best piece of advice you can offer to our audience about entrepreneurship?
I think the best advice that I’ve acquired over time is that you want to fail faster. That way you can also achieve things faster. I’ve taken that and applied it to myself. I used to be very frugal with my money, and didn’t want to invest in things. I’d think, “I don’t want to spend that much. I want to save it.” So for me it’s been learning to not be so guarded on my money, but to accept that something is a business expense, that’s it’s going to cost money - it doesn’t come free. So you have to just take the risk and let your money go, know that it’s going to come back to you, and hopefully you’ll get more in the long run.
That was definitely a hard thing for me to do because it was so embedded in my mind that I needed to save, save, save. However, you have to spend if you want to get something back.
What’s new and exciting with Pi Yoga Pants that you can tell us about?
Several good things have come my way recently. Number one, my really good friend Jillian that I met a couple years ago, has reached out to me saying that she’s going to get set up with Amazon seller accounts. So we got on the phone, and got to talking and she said, “Ya, it’s easy, I know how to do it. I’ll get you set up!” I was like, “Oh my god! Thank you!” It’s hard to get set up with an Amazon seller account. They have so many requirements and there’s a lot of back-end work. I’ve been trying to do it for about four months. We’re going to get on the phone and go over all that, and hopefully have it set up within the next couple of weeks.
Also, I’m going to launch my Indie Go Go Campaign this year! I’m really excited for that. I’m hoping to launch it on National Pi Day, which is March 14th (3/14). The date is to be determined. It depends on how much back-end work (needs to be done). I got a lot of the footage for it the last time I was in Bali. I did a lot of work with a few dive instructors and got to talk with them about the sea turtle conservation aspect of my brand. I give 10% back to sea turtle conservation. I really needed to get that expert advice, and deeper knowledge on what I can do. I think that will really help launch the Indie Go Go campaign and take it to the next level so the brand can get big and we can give more back to conservation efforts.
What kind of perks and incentives can we expect from the Indie Go Go campaign?
I first need to restructure the Indie Go Go. When I originally wrote it I was like, “OK guys, let’s give away hundreds of pants!” Now I’m realizing I need to slow down. The business is growing fast, so I need to make sure that things work out. I’ll still hook our customers up, and make sure everyone is taken care of. I want one of the prizes to be an all-inclusive trip to Bali to do a yoga retreat. How cool will that be! Some way to create community involvement. I feel like that’s the best way to go about it.
How can we find and follow you?
Indie Go Go Campaign: https://goo.gl/xVKMSE
We'd like to thank Larissa for taking the time to speak with us about her entrepreneurial journey and her wonderful company Pi Yyoga Pants. We wish you all the best with your coming Indie Go Go campaign. If you're interested in supporting the campaign click the button below, and let us know what you think about Pi Yoga Pants in the comments below!
Maveriqs Profile: Alexander Hinojosa, President, HCRM CORP
By Lamin Turay
Alexander (Alex) Hinojosa is an experienced IT, creative, and digital industry professional, with years of experience helping businesses solve some of their greatest problems. He's spent time as a consultant, Help Desk manager, and is now the president of his own recruitment agency, HCRM CORP. Throughout the course of his life he's learned some powerful lessons about building a business. I was able to sit down with him recently to discuss his story, and what he believes makes a successful entrepreneur.
What does your current company HCRM do, and what problem do you solve?
HCRM CORP stands for Human Capital Resource Management. We provide recruiting services within the IT, web, software, and mobile development space. We also provide those services within the creative space, and by creative I mean mostly digital agencies. We’ll help with the staffing of designers, producers, content marketers...etc. Our job is to help companies find the talent they need to be successful, and that fits within the culture of their organization. That’s a difficult thing to do.
As I’m sure a lot of people reading this will know, there’s a shortage of good talent across the board nowadays. Whether it be IT, creative or development. Especially in development. If we find a good developer, we can get them a job in like two days! (laughs). That’s just how the market is right now.
So that’s the problem that we solve for our clients, and we do it on a contract, contract-to-hire, or direct hire basis. We have a number of different solutions that can fit a company’s needs.
What is unique about your approach to business that has made you successful?
Being someone who was previously a consultant, and who really enjoys the creative, development, and really the nerdy side of it all, has made me very invested in the success of my clients and our candidates. I look at our job as being, the act of helping people manage their careers. When we talk to people we like to make sure that their moving in the direction that they really want to. We don’t try to push someone into something that, ultimately they don’t want to do.
A lot of recruiting agencies will just find candidates, and try to get them to take any job because it will benefit them. We’d rather work with you to review what fits best, and then find that opportunity for you. In the long run that works better for our clients, and the candidate. Then everyone is happier.
No employer wants a candidate who’s mentally only prepared to be at their company for six months or a year. They’d (the employers) prefer to have candidates who will be a long-term fit for their business. Having the experience of being hands-on and doing the jobs that we staff for, gives us the ability to review and screen candidates in a way that most staffing agencies cannot. That allows for the provision of candidates that fulfill the long-term mentality, which employers are looking for. Most people don’t come from the industry that their recruiting for. For us that’s a huge plus.
How did you get started with entrepreneurship?
I managed a Help Desk team before I started my own company. At that time I really didn’t have any experience running my own business or understanding anything that went into doing that. When I did get into it, it was kind of trial-by-fire.
I had decided that I wasn’t 100% happy where I was, and it was time for a change. Entrepreneurship was the direction that I went in. I was always kind of a hands on IT person and developer, but I made a choice to really focus on helping other companies reach their goals. Then it just happened! (laughs)
I started off in Chicago. My business partners and I owned a small IT consulting firm. We helped small to medium sized businesses reach their goals through using the right technology. Typically these businesses couldn’t support, or didn’t require full-time IT staff, and that’s where we came in. We would manage their technology remotely or go on-site when needed.
Was there an “Aha!” moment that drove you toward starting your own business?
When I was in my twenties, I think about 25, I resigned from my job at the Help Desk, and I took about a month off. I took time to decide what I wanted to do. A buddy of mine worked for a small company that needed some help. So I went in and helped them implement a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution. That’s when I realized, “Hey! I could do this on my own.”
There were definitely some bumps and bruises along the way, but it allowed me a lot of flexibility and freedom to do the things that I wanted. I began to naturally pursue that path, and never looked back.
In what ways has entrepreneurship changed your life?
Millions of ways! It’s amazing! It’s been a great learning experience, you meet some really amazing people, and it gives you a lot of flexibility. There are also some very explicit challenges.
They always say, “You don’t know, what you don’t know.” That’s never more true than when you start your own business. They’re so many things that go into the management of it, and getting it up and running. There’s legal, there’s finance and accounting, there’s payroll, and even the systems you’re going to use.
I’m fortunate enough that in my industry I can work from anywhere. If I need to travel to see family, and work from Michigan, I can do that. There’s no one there saying, “Hey! You need to be in the office!” Within other industries there’s still kind of an “old school” mentality where, if they don’t see you, they may not trust that you’re getting the work done. There’s a cultural shift now that’s happening slowly, but it’s getting to where more industries have distributed or remote employees.
Since I’ve become an entrepreneur the level of flexibility, freedom, and income in my life have all changed. You’ll never have as high an earnings potential as when you work for yourself. I can’t recommend it enough. If you have a passion for something, you should definitely follow it.
What’s something unique about your industry that you wish more people knew about?
Great question! So most people’s jobs are not to review and write resumés - ours is! Anyone who comes to us, we’ll help review your resumé, we’ll help rewrite it, we’ll put it in a format that will get the attention of hiring managers or HR directors. And it’s free! That’s a service that we offer at no charge. We’ll try to help you get a job, but if we don’t, and you find one on your own, we’re still happy for you.
That’s the cool thing about it. We help people get jobs, which is a great thing to do. That aspect of our work can get lost a little bit, because sometimes recruiting can get a bad name. I wish our free resumé consulting was a service that more people knew about. Especially those who are in the military. It’s very hard to translate what you do in the military, from a leadership perspective, into the outside world. This is due to the acronyms, and the fact that if a person was not in the military they may not understand certain terminology. We really enjoy helping people in those circumstances to translate their experience into other realms.
To give you a quick example - A person came to us, who had been looking for a job for six months. I looked at their resumé, and said, “Ya, I know why you’ve been searching for so long.” After consulting with this person, within a week, we had found him two job offers and he had found two of his own. That was just from doing simple things with his resumé, and making it much more approachable from a hiring manager and HR perspective.
What are some challenges that you were previously unaware of, but have had to face as an entrepreneur? How have you overcome them?
Well, one challenge is that your clients are sometimes going to pay you in their own sweet time. When you're funding the company with your own cash flow that’s a big obstacle. For instance, when we staff a project that has a number of consultants on it, and we have to pay them every week, sometimes the client doesn’t necessarily pay us every week for the work that is getting done. I wouldn’t definitely advise beginning entrepreneurs to manage their cash flow very well. Spend very little money in the beginning. As little as you can. That money becomes very important later on.
Also, do your research, and find tools that will make your life easier. It’s gong to be hard enough without having a system that helps you. Sometimes you’ll have to spend a little money on it, but if there’s a free version you can leverage...all the better. Keep in mind that you should not do long-term commitments to software products. There are enough options out there nowadays, that you don’t have to make one-year or more commitments.
What’s some of the best advice that you have received about entrepreneurship?
The best advice that I have received is to not give up. Unless they’re exceedingly lucky, everyone is going to struggle with starting or running a business. There will be ups and downs in any industry or business cycle. There will be times when you say, “Hey! I’m not making enough money to do this. Maybe I should go back to working for someone else.” Those are the times when you’re going to have to believe in yourself.
It’s definitely happened to me. It’s the natural cycle of business that you will go through those tough times. The best thing you can do in those instances is believe in your own ability to push through.
How do you increase your industry knowledge, and self-educate?
I go to a lot of networking events in a lot of different industries. As recruiters, we don’t focus solely on one industry. We focus on talent. We’ll work with the D.O.D. (Department Of Defense), creative agencies, IT firms, and consulting organizations among others. I personally do a ton of networking in really interesting industries, and I get a lot of unique perspectives because of that. For instance, things that are happening in the creative space may have nothing to do with the D.O.D., but the D.O.D. has really good processes in place, which creative agencies could benefit from. Then there are IT firms that have their own strengths as well.
Getting that swath of the business world as a whole has been really beneficial for me. Every space has interesting things going. That’s where the knowledge comes in. Network with lots of people. Network with people outside of your industry. There are probably some companies or people out there that are not in your industry, but are doing something that can relate to your space. Whether it’s a system they’re using, or a process they have in place, there’s always something to be learned outside of your own industry.
If we’re talking inside your industry, again, networking events are very powerful. You should also reach out. LinkedIn is a great tool for connecting with others. Meet-Ups are always good too.
What’s the future for yourself and your company?
Long-term growth plans include offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. We’re also exploring the development of some products for our industry. There’s a lot to be excited about. I think it’s a great time for our industry as a whole. The economy has been ticking up, and the tech and creative industry will always have a need for talent.
What’s something that you would tell aspiring recruitment or staffing entrepreneurs that they should learn right away?
Be able to find talent. Anyone can find a company that needs employees. The trick is to be able to find that great talent. If you’re out on your own you’ll need to be good at both recruiting and business development. We call that “Running a full desk.” There aren’t a lot of people that do that really well. Your usually either a salesperson or you’re a recruiter. It’s hard to be both. So if you are starting off on your own, you have to learn to manage your time very well, because it won’t matter how many job orders you get if you can’t fill them.
Where can we find and follow you?
I can be reached at the following outlets.
Company Twitter: @HCRMcorp
Company Facebook: facebook.com/hcrmcorp
We would like to thank Alex Hinojosa for taking the time to discuss his entrepreneurial journey and advice with us. We appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the IT, development, and creative staffing space. Do you have any questions or feedback for Alex? Please feel free to sound off in the comments below.
Maveriqs Profile: Bernardo Barajas, Managing Member, Foundation Capital Partners
By Lamin Turay
Bernardo Barajas is a Managing Member of Foundation Capital Partners LLC, a private investment firm that provides capital procurement options for small and medium size business owners. He's originally from Mexico, which is where he learned the value of hard work, and building a future for yourself. In his role at Foundation Capital, Bernardo helps entrepreneurs gain the financial assistance they need to grow exponentially. He's a savvy investor who recognizes the importance of playing to your strengths, putting together a solid team, and most importantly, always having a plan. We met with Bernardo to talk about his experience as an investor, and to discuss his best pieces of advice for entrepreneurs seeking guidance and funding for their growing businesses.
How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. It’s a big place, where there are a lot of people who need a job. It’s the type of place where, at an early age, you try to be ahead of everybody in order to survive. My first experience as an entrepreneur there was repackaging old bottles of cologne that my dad had, and selling them at school. Kids would buy them, but eventually their mothers got upset, and called the teachers. That’s when my first business was shut down (laughs). I was six years old when I was doing all that.
On the more serious and focused side, I reached a point in my career where I decided that I did not want to keep working for someone else, and making them rich “per se". It felt like a waste of my talent. I wanted to do things for myself. That thinking is what turned me into an entrepreneur and business owner.
What was your motivation to move from being an entrepreneur to becoming an investor as well?
I’ve had a lot of exposure to smaller companies that are up to, or under 100 employees. What I’ve seen, is that there are a lot of these companies that just need help. Even a little help can allow them to grow a whole lot. For example, I’ve seen small construction companies that were grossing under $1 million a year, and with some of our investment funds they were able to land large government contracts, and grow to making $4 million a year. That little help goes a long way for small businesses.
What advice do you have for beginner entrepreneurs who receive funding, but may not know how to deploy it properly?
Here’s the thing - You have to have a plan! You need to know what to do with the money once you get it. You can’t sit on it for a day, or even a minute. You need to know ahead of time. You should be thinking, “OK, I’m going to use this money to increase inventory,” or “I’m going to purchase more equipment.” Whatever it may be, you just need to have a plan in place for that money. You should also know that the plan is going to have a return. The cost of that money, minus the return, is going to be your profit.
A lot of people don’t put a plan in place, and they end up going under. It’s no joke though! If you don’t have a plan for how to use your funding, you will not be able to get it back, and your business will end up in a much worse position than it was to start.
If you don’t have a plan for how to use your funding, you will not be able to get it back, and your business will end up in a much worse position than it was to start."
What’s your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are pitching their business in order to gain funding?
I repeat - Have a plan! Business owners are not perfect. We all have our different flaws. One of the ways to make things more efficient for your company is to have a good team. You need to have a good salesperson. You need to have a good marketer. You need to have a good CEO; someone who will make the right decisions at the right time. With all of those pieces in place you have a more complete organization. A full spectrum.
When someone pitches me something that has the full spectrum, it makes more sense because it is going to succeed. When you get a pitch from an individual who does not have a clear idea of what they want to do, you know that person will most likely misuse the funds they are seeking. Then they’re gonna be in trouble. As investors, we can smell when someone is gonna be in trouble. We can smell it from far away.
Can you share your thoughts on how to identify a company as a good investment opportunity?
Good companies have good structures. They’re just like a sports team. Every one of the players on a sports team, or every executives in a company needs to be good at what they do. If you have a good team, you have a good company. Obviously, the captain of the team, which is the CEO, has to be knowledgeable about every single piece of the company. They need to know how things operate and to be involved in it. When we see that, we know that’s a successful company. There is no “One-Man Company.” Sure, there have been cases in history where there are individual innovators who know how to do it all, but those are very very rare. We focus on companies that have a quality team.
In your opinion what are the major factors in building a successful startup?
First you need a good idea. You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, but it needs to be a good idea. After the idea you need to have knowledge of the product you are selling. Then, after the product knowledge, you need to build a team. Have someone who will focus on the selling, have someone who will focus on the marketing, which is one of the most important things these days. You should also have someone who knows digital media, and can drive sales that way. In addition to all that, you’ll have to understand the company’s financing and legal structure. You’ll need teamwork as well.
Once you have those key components in place, then you can move to step two - deploying the money. It will either be your own capital or someone else’s capital that you will be using to make things work. It will be a lot easier if you understand all of the things I mentioned.
As an investor, what are some of the things you wish more entrepreneurs understood?
The biggest thing that I see right now, is that business owners need to understand that revenue which comes into their company is not their money to spend. You have things like payroll, operating expenses, marketing expenses... etc. You have to put a plan in place and have projections for at least six months in advance. You also need to save your money whenever possible.
Just because you have $100k doesn’t mean you should blow through $80k in one month, and only be left with $20k for the next month. You need to have a growing plan to succeed. If you have no growing plan, and you’re just spending money because you think you’re making a lot of profit, you won’t succeed. What happens when you have a slow month or quarter? Then you’re back at square one.
What are some of the more interesting upcoming projects that you as an individual, and the company you work at involved in?
Here at Foundation Capital Partners we just acquired a company called Health Through Genetics or HTG. They are the distribution channel for a genetics lab CQUENTIA LABS (www.cquentia.com) In this joint venture, we create a test “Pgx", which is able to tell Patients/Physicians whether a medication could be an effective treatment for you or whether you could have side effects to that specific medication, increasing the risk to your current lifestyle. The product itself is called CQ Live. We’ve got some of the biggest hospitals in the country signing off on it and testing it right now.
You recently performed an appraisal of Maveriqs Academy, and provided a valuation on the company. As a seasoned investor, what did you see in Maveriqs Academy that was of true value?
I think Maveriqs Academy brings knowledge to anyone who is seeking it. You just need to go online and read it. You don’t need to do anything special - It’s already there! It brings the opportunity of putting business owners, investors, and really creative people closer to the everyday individual that wants to build a business. I strongly believe it’s important for portals like Maveriqs Academy to be out there.
We would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to interview Bernardo. His insight into developing a plan for your business is incredibly valuable. What are your thoughts on what he has to say? Have you been seeking funding for your business and would like to engage with Bernardo? Please leave any questions or feedback in the comments below?