My Interview with Rodrigo Martinez - Founder & CEO of Inovaz, An interview that was really over-due, I have been meaning to do this interview since last year and finally got around in conducting this interview with him. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.
How are you doing Rodrigo, we finally get to do this interview, Thanks for taking time to do this with me.
So can you kindly give me some details about yourself, your background, what you do?
My name is Rodrigo Martinez, Founder & CEO of Inovaz. I am a 27 year old and come from Mexico, prior founding Inovaz I worked in Prague, CZ as a Business Analyst and Project Manager for Monster.com and in India as a Business and Technology analyst for Satyam Computer Services.
I have completed a BSc. in Computer Science from Kingston University and a MSc in Technology Entrepreneurship from UCL.
Inovaz is a digital experience design agency, we focus on building technology based solutions that add value, are easy to use and form an emotional bond with our users. Inovaz is a global born startup based in London, UK (Marketing & Sales) and Guadalajara, Mexico (Design & Development) with a team of 16 young professionals from 8 different nationalities (Mexico, UK, Argentina, US/Nigeria, Bulgaria, Venezuela and Colombia) wanting to change the world.
The perfect example of the type of solutions we build is FatStudent – an online part time job board for the YouTube generation. We allow candidates to record a 30 video pitch to give them a chance to showcase their very important softskills (communication skills, personality, etc.) to employers which are impossible to convey through a paper CV.
Is this your first business?
Yes, FatStudent is the very first product of my very first business: Inovaz.
What inspired you to start this business?
I have always been passionate about technology and design – and ever since I was around 9 years old I knew I wanted to start my own business. I see how technology impacts the world we live in and I have always wanted to be a part of those changes.
The goal of Inovaz is to become an incubator of ideas (FatStudent being the first of many), I want Iniovaz to become the IDEO (From Wikipedia: “IDEO is a design and innovation consultancy based in Silicon Valley”) of web – so when I first started I looked at the most creative and innovative companies I know (IDEO, Pixar, Google, Pixar, Adaptive Path – to name a few), I tried to understand what makes them tick, what makes them so special and replicate it with Inovaz - and let Inovaz evolve into our own from there.
How and where did you get this idea for a business? What need did you see?
FatStudent started as part of my coursework for my MSc. and given the fact that I had experience in the online recruitment industry gave me the tools to clearly identify the huge gap in the market when it comes down to part-time job and students, even a larger opportunity is that online job boards in general need a complete overhaul.
What role do you play in the company?
My role in the company is that of CEO (Managing Director)/ Product Manager
As a Product Manager: I make sure we understand the customers’ problems/pains and translate that into an easy to use appealing product.
As a CEO/MD I believe my main responsibilities are:
Build a great team and make sure we are all in synch
Build a great culture and work environment, to make sure people love what they do.
Make sure everyone in the team is able to perform 100% this not only includes giving them an office, a laptop but give them the trust and empower them to make their own decisions.
Many people believe the CEO does not have to report to anyone in the organization besides the board, but in reality I feel the CEO actually is the person that reports to the most people – every single one of people in the organization.
I once was told that there are two types of CEO: the doers and the visionaries – I consider myself the latter and I am thankful for the amazing management team I have that pull my feet back to the ground more often that I would like to admit.
What is an average workday like for you?
I spend the first couple of hours of my day catching up with emails, then I like to prioritize my tasks for the day. A big part of my role is making sure all the team is on the same page, so I like to be aware of what is going on in the offices.
Every day we (the management team) also have a brief 15-20minute call to synch up and see if we have any “blockers” which we need help with. Then I probably spend 30-45 min reading the latest technology news.
Afterwards I start working on my pending tasks which can range from presentation preparation, product defining and wireframing, testing, etc. In the evenings there are usually entrepreneurs/start-ups/technology events that I attend to.
How did you finance the business?
We have financed the company ourselves, I have been lucky enough that not only my management team believed in the vision of Inovaz and FatStudent to decide to join the company but they also invested in the company. Also one of our biggest achievements was to receive a large government grant (Mexican government) to further develop our technology.
Did you write a formal business plan? How relevant do you think a business plan is to a business especially now that young entrepreneurs build big and profitable companies without knowing or thinking about a business plan?
This is a very interesting question, the short answer would be YES we did write a formal business plan and YES it is useful – it forced us to really think through all aspects of the business. A business plan will help you organize all the ideas and thoughts you have about your new business, starting a business is very exciting and overwhelming, add to that limited experience (or not experience at all) in various aspects of the business and you will overlook very important/key aspects of the business - a business plan will always tell you “don’t forget to think of ...”
What are your marketing strategies for this business?
Due to our limited experience in marketing and sales (our background are in either technology, design or finance/economics). We now realise that we did not have a strong/ well thought out marketing strategy for FatStudent. We are now in the process of searching for a mentor/advisor that will help us revise our marketing/sales strategy to help us take FatStudent to the next level.
How do you manage your time? I notice you do a lot of travelling?
Yes, I travel back and forth between London and Guadalajara. Technology can greatly improve communications on a global scale but it still cannot replace a face to face meeting yet. I manage my time by asking myself these couple of questions every time I start a new task: What is the value of the task I am about to start?; what would happen if I don’t do it?. If I cannot come up with a good answer then I just move on to the next task.
What was the most difficult part of starting the business?
The most difficult part of starting a business is to leave your life behind – basically it is a leap to the unknown. This got magnified by the fact that we left jobs, friends and family behind.
What is the worst experience you’ve had as an entrepreneur?
For me that worst experience that I have had is having the feeling of not knowing what to do next... feeling lost just going a drift.
What are the biggest challenges you faced starting up and how did you overcome them?
As I mentioned before communication is key for success, making sure everyone is going in the same direction. It is hard even when you are working next to each other. Now imagine starting a business where the teams are divided by second largest ocean. It has been a challenge but we have learnt from our mistakes, we are still working on it but we are for sure overcoming the problem.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
Turn Inovaz into a business – anyone can start a company but very few people can turn it into a business.
How would you describe a successful entrepreneur?
Someone passionate about what they are doing, not scared of taking risks, not scared of making mistakes and not willing to give up.
What tips do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The time will never be right to start a business – Just GO AHEAD and do it. The worst thing that can happen is that you are not successful (i.e. monetary success) but you will learn and gain a lot of experience which would get you a much better job.
What are your thoughts on university being the perfect platform to start a business?
I think it is the ideal time to start a business, most university students have to work so starting your own business while at university could be a great solution to alleviate the economic pressures.
Are you profitable? What is your business model?
I wish but not yet we hope to get there early next year. We are exploring different options but it is too early to say which ones will work. One of the most interesting ones is the white labelling of the FatStudent technology to power other organization’s job boards.
For example if you own a job board but you don’t have a big technology infrastructure we can provide you with a next generation job board so you can focus on the business side of things.
Who are your competitors?
We have identified as our main competitors Gumtree, Vivastreet, 247Recruit, Employment for students .
How many people are involved in the business with you?
We are a team of 16* young professionals from all over the world – we bring a mix of disciplines, backgrounds and life experiences. What makes us different from any other technology companies is that rather than creating technology solutions, we create human solutions – solutions that are not only useful but also appealing (visually and emotionally).
Not everyone is now directly involved in FatStudent as we also provide services to other organizations to design and develop their digital experiences.
How has your market changed in the past few years? How has your business changed to keep pace?
The online recruitment industry has changed very little since it started (~18 years ago), with the launch of FatStudent we want to redefine what a job board should be.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
My biggest achievement to date has been to be able to get such an amazing management team to support me and share this journey with.
What plans do you have now to expand your business further?
We are now searching for strategic partners and also mentors/advisors to help us take FatStudent to the next level.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years etc. from now?
FatStudent has global potential and will become the student portal for students around the world.
Thanks for your time, Rodrigo Martinez