Goodbye to Avion: 7 Lesson’s I Learned
When Avion was just Jesse Martinez’s idea, there were not all of the programs that today exist dealing with diversity and entrepreneurship. As a result the idea for Avion, and the others who came up around the same time, was that we looked like outliers. We were a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Investors made money, so what did it matter who was founding companies? White men had always made investors money. What did it matter if everyone else was not included?
As other programs came into being and were showing that they had impact, it made our thesis easier to justify. The thesis was simple, Latinas are great tech entrepreneurs. The reality is that in any other sector in the U.S. CEO’s know and understand the importance of the Latinx community. Many sectors are actively creating new products, marketing, and positioning themselves to capture the Latinx market.
Yet Silicon Valley is so insular and there are so few of us that, I would inevitably have to explain some plain facts about who we are and why we are important. Yes I would have to email out the Nielsen Latina Power report to prove the legitimacy of my thought process. As I have pointed out in the past I believe that a thriving entrepreneurial startup community must include one of the strongest growing segments in the U.S.
I kept on meeting amazing, smart, educated, prepared, and ready Latinas who wanted a shot at their Startup dreams. That is why I said yes to Jesse and Ed Martinez when they asked me to join them in founding and leading Avion. I knew there were some a great opportunities to be had. To take those on who had been dismissed, overlooked, and discounted.
Almost three years later, it is time for me to say goodbye to Avion. Simply put, I don’t think our team as it stands now can make Avion successful. Most of you know that we have fallen into unhealthy patterns that are unhelpful to ourselves and the Latinx community at large. Before I leave Avion here are some hard learned lessons that I wanted to share with the world at large.
Lesson 1 — Don’t Be Brilliant And Broke
In the last three years, I have met the most brilliant folks. People with degrees in every type of Science, Engineering, Computer Science, Business, and the Arts. Some with multiple degrees from lauded institutions. People who to this day I am in awe of. Folks who happen not be white men. All of them broke and barely getting by.
I know how to make a beans taste so good you won’t want steak.
Our skill for survival is embedded in our culture. Most of us, Latinx, are here due to immigration caused by wars and economic instability in Latin America. Our parents and grandparents are survivors and they have done the best to make us thrive in this country. This has included sometimes not teaching us Spanish or putting us in predominantly white institutions thus severing us from our cultura.
You cannot escape Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Our skills have allowed so many of us to keep on going but never able to get a beyond a certain level of financial success. You cannot dream or grow when you don’t know how you are going to pay for your most basic of needs. We have boxed ourselves into bad situations due to not just a lack of resources, but also lack or planning, strategy and/or not growing our networks.
Lesson 2 — Lack of Funding Is Not The Only Reason We Don’t Succeed
Despite the real and dire financial needs we have, investment is not the panacea. A startup needs a clear headed, smart, and resourceful founder. Unless we individually deal with our issues around dysfunctional family patterns, consequent issues with self-worth as well as the family dynamics and societal issues with sexism, racism and trauma, success will not be within reach. Too often I have seen folks react without forethought or strategy out of sheer pain and the consequent anger.
Remember that finding an investor is like finding a life partner: Hard
I don’t want to dismiss that pain or anger. When your head is not straight and you are broke, it is hard to make good decisions. I have seen how some folks forget that it is better that you take $1 from the person whom you are aligned with than $100 from someone who will just be another headache. We need to get our individual and collective heads straight. Otherwise our cultura will solidify as one of reaction not strategy.
Lesson 3 — Quality Is Everything
Doing something just to be busy is not helpful. Creating a strategic plan with well thought out tasks to grow your company makes all the difference. Too often, we aren’t concerned with quality rather proving we can do it. I have been guilty of this and for that I apologize to those who I know deserved better.
When you do something do it at 100% of your current abilities.
Create systems that allow you make every task you undertake become automated, measurable, iterable. All of that will help you grow your company and your prospects.
Lesson 4 — Choose your co-founder wisely
Who you partner up with is important in life and business. In a perfect world you find someone who is honest, honorable, shares your sense of vision while being skilled. That in the end will respect you for your skills and abilities. The reality is that people are messy, have issues, and make mistakes. So rather than look for a “perfect” cofounder, look for someone who is conscious of their imperfections. Acknowledge your imperfections to yourselves and others. Self-awareness goes a long way to creating success.
On the flip side: we have trust issues, so often we won’t even partner.
If I was to create a chart about how many solo founders that are Latinx versus not. Guess where we would be in the spectrum? In my experience so many of us go it alone.
Now there are reasons we are tribalistic in our sense of trust. Life and death issues invaded our most of our great-grandparents, grandparents and parents lives. Currencies were/are demolished along with buildings. Lives could and can be upended with a coup, a silent, civil or dirty war. Today it is a the War on Drugs that invades us on both sides of our borders. All of this makes it hard for us to trust. Intergenerational trauma is real and not just in our heads. Yet if you don’t trust you can’t build a successful company. To get ahead be honest with who and where you come from. Remember that a business partner either has to work actively or bring in revenue.
Lesson 5 — Be Coachable
During our first class of Avion I made a decision. I didn’t want to tell our participants what to do, I wanted them figure out how to do it on their own. In retrospect I now realize that I was not as explicit as I should have been. People fill in the blanks you leave with what they expect the world to give them. There were expectations we could have never met and had never even thought of promising. My apologies for that to Deborah Castillero, Laura Moreno, and Deborah Deras. You deserved better, but I, too, was learning.
Be coachable, know your own patterns better than someone else.
Entrepreneurs see the world as it could be, not as it is. You know how to fix the problem, now if the rest of the world would just listen. Yet the best entrepreneurs are great listeners. They know subtly what the markets are telling them and not so subtly what markets actually want. Let yourself be guided by your customers and the ecosystem.
Lesson 6 — Protect your personal brand — it will carry you to your next startup
If you get a bad reputation chances are you deserve it. You might be working on a startup today with all your heart and soul, hoping for a big payout and even bigger intangible rewards. Tomorrow you might only have your reputation and worthless stock options.
An invitation to have a drink won’t pay your bills, a new customer will.
Having a drink with someone doesn’t make them a partner, client, or supporter. Being charming at a restaurant doesn’t mean someone will have your back when you need it.
Don’t overpromise and underdeliver to your customers because you are too busy attending functions. I have been guilty of this, and my apologies to all. I learned my lesson to be reliable and learn to say no to the wrong “opportunities.”
Lesson 7 — Fail Fast
Give yourself a deadline. Stick to it. Don’t keep on going if there is no money or customers. Chances are other opportunities will come through if you let go of trying to control the outcome. Let the market guide you as you are trying to guide the market. It’s a dance with its own rhythm. Pay attention and the market will lead you to success.
Success comes in many different ways and timing is everything
If you have taken good care of yourself, employ a thoughtful strategy, are coachable, have good reputation, and create product that is growing week by week you will be able to make your mark. It doesn’t guarantee instant financial returns, but it will guarantee you can say you’re working at a high level. That is the first step to success.
We are very close to the tipping point of effecting change so that anyone can get chance to live their startup dreams. The reality is that the demographic change will make it possible to make permanent change. On top of that, all of us need to create solutions to our collective problems for the US to have a thriving economy. This is why it is important for us to take action individually by having our own houses in order. And collectively by creating companies that are strategic, of the highest quality, and have the best of intentions.
I am hugely thankful to in no preferential order Butch Wing, Pastor Bryant, Adriana Martinez, Cedric Brown, Francesca Escoto, Alberto Roca, Deborah Castillero, Laura Moreno, Deborah Deras, Laura Gomez, Tiq Chapa, Ramona Ortega, Liliana Monge, Kety Esquivel, Hank Williams, Nicole Sanchez, Janice Fraser, Jason Fraser, Jose Huitron, Michelle Olvera, Pemo Theodore, Manny Ruiz, Ana Hernandez, Heidi Gatty-Hernandez, Joe Vasquez, Karla Monterroso, Kari Gray, Jason Rosado, Pablo Fuentes, Mary Jean Koontz, Ana Roca-Castro, Lisa Stone, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Barney Santos, Alicia Castillo, Mitch Kapor, Freada Kapor Klein, Martha Edith Hernandez, Carolina Huaranca, Martha Soledad Hernández, Marcos Polanco, Adriana Guendelman, Raquel Romano, Kristen Daniels, Maica Gil, Lisa Morales-Hellebo, Carmen Rojas, Carina Boston-Pinales, Rubi Sanchez, Ana-Luz Acevedo, Eliana Ramos, Emerson Malca, Sally Kay, Jesse and Ed Martinez and many many others.
Without these folks and many others, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going in the tough moments, the tough moments that come with the territory. I hope that in my efforts I influenced larger changes.