My story as an immigrant
Today I was a panelist at the “We the Innovators: The stories of immigrant entrepreneurs” event. This event was created in honor of the Immigrant Heritage Month, a partnership between 1871, Code2040 and FWD.us. The purpose of this panel was to share our story about our journey as immigrants and entrepreneurs in the technology space. While staring at the crowd, I thought, why should I limit this story only for this audience instead of sharing the path I took to build my start-up to everyone? I might be able to help someone structure their path to follow their dream. #FollowYourPurpose
I was born and raised in Guatemala. When I graduated from college, I was lucky to be recruited into one of the most beautiful, purpose driven, and inspiring companies in the world, Procter and Gamble. I worked there for almost 8 years as a brand builder, in Guatemala and then in Panama City. Professionally, I recommend anyone that has the opportunity, to work at a company like P&G. I feel proud every time I see their brands and their values. For me, they are the Google for CPG. They care and obsess about employee and customers.
So, why did I leave?
Throughout all my life, I have always wanted to have my own business. At the age of 4, my parents gave me money to buy bubblegum and I started selling it at school at a 5X price increase to my kid friends who had money that their parents gave them for snacks at school. As my career of a candy seller (among other small business ideas) progressed, obviously, selling candies wasn’t as attractive as getting a job on brand management at P&G. So I decided to focus on my corporate career.
On my 5th year at P&G, I got cancer. Terrifying? Hell yes! Not only for me, but for everyone around me. I had to leave P&G for almost 6 months to focus on my health, and the company supported me without hesitation. During this recovery period, I stayed at home. However, instead of staying in bed waiting for all of this to end, I started reading Entrepreneurship books by Pat Flynn. I still had the deep desire of build my own company just like my father and mother did — and I was slowly moving towards this. The idea of becoming an Entrepreneur was a burning desire. I read so many stories of people changing the world, and I wanted to become one of them. I wanted to be Mr. Procter or Mr. Gamble.
A couple of years later, I got married to the most amazing person in the world, Valerie, and we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Emma. I built a marketing consulting firm and started working with my co-founder Ulises on technology products in Panama. While doing research in Panama with Ulises, we faced a major barrier. Most of the problems that the market was facing were already solved in the US or any other globalized market. Panama was not a market to develop a “world changing idea”. We decided to change our strategy, and set our vision to come to the US.
At the same time, my wife was exploring the idea of coming to the US to do her MBA. One afternoon, we sat and reviewed our financials and risks, and decided we were going to move to the US to pursue our dreams. Her dream was to be a Googler and mine was to be a Tech Entrepreneur. On the very next day, my wife started working on her applications, and I started saving every penny and doing consulting on top of my full-time job at P&G. My wife applied and got accepted on 5 out of 6 top MBA programs, all of them offering her scholarships. Yes, I know, she is great isn’t she? I told you!
Our end goal was to go to Silicon Valley, the epicenter of technology in the world. Out of the five programs she was accepted to, one was in the Bay Area, but the living cost was crazy — our debt levels would be too high and the uncertainty of paying back the debt was too high as well. We had to explore another option. We opted for Chicago Booth (Rank #3 in the World according to US News). Also Chicago was in the top 3 cities for technology startups, and for me this city seemed to have the right ecosystem too.
So with a backbone of student loans and savings, we were ready to make the move. We both quitted our jobs and started sailing this ship.
Quick note: Since, this is a post about my immigration story, I wanted to add a piece about my residency status and the process: 1) My wife was a US resident and she requested my green card so I could be in the country and 2) The total time for this process was two years. The US government’s website estimates were completely accurate.
When we moved to Chicago, I had no network. I started at mile zero. My P&G pedigree was also irrelevant, and I didn’t know how to even start. While researching on this, I found several blogs talking about the importance of becoming part of an incubator, and I found Founder’s Institute (fi.co). Their program seemed to be very well structured and had strong mentors. I was accepted into FI, and quickly started this journey. FI is a tough program. You have “homework” every week, to help you structure your strategy and business. Five out of thirty founders graduated the program. FI helped me learn about start-ups and showed me how important it was to connect with the entrepreneurial community. I started meeting people, asking for introductions, boosting my Linkedin network, and hustling all day long.
During that hustling period, I met Tom Alexander, the COO of 1871. I pitched him the product we created and I got feedback and more information about 1871. He explained the story behind the design of 1871 and what they were trying to achieve. I immediately applied to become a member. This place is incredible for any start-up and founder. I’ve met the most brilliant people in my life — people who truly believe they will shape the world and who already are technology leaders. Tom introduced me to Omar Duque, CEO of IHCC. Omar is one of the most forward looking leaders in the Hispanic community. He had the grit to build the first ever LatinX incubator in the US and invited me to apply to the first cohort of, what I think, was a life changing experience for me and any LatinX entrepreneur. I worked in the IHCC program for four months with eleven other founders. I was also invited to give some remarks on the launch of their second cohort program (for more info — you can check out this blog post). This is how I ended up here, in an amazing city, with a growing and promising start-up, and sailing the ship to achieve my dream. I have received so much support and help from this community and this city — things that I never even thought were possible. From walking in the streets of Chicago interviewing people, visiting hotels to pitch our product, meeting Entrepreneurs and networkers — coming to Chicago was the best decision I’ve ever made, and it has been a hell of a ride.
As of now, I am a tech founder, my wife became a Googler, and my daughter speaks more English than Spanish. As for the future …