The Bread and Butter Letter #10: Carlos Seoane

A bread and butter letter is a letter of thanks for hospitality…our version is full of gratitude, thank-yous and advice and will feature founders we’ve backed, our team, and friends of B&B.

Carlos Seoane comes from a very academic family so it feels natural that he and his team at Extempore are working to change the way languages are taught around the world. The Minneapolis-based Extempore, where Carlos is founder and CEO, allows language teachers to develop students’ reading, writing, listening, speaking, and cultural skills in a target language.

Carlos Seoane, Founder and CEO of Extempore

The company has seen significant traction with departments and schools, including recently signing an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Education to administer the Seal of Biliteracy Exam across the state of MN. They’re now in discussions with other departments of education across the country to do the same.

Carlos took a moment away from getting ready for the new school year to talk to us about the people, things and experiences that have helped him on his entrepreneurial journey:

Is there a person from growing up who you feel thankful towards?

I come from a very academic family. Virtually no-one from either side, mom’s or dad’s, works in business. Both my parents are professors, as are most of my uncles/aunts, so while I wanted to have my own business since I’m a small child, I never had a role model. Luckily my dad had a friend who owned a very large winery and other businesses in southern Spain, and it was great to talk to him, hear his journey, and know I could do it, too!

Who was instrumental at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey?

My early investors. I was very lucky to have people in my network who believed in me and also had the means and the knowledge to support me from Day 2 (Day 1 was my wife and I cluelessly stumbling around….). It’s SO important to have someone show you what “can be”. I personally have difficulty seeing the bigger opportunity when I’m neck deep in the day-to-day of start-up survival: I need someone to tell me, after I sign a $25k deal, that the next one can be $50k, and that the one after that can be $150k.

What books, podcasts, or blogs have really inspired you as a leader?

You know, I’m not big on business books. I’m not sure why, since I’m a very avid reader, but I seem to read about everything except business. Part of my problem is that every business book you read is always “the” solution to every business problem. Read me and you’ll be Bill Gates! The reality is much more subtle and complicated, and what applies to you may not apply to me.

That said, I love the startup.com newsletter…. It’s a great reality check.

Who is an unsung person at your company you’d like to highlight?

Everyone in my company is to some degree an unsung hero! I have an amazing team, who thinks, from the first to the last person, as founders. That’s so cool for me to see, but I often feel like I don’t take enough time to tell them how awesome they are. So here it goes, guys: you are all a dream to work with.

What do you look back on and thank yourself for doing when you started your company (i.e. what would you recommend to others?)?

Since humans are much better at celebrating successes than analyzing mistakes, I’m going to answer the mirror of your question: what do I kick myself for NOT doing when I started my company? I didn’t focus enough on sales. This is a mistake I’ve seen a lot of other people make: you are so in love with your product that you assume it’s going to sell itself. Shockingly, that’s not the way it works! So the one thing I wish I had had was a sales co-founder. Even before you have a product, you need a sales mindset.