Latinx In Power
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Latinx In Power

Time and Energy are Precious Resources

Based on an episode with Ish Verduzco 🇲🇽

elcome to Latinx in Power, a podcast aiming to help to demystify tech, the way we do that is by interviewing Latinx leaders all over the world to hear their perspective and insights.

We talked with Ish Verduzco (he/him), a Community Leader at a16z Crypto and also a Web3 Marketing Strategist at IV3 Media. He graduated in Business Management with a minor in Sociology from the University of California, Merced. Ish has consulted 50+ web3 & NFT startups already, toured the U.S. as a DJ, worked at LinkedIn & Snap among other things.

In this episode we talked more about important and trendy things that are happening now like cryptocurrency and web3. Ish shared about his journey as an entrepreneur, author, and advocate of tech/web3.

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What does it mean to be a Latino for you?

I think this is the question that I have been trying to uncover for the past 15 years. I’m 30 now. I think when I was younger, wherever you grew up with, whatever you’re surrounded with the people, the culture, the beliefs, and all that. It was just a way of life. It wasn’t until I started going to college and started to not see as many people that are from the same background as you around. I think my college was very good with diversity. We had 25% Latinos, which is better than most colleges. But then now, I work in tech and it’s even less, it’s 4%, 5%, maybe.

To answer your question, I think it changed over time. And now, being a Latino means a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, a sense of grounding, a sense of knowing my heritage, where I’d come from, what I stand for, and why I do everything that I do, including all the content that I share online, including the things that I build, including all the projects that I work on. Even doing stuff like this, it’s tied into my broader mission of helping people of underrepresented groups achieve their goals, whether that be personal, professional, everything in between, career, etc. And so, understanding what being a Latino means to me has been transformational in all of that journey as well.

I just spent a month and a half in Mexico. I got married and then I went to Mexico with my wife for a month and a half and I was just super proud just to be there. I wasn’t born in Mexico. I was born here in the States. But being able to go back there and just be surrounded by the culture, be surrounded by people, and some of my best family’s out there. So, being able to see them, it was a great sense of like, “Okay, this is where we originally come from. And there’s a reason why I’m the way I am and it has to trace back to where my grandparents came from”, which is here in Mexico or how my parents were raised, and the beliefs, and the thoughts, and all that. So, it was definitely nice that I shared that sense of pride.

How did everything start?

I was born and raised in Southern California in LA. I moved a lot of times growing up. I think I moved like 13 times by the time I hit high school, which is a lot. Constantly switching schools, constantly being the new kid. I don’t think we were poor growing up. I don’t think we were like middle class either. I think we were somewhere in between. We always had electricity, we always had food on the table, we always have a roof over our heads, but we never had tons of luxuries that now that I work in tech and I see people that I work with and learn about their stories and their upbringing, so I’m like, “Whoa, you guys had money for that? You guys are going to Disneyland every couple of months?” That was once in a long time for us or we had to get free tickets for stuff like that.” So, little things like that you started to see the subtle differences of your upbringing and how they differ from other people who came from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

When I moved a lot growing up, a few transformational things happened to me during my upbringing. Obviously, moving a lot was one. My mom had me at a super young age. She was 19 years old. So, I think somebody who’s growing up is also trying to help their kid grow up was wild. I give my mom so much respect for everything that she did and all the sacrifices she made. And then I also lost my dad when I was growing up too. So, when I was 12 years old, my dad passed away, which I share about openly all the time. I think that taught me a lot about how precious time and energy are. We shouldn’t take it for granted. I think that experience, going through that at such a young age shaped me, and made me be a lot more self-aware, and acknowledge how I spend my time, and who I spend my energy with. If I have something that I want to go after, I’m just going to go for it, because I saw firsthand that life, we shouldn’t take it for granted. So, that’s my upbringing. That’s how it all started.

Growing up, I was always like a tinkerer. I was always creating things, hustling things, selling things, building things like Legos with cardboard boxes. I would go to the ice cream man and buy hot Cheetos for $1 and then I would take them to school in my backpack. We weren’t allowed to have hot Cheetos, for some reason, candy and stuff. So, I would flip them for three, four, or five bucks to the kids. And so, I’ve always had this sense of, I guess, entrepreneurship and strive to try to build things and see what’s possible. You can see it as a thread throughout my entire career, things that I’ve just built and things that I’ve thought of and just say to myself like, “I wonder what would happen if I tried to create it,” and then the next day, I find myself thinking about it nonstop and then actually doing it.

I’d love to hear more about how you break into tech at age 22 landing your dream job at LinkedIn. How was the process? Tell us how everything happened?

I graduated from UC Merced. It’s a small school like Fresno, Central California. Not very well known, not a super reputable school. It’s definitely not like Berkeley, or Stanford, or Yale, or anything like that. After I graduated, senior year, everybody’s applying to jobs nonstop. So, I must have applied to 150, 200 jobs. Granted, maybe my style of applying wasn’t as refined as it could have been. I was just like, “Who’s going to take me? Apply to everything.” I’m kind of desperate, I guess. But I got rejected by every single job. So, I ended up having to move it back in with my parents.

Keep in mind, I wasn’t a great student. I think I was like a 2.9, 3.0 student. So, average. Did what I had to do to get decent grades and make my mom proud. At the same time, I did every sport you can think of. I was head of activities, head of student events, president of this, that, the other. And so, I thought, “Okay, well, I did everything that I had to do in college to prepare me to land a job,” and was very devastated to find out this is not how the real world works. It works based on introductions, referrals, as well as just like, if you go to a good school, that brand is going to take you a lot further than if you go to an unknown school.

I’ll share one more thing, because I don’t want to harp on this too much. But I remember when I was applying to jobs, a recruiter one time mocked me and they’re like, “You went to UC Merced. UC what? Is that even a real school, UC Merced?” So many times, I would go to apply for a job and the drop down would say, “UC,” and all the UC schools would come out, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and then UC Merced was always missing. Just to bring the point home, my school was not known at all. I was pretty devastated. I moved back in with my parents in Southern California, which is maybe this generation is different now, but at the time I wanted to be out in and be independent. I wanted to go after the world. I didn’t want to move back in with my parents. So, I had to put a lot of pride aside and do that.

I then landed a job at a 24-hour fitness studio working like 30 hours a week, not full time. Basically, like a gym manager, which is a great job. I learned a lot, but it’s not what I wanted to do. I’ve always had aspirations of breaking into tech. Specifically, I was wanting to work at LinkedIn, Twitter, or Snapchat. Those are the three companies that I always just admired and looked up to. And so, every night I would work my shift and come home, have dinner with my family, and then I would just apply to jobs every single night. I was like, “Well, this is barely cutting it to pay the bills. I’m helping my mom out with some bills. I’m able to buy stuff here and there, but this is not the route that I want to go.” Eventually I stumbled upon a contract job.

For people who are reading, basically, it’s not a full-time job. You’re working there for x amount of months, you can be let go at any time once that contract is up, you’re pretty much asked out of a job most of the time unless you get converted to full time. And found an events job, I had tons of experience as a student doing events. So, I figured all this is perfect for me.

This is where I’ll break down the story because I think it’s interesting for people. When I tell people that I broke into tech, I literally broke through the backdoor, crawled in through the window, and then through the kitchen to break into tech. Because most people, I would say, I don’t know, 75% to 90% of people when you ask them, “Oh, how’d you land your first job in tech?” or, “How’d you get into tech?” Usually it’s, “Oh, a recruiter hit me up. They sent me a message on LinkedIn or they emailed me and they said, “Hey, we looked at your background and we thought you’d be a great fit for this role. Would you like to apply, set up some time to call, whatever?”

Mine was the opposite. I found the role, it was a contract job, it was kind of a disadvantage. I was living in Southern California, I would have to move to San Francisco, but first, I had to try to get a job or interview first. Luckily, I had a friend who I went to school with. He was a contractor who had just started at LinkedIn. And long story short, I begged him to put the hiring manager on the call, on the phone. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just basically said, “Look, dude, put your manager on the phone. If she’s hiring for this role, I can just make it happen.” Somehow, I got on the phone with her, maybe she just heard how enthusiastic I was, and willing to do anything, and basically, convinced her to let me interview even though I didn’t have that much experience for it.

I talked on the phone with her on, let’s say, a Tuesday and she’s like, “Okay. Well, when would you want to come in for an interview? We’re in the Bay Area.” I was like, “I’ll be there tomorrow morning.” And she’s like, “What? That’s a six-hour drive and it’s 4:00 PM right now,” or whatever time it was. I said, “Yeah, I’ll just drive right now. I’ll drive after dinner, drive all night. I’ll be there in the morning and then I’ll drive back.” She’s like, “Whoa. Okay, that’s intense.” She’s like, “No, you can have till Thursday or Friday,” so giving me an extra two days. Still drove up that night, stayed with a friend, crashed on their couch. Went in with a full suit, that’s very not a tech thing to do and I didn’t understand that culture. I went in this legit full suit with a portfolio. I went to Staples and printed out my resume.

I also did an interesting type of cover letter. I started to think, “Okay, well, I have to stand out somehow and it’s an interview.” I copied the New York Times front cover. And instead of all the New York Times language, I started using the job description language and inverted it so that all of my experience spoke to what they were looking for in the job. I printed it out, handed it to every person that I spoke with. But before I started interviewing, I got a call from the hiring manager and she was like, “Hey, Ish. Sorry to let you down. But before you come into the interview, I wanted to tell you, we filled the contract events role with somebody else. They basically went and got their master’s in events and had been working for 10 years.” She was like, “But if you still want to come in, there’s a recruiting coordinator job that’s open and available.”

Again, for the people who don’t work in tech and maybe you do know tech, events are one thing, recruiting coordination is a whole different beast of a job that I was not qualified for nor do I like doing. It has organization, but a different type of analytical planning that’s not my strong suit at all. I went in and I still went with the same enthusiasm for events and tried to crush it. I flopped super hard in the interview. There was at one point where they gave me a matrix where they had to schedule. You have four people interviewing and you have five people that are going to interview them. How can you schedule them so everybody fits? I ended up having a bunch of gaps in my thing and I was like, “Shit, this is not working out. I’m definitely not doing well.” Whatever, I interview with everybody, but the entire time, I just try to keep showing I am willing to learn, I have a ton of enthusiasm and experience in events, and I would be a great hire no matter what even though I’m not doing well on this interview.

I left that interview feeling pretty down, because I knew that I didn’t do the recruiting coordination stuff that they asked for. Then, I got a phone call that evening from the hiring manager. She’s like, “Hey, Ish, just wanted to follow up. As you can imagine, you didn’t do very well in the coordination questions or part of the interview, but you showed so much enthusiasm in events that we decided that we’re going to open up a contract events role just for you.” One more pause, because this is super unheard of in tech. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another — I’ve worked in tech for eight years. I’ve never heard of anybody else where you interview for a role, end up getting a different role, that they open up a new role just for you or just for that person.

That was my way into tech. I worked in that role for 8 to 10 months, and then I got a full-time offer. From there, I just kept up my career. I just kept up taking on more projects, kept up taking more opportunities. I kept on looking ahead like, “I’m doing events now, but I don’t want to do events forever. I want to do marketing. How can I get into marketing? I’ll take on side projects, I’ll help other teams. I’ll shadow people, learn.” Next thing you know, two years later, that became my full-time job. I’m a social media lead at LinkedIn a few years later and I just kept stacking experience over time.

Long-winded answer, but long story short, sometimes, when things don’t really look like they’re going to play out, you just keep showing your grit and showing that you’re ready to learn, not necessarily willing to do whatever, but as long as things are aligned with your values and what you really enjoy doing, then you can just go for it and things will play out sometimes.

You don’t always need to have all the experience. If you have some experience or you just show that you’re so willing to learn and go out above and beyond, and you can show experience and responsibilities that you’ve done in other fields or other projects, that’s usually more than 90% of the people that are just going to ask for a handout.

We know you are a cryptocurrency enthusiast. Can you share more about how you got into the crypto world?

I just got into it, like I said, I’m always tinkering, I’m always trying to just learn new things that I don’t already know. Technology is always something that I’ve just been attracted to since I was a kid. Basically, crypto and Web3 is a whole new wave of technology. It’s going to change how we operate and how we do all different things. I first got into it just a speculator, buying and selling and trying to wrap my head around all of this. Then eventually, it took over my life at one point and got into DeFi, got into NFTs, and all that stuff. Then I found myself somewhat a leader in the space, because as I was learning, I just tried to make an effort to try to teach other people what I was learning. I didn’t say this was right, or this is wrong, or this is good or bad, and I was like, “Hey, I learned this. I’m just going to throw it out there and share it with people.”

People really seem to enjoy that, because I didn’t necessarily have anything to gain from sharing my journey or sharing things that I was learning along the way. I could have just kept it to myself. So, daily, I was getting feedback from people to this day. People reach out to me and they’re like, “Hey, I would have never gotten my job in crypto today if it wasn’t for following you on Twitter two years ago, or a year and a half ago. Stuff that you would share, it just inspired me to learn more. And now, I’m a founder, now I’m working for X, Y, Z company.” And so, it’s interesting to see how I went from just like, “Oh, what’s this?”, learning a little bit to then be like, “Okay, this is taking over my life, I’m learning a lot about it.” Then, building stuff and now, I’m trying to keep the cycle going with other people so that they go through that as well and see if it piques their interest. And if not, then it’s totally okay.

If you’re teaching somebody how to program or learn how to get into tech and the different opportunities that they can leverage in tech, it’s like the same thing, but they’re different platforms and different tools and all that. I think if people find something that they’re interested in within tech like crypto or Web3, then just go deeper and go deeper and go deeper and ask more questions, and find better mentors. Next thing you know, it could turn into something more than you would have ever expected, just like anything else.

What’s your superpower, Ish?

I was thinking about this recently because I’ve been shifting my narrative online. I don’t want to be known as a crypto person. I don’t want to be known as necessarily just like the marketing guy. I’ve been trying to figure out, “What do I do effortlessly better than most people that I know?” I think it comes down to two main things and they work hand in hand with one another. One of them is, given my upbringing that I told you about like moving around a lot growing up, always being the new kid on the block and being super involved always in lots of different things. Since I could remember, since second grade, I was always doing a few things at once. Doing baseball and doing different sports at the same time in high school, doing different clubs and activities and sports at the same time, and then college doing the same thing. Now, I’m doing the same thing. Doing a podcast, building businesses on the side, and working a full-time job. I’ve always just had my hand in different things, I’ve met so many people from all different backgrounds. I DJed for 10 years, I’ve met some incredible people that the average tech person would never meet.

I think my superpower is being a super connector within and amongst lots of different people. I can be in a room with a bunch of tech people and automatically think of like, “Okay, well, you need to meet this one person over here in the food industry, or in the entertainment industry, or in the fitness industry, or somebody that I know that didn’t go to college doesn’t work in nice company or anything like that, but you’re going to be inspired by them, because you have this energy together.” People who are very close to me will just get random text messages from me all the time or random DM messages and be like, “Hey, you two need to talk. Schedule time and just figure it out.” Some of those relationships that I build or an intro end up being some of the best relationships ever. People do lots of really cool stuff together.

I think number one is being a super connector and just finding the common threads, pulling people together and then letting magic happen and not asking for anything returned. I don’t ask for money. I don’t ask for equity in whatever you build. I was like, “You two are dope people. I trust you both. You two should talk. Bye.”

And then, the second thing that I’ve gotten better at over the past 10 years is understanding and breaking down extremely complex problems and goals into a way that it’s digestible and easy to tackle on a daily basis. This is why I wrote a book, this is why I do everything that I do, this is why I share so much content, because my brain has started to become rewired in a way where I see a problem and I can break it down in a way where I can achieve it or anybody can achieve it.

Can you share more about your book, How Successful People Get Ish Done, and how was the process of writing it? I love to inspire other folks to write books. We need more Latinx folks writing books.

I did almost a thousand hours of research on very successful people. Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Arianna Huffington, Tim Ferriss, Rob Dyrdek, David Goggins, everybody you can think of for many different industries. I tried to actually just figure out or try to think, “What do they all have in common? What do they all do, what have they all done, and how do they perform at this level?” And I found a lot of commonalities and I’ve summarized the top seven. So, I’ll run through two or three of them.

One thing that I found that they all do very well, at first, was more understanding who they were, but I couldn’t figure out a word for it. The first thing that came to mind was like, “Okay, they’re so self-aware.” Everybody’s so self-aware. Everybody’s at the highest tier of level, they’re so self-aware and they’re present with who they are. I couldn’t understand how to teach a five-year-old to be self-aware? How do you teach a 20-year-old to be more self-aware? So, that was the word that I came up with.

The term that I came down to figure out that describes what I was looking for is a psychological term called self-concepts. It’s a belief in oneself. It’s a foundation of life, who we are, what our identity is. And it’s a perception of many thousands of different principles. We tell ourselves experiences that we’ve had, likes, dislikes, all these different things turn into a plot of data. And the better we can understand that data objectively without pressuring it for many personal beliefs or pressures from people, that helps you answer one question which essentially is, who am I? And if you can answer that question in a thousand different ways and really understand that question, which is very difficult to do, then I think that serves as a foundation to conquer anything.

I’ll cover one more thing. It’s a term that I coined in the book, which is called compound learning. Every single successful person that I studied, and I’m sure you see this in them too, they’re very good at using the world to learn on a daily basis, on a minute-by-minute basis, but strategically to attack one goal in their life. You want to become a fitness person, become a world champion in fitness, the way they see the world is like, “How can I learn from this person in a way where it helps my mental strength, helps stretching all this stuff to go towards this one goal?” And so, they guide conversations to get certain outcomes and certain answers and help them tackle that goal.

The second part of compound learning is, they learn on a daily basis strategically, 20 minutes a day, 50 minutes a day in the morning, in the evening. Over time, this compounds on one another. And years and years and years later, you’re lightyears ahead of the competition, because you’ve made the objective effort to try to do it on a daily basis. So, that’s two snippets of the book.

The writing process was intense. I tell people all the time, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I think I did an okay job. I think I could have done better if I was a better writer. But going into it, I didn’t consider myself a writer at all. So, going through that process, it made me learn how to write. I had to hire a coach, I had to hire two editors to help me clean it up, because the first publication that I did was not that great. And so, I consider myself somebody who has accomplished a lot of really cool things and that was still one of the scariest things in my life. So, for the people who are interested in writing a book, I would say, go for it, start small, and then build on it. You can always write more books.

Do you consider yourself a writer now?

Now, I do. Yeah, but back then I’m telling you that I don’t want people to think I’m exaggerating a lot, but I was terrified of writing growing up. Even when I got my first job in LinkedIn, I was scared to send emails, because I didn’t want people to judge my grammar, I would say things wrong, and sentence form. Spanish and English, I learned together at the same time, because my grandma, she was very big in my life growing up and she only spoke Spanish. I think in Spanish, a lot of terms are backwards, but you say things in the sentence format differently. And so, that would come out in my writing and people would always correct me. So, I felt self-conscious. All my teachers, I was probably like a C minus student in writing all my life, barely, like 70/100 is just enough to pass. And so, getting to the point where I just finally said I’m going to read a book, I was like, “Holy shit. What am I getting myself into?”

I hope you enjoyed the podcast. We will have more interviews with amazing Latinx leaders the first Tuesday of every month. Check out our website Latinx In Power to hear more. Don’t forget to share comments and feedback, always with kindness. See you soon.

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Insights and exposure to Latinxs leaders around the globe. In each episode we feature insightful conversations about their journey, stories behind their trajectory, plenty of laughs and learnings.

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Thaisa Fernandes

Product Management & Global Partnerships | Host @ Latinx in Power Podcast | Book Co-Author @ Mulheres de Produto