After Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, One Man’s Company is Continuing to Make a Difference: With Carlos Meléndez of Wovenware
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“The availability of electricity, which companies need in order to function, means fewer unemployed workers and less families struggling for income.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Meléndez, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Wovenware, a nearshore software engineering services firm based in Puerto. Since its founding in 2003, Carlos has directed the company throughout its growth as a major IT services provider with customers located across the U.S., as well as internationally.
What is your backstory?
As a Boy Scout (who eventually became an Eagle Scout) I spent one summer camping along Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. I traveled by canoe for ten days with fellow campers, traveling from the Minnesota side of the waters to the Canadian side. Right then and there I decided I wanted to live in Minnesota one day. So, when I graduated from college in Puerto Rico with a degree in electrical engineering and was offered a job in Minnesota with Accenture, my dream came true. I stayed with Accenture for two years, but after realizing that winters in Minnesota were nothing like my idyllic summer, I was happy to make the move back to Puerto Rico to warm up.
Back in Puerto Rico I worked as a software engineer for a startup software firm, developing the software architecture for a payment transaction software engine (this was before PayPal was even a concept). Since I knew I wanted to pursue advanced studies of some sort, I went to law school at night while I worked during the day. However, I ended up not pursuing a career in law after realizing that software engineering was my passion. The payment solutions startup never did get off the ground, so I worked as a consultant at a local telecommunications firm where I met my current partner Christian Gonzalez. In 2002, we realized that there was a critical need for advanced software engineering services that would not just help companies fix pesky computer problems, but would also help them bring about true digital transformation at a very customized level. And as they say, the rest is history.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Although the startup payment software firm I worked at closed up shop, I learned some very valuable lessons from the company’s CEO—a rather eccentric millionaire. To paint a better picture of him, during one trip with him and the company’s COO to Hong Kong we went to a great restaurant for dinner. When the server came to take our order, he immediately asked her to bring every dessert on the menu as a first course. As a young professional, eager to please, I joined him in the dessert tasting, and then tried my best to eat the dinner and drinks that followed.
What really stood out to me from my experiences with him was an occasion when he was negotiating to bring new investors on board. The meetings weren’t going so well and he left abruptly in a fit of anger. He returned with a brand new Ferrari, hot off the showroom floor. He brought the investors out to see it and said, “See I don’t really need your money, but if you choose to invest in my firm, you too can buy one for yourself.” My time with this CEO taught me to always keep an open mind, be open to all possibilities, and that it pays to be yourself — regardless of what other people think.
Are you working on any meaningful nonprofit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I understand the huge role that our local community has played in the development, growth, and success of my business, so I’m committed to giving back to the community in meaningful ways whenever possible. Right now, the need is greater than ever, given the devastation that Hurricane Maria has brought to Puerto Rico.
As vice chairman of the local organization ConPRmetidos, run by business leaders to aid in the economic development of Puerto Rico, we work to implement solutions that provoke systemic change on the island. As of now, however, all of our efforts have been focused on helping everyone in need in Puerto Rico. We have been actively raising funds (donate here), and just last week, we were able to place an off-the-grid box that generates electricity and water from solar panels and rain water at a local Boys & Girls Club, which is currently operating as an emergency shelter. Through our efforts, we have been able to raise $1.7M, with an expected donation of another $1M by a major software firm. With some of this money, we are also hoping to install solar panels to power a school on the island of Culebra, which received extensive damage.
In addition to these recent relief efforts, I’m committed to maintaining a strong corporate social responsibility program at my company—promoting and supporting technology education and entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico and beyond.
We’ve also been actively involved in supporting members of the community who have critical needs, such as the young children at Hogar de Niños que Quieren Sonreir (Puerto Rico Hope Lodge — Home for Children who Want to Smile). I’ve taken it as a personal and corporate mission to give back, and not only foster entrepreneurship, but also improve people’s lives — a critical need that is more important than ever right now in Puerto Rico.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Through my relief work with ConPRmetidos, we have used funds raised to buy 30 back-up power generators, and we are installing them at 30 small businesses so that they can get back to work. The availability of electricity, which companies need in order to function, means fewer unemployed workers and less families struggling for income. It’s in everyones interest in Puerto Rico to help strengthen companies and boost an economy which has already suffered immensely.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?
- Life is not a straight line. When we opened Wovenware, we experienced eight years of consecutive growth, but then a recession hit and for the first time, not only were we not experiencing growth, but we were losing revenue. I learned that you can’t open a business and keep growing forever. You need to enjoy the good times, but realize that they won’t last forever—and be prepared for the difficult curve balls the market sometimes throws.
- Entrepreneurship is a lonely place to be. You cannot expect employees to understand all of the decisions you need to make—or agree with them—but you need to do what is in the best interest of the company, and put your desire for friendship second to that.
- The only way a business can grow is in a thriving community. When I first started out, I thought that as long as you were successful you could lead the market. I soon realized that you can only be successful if you raise other companies up. Successful local businesses, a strong economy, and an engaged business community empower growth for everyone.
- Do great things in small ways. Giving back to the community does not have to come from extraordinary gestures, but by sometimes helping one individual at a time, wherever you are. For example, one of our employees has a child with cancer. Our first concern is giving his family the support he needs, and then reaching out to our local community to help with their needs. You can’t change the world, but you can do good, meaningful things — one at a time, right around you.
- You’ll never know when you’ve made it. Companies may determine they have met their goals through revenue, customers, employees, and other outward measures, but they can never really reach the finish line. If they did, they would be at the end of their journey. Never stop innovating, learning, and striving for improvements.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would love to sit down with the late John D. Rockefeller Sr. and soak in his advice. He did not go to college, and yet he basically invented modern business as we know it. Not only that, but he was a model of how philanthropy is supposed to work . He basically set the bar for modern philanthropy. He was not charitable just for the sake of his brand, but quietly funded institutions and charities that he believed in without asking for recognition. For example, while he funded much of the University of Chicago, he did not want it to bear his name, unlike other philanthropists who had universities named after them. I would love to hear his advice on running a business and taking social responsibility seriously.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series in Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.