How I Returned To Where I Started, To Know Myself For The First Time
The Digital Aztec King
It’s 3 AM in the morning and I’m still at the office. I’m writing the final code modules for a system we are developing for Latin America’s largest music production company. My eyes hurt and my back is killing me, it seems I’ve been under the coder’s high for hours. I take a break and as I stand up to stretch, I admire our brand new studio that holds twenty of the brightest coders and digital artists Mexico has to offer. My brother Dan, a friend of ours, and I have successfully outgrown the three-person closet above the butcher house where occasionally we had to dodge hanging beef in the main entrance, Rocky Balboa style.
We worked with some of the largest and coolest brands of the time creating digital experiences, however, this wasn’t enough for me. We turned down clients regularly. Business was booming but I couldn’t shake the fact that this world-class team we had built was underused.
For months, I told my partners it was time to take the risk and open offices in the US. They didn’t share my view. Things were great, why change? It would seem they were right. I had money, cars, fame, and I was engaged to a smart, gorgeous, alpha woman from a prominent family; I had it all.
One day, I get a call from the Mexican Department of Economics. We were making headlines, they heard about our business, and wanted to help us. They would provide the office space and consultants so we could expand to the US. The only requirement was to increase our headcount in Mexico as the business grew. I ran the numbers and even with their help, this was undoubtedly going to be a risky and expensive venture. After months of failed attempts at trying to convince my partners, fear had gotten the best of me. The words “you can lose it all” kept playing in my mind. Finally, I talked to my partners and after a few days of discussions, we decided to take the chance.
Not a King After All
It’s January 2010, I’m finally in the land of the free and on my way to pursuing the American dream. Now a good friend, Itzam De Gortari from the Department of Economics, introduced me to the consultants that would help us on our way. The first meeting was rough and eye-opening. Stepping in, I was proud of my accomplishments and the companies we did work for. I was somebody in Mexico. The first thing my consultants told me was, “What you have achieved in Mexico is great but you’re nobody here…”. As much as it hurt to hear that, they were right. I realized, the following months were about building credibility. However, my partners had only authorized the US venture for 6 months before pulling the plug.
I needed to haul ass.
At the time, we were working on a project called PressLeaf for the newly released iPad. PressLeaf could ingest any RSS feed and create a native app. It was impressive! Articles from the feed were reformatted and combined with images and animations to create live covers and great looking pages. Pressleaf essentially created a magazine-like view of any website on the fly. The prototypes got us in the front door of companies like Gamespot, Microsoft, and MSNBC.
We started closing deals with Universities and publications, quickly. I was frequently invited to events. During one of them, I met Richard Tait, the founder of Cranium, who was kind enough to say: “I hear you’re the new rockstar in town.” Word spread like wildfire and it became easy to get meetings. We were gaining a lot of attention but business wasn’t enough. I had to make something happen fast.
One of our consultants suggested that we raise a seed round. I was completely new to this, Mexico didn’t have a risk culture like the US. My partners and I had worked for everything that we had, we had never asked for anything from anyone. Time was running out so I persuaded my partners to trust me and give me the chance to start raising $500k. I started making rounds in the angel circles and traction was good. Within a few weeks, I had a yes from one angel investor willing to invest $100k.
My workload was ridiculous. I was coding, managing the US offices, raising funds; there was no time for life only work. A Fortune 500 company wanted to implement PressLeaf but they required a special caching module that couldn’t be written by our team in Mexico. They didn’t have time, nor did I, so I decided to outsource it. I contacted Matt Drance to ask if he could help me out. He didn’t have time, but he was kind enough to refer me to a friend of his that had just left Apple to found his own development shop. This is when I met Ryan. The meeting was special. We were mutually impressed with our work and he suggested that we talk to his partners to see what we could do.
Two Roads Diverged in a Wood
The meeting was held at Inkstone’s offices, at a not so great location on Aurora Av. in Seattle. The offices were humble but their track record was impressive. They were working with companies I longed to work with. We agreed to collaborate on the module we needed, they would potentially license our technology and resell to their customer base. The next week, Ryan and I focused on nailing the caching module. We noticed how well our companies worked together. Suddenly, the conversation shifted from collaboration to a potential merger. I was honing in on the $500k from angel investors which meant we would have to make an important decision soon.
My partners concluded that pursuing the merger would be a better course of action. Foreign entrepreneurs in the US face barriers that US entrepreneurs don’t such as legal status, taxation without representation, exorbitant healthcare, discrimination, etc. This extra layer was becoming overwhelming and made me think twice about going bigger alone. If we raised the seed round I would be inundated with even more complexities and costs. I got scared, I thought it would be better to work with people who had more experience with the system. Our “would-be” investors were highly disappointed, however, we now had an even more impressive portfolio and capabilities with both the companies merged. I would have to step down from the CEO position to another executive role but that meant I would be able to learn faster.
Merging systems, tools, and workflows is a piece of cake compared to merging cultures. Problems in the former are easy to diagnose during due diligence, however, politics, sentiments, and ambitions in the latter are harder, if not impossible. The first few months were a honeymoon, everyone was excited and looking forward to the bright future. Then, things began to turn sour, people started to leave, and I began to lose confidence in our leadership. Ultimately, this power struggle led me to loose everything I had built, I was fired.
When It Rains It Pours
Work was my life, nothing else mattered. When I was let go, I was completely alone. I rarely spoke to my family. I had almost no friends and my fiancée left me for a friend of mine. There I was, standing in the Seattle rain, watching ghost buses passing me by. There was nowhere else to go. I locked myself up in my studio and cried for a week. I cried so much there were no teardrops left in my eyes. The one thing that made me who I was had been taken from under feet. My identity had been obliterated.
That same week, I had a scheduled guest lecture at Seattle’s Community College. A colleague asked me to share my view on upcoming trends with his students and showcase some of the tech we were developing. I couldn’t let him down, so I gathered the little strength left in me and went. During the lecture my phone never stopped vibrating. I knew something important was up. It was my dad’s wife. She spoke with a teary voice and said:
“Your dad has been kidnapped”.
The English language has over 170,000 words but no words can convey what I felt that evening. Up until this day, I cannot adequately express what it feels like to have a family member taken away.
In an unexpected turn of events, I got a phone call from the board members at Inkstone asking me to come back. They offered me the position of CEO to which I replied ‘yes’ without blinking. This was the only ray of light in my life at the moment, so I took it. It was not a wise decision. My dad was still missing and I was destroyed internally. I tried to be a good leader but I failed. I wasn’t the same anymore. I was constantly sick, I struggled to put one foot after another, I didn’t care about the things I used to anymore.
After a month of leading the company, my dad was let go, unharmed, after paying the ransom. This did not make things better for me at the company. The damage had already been done. After a few months, I was asked by Jeremy, one of the board members, if I would be willing to take another position in the company. I was to take on the role of a sales and tech consultant. Meanwhile, I began working on a passion project.
The Eye of The Storm
One of my oldest friends, Pablo, thought it would be a good idea for me to spend some time away and invited me to spend a week in Paris to gain perspective. I spent most of my time reading “L’être et le néant” by Jean-Paul Sartre and other works by John Locke, accompanied by long walks along the Seine. I slowed down, wandered, and contemplated my thoughts. Once again, I began having conversations without underlying motives.
This is where Dunno was born. A platform that enabled you to capture brainslaps, the smallest indivisible part of thoughts. Just like atoms form matter, brainslaps form thoughts. When I flew back to Seattle I shared the idea with some of my colleagues and they were immediately intrigued by it, so we built a prototype. We released it into the wild and magic happened. From one day to the next we had over 10,000 people on the platform. Apple asked us to feature the app on the App Store and heavy news outlets started covering us. In a month, Dunno had grown from an idea to a community of over 100,000 users. During this time, our main client was Apple and Dunno’s biggest potential was in California. Everyone agreed it was time for me to move to San Francisco.
Dunno was the result of a mind discovering itself. I was no longer sure about work being my life. I experimented with diverse philosophies. I found Ashtanga, the Eight Rungs. I became a devoted yogi. I practiced Mysore, with Matt Champoux, daily from 6 AM until 9 AM except for Sundays and moon days. Big changes were happening in small ways. I questioned everything, even things like “Why do I sleep on a bed?”, so I got rid of it and started sleeping on the floor. I started sitting in lotus every day, all the time. Soon I became the “Lotus Guy”. I became raw vegan. I started working from parks even though our office was located at RocketSpace, a prime co-working space in downtown where Uber had started. I wore more comfortable clothes and realized I didn’t know how to walk or breathe properly.
It was 2013. I spent most of the time going back and forth from Cupertino to SF, talking to potential clients, and managing Dunno. Things were looking up! I had finally made it to the digital breeding ground of the world, I was working with one of the top tech firms on the planet, and I was invited to give a TEDx talk in Chiapas.
One day I received a phone call from a friend of mine who had founded a successful startup that had been acquired by Salesforce. He mentioned attending TED in Vancouver where he met an interesting wealthy man that was a fan of Dunno. I’ll refer to as Genie from now on. Apparently, he was interested in investing and furthering its development.
Time To Die
I met with Genie in person and a friendship began to take form. We both wanted to work together but I was still cautious of accepting investment after what I had been through with Inkstone. This time, however, the conditions seemed perfect and Genie offered us more than a $1.5M investment. He offered me mentorship and a perspective that I had never encountered before. Time stopped when I was around him. I knew thoughts shaped reality but I had never experienced it in such a powerful way. He lived life by a very different set of rules called mushin, the mind without mind. Little did I know that I had encountered a wealthy Zen Master who was to become my guru for years to come.
I certainly had a different perspective on life and the cosmos but I was still tricked by my own ego. It had appropriated the attributes of my True Self, but I couldn’t tell.
Learning from Genie was rough. Teachings came in the form of continuous slaps to my ego. Things were said with the intention of having no intention. Every day, I was subject to his intense practice. From an outsiders perspective, it looked like he was an asshole. From the dojo, he was undoing the damage that years of incorrect thinking had done to me. Every time a fundamental belief was broken inside me, it felt like dying. I died and was reborn countless times. It felt like atoms were splitting inside my mind every day, releasing their destructive energy. Shiva lived inside of me for years destroying everything in his path.
Genie took time for everything, something that isn’t compatible with Silicon Valley. I was between a rock and a hard place; Genie’s timeless view of the cosmos, and my partners who still believed in the Silicon Valley way. Ultimately, this is what ended everything; two incompatible views of the same circumstance. I thank the Tao for the time it gave me with Genie, for it allowed me to see things for what they are not what I think they are.
This time there wasn’t any fear or crying. I had learned to weave a masterpiece every day without worry of the web being destroyed time and time again. I wasn’t the web anymore, I was the spider.
Jaimisa, a good friend of mine, was living in Oakland around that time. She invited me to the food festival at Embarcadero. I was amazed by the mix of races, colors, languages, and tastes that I saw within the first 50 yards. My perception of San Francisco changed immediately. I didn’t look at it with dreamy eyes anymore, instead, I saw it for what it truly was: one of the smartest, most gentrified, and exclusive cities in America. The artists and people that made San Francisco could no longer afford it and were forced to move out. Now it was full of hipster techies and I was one of them.
For a while, my body had been telling me how much it missed touch. Coming from a latin country where people touch all the time, to a city where people don’t even acknowledge each other’s existence was weighing on me. In the mornings, I saw lines of techies lined up at the corner of Divisadero and Haight waiting for the bus to commute to Apple, Facebook, or Google, and nobody talked to each other. No good morning kisses, just headphones, smartphones, and open laptops. Most people don’t realize how important touch is, it changes our epigenome and the genes that get triggered in our DNA, check out The Great Rat Mother Switcheroo on RadioLab. That’s when I knew, it was time to move.
Most of us are born in a cowshed where all the cows follow the same path. Cows give birth while they’re moving and as soon as their calves touch the ground, they immediately start moving with the herd or they will get run over by the cows behind them. Once in a while, some calves will follow their own path and instead walk in between the other cows. More rarely, a calf will find a way out of the cowshed and start yelling “be careful with the grinder at the end!”.
I knew I was in the cowshed. Even though Genie and Ashtanga had opened my eyes to the reality of the situation, I was too afraid to not follow the herd. I jumped in between the cows and saw the exit but decided to follow the herd a little longer.
A Fortunate Misstep
I was visiting Genie in St. Lucia when Pablo invited me to spend some days in Miami. My perception of Miami was that of a party town, a place I would most certainly not enjoy. Nonetheless, I agreed and I was happily put in my place when I was confronted with art, culture, and passion. By then I had spent close to 7 years in the US and was ready to move on. However, after that trip, I decided Miami was going to be my final stop in the United States.
Moving from coast to coast was going to be complicated and costly so I had to find a way to have a foundation before arriving in Miami to settle down. Another friend of mine, Erksy Ricaño, had successfully created a community of Mexican influencers in the area, Mexicanos en Miami. I gave him a call and within a week, BossPass was born. I shared my plans with my brother and Ryan and they jumped right in. A month later we had BossPass up and running. When Dan and I landed in Miami we released the apps in the App Stores and the next day we were at our new offices at WeWork South Beach on Lincoln Road. We had events lined up, hundreds of tickets, and users on the platform. Everything looked amazing, but there was one small problem, my soul wasn’t in the project.
Miami has a thriving startup ecosystem. Among the recently founded companies was Taxfyle, they called themselves the Uber for CPAs. They were appearing everywhere in the Miami press so I decided to find out who was running their PR. I figured I could use an amazing PR rep to compensate for my lack of passion. What I didn’t know is that I had to feel this way for the next amazing thing to happen. I tracked her down and found out that she was also working from WeWork. I sent her a message and agreed to meet the next day.
Her name was Krystal Ariel and she was hard to miss. Her smile alone lit up the room. We sat down, I crossed my legs to sit in lotus and she responded with a smile and her own lotus. It was obvious we struck a cord beyond our professional life. She invited me to her evening restorative class that afternoon and I accepted. I had never been in a class like hers, she was delicate, omnipresent, and unique. She saged the shala, used aromatherapy, massaged the feet of all of the attendees, and sang a beautiful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” after the class was over. It was like stepping into her heart, it was hypnotic. Being in San Francisco had exposed me to intellect, what I saw in Krystal was something greater, effortless love.
BossPass grew substantially in Miami during the following months because all of the help we received from her, however, in the end, BossPass wasn’t meant to be, what was meant to be was her and I. We had found each other amid a world of impossibilities.
The Whole Tree Is Contained In The Seed
My days in tech have come to an end. I now spend my days with my wife, Krystal, exploring the depths of consciousness, meditation, plant medicine, and yoga. We are diving deeper into ancient wisdom to find our truth and share what our gurus have passed on to us with people that are ready to receive the teachings. We live in a modest neighborhood in Mexico City, hosting retreats and selling organic Ayurvedic products on KivaYoga, yoga studios, and cafe’s around the city.
I’m no longer trying to become, I am. I unlearn and focus on bringing virtue out. I have observed, accepted, and understood my nature. I flow with the Tao and stand steadfast like a warrior.
Most people trust in men, I trust in the Tao. I have no path to find for my path has found me. I jump into the abyss without hesitation and spread my wings in mid-flight without fear. I am… just like you.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
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