Vinay: Hi there! Welcome to YourFirstInvestor.com interviews. Today I have ROB RYAN, Founder & CEO of GROWTH HAX, with me. Rob is from Los Angeles, California and Growth Hax was part of the Gen 17 of Start-Up Chile Program.
Vinay: Hi Rob! Welcome again and thank you for coming on our show to share your Start-Up Chile experience.
Rob: Hi! my pleasure thanks for having me.
Vinay: Tell me a little bit about GROWTH HAX.
Rob: GROWTH HAX is a new company started in Los Angeles but focused on the Latin American markets. We are building essentially a mentorship management platform for startup incubator and accelerator markets ultimately with a goal to serve entrepreneurs to better connect them with knowledge they need when they need it. Fundamentally we believe human connectivity and mentorship are the key success items in the entrepreneurship journey for building a company.
Vinay: You seem to be an interesting guy Rob! Apart from the company, tell me something about you?
Rob: So let's see what's the most obvious factor for me in the entrepreneurship journey is, in the context of our program and most of our programs, I am the oldest entrepreneur that i know. I am 49 years old and I will be 50 next year and this is my fourth startup. Two of these, this one and my very first one back when i am 28 years old, were my ideas that we gave birth to and then the other two companies in the middle were the companies started by other folks where I was hired by their board and investors to run them as the CEO. I have been doing this for a while for around 20-21 years and still learning, still growing and hope I am doing this when i am 80 years old.
Vinay: Wow. That’s nice to hear! So how big is your team? Who are all there with you?
Rob: So we got 4 full time folks. We are a kind of an interesting group. We are not unlike you guys here in Chile, we are kind of a multi-country multi-cultural team from the start. So we have myself based out of Chile. We have two absolutely key people, my kind of number one right hand guy David and Rigoberto who work in mexico and then we have our technology product leader Mike who works back in the US in San Diego. The idea for us is that our market is very Latin American focused and so we will build team to build business in South America out of Santiago. We will build on the team in Mexico and when we need, we try to smartly build the team in US where it is obviously much more expensive to hire and find talented folks.
Vinay: That make sense especially building the south american team out of Santiago given the economy over here. How did you come to know about the Start-Up Chile in the first place?
Rob: So you can hear a theme throughout most of my answers today which i think is an important theme for all entrepreneurs to be aware of and it is relationship driven. So in my particular case the gentleman that I have already named who is my key person on our team back in Mexico, David, had an existing relationship with some of the people here in Start-Up Chile because David and Rigoberto from my team both worked in this industry. So they worked in the accelerator and incubator space and so they actually knew Francesca from the Start-Up Chile staff and how the relationship began for me was actually not kind of the typical process of me seeking out an accelerator. It was more of me seeking out knowledge about the Latin American entrepreneurial startup market. So Francesca and I met with no real connection to Start-Up Chile per se. We met to have a discussion about the market which then blossomed into a nice friendship and then blossomed into a follow on conversation which started to get more specific about Start-Up Chile. So I essentially learned about Start-Up Chile first hand if you would like to say that which i realize is very different than many folks out there searching the web and looking for good ways to find out about the accelerator community.
Vinay: Yeah! that's exactly why we are doing this YourFirstInvestor.com, it is to give entrepreneurs out there who are seeking alternate modes of funding outside of the VC money that they can as much information as possible before they make the decision of applying or moving from their city to Santiago and anywhere else for that matter. Talking about moving from one city to another.How was the move from Los Angeles (LA) to Santiago?
Rob: Pretty dramatic! This is a stark departure from two different kinds of cultures and places and points in time as one person can have but at the same time it has been very positive, very exciting. Again I kind of lean back on my personal context right which is that at my age, I narrowed my life down to essentially a backpack, a small suitcase and a larger suitcase .That transformational process was pretty substantial in itself and then I get on planes, trains and automobiles to find my way 8000km from home to a place I have never been before. But having said that, now having been here for almost 7 months, it's a great city. It is a very stable safe democracy relatively strong economy in the context of its neighbours and for myself personally I was very eager to kind of move back towards urban walkable city life. I lived in the last 20 years in the suburbs. very fortunately in the suburbs by the beach but it was a very car dependent highway, freeway dependent life in the Southern California that I was bit exhausted. So this life has been reinvigorating for me, you may or maynot know I literally live like a minute and half away from here (Start-Up Chile).
Vinay: How was the application process for you and the evaluation if you can remember? What did you go through?
Rob: I found the application process to be quite easy honestly compared to everything we go through to become part of this program. I found it to be probably the most straightforward. I think the evaluation process was interesting to me mostly maybe this is where I am in contradiction. You know although I am experienced person,however I am still a newbie to this so to speak accelerator and incubators and all these processes which many entrepreneurial folks like may be yourself are super familiar with, to me it was all new. So this idea that I had to interview with someone or that I had to submit responses to a questionnaire online and then wait to hear from someone whether or not my responses were acceptable or not, that was kind of interesting place to be in for me, emotionally as a founder but at the same token I thought the way that the program communicated about the process was very clear. I thought each time we move forward through our various steps, I honestly don't exactly recall how many steps, I wanna say 3 or 4 levels something like that over the course of four months or so that the application review process was on, I found it to be very clear and interesting. I will admit may be most founders should keep this in back of their heads but I did not surely ever believe that we were gonna move forward from one level to the another. I thought we will apply, we probably won't get it. Why would they want me? Why would they want us? And then you get the next email saying we want to go on to the next level and fill this out. I was like OK! it takes me 45 minutes, we won’t get in but I will do the next level, god willing we just got progressing so it was an interesting process and i thought it was fairly efficient.
Vinay: That's great to hear. So you have been here for 7 months right?
Rob: Yes i think this week.
Vinay: How was the whole program experience and what is the impact that it has had on your company and yourself as a person who has grown with the program?
Rob: Couple of layers of questions there which I think are really very important. So first is human general reaction. The program for me in particular has been very useful. It has been very positive, it is a fantastic group of people, again you hear me come back to this theme of relationships being the key, and the staff is very hard working. Like any program or NGO in the world, they are understaffed and they are trying to do a lot of things with very few people and little resources and that's a challenge. But it's a challenge as much for them as it is for us as consumers of the program but again in my particular case I think one of the reasons or maybe most of the reason it's been successful for us really has to do with how we approached it.
If I would see one lesson here that future entrepreneurs or current entrepreneurs can contemplate when they are looking at this program or any other program is that there are ones that are both individually as founders having success and growth are the ones that have some semblance of a plan and they have some particular vision for what it was that they wanted wanted this program to provide them or what it was that they intended to get out of this program to advance their business. When I say plan, that doesn't just mean the money. Where I have seen either founders struggle to evolve or companies stagnate and not grow or evolve as rapidly as they could, when I trace those stories back from talking to people anecdotally, it always seem to fall back to the fact that their real interest is just the money and they figured it out later.
And so in my particular case without sounding too aggrandizing, reality is that we came here with a very specific plan and so, I have been able to track how the progress is measured against that plan and very fortunate that great relationships, good support from the staff, incredible community of other entrepreneurs from 70 different countries which is a fascinating opportunity to evolve as a human being and as a founder just in and now itself. So, it has been very positive but again the lesson is have an idea why you wanna go into Start-Up Chile or whatever the other programs are, and have some specific ideas why that market at this moment in your life and in the business.
Vinay: So what you are saying is that as long as you know what you want and have an idea of how you are gonna go about it, you can ask for help and always take it. But if you don't know where you wanna go if you don't have a plan at all and mostly focused about the money may be you might not get the best out of the program.
Rob: Yeah! I completely agree. I think that if there was one theme if someone had asked me to summarize the accelerator experience, for me that becomes the most obvious truth we experience. Having said that, we come where we are as a founder based on our experiences and we come where we are as a company based on our progress to that moment and then it is up to us to adapt and to evolve or in the startup lingo phraseology “to pivot”, and in our specific case, the program has probably been most impactful because it allowed us get the market knowledge ,the relationship with the potential customers, the deep insights that came from those relationships and the time to nearly completely pivot our business not away from our mission or vision was, but toward the totally new business opportunity to monetize the business and essentially still provide the same mission but in a much more dramatically larger scale. But for me for Growth Hax, without the 7 month time here, either the business would have died or not existed or would have existed in some really really different smaller form than what it has now become and what it will become over the next 6 to 12 months.
Vinay: That's really great to hear. That's really awesome to hear. I hope you have all the success for Growth Hax. Going forward, I know you said and we just discussed a lot of things for aspiring entrepreneurs, but if you have like 1 or 2 specific tips for somebody applying for the Start-Up Chile program, what would that be ?
Rob: Again to reiterate, it is important to make sure people hear this right, if you are interested in applying to the Start-Up Chile program and if you have an interest in the Chile or Latin American markets, do your homework. Have some ideas or some plans, some specific vision to the Latin American market, to the South American market, to the Chilean market before you get here. I think the next generation is going to be on a similar calendar cycle as ours, so they are applying now they get reviewed and they get selected by December and now they have all the time needed. I remember me in the particular case where we were accepted on December 7th and we arrived here on February 12th. In that span of little more than 60 days, that gave myself and our team an immense opportunity to do our homework on what we are going to do. So we could understand how we could develop our plan before we got here. I am not suggesting any amount of substantial work that would so honorous that someone couldn’t do this. I am simply saying that in the most basic way, understand the neighbourhood that you are moving into in your business and then have some plan together for how you can leverage it. because to the point you made with that, once you arrive here and surrounded by the support structure you have, you will better prepared to ask for the right help when you need it as opposed to sitting back.
The biggest secondary lesson for all entrepreneurs in this program or any other program would be that this is not an academic exercise they are undertaking .We may spend a bit of time or even a lot of time in classroom settings, learning things in a very kind of academic way but building a business and trying to be calm and sustainable entrepreneur to making your living this way is not an academic exercise. This is a real life as we would say real bullets firing in real time that you have to make decisions about. So again the better prepared you are the more likely you are to take the advantage of the program resources and staff and their network and their relationships which here in Chile are abundant. This is a very aggressive entrepreneurially oriented economy and governmental system and community and that is just basically green field for those who are come down here with ideas, ambitions and talents. It's an amazing opportunity if you take advantage of it
Vinay: That was great rob i think there are lot of nuggets in this interview that our listeners can takeaway from with respect to Start-Up Chile and otherwise. So thank you very much for doing this. Where can the listeners go to find out more about your company and connect with you?
Rob: Chill!! You can always track me down on social media you can find me at iamrobryan on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. You can find me, I am sure by looking for my picture, and obviously the company you can find us on GROWTHHAX.COM which in its own process of rebirth probably by the time this airs, you will be able to go there and find out everything.
Vinay: There you go folks, That was Rob Ryan, the world’s oldest millennials, Founder & CEO of Growth Hax. You can go to growthhax.com that is G R O W T H H A X . C O M or follow Rob on twitter @ I A M R O B R Y A N.
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