To Lucia, Andres, Maria & Tomas
A Frida Kahlo painting of a white butterfly in the Iztaccíhuatl, DALL-E, 2023
When the urge of riding a big wave, creating a new thing or fixing the world gets the best of you, it might be time to start up. The signal comes deep from the gut. It’s a combination of excitement about endless possibilities and fear of jumping to the abyss. Mostly fear.
A random conversation might have triggered an early exploration on Google, Reddit and ChatGPT. A WhatsApp group with friends often follows, which turns into regular meetings at the coffee shop. Soon, you get a website and maybe an office. If curiosity is fuel, serendipity is the spark.
4,025 days ago, I dared to start something new. I had just failed to turn around our multigenerational family business. It went bankrupt a year after I left. It was pretty intense. That’s when my venture capital adventure started. My hobby of teaching entrepreneurship to future founders morphed into a passion for investing in entrepreneurs.
When we launched, I thought a solid plan and decent credentials were enough to break into the VC scene. Looking back I had neither. A guy with a hobby, some savings and a bad PowerPoint presentation.
And hard work.
And sleepless nights.
It’s often all you have. Starting a new company is never easy. It’s always improbable. In fact, the firm we started almost died three times before taking off. Then, I got lost before it almost went bust a fourth time.
The first near death experience happened before the firm was even born. After much research and planning, my future co founder got distracted with a shiny object and thought he could build something else alone. Thankfully, he came back. I needed a building body to find the courage to jump. We did.
The second big scare happened when we ran out of money some 500 days after going all in. The most typical way to die, right? It was scary and it was mostly our fault. We had no plan B. So we kept pushing and ended up finding a way.
The third averted fall came when a new president got elected, an airport got canceled and the financial markets in Mexico went crazy. Like a civil casualty of war, we got hit by the blast as we were building. Our fund two, our first VC fund really, was almost canceled which would have almost surely killed our firm. By then, we still had no plan B. We kept pushing.
After a few years, things started to go well.
I was so used to struggling that when we finally hit a home run on day 3,459, I got lost. It was the day of the summer solstice. Finding success went to my head because I thought it was my swing, my own hands that had hit a ball flying.
My ego made me forget the team behind me, the bat I had borrowed and the favorable winds pushing the ball. It wasn’t only me, what was I thinking? It took a village to finally make it, it always does.
What happened next was a catastrophe that might have been set off by a god or some demon. A sunny morning in November, while teaching at the farm, a fire, a hurricane and an earthquake hit our firm all at once.
This time, I thought, it wouldn’t survive.
Things got dire quickly and my survival instinct kicked in. Fortunately this time, I had the experience of almost going under three times. In the end, what made the difference is the group of investors, founders, and friends supporting me. A band of humans that believes in you more than yourself is a powerful force. So I fought back, hard and long, for them, for me, for you and mom. We survived.
Daring, you see, is the art of persevering.
If you decide to build something new, there are some things I’ve found are helpful to keep in mind.
Do the right thing. This is the purest mental model to guide your decisions, both big and small. You will make mistakes, you will be disappointed, you may fail. If you always work honestly, do as you say and fix what you break, you will be proud of your work and make good people around you want to help you. Building for a living is a long game.
Find a passion. I’ve learned that you can be passionate about many things. Life is that interesting. It’s like falling in love several times in your lifetime. To find new passions, it’s useful to travel, read, write, meet interesting people but mostly, keep your eyes and heart open. People that truly love what they do, work harder and often create incredible things.
Enroll some good folks to ride together. Find mentors to guide you, friends to tell you when you screw up and likeminded pals that enjoy your company. As the African proverb goes, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.
Life is a wonderful adventure. Embrace the challenges not because you will learn more but because getting to the top will feel so much better. A breathtaking view awaits the persistent climber. In the face of darkness, good humor is also an indispensable companion. Keep funny people around and a friendly shrink close when jokes are not enough.
Did I mention luck? Maybe I should. When you start, particularly when the road is steep and unexplored, lucky breaks like playful butterflies in the forest are never far. Destiny has this tendency of turning mistakes and challenges into happy accidents. Luck is that dependable spirit that enjoys surprises. Be friends.
It’s pretty simple stuff really, like riding rockets without the hard science. One more thing. When you reach one mountain top, don’t forget that much like me, you started well ahead of most folks. So stay humble and help others in their quest.
Now, stop reading.