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A Conversation with Pedro David Espinoza on How Mistakes Can Help a Person Grow

Pedro David Espinoza was born in the Incan country of Peru. Being a Lima native, Pedro grew up in a multicultural home since his mother had ten siblings and his father had five. Many of his uncles growing up lived in places like Germany, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, and Venezuela. At the age of 18, […]

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Pedro David Espinoza
Pedro David Espinoza

Pedro David Espinoza was born in the Incan country of Peru. Being a Lima native, Pedro grew up in a multicultural home since his mother had ten siblings and his father had five. Many of his uncles growing up lived in places like Germany, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, and Venezuela. At the age of 18, Pedro David immigrated to the United States to pursue his STEM education in Berkeley, receiving his Bachelor of Science at the age of 22 in 2017. When he finished his freshman year at college, Pedro founded SmileyGo, a platform that helped companies invest smarter in nonprofits.  In addition, Pedro participated and received an education in management from Stanford by pursuing an intensive studies certificate in 2014. In 2017, Pedro David became the University of California’s Entrepreneur of the Year, awarded by Janet Napolitano, given his entrepreneurial ventures in Silicon Valley. During his time at Berkeley, Pedro David received awards such as the Leadership Award, Jack Larson Award, and Berkeley Haas Dean Seed Funding Grant. In 2019, Pedro David Espinoza co-authored a book called Differences That Make A Difference with his fellow Peruvian colleague Jorge Titinger (former CEO of Silicon Graphics International). Pedro recruited and attracted over 100 leaders to become writing contributors of the book, such as Eric Schmidt, Reed Hastings, and Dan Schulman. Today, Pedro David lives in Silicon Valley and gives lectures on the future of work, inclusion, and entrepreneurship to Fortune 500 companies by using examples of the research he did for his book on diversity and belonging.

Why did you decide to create your own business?

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My mom is an engineer and entrepreneur. She not only started businesses in the automobile and energy industries, but she also started a nonprofit company. My dad inspired me to be an innovator given that he is a visionary. My grandfather was a businessman as well. I wanted to create jobs for the American economy. What inspired me to start my own business was when I volunteered at Pan Peru, I saw the need for using entrepreneurship for good. There were many young kids that had no access to a computer or library. Seeing that after they had access to a library, they started having dreams about becoming engineers, that inspired me to start SmileyGo, a platform that matched nonprofits with like-minded companies. Later on, in my career, I met Jorge Titinger through mayor Ron Gonzales. At the time, Ron was serving on my board at SmileyGo and Jorge was the chair of Ron’s nonprofit board. Ron connected us given that we were both from Peru and had a passion for technology. Little did we know that a couple years later Jorge and I were going to join forces to write a book on how imperative inclusion is for companies to innovate in the 21st century.

 What do you love most about the industry you are in?

Being a technology entrepreneur in the 21st century is a blessing. I enjoy the fact that this industry is rapidly evolving, changing, and growing every day. Growing up in Peru, I did not think I was going to be a technology startup CEO at the age of 19. I remember moving to San Francisco in 2013. At the time, Lyft wasn’t that popular, Instagram was growing but not as popular as it is today, and slack wasn’t that mainstream. It’s crazy to see how things change so fast. A couple years back, there was no Salesforce tower in San Francisco.

 What does a typical day consist of for you?

Tennis, running with huskies, cooking, emails, business meetings, and team meetings starting at 7:00am and finishing at 9:30pm. I sleep at least 9 hours per day. However, there are times when I stay up until 3:00am doing some work in crunching numbers, emails, and pitching my business ventures. During the evenings I usually play table tennis. During the late afternoons I enjoy playing tennis with my close friends and family friends. Around lunch time I go for a run with my two huskies. I enjoy cooking Peruvian food and jambalaya. By jambalaya I mean using scrambled eggs, vegetables, and meat to make something delicious!

 What keeps you motivated?

I love getting work done. I love meeting my goals. I jump around! I am dancing and listening to music while I work. I am a minimalist and very practical. My family, friends, and team keep me motivated. I am blessed and grateful to have a solid support system.

 How do you motivate others?

By cheering them up, listening to them, and providing tangible feedback. I am a dot connector. People call me a social broker. I remember when I was a sophomore in Berkeley my closest friends said I had a gift to encourage my peers. In the beginning, I didn’t believe them…but as time passed, I realized I was pretty good at cheering people up.

 How has your company grown from its early days to now?

I got into the public speaking business early in my career when I moved to Nashville. I was 10 years old. My classmates asked, “where is Peru?”. I had to stand up and pull the map and show my fellow students where South America was, and how my family had immigrated from the land of the Incas to the land of the free. Later, when I got a Leadership Award scholarship at Berkeley, I was asked to give the student address speech to a crowd of 300 alumni donors and student award recipients. I was an 18 year old freshman, eager to make an impact. After giving a speech at the Awards Luncheon, I received positive feedback from the executive director of the Cal alumni association, Jefferson Coombs. It was then when I got more involved in public speaking. After starting SmileyGo as a freshman student, I got invited to speak and share my story in many technology conferences. As a technology startup founder in Silicon Valley, that’s how my career in giving keynotes started.

 Where do you get your inspiration from?

A book I’ve grown up reading a lot has been the book of Proverbs. It has so much wisdom in terms of relationships, friendships, and character. I get my inspiration from reading.

 Who has been a role model to you and why?

My grandfather Alejandro Ardiles was an entrepreneur, mayor, and a leader. He embraced integrity in everything he did. My grandpa was not only an outstanding family leader, but he was also a successful business innovator. He would call me “el valiente!” which means “the brave one!”. Another role model in recent years has been Pat Gelsinger, the author of The Juggling Act and the CEO of VMware. Pat was recently ranked the best CEO in the United States. He is a leader, I highly respect and esteem.

 How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

I am a very disciplined in disconnecting myself. When I play tennis, I leave my cell phone in the house. When I am visiting my family and friends, I leave my iPhone in my car. The same rule applies to my laptop and desktop. Especially during my sabbath, I do my best to avoid checking emails, writing proposals, and doing any kind of work. Having a schedule and an organized agenda for setting up time to meditate, relax, and rest is key in having a good balance.

 What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I am a very hyper, type A, energetic, and passionate leader. I love getting things done. I find satisfaction in finishing and reaching my goals. I am grateful to have internal motivation and abundant energy to help me accomplish my outcomes.

 What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

Focus on doing customer interviews and testing. Test your product ideas and ventures. You never know what you can do until you try. You never know who you will meet until you show up. Interestingly, I met my first angel investor Frank Baxter at a dining hall at Berkeley: Crossroads dining. He was sitting on a table wearing a nice black suit. My mom would always encourage me to sit next to the smartest and best. Hence, I decided to grab a quinoa salad and sit next to this tall and wise man. Few minutes later, we were chatting in Spanish about his experience in being the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay during President Bush. He loved the idea of SmileyGo and decided to support us financially. Also, another suggestion is to make it simple for other people to help you.

 What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?

Starting a technology company from scratch at Stanford having no previous programming experience was very hard. While both my parents are engineers, I hadn’t taken any computer science classes in high school. Founding a startup in Silicon Valley as a 19-year-old entrepreneur from Peru was tough. After attending a summer quarter at Stanford, I went back to Berkeley to finish my degree. I remember coming back to Berkeley with the SmileyGo idea in my mind. I had to build a team from scratch. That was very challenging! Also, writing a book from scratch having no previous publishing experience was challenging. I grew up in Peru where English is not an official language. Brainstorming, writing, and interviewing so many leaders for the book as a fun and challenging experience. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone.

 What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

Discipline and tenacity make the difference at the end of the day. You can be gifted and talented. However, it is the persistence that will help you run the marathon. Also, culture eats strategy for breakfast. When I was the CEO of SmileyGo, I had to practice my pitch many times.

 What is your biggest accomplishment?

Writing a book with outstanding executives like Jorge Titinger, Pat Gelsinger, and Michelle K. Lee has been very humbling, philanthropic, and exciting. I am grateful to my mom Julia since she is also an author and inspired me to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

 What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?

Be grateful for the opportunities. Have a victorious mindset. Never victimize yourself. Have a proactive mindset to take leaps of faith.

 What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?

I have learned to make it easy for people to help you. Many times, in life, a lot of people want help. However, they don’t know how to ask. If you make it easy, doable, and practical for people to help you, they will do it. Stay humble, be practical, and make it simple for people to provide insights or advice.

 Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

I’m an athlete. I love tennis, basketball, ping pong, and running. I am known as a team player in and outside the office. I play tennis at least four times a week with my Stanford, Berkeley, and family friends in the peninsula of San Francisco. I am very involved in my faith community. I have volunteered in serving the homeless ministry in Redwood City, California. In addition, I attend a small group where we meet with friends on a regular basis to pray for each other and help each other out. I am grateful for my tribe. I am a huge family person. I love spending time with my siblings and parents. I have family friends that live in San Francisco where we play tennis, board games, and basketball on a regular basis. We also play hide and seek! It is very important to set aside time for family and friends. I enjoy playing sardines with my little cousins and family friends. We cook together! Those are my favorite times of the week.

 What trends in your industry excite you?

Technology is disrupting every industry in the economy. Inclusion and belonging will be imperative for companies that want to retain and hire the best talent out there. I remember the first engineering class I took was technology entrepreneurship (Engineering 145) at Stanford. That class definitely inspired me to get into the high tech industry of startups.

 Explain the proudest day of your professional life.

Publishing my first business book as a young entrepreneur, dual citizen, and immigrant leader was a joyful experience. This was the first time I co-wrote a book with Jorge Titinger. Partnering with top world leaders such as Reed Hastings, William Coleman III, and Patrick Gelsinger to write how imperative inclusion is for the future of work was a fantastic experience. I launched my book at the San Diego Convention Center in California. My parents were present in the room.

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