Surround yourself with good people. In the end, no battle is won alone. If you have good people in your camp, you can share the challenges and get through things faster. At Ooyala, we had a good team, and I had fantastic co-founders who helped me through the darkest time of the economic downturn.
As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bismarck Lepe, Founder and CEO of Wizeline.
Bismarck Lepe, founder and CEO of Wizeline, is a seasoned Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor. He is passionate about driving economic growth in the global communities where Wizeline has operations through investment in education and development of technology infrastructure.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1998 to attend Stanford University. I was going to study Human Biology with the goal of going into medicine, but I quickly fell in love with technology and the startup scene. While not in class I worked at a number of technology companies — one of which shared two board members with Google. I got to know Google really well and joined them after I graduated. After Google acquired YouTube, I left to co-found a company called Ooyala which provided a platform that streamlined online video delivery for media companies — basically a YouTube/Netflix in a box. After we sold the company to Telstra, an Australian Telco, I started Wizeline with the goal of helping companies get better software to market faster with a platform that would algorithmically prioritize which features companies should build. Digging into the problem of software development, we realized that the biggest problem companies had was hiring the right people to build their software — so we expanded our offering and our business took off.
Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
We started Wizeline as a SaaS business. We raised capital and started selling. We were able to get to a couple of million dollars of Annual Recurring Revenue, but our stats showed that our users weren’t engaged. If our users didn’t love the platform, we would eventually start to see our customer churn increase. But at the same time, we saw that our services (building custom software for companies) was growing incredibly fast. So, although a completely different business, we decided to focus on the business that had growth instead of trying to fix the platform engagement issues. Because services businesses typically don’t raise capital, I had to fund the growth until we were of the size where we would be able to raise funds from private equity investors. Investment in the business was always hard as we grew, but I am proud that we never missed payroll and we never had mass layoffs. Over the last year, we’ve grown to over 1000 employees worldwide and are now profitable.
What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
We knew we were in a big market and we had something of value. For us, it was all about surviving long enough to get to an operating model that made sense to scale. This required that we make organizational changes, institute new processes, kill projects and hire people from the outside who were familiar with the industry.
Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
A great team that stayed focused and committed. Without the team, nothing would’ve been possible. We also had really good investors who supported us along the path. As we look at the next stage of growth, we want to rewrite how technology services are bought and serviced — which is requiring that we once again invest in tools and processes to help us grow faster than the industry average.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. I love the quote at the end of Joe Joe Rabbit: “Go to the Limits of Your Longing” and “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” by Rainer Maria Rilke. My view is that as long as you have your health, all else is possible. So even through the worst, it’s important to stay positive and keep going. Prior to starting Wizeline, I started a company called Ooyala — a video platform company. We ended up selling it for close to half a billion dollars in 2014, but in 2008/2009, during the economic downturn, everything bad that could happen did: customers didn’t pay, employees burned out and left, deals were delayed, AWS went down when we were pitching… but we focused on executing on our product strategy, delivering for customers and just outworking the competition. We survived — and in the grand scheme of things, we ended up selling for more than what Brightcove was trading in the public markets when we sold.
2. Talk to people. There are a lot of people who have faced the challenges that you’re facing. It’s healthy, and many times useful to speak to people to get an outside point of view and to walk through the issues you’re facing. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help and/or just listen — you’re not alone.
3. Surround yourself with good people. In the end, no battle is won alone. If you have good people in your camp, you can share the challenges and get through things faster. At Ooyala, we had a good team, and I had fantastic co-founders who helped me through the darkest time of the economic downturn.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been very lucky to have people who have supported and guided me throughout my career. My boss at Elance (Imran Khan), a company I worked at while I was in college is one. He first, gave me an opportunity to work at Elance when I was not the most experienced candidate, he then gave me the opportunity to learn and work around my school schedule. Because of that first job, I was able to parlay the experience to a job at Google. Where I then had the privilege of working with incredible managers/leaders like Gokul Rajaram, Keval Desai, Sheryl Sandberg, Jonathan Rosenberg, Tim Armstrong, and many more who allowed me to experiment, fail and succeed and ultimately set me up for my entrepreneurial future.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I feel very lucky to have been in Silicon Valley and more importantly to have worked at a company like Google. A couple of years back, we started an organization called StartupGDL with the goal of bringing more tech companies to Guadalajara, Mexico. Technology companies move quickly, pay well, share equity, and bring a new way to innovate. My personal goal is to bring the same opportunities that I was given in Silicon Valley to more parts of the world — starting with Guadalajara.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I still believe that by doing well, you have the ability to do more good. Between Google and Salesforce, they’ve donated more money, time, technology, and brainpower to solving some of the world’s biggest problems. If I could inspire a movement, I would say for more companies to have a social responsibility to not just take from their communities but to also help to build them up.
Any parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
We are going to see more change in the next 20 years than in the prior 50 years. The changes may be scary, but we should see the opportunities in change and take advantage of them. Start companies, be part of revolutions and keep learning.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.