Over-communicate: The military is known for their communication skills. From Morse code to utilizing the latest advanced technology. The key is not what you use to communicate, but how often you do it. Even when we were a small team of 12 at FlashParking, I often found that the reason something might have been delayed or missed had to do with a lack of communication. Now that we are close to over 200 employees over-communicating is even more important. It only takes for me to have a 5minute coffee conversation with the different teams to see where somethings can be misinterpreted or misaligned for lack of communication.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Eliseo Diaz, CRO & CO-Founder at FlashParking.
Eliseo Diaz is responsible for managing sales efforts at FlashParking, the leader in mobility hub technology. Diaz’s previous experience includes serving as Director of Business Development for Rev Worldwide, Sales Director for Actix Inc (acquired by Summit Partners), and regional manager of Netspend Corporation (successful IPO in 2010) and Granite Systems (acquired by Telcordia Technologies). In 2005 he co-founded Klevernet, LLC (acquired by MPower Ventures). Diaz served in the US Army where he had the honor of deploying with the 7th Cavalry Regiment (Garryowen).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up in the Dominican Republic, and at a very early age, I knew I wanted to travel and come to the US. I made my way to Miami, and I joined the Army.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today, I am one of the co-founders and head of international sales for a software company that leverages its technology to transform parking garages into mobility hubs. My two co-founders and I had previously worked together on a start-up, and as all entrepreneurs do, when that company sold, we began to think about what’s next. Around that time, my wife met with general managers of hotels for work. She often complained about how much she hated waiting for her car at the valet stand and having to pay cash. So we added a “valet app” to the list, and when we began pitching our various start-up ideas to friends and business consultants, they all kept going back to the “valet app.” Not too long after, our first product, FlashValet, was born. The app allowed people to text for their car and pay online, but that grew into a software-as-a-service platform that helped operators manage their valet operations. Our customers then asked us to expand our SaaS platform to include technology for parking garages and lots, and that is when the business took off. Today, our FlashOS platform powers thousands of locations all across the US and is changing the way people park and access mobility technologies, like EV charging, rideshare staging, access to scooters, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I joined the Army in 1995 as a medical specialist and served for four years. I did my basic training in Fort Knox, KY, and was stationed in Fort Hood, TX, but spent time in the middle east in Kuwait.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
Before the second Iraq war, I was stationed at the Kuwait and Iraq border to train the Kuwaitis on how to use our American medical equipment. Even though it was a time of peace, everyone was on high alert. As soldiers, it was our job to stay vigilant and if the moment called for it to be ready for action. For me, the experience in Kuwait left an indelible mark on who I am; not only did it stoke my curiosity about different cultures, but it also instilled a sense of “always be prepared.”
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like. Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain it?
During my time in the Army, I was never in any combat situations. However, I did watch my fellow soldiers train to become part of Special Forces, and those guys are heroes. These men went above and beyond their regular daily duties to put in the hard work to have the honor to apply for the Special Forces. Their willingness to train in grueling heat and their courage to do whatever it takes to be ready for the call of duty is what heroes are made of. But what was most striking to me with this unbreakable bond and camaraderie they had amongst themselves. They had each other’s backs, and these “heroes” are the reason we can all sleep soundly at night.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Without a doubt, my military experience helped shape who I am and how I lead in business. It taught me the value and power of showing up. I know it sounds simple, but in this day in age, showing up and being present in business is how you win customers, it’s how you build trust with employees, and it’s how you model leadership. If you do not show up in the Army, you are putting your fellow soldiers at risk and possibly in harm’s way, and that’s not something anyone wants to carry around. Showing up is often done in small gestures and can be as simple as being punctual or following through when you tell a customer you’ll send them something. I encourage everyone to think about ways they can “show up” for their customers and employees. In the end, it goes a long way.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors that have guided me through my professional career. But the one person who has been the most incredible mentor is my business partner Juan Rodriguez. Together we have built multiple businesses and raised our families together, and we have come to rely on each other. Not only is he a great sounding board, but he also keeps me accountable, and vice versa. He is my brother.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We want to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in a crisis. How would you define a crisis? Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about, and how should they plan?
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation, and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis? What should they do next?
I would define a crisis as the moment in time when you think you have everything under control only to realize it is slipping away. As a businessman, when I find myself in those moments, the first thing I always do is take a step back and take a deep breath. If the crisis involves another person, I always try to put myself in their shoes to provide a sense of comfort, direction, and be there for them. Some crises don’t necessarily demand action to solve; sometimes, you can mitigate a situation just through listening and a little empathy, a quality that is undervalued in crisis management.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis? When do you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
In the time of a crisis, nothing trumps experience. When a crisis emerges, relying on experience and your gut is often the right way to go. But it is equally important to carefully choose the partners you surround yourself with during turbulent times. Luckily, I have two great partners, one in marriage with my wife and one in business with my business partner. Between experience and their guiding knowledge, it feels like I can conquer and take on whatever life throws at me.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your most significant setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
After the Army, I worked in Miami doing international sales for a tech company that had a Latin American division. When I was 27, I had just closed a 3M dollars deal, which was the largest I had ever closed. I was on top of the world; my commission was equivalent to someone’s annual salary, and I thought it doesn’t get better than this. A month later, the dot-com bubble popped, and I was out of a job. My only option was to go and wait tables; this was a truly humbling experience in my life. One moment I was on top of the world, and then life kicked me in the gut. But here’s the kicker, while I was waiting tables, I ended up serving a family friend, who also happened to be the mother of my business partner, Juan Rodriguez. She encouraged me to give Juan a call and catch-up, in part because we were both Dominican and Army veterans. The rest is history.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are five steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Over-communicate: The military is known for their communication skills. From Morse code to utilizing the latest advanced technology. The key is not what you use to communicate, but how often you do it. Even when we were a small team of 12 at FlashParking, I often found that the reason something might have been delayed or missed had to do with a lack of communication. Now that we are close to over 200 employees over-communicating is even more important. It only takes for me to have a 5minute coffee conversation with the different teams to see where somethings can be misinterpreted or misaligned for lack of communication. This same principle applies to personal relationships. The moment I start keeping plans in my head without letting my wife know ahead of time about any changes, that’s exactly the time I start creating chaos inside my own household. Communicating always and often it’s so underrated but extremely important.
2) Training! Training!Training: If there’s one institution that focuses on training that’s definitely the military. At first, I thought it was crazy and counter-productive to do the same military preparedness exercises over and over and over. Then again, I was also in my early 20’s and training back then was not one of my top priorities. But the importance of training is one key lesson I took from my time in the military. You had to be ready and prepared to be deployed anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. That is the number one piece of advice I give to anyone joining our team at FlashParking. It’s actually embedded in one of our core values “Know your stuff.” As a company, we made it one of our top priorities during the earlier days of the COVID shut down. We focused our efforts on training to make sure as a company we were ready to strike the moment the markets reopened.
3) Be decisive: One of the things that the military specializes in is building leaders. They do this by giving soldiers the confidence they need to execute whatever task is at hand. At FlashParking we encourage all of our employees, who are tasked with making all sorts of decisions, to do under a simple principle: If it is the right thing for the company and the right thing for the client, do it!
4) Pay attention to detail: One of my favorite military exercises was night navigation. This required very little training and one simple tool- a compass. The exercise consists of throwing you in a dark open field with few coordinates that if done correctly will lead you to your final destination. Easy enough, right? Well, what they don’t tell you is all the obstacles you get to encounter along the way like barbed wire fences, rivers, thick forest, you name it. All and any of these obstacles can easily throw you off if you are not paying close attention to detail. Keeping track of every step you take and following your compass will lead you in the right direction. Not paying attention to details, in both the military and in business, will definitely take you on the wrong path.
5) Resilience: Probably the first thing one learns during basic training/boot camp is to be resilient. I remember being in the best shape ever and only being able to do a couple of pull-ups. Others had issues running or perhaps just making their bed the army way. By week two, pull-ups were the least of my worries. Nevertheless, no one made it to the end of basic training without the ability to adapt quickly and be resilient. Together, we overcame whatever our perceived handicap was at every different stage of the training cycle. As an Entrepreneur resilience has probably been the key component to achieving any long term goals. You just have to keep at it, until you get there. And then — NEXT!
Ok. We are nearly done. 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. 🙂
Education. Education. Education. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I know first-hand the devastating effects a rocky education and lack of access to info can have on a person’s life. Some people can rise-up, but for others, a lack of education can leave a permanent scar on their ability to succeed. I joined the Army to have access to the GI bill and the educational opportunities it would afford me. A strong education empowers people to sift through information and make sense of what is real and misinformation, which is vital in our current political and economic climate. But more importantly, access to education opens doors, and for me, it was the foundation for starting a technology business that is changing the face of the mobility industry.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Dwayne Wade. But not for what people might think; there’s a good story behind my admiration for Dwayne. When we began thinking about our company name, my business partner and I were at a bar in Miami, drinking a beer and watching a Miami Heat game. Dwayne Wade was playing, and at the time, his nickname was Flash, so one of us suggested FlashValet, and it stuck. But beyond that, I genuinely admire Dwayne Wade as a human. I’d love to talk with him and better understand how he manages all his success while maintaining a high level of integrity and respect for others. To me, that’s what a hero and a leader do.
How can our readers follow you online?
FlashParking’s Website: https://www.flashparking.com/
FlashParking’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FlashParking/
FlashParking’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/flashparking/
Flashparking’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/flashparking
FlashParking’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/flashparking/
Eliseo’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eliseo-diaz/
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.