“For all the entrepreneurs that have failed but do not talk about it — we need to hear your story. You are a success and the venture failed. Sharing your story inspires others to take the leap to build great companies.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sergio Marrero. Sergio’s purpose is to create the future through increasing the speed of innovation and launching disruptive ventures. Sergio is a serial entrepreneur, facilitator, researcher, coach, and project manager who graduated from the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government with experience in consulting, startups, and venture capital.
What is your story?
I grew up in Jersey and came from a family of creatives. My father is a musician, one of my sisters is a dancer, the other a graphic designer. Creating things is what we do. My parents moved from New York to New Jersey and worked hard to send us to great schools and support our aspirations. In all that I did, I felt like we had made it — make it worth their love and sacrifice. I am an executor and get things done. I was the first in my immediate family to go to a four-year college and chose engineering because of my love for math.
Throughout college I had the privilege of working in engineering roles at P&G, Johnson & Johnson, and PepsiCo — but did not seem to fit in the manufacturing space — I wanted to be on the ‘business side’. So I left to Deloitte Consulting. While I was there, I was part of the Deloitte Education Collaborative, where I was paired with a local high school student. The second time we met, he told me that his girlfriend is pregnant. I remember the look on his face saying “What do I do?” This was an incredibly humbling experience. I didn’t know how I could help him. I’m not a dad. We grew up in very different backgrounds and circumstances. However, in working with him, I realized that this was impactful work. I started to think of how I can tie my professionally life more closely with impact. From that experience, I shifted toward impact entrepreneurship — launching for-profit companies aimed at creating a better world.
I left to participate in a joint degree program between Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School and soon after started working on multiple edtech startups. A year and a half in — our startup received funding from an incubator in Chile — Startup Chile and I took leave from the program to build our startup. We built an web application, it didn’t get as much traction as we had hoped, we used up all the funds on development, the founders disagreed on where we should go next and within a year, our team disbanded. That experience was devastating — it was tough. You put your soul and heart into something, and then you have to let it die. However, from that experience, I felt closer to was meant to do.
From there, I took some time and worked in an innovate and design firm, Doblin, as well as a venture capital firm in New York City. I wanted to learn how to build products and how to finance and select winning ventures. Eventually I ended up going back to school and started another venture. My second startup focused on creating a better platform that enabled people to receive just in time learning needed in their career. Two years of development and testing, we had a team working in Puerto Rico, and when the hurricane hit, we had to shut down. We were operating very lean did not have the cash to move the team stateside.
After what was a second failed startup up journey, I started to think “What now?” During that time I was invited to facilitate training at an event called UNLEASH in Singapore sponsored by the United Nations training founders to launch solutions solving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This experience brought clarity to me. I knew that I need to be working on initiatives that accelerate impact and innovation — especially working with founders. That has lead to me joining a venture capital fund in San Francisco called Venture University and launch a program to accelerate founders from idea to investment called RBL1(pronounced “Rebel One”).
What principles have guided your life? What is your mantra?
“Talk less, do more. — the best type of thinking is doing.” Default to action rather than think too profoundly about things. Talk to people, put up that website, experiment, and see how the world reacts, see what direction you will be pulled in. You just never know.
For example, after my last startup, I decided to share some of my insights about education. I prepared and did a TEDx talk at Princeton University called “The Degree is Dead.” From that opportunity, the Managing Director of Venture University found that our views aligned, reached out to me, and here I am! If you were to ask me a year ago where I would be, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to predict that because of my TEDx Talk, I would be at Venture University, opening a trade school to teach investors and launching a program to accelerate impact innovators.
You have weathered a lot of ups and downs in your career. What tips do you have to help others endure the waves of change?
Ups and downs are inevitable. The number one thing that I would do now, but I didn’t do in the beginning, was ask for help more often. In the beginning, when my first startup did not go well, there was a point where I wanted to give up and walk away from it. Looking back, I realize that I felt defeated because I was doing so much on my own, rather than reaching out and sharing my story with others. After that point, I spent about two and a half months going to places, talking to friends, staying on their couch, eating home-cooked meals. This brought me back to my center. My friends and family were repeating back to me the things I would say to them. I was finding pieces of myself that I had lost, and it was them that brought me back.
What are your thoughts on the future of work?
In regards to the future of work, I believe that we can’t fully depend on the current system of education that we have. The traditional system of education does not and can not fulfill and make sure that we are prepared for future changes and paradigm shifts. You just can’t. Companies are creating more contract positions without safety nets. We state that unemployment is low, but it doesn’t factor in number of people without healthcare and benefits moving from full time to part time in the gig economy. This is not sustainable as a long-term strategy for our country and our world.
The things that are going to make it better are — 1) people that are creating low-cost adaptable programs that better fit with what employers are demanding, and 2) programs that enable people to build wealth on their own, such as starting a business. It’s so important to be an entrepreneur, to learn how to make money with money.
It’s also important to think of how new ventures and startups make the world better, helps people, ventures that focus on the world’s tough problems. I would argue that we need smart minds thinking about how we can make life easier for the aging, make energy more sustainable, improve access to high-quality education that keeps up with the workforce.
What are the top 3–5 habits that have helped you succeed?
Reflect Yearly, and Create a Vision Board
- I have a vision board of all the things that I want to accomplish. It’s on my wall, and I look at it every day.
- At least once a year, I visit my goals from the previous year. How did I do against them? What are my goals for the next year? What do I plan to achieve?
Mentors are all around us
- When I was younger, I used to say that I do not have access to people or mentors with extensive startup success. Then I realized that I do. If we look around us, we are surrounded by mentors and visionaries and leaders. We have access to some of the best thought leaders, and some of their best thoughts through podcasts, YouTube Channels, articles, books, videos. Think about how amazing this is. This wasn’t possible 30 years ago! Today, we can listen to several hours of world shapers over the internet, and hear some of their best thoughts crystallized, for free. That’s unbelievable! It’s so important to immerse yourself constantly.
- I am engaged, and I often get into these types of conversations with my fiance and soon to be wife — Jazmin Cabeza. We push each and support each other. That mutual support is unbelievably and something I am immensely grateful for. It is so important to choose the right partner.
And don’t forget, habits define character, and character defines destiny.
Do you have anything you want to share?
For all the entrepreneurs that have failed but do not talk about it — who have put it aside. You are not a failure because your venture failed. You are a success, and the venture failed. You need to share your story. Sharing your story inspires others to take the leap to build great companies. You are now a champion. You have done what 99% of the population do not have the courage to do — and for that, you are a success.
The world needs you to get up again. There’s too much to do.
Originally published in Medium.com