“Few people know that the ocean is responsible for 70% of the worlds oxygen, human beings usually think only ocean critters are affected by our actions. We’ve recently taken a pledge to remove single use plastics from our lives, and its very hard to find substitutes, think of ordering food, or drinking water outdoors. We’d love to inspire a stronger plastic substitute move and we’re already working with forward thinking corporations to bring these options to the public, but at the end of the day its up to us as consumers to demand change, and this requires education and awareness of the magnitude of the problem itself. By 2050 if we continue on our current trajectory there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Manuela Seve and Renata Thome. Manuela Seve is the co-founder and CEO of Alpha’a. Manuela initiated her career in finance working in one of the most important hedge funds in Brazil, but having grown up surrounded by artists and art dealers, and her family founding one of the oldest galleries in Latin America, art was in her DNA. Manuela had a great love for art yet she was critical of how the market was run and saw the possibility of disrupting the market through technology.
Renata Thome is the co-founder and COO of Alpha’a. Renata launched her career in art as an Art Historian. And worked in some of the most prestigious and traditional art institutions including Christie’s and David Zwriner Gallery before starting an art consulting business. Renata was the creator of the first Latin American Art auction in 2014.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
M — I was a buy side analyst and was looking at commodities, during my research I picked up a book called “King Of Oil”, Marc Rich’s biography, and whilst reading about the oil market in the 60s, there were so many similarities to how the art market was/is run, almost as in a cartel like formation. I thought at the time there must be a way to bring more transparency into the art world,
R — While working at art galleries I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with amazing artists who worked there (as art handlers and other roles). Although most of them had enough talent to be showing in any major institution almost none of them had a gallery representation, and that for me was very frustrating to watch. On the other hand, I had friends asking me for recommendations when trying to acquire artwork and even though I was immersed on that sector I still found it hard to find out about good art at an affordable price point.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
M- There have been many interesting and sometimes crazy moments upon our journey, my co-founder Renata and I grew very close over the past years. We’ve taken crazy adventures not only in our professional lives, like literally building out exhibition spaces using our bare hands (painting walls and repairing ceilings), to several cycling adventures. Our latest adventure while building alpha’a landed us in an ambulance and to this day we get asked, how we managed to crash our bikes at the same time but independently. Before April 14, 2018 we’d always thought that a crash going downhill in a road bike would most certainly be fatal, turns out we survived. I was riding up front and going about 40 mph when I hit a pot hole, I don’t even remember hitting the floor, but Renata say’s that she was sure I wasn’t going to get up, she quickly smashed her breaks and fell down as well. As I came to the first thing I saw was her laying in the tarmac with a car parked in front of her, I was surrounded by onlookers and she was laying there alone, in a rush of adrenaline I pulled myself up bleeding and made my way to her asking her to stand up and get off the road, she very calmly responded, “I’m not getting up”. Long story short we were taken to Nyack hospital, she suffered several fractures and I tore every ligament connecting my shoulder to my clavicle. Endurance sports are a fantastic metaphor for entrepreneurial life, and even though we did have a bad fall I know we will keep riding.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
M- In 2015 we were accepted to participate in our first tech conference, Web Summit. At the time it was held in Dublin and we were based out of Rio. I quickly filled out the information for our small Alpha’a booth and signage which they would provide, and we continued to prep our print materials on our end. Months later we arrive in Dublin and pick up our sign, our opening statement says: “We plan to…” we had committed a startup capital sin, we weren’t executing, at least that’s what our elevator pitch said, we were planning to. In a frantic panic we pulled out an Alpha’a sticker and be dumb luck it covered the “we plan to” and even made grammatical sense!
The lesson here is very important, sometimes it makes sense to proof read and even procrastinate whilst writing something important. Your words, specially in times of internet and social media have long term impact on your company.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
M+ R- We are flexible, and we always make it work! Last year during Basel Miami our space sponsor changed our space 6 times and when we arrived the building was a complete mess, the ceiling had holes in it and we literally had no floor. We made the best of it, put on our blue collars and started painting the walls, fixing the ceiling and created a site specific “trash installation” as a center piece of our “rustic” environment.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
M+ R Yes! We’re working on several exciting projects empowering social and environmental causes. Two great examples are, the “Arte Naturalista” prints, which were produced by a group of artists from underserved communities in the North East of Brazil, after they received a illustration scholarship from a local NGO, the IPTI. Another one is a partnership with Oceanic.Global using art to empower changes in ocean conservation, mostly by creating awareness to pressing issues such as plastic pollution.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
M- Listen, most people just want to feel that they have the liberty to express their opinions.
What advice would you give to other CEOs about the best way to manage a large team?
M- Implement very strong culture from day one and try to remove hierarchy, everyone’s opinion matters, from the intern to the CEO, be approachable and you will always be aware of what requires the most attention.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
M- My time working in finance was very important to my formation as a professional, I had a very tough boss when I first started working at the trading desk, and he taught me how to think critically and how to really stress out an investment case, through this process I learned that cash conservative businesses are ultimately safer bets. One of the reasons why Alpha’a has endured rough moments is that we’re very cost conscious and had to focus in generating revenue for every project we set out to do.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
M- We’ve partnered with a number of NGO’s in causes such as ocean conservation and female empowerment. We’ve also created scholarship opportunities in the arts in many shapes and forms, it’s safe to say that Alpha’a is 100% a conscious capitalist model, every action we take impacts thousands of people, and we’re constantly creating democratic opportunities in a classically restrictive market.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
M- 1) Enjoy the ride because getting there is the most fun part, when you’re starting a business, life can be a mess. We’ve taught each other to celebrate the small victories, and take advantage of the flexible routine to get a run in in the middle of the day, or take a day off during a road show to explore the city, it turns out that these are the moments you’ll learn the most.
2) Execution matters more than a great idea, every entrepreneur is secretive about their plans, when we started the company we talked about it all the time, it helps you get your narrative in order and actually master your plans.
3) It’s going to be REALLY hard, it’s safe to say we’ve had many moments of desperation and thoughts of giving up, the journey is not for the faint of heart, and starting a company becomes a part of you, so when things are going wrong it’s hard to not take it personally, find someone to talk to and have in your co-founder a family member.
4) Take your time when building a team, your core team is your foundation and a bad hire can be very expensive. We’ve always preferred to date before getting married, starting off a relationship as a partnership is a great way to test the waters.
5) Know your skills and shortcomings and find team players who complement your limitations, 1+1 can sometimes = 3. Renata and myself are constantly referred to as Ying and Yang we’re extremely different but highly complementary and this creates massive synergy in our processes.
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. 🙂
M + R Few people know that the ocean is responsible for 70% of the worlds oxygen, human beings usually think only ocean critters are affected by our actions. We’ve recently taken a pledge to remove single use plastics from our lives, and its very hard to find substitutes, think of ordering food, or drinking water outdoors.
We’d love to inspire a stronger plastic substitute move and we’re already working with forward thinking corporations to bring these options to the public, but at the end of the day its up to us as consumers to demand change, and this requires education and awareness of the magnitude of the problem itself.
By 2050 if we continue on our current trajectory there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
M- “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” — George S. Patton
As cliché as it sounds in startup life testing and learning quick can really make a difference, on whether you make it or not. Being adaptable has to be your main focus.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them 🙂
M- Ellon Musk, his ruthless personality is an inspiration. I’ve followed his career for a long time and to see someone so capable of executing across so many sectors, which are classical monopolies and therefore forcing the “giants” to re-assess how they’ve been doing business for hundreds of years is impressive.
R- Tim Ferris, his innovative view on work life balance and therefore perception of success has helped us map out our own trajectory, especially as we’re both amateur triathletes and find this to be a fantastic outlet for the stress of entrepreneurial life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Originally published at medium.com