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IT CAN BE VERY LONELY
Leadership demands being prepared for all kinds of moments in business.
“At times, it’s going to be very lonely. You’re going to have good days and bad days.” And you have to be ready for that as a founder, according to Felice Gorordo, the tech entrepreneur and CEO of eMerge Americas.
It’s a lesson in leadership that you have to experience yourself.
That’s why he also thinks you have to have a strong support system in place, professionally and personally, during the highs and lows.
SEEDS OF LEADERSHIP
Gorordo had some of the seeds of leadership planted and supported in a place that intersects with the late, former Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
STARTED BUSINESS: Co-founder of nonprofit: Raíces de Esperanza (Roots of Hope) – 2003, Founder of for-profit: Clearpath - 2013
LATINO CONNECTION: Parents were born in Cuba
EDUCATION: Georgetown University – Bachelor’s degree in Government
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Marine biologist
BIGGEST GOAL YET: Gorordo admits his biggest goal probably stems from having a Cuban background and seeing protests in Cuba this past summer.
“Tens of thousands, if not a hundred-thousand young people all across the island [of Cuba], taking to the streets, calling for freedom, down with dictatorship…Once you take off that proverbial mask and you scream at the top of your lungs that…you want a change, I think it’s very hard to put that genie back in the bottle. And I think that’s the point of no return. So I hope in the near future, we can see that dream become a reality.”
A quick glance at the bio of Felice Gorordo doesn’t reveal his connection to Powell. After all, Gorordo runs eMerge Americas, the annual global tech conference in Miami.
Powell, of course, was the four-star general who served at the highest levels of government as National Security Adviser, the first black Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As it turns out, Gorordo and Powell share something that shaped them as leaders.
They were both White House Fellows.
Gorordo served as the first Latino under the Obama Administration as a White House Fellow. Powell was selected for the prestigious honor under the Nixon Administration.
With Powell’s recent death, Gorordo, the CEO of eMerge Americas says, the former Secretary of State and his well-known 13 lessons on leadership are top of mind for him. He says he spoke with Powell a few times because Powell stayed active with the White House Fellowship program.
The person who actually encouraged Gorordo to apply for the fellowship was Cesar Conde, who is now the Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group. It turns out, Conde was also a White House Fellow and served under Powell.
These links are all important because Gorordo’s mentor is Conde.
Gorordo says the practical lessons in leadership he experienced as a White House Fellow helped him deal with the good days and the bad days as both an entrepreneur and CEO.
ONE OF THOSE BAD DAYS
One of those “bad days” happened back in 2015.
Gorordo had this big idea. He was gearing up and planning to enter the Mastercard Priceless Elevator Pitch competition at SXSW. In case you’re not familiar, SXSW is a massive, multi-day annual music & arts festival and tech conference in Austin, Texas.
He was ready to take Clearpath, his venture-backed tech startup, to the next level. Heck, he had even rolled out a pilot with H & R Block nationwide. Things were looking up.
Gorordo’s Clearpath offered immigrants a streamlined and affordable way to file immigration-related forms and get tax services, all bundled into one.
It was also going to be especially helpful to DACA (Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals) recipients, commonly referred to as "Dreamers". The "Dreamers" were brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents as children and, under the Obama administration, had been allowed to temporarily stay in the U.S. and work.
And then the news broke. It hit Gorordo like a ton of bricks.
An injunction had just been filed against the Obama Administration’s DACA program. The DACA program had been temporarily halted.
It was terrible news for his brainchild, Clearpath.
TO PITCH OR NOT TO PITCH?
Gorordo called it “incredibly disillusioning.”
What would he do? After all, he was already in Texas for Clearpath’s pilot and the pitch competition.
“I came close to throwing in the towel and not competing.”
That was until his wife, Bianca, convinced him to step up and compete, anyway.
So he got up on stage.
He had to summon all those lessons on leadership and deliver in crunch mode.
He made his pitch.
It turns out, Gorordo not only won, but he was awarded the grand prize of the competition.
“It could’ve been the end of it, but I pushed on.”
That make-or-break moment was one of his big tests as an entrepreneur.
The competition earned him notoriety and helped him land a partnership with LegalZoom before Clearpath was acquired by L1BRE.
ONE OF THE GOOD DAYS
Now, as CEO of eMerge Americas, Gorordo has the chance to try to take the big annual tech conference in Miami to the next level. He’s trying to make the most of one of those “good days” for Miami.
Manny Medina, eMerge’s founder, invited Gorordo to join eMerge’s steering committee in 2014. Gorordo became CEO in 2018. All that time, he’s been preparing Miami for this “Renaissance” period when the city is generating lots of interest, capital, talent and innovation as a tech hub.
It certainly didn’t happen overnight. “It took almost 10 and, I would argue, almost 20 years of building and laying a foundation to be able to capitalize on…this opportunity.”
THE BIG UNKNOWN
Even the big unknown, COVID, while devastating many families, had an unexpected effect on Miami. It forced the cancellation of the eMerge Americas conference in 2020 and 2021.
But, with so many people relocating from New York and San Francisco during the pandemic, it had a catalyzing effect.
Executives were “coming down here, spending a little bit more time than they’re used to and, then, falling in love all over again.” They were “relocating, not just themselves and their families, but then their entire teams - opening up, first, regional headquarters and, then, deciding…to relocate their entire corporate headquarters here. And it’s just been phenomenal.”
THE TRANSFORMATIONAL YEAR
He says eMerge has “grown significantly” itself, but the ecosystem itself has had really a transformational year.” He says “people realized that they could, sometimes, have their cake and eat it, too. They could live in paradise and still work like they’re on Wall Street or Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road.
Gorordo says, if you look at the last three to four years on a graph, you begin to see a J-curve effect. Venture activity and the investments in Miami-based start-ups “year over year” [are] breaking records and doubling one year after the other.”
Now the trick for Gorordo is to ensure that it won’t be just “a moment” but, instead, will be long-term. He says the eMerge Americas conference will be back in April of 2022, and he's working to “connect the dots” for Miami’s tech ecosystem.
PAYING IT FORWARD
And that brings us back to “connecting the dots” to his rise in leadership and the support system that’s needed for all the bumps along the way. Cesar Conde, the White House Fellow under the late Colin Powell, who encouraged Gorordo, is still a trusted mentor.
That’s why Gorordo is hoping to pay it forward by encouraging more Latinos to apply for the fellowship that changed his life, hoping it’ll change their lives, too.
THE TIP JAR...(tips passed out courtesy of Felice Gorordo)
STARTING OUT: Read The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz. “It’s about building a business when there are no easy answers. And it’s probably one of the best, most practical books on entrepreneurship that I have ever read.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): “I define what it means to be an entrepreneur a little bit more loosely than what I think some of my peers would. You can be an ‘intrapreneur’ in a large organization…[you] conceived...a new initiative or new program or new product or new service in your company. And you took it as far as you could, but you realized that you needed to build a team around it and garner additional resources to kind of scale and take it to the next level. And then you probably want to break out and do it on your own.”
If this describes you, Gorordo suggests you take those lessons from your previous work and then go out and “seek mentorship and coaching from other successful entrepreneurs…There’s nothing more valuable than that type of practical know-how.”
STARTING OVER: “I think, for some who have gone so far in their career[s] and are starting something new, it can be really daunting. I would just say, enjoy the journey.” He says that includes “the rollercoaster, the highs, the lows, the learning new skills, new experiences, new exposure.”
Most of all, he says, “Just really try and make the most out of it.”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: “There was a time where I thought I could do something on my own and just didn’t realize, early-on, that I needed help. And, you know, it took me too long to figure that out.
And I think one lesson learned from that is to, first and foremost, definitely never have a fear of failure. If you’re going to fail, fail quickly. But…if you need help, ask for it…sooner rather than later, before it compounds and kind of gets out of control.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”/BEST “HOUSE” ADVICE: "I lost my mom to cancer a few years back. And she was my rock. She was just absolutely amazing. The young mom who was going to be the young grandma and was just a fighting force in this world. And it was pancreatic cancer, so it was aggressive. But it just took her with no pre-existing conditions…so I think about her.”
“Her greatest lesson to me was to be steadfast. And, I think, especially on the entrepreneurial journey, know what drives you, what your purpose is, why it is that you do what you do, but then [stick] with it. And [push] through the difficult moments. I think that’s probably some of the best advice that she gave me.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
TACKLE THE BUSINESS PLAN
The business plan. You’ve heard it’s critical for starting a business, getting funding and providing a roadmap for growth. Maybe you’ve put it off because you don’t know where to start, how to do it or what should be included or not. If I’m speaking to you, listen up. The SBDC at UCF (Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida) wants to help. Register for their online webinar, “Business Plan Writing Made Easier,” and you’ll be on your way to having that business plan ready to start or take your new business to the next level.
BUSINESS PLAN WRITING MADE EASIER
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
10:00 a.m. – 12 p.m.
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because we know our culture has a hard time asking for help, especially when it comes to emotional health:
Call it being organized, efficient or productive. The bottom line is, some people are just better at managing their time. Entrepreneurs need to be better about time management because of all the responsibilities on their plates. This blog post offers 11 tips for working more efficiently, particularly for entrepreneurs. From outsourcing to focusing on one task at a time, the advice highlights brief explanations on how to incorporate these efficiency hacks into your life. More efficiency translates into feeling less stressed. Less stressed means a happier you.
INSPIRATION FOR THIS ISSUE:
One of the core reasons for this newsletter is to solve what I call “the awareness gap” in the Latino community. For a variety of reasons, Latinos are not aware of and, therefore, are not taking advantage of opportunities to better themselves and their families. The help comes in the form of scholarships, fellowships and small business funding and advice. The resources are out there. The money’s there for the taking.
I assure you other groups are taking the free money, advice and educational opportunities. We should, too. That’s why I was delighted to find out that the “best-kept secret resource” that Felice Gorordo wanted to share was the White House Fellows program.
Sure, it’s highly competitive. Yes, you’ll need to have some pretty impressive accomplishments to share. But the opportunity can be life-altering. Where else are you going to get access to some of the most powerful people in the world? When else are you going to get to work in some of the biggest agencies or governmental departments? How about the networking opportunities?
Gorordo believes many Latinos have not applied to opportunities like this one because, in many cases, as children of immigrants, they’re helping out their families. They have to forego the programs because they’re busy working and hustling to produce for their families.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
I also appreciate how Gorordo is quick to credit his “partner in life”, his wife, Bianca, with helping him in one of those critical moments, as well as sharing the very personal and painful experience of losing his mother to pancreatic cancer. He continues her legacy by serving as an adviser to the Biden Cancer Initiative.
But besides serving as a White House Fellow under Democrat and former President Obama, Gorordo has also worked under a Republican, former President Bush, in the Departments of State, Commerce and Homeland Security. He says he “never agreed with [either of] them 100%,” but he worked on issues that he cared about, immigration and the economy.
In a time when we’re so polarized, he’s found a way to serve - and to still advance the causes he believes in so passionately. That’s leadership. Let’s pass that on…
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