Some things, kids never forget. Sometimes, it determines their life’s path. For Derek Mateos, he took on the role of dad’s little helper starting at seven or eight years old. He would hand his dad, Rudy, a Cuban refugee, nails while his father was doing remodeling work, bathroom renovations and other construction projects.
But it’s what happened at the end of many projects that stayed with Derek.
STARTED BUSINESS: 2002
LATINO CONNECTION: Parents are Cuban
EDUCATION: University of South Florida
Master’s degree - Architecture
Bachelor’s degree – Geographic Information Systems
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Astronaut
BIGGEST GOAL YET: Having a $200 million company in 3-5 years
“AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU AGAIN”
Derek says some people who hired his father would purposely wait till his dad was at the end of the job and would then tell him, “Since I like you, I’m going to pay you half.” And they said it as if they were doing his father a favor.
Derek says they did it because they knew the law and knew that, since his father was unlicensed, they could get away with it.
So, at 24, Derek got his license and told his dad, it “ain’t going to happen to you again.”
GETTING THE GREEN LIGHT
Derek had been working for a developer in 2002 when he came up with a proposition for his boss. He told him he thought he could finish tenant construction projects faster. So he proposed continuing with his regular job and doing those projects on the side, as well. He got the green light. And Matcon Construction Services, a family business, came into existence.
For seven years, Derek wore both hats. And then the recession hit. The bottom fell out. He was laid off.
And, as luck would have it, he’d just gotten married.
He says, “We had to start over.”
Things went from being great to having someone pull the rug out from under him.
But it turned out to be just the push Derek needed to work on Matcon Construction Services 100% of the time. Those lean years taught him resiliency. He says he put his “proud side to the side” and took infrastructure jobs, working as a subcontractor for the big players.
“That was the ticket”. Without that, he doesn’t think they could have made it.
LEARNING IT ON THE GO
Derek understands that a liberal arts education is designed to make students well-rounded. But he believes it would be really helpful to be taught things like “How do you open a business? How do you manage finances?”
It would’ve also been useful to know cash flow management and business strategy. He says he had no choice but to learn it on the go.
But he figured it out.
MORE FAMILIAR FACES
It also helped, in his case, that more family members joined the business. His older sister came on board as a bookkeeper. When his mom was laid off around 2012, she joined them.
Two years ago, his wife posed the question, “Why am I going to build somebody else’s business?” And so the Matcon Construction Services crew grew - with yet another familiar face. He wouldn't have it any other way.
What Derek says he is wary of is “getting close to people who don’t have our best interest in mind.” So, in business, he subscribes to the famous Ronald Reagan quote, “Trust, but verify.”
These days, Florida is booming. People are moving to the state and, in particular, to Tampa, in droves. Things are just about as good as they can get in the construction industry, according to Derek Mateos. But he keeps it all in perspective.
He recommends having a “balanced mentality. You don’t get too high or too low.” He says you don’t just have to work hard, but you have to “be able to take the losses,” too.
WHERE ARE THE LATINOS?
One issue he believes keeps Latinos from realizing their entrepreneurial dreams is “machismo”. That's right. Machismo. It leads them to think they “don’t need help” and, so, a lot of Latinos are “not taking the next step.”
For example, his company benefited from the Tampa Bay Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator Program four years ago. Now, as the Co-Chair, he’s trying to help others. But he says Latinos are severely underrepresented. And that needs to change.
MAKING IT UP TO DAD
Matcon Construction Services now has more than 200 employees and registered net revenue of more than $21 million in 2020. Derek is proud of the business he has built with his father and his other family members.
He says, “It’s not an overnight thing. There’s no get-rich-quick-scheme.” Instead, it came from a burning desire to try to make up from those days as a kid when he saw people taking advantage of his father.
THE TIP JAR (Tips passed out courtesy of Derek Mateos)
“Know what you want as the end game. Make sure that’s clear. Then attack.”
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Have a vision, a plan, a target market and then build it out.
“Do a lot of collaborations. Ask a lot of questions, align yourself with people who have done it and learn from their mistakes.”
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): Hire the best people. Folks are expensive. If you get the right talent, find a chair for them. That’s the difference-maker.”
STARTING OVER: “Good luck! Make sure it’s something you love to do.” Derek’s philosophy is, “Why do it again, if it’s not going to be fun?”
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: “Not trusting my gut enough.” You have to be very factual and procedural, but he believes intuition is also important. And “if something doesn’t feel right, you’ve gotta act on it.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”: Derek Mateos is going with his mom’s advice: “Always do your bed in the morning.”
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: He says mom’s philosophy of “a clean house is a happy house” has taught him to be organized and polite. He says, “It wasn’t the military, but it was close.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE… because we can all use a helping hand:
Thinking through and strategizing who you’re going to sell to can take a little planning and time. But having that figured out so you can focus your efforts is essential. In this FREE webinar, you’ll learn the who, what, when, where, why and how of marketing and sales as it relates to potential customers. The instructor will guide you through the process, looking at it through the buyer’s point of view. The interactive webinar is aimed at helping you apply laser-light focus to your target customer so you can, ultimately, maximize profits. Here’s the link:
This is a great little guide you can Google translate to English. It’s called “For the Mind, For the Body: Humor & Laughter. It not only tells you how humor and laughter positively affect your body, but it also provides 10 tips and activities for incorporating humor and laughter into your life. And, these days, we could all stand to have some extra laughter and humor in our lives!
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE:
You’ve heard of the mama bear being fiercely protective of her cubs. Naturally, when a kid is being bullied, their parent will step up and defend their child.
Well, sometimes, the role is reversed: the kid is the one fighting for their mom or dad.
I remember, several years ago, how mad I was when I witnessed an art gallery owner treat my mom poorly after she asked the owner about submitting artwork for possible display.
To this day, I believe it was because of my mom’s heavy Spanish accent. It bothered me so much, I not only went back to complain (the woman did not come back out to the front when I insisted on speaking with her), but I also wrote a terrible review of the art gallery referencing how she treated my mother.
That incident is what came to mind when Derek told me about how he saw people treat his father, time and again – fully taking advantage of him.
Many minorities have had countless wrongs done to them. We’re only recently seeing some acknowledgment through social justice initiatives and movements.
In Derek’s case, he said he embraces his culture. But he makes clear he's “not any better than anybody. We’re going to execute just like the best of them."
And that’s just it. What minorities want is a fair shake – a chance to show what they can do.
That’s why it was great to see Derek find a positive way to fight back and defend his father by starting a business with him. Now, Derek’s father is able to leave behind those days of having to accept whatever he’s given. Now, they’re the ones calling the shots on multi-million-dollar projects. And Derek and his dad are back at it, doing it together.
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