Rodrigo Martinez is a serial entrepreneur based in Singapore who teaches other entrepreneurs and startups how to build their business and then find an exit strategy (sale or acquisition).
How did you become an expert consultant for entrepreneurs and startups?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since my teens when I used my passion for telecommunications and computers in the late 80s and early 90s to create a successful ISP in Brazil. Then something radical happened: My company got acquired, and it changed my life and my views on entrepreneurship.
I then went on to create an even bigger company, a free hosting provider, and that in-the-trenches experience gave me a lot more insight into the whole journey of entrepreneurship. I discovered that it starts with inception, moves on to creating and building the business up, then ends with closing the deal or finding an exit for your company to be acquired. At least in my case that’s how it happened.
This process formed the basis of what I do today, functioning as a strategic advisor to other companies engaged in this process and helping meet their particular needs.
Would you call yourself self-made? If not, what training have you gotten that has helped you?
In large part, I have learned by doing. There was also a lot of relearning because, between having the first and the second companies, I needed to adapt to and learn from a lot of changes that occurred.
My third company is different because of changes in the marketplace and technology. It is called FYI.to, and I like to say it’s kind of like Pinterest on steroids, but without the $11 billion valuation…yet. Because of market changes and the evolution of technology, I have had to learn even more and figure out the business all over again, but it has been a great experience that I look forward to completing.
These experiences have made me a lifelong, enthusiastic learner, and some of the things I learn I can share with other entrepreneurs to help them on their journey, as well.
How do you help entrepreneurs with their businesses?
I like to engage with other entrepreneurs to share my experiences and deepen the discussion. I could tell others what to do at each step of their process, but I think the value of that is limited. It’s more valuable to share experiences and guidelines, then let people figure out for themselves what they need to do and how to do it.
I’m also on Clarity.fm, a paid platform where I take calls from entrepreneurs seeking advice and information to help them in their businesses. I am accessible on LinkedIn where I answer questions in public posts on my page, so that everyone can see the answers and benefit. Speaking at conferences and events is another way I have helped entrepreneurs and startups.
What can startups do to grow and increase their value?
Most successful businesses focus on how to improve on something that already exists as a successful product. People aren’t looking for something new; they want to continue doing what they’re already doing but in a better or more convenient way.
Clever entrepreneurs will build their businesses around ways to save customers time or money. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” People like things that are simple and that work better than other things out there on the market.
I always suggest to startups that they should limit outside investors and focus more on bootstrapping, which is reinvesting profits back into the business. When you take on a lot of investors, you dilute yourself, and the benefits later won’t be as great because you need to give the investors a return. This means less profit for you or a smaller share when you exit from the business.
How is online reputation important for startups looking to grow or sell?
Reputation is everything. Things move so fast in the online world, and bad news spreads a lot faster than good news. Entrepreneurs are putting themselves in the spotlight at all times with their social media posts and profiles, Google search results, etc. Entrepreneurs who take online reputation lightly are at risk of even just a simple misunderstanding being able to derail their business. There often seems to be a crowd out there waiting for a chance to crush you.
When you are going through the mergers and acquisitions process, your online reputation will usually impact the valuation of your company and could be critical to a successful exit. M&A is a buyer’s market, and buyers factor in any potential public relations problems when deciding what kind of offer to make.
Just like entrepreneurs need an exit strategy and a fundraising strategy, they need a reputation strategy. Tools like Reputation.com can be very useful in helping potential buyers see that they will be getting a positive online reputation as part of the acquisition of your company.
What steps have you taken to develop your own online reputation?
Minimizing risk is important. The more you are out there and the more touchpoints you have, the more you leave yourself open to potential problems with your reputation or negative content. I focus on LinkedIn as part of my reputation strategy because it is a generally positive environment. Everyone is professionally focused rather than looking to criticize, as often happens on Twitter and other social platforms.
I do Google myself, but my name is very common, so a lot comes up that isn’t even related to me. I also really think twice when I put something online.
Is online reputation different for international entrepreneurs vs. those based in only one country?
Cultural differences do play into reputation at times. Americans are very pragmatic and blunt about getting their message across. In Asia, there is more emphasis on saving face and appearances, and people are more worried about being misunderstood. You need to have a culturally aware strategy. It’s important to balance being yourself and being culturally aware.
You need to be yourself even if it means not making the sale 100% of the time. If everything you do is orchestrated and focus-grouped, I believe that can negatively impact the authentic feel of your business and actually turn buyers off in some cases.
There can also be localization issues that play into reputation. Some names can have a different meaning in a different country, which is a concern when the connotation is negative or offensive in translation. Customs are different, which means you need to market differently at times. Mindfulness about cultural differences is important.
How can companies improve their online reputations and the customer experience they offer?
I like to look at customer experience in the context of achieving the ultimate goal of having a successful business. I encourage entrepreneurs to focus on success rather than making other goals like winning awards, being famous, or “helping people” the central focus of the business. You can help more people when you’re successful, in my view. Influence precedes impact. Finding something to improve on is key to both customer experience and business success.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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