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March 2, 2023

Podcast: One on one with Coru CEO Fernando Gonzalez

In this episode of Fintech Thought Leaders, QED's Head of Early Stage Investments Bill Cilluffo speaks with Coru CEO and QED Executive-in-Residence Fernando Gonzalez.

Show Notes

Tune in to learn:

[2:24] How Fernando’s entrepreneurial journey was shaped by his familial experiences and those of his father.

[7:04] The story of Fernando's first business idea -- Taking cheese from north of Mexico City and selling it to his favorite taco place.

[10:05] How Fernando thinks about the role culture plays in determining people’s behavior and beliefs.

[11:20] The serendipitous journey from Tec de Monterrey to MicroStrategy, an enterprise software organization, to adtech company ComScore.

[15:27] The problem that is negatively impacting 87 percent of Mexicans, and how Coru can help.

[24:42] The unique perch of a CEO-EIR and the synergies between the roles that are grounded in empathy.

[29:32] Fernando’s motivation to make people feel better and how he draws energy from others.

[31:16] The importance of work-life balance.

[35:32] Channeling tennis great Rafa Nadal to think about overcoming inertia.

[37:05] Fernando’s advice for founders. It starts with refusing to fall in love with the solution.


Bill Cilluffo:

Hello and welcome to the Fintech Thought Leaders podcast. I'm Bill Cilluffo, the head of Early Stage Investments of QED Investors. Today, I'm excited to be joined by a talented entrepreneur, who is also an incredible colleague and dear friend, Fernando Gonzalez.

Fernando is a Partner and Executive in Residence at QED, as well as the CEO of a terrific portfolio company in Mexico City, called Coru. Fernando, welcome to the podcast.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Thank you, Bill. It's an honor to be one of your first guests here. I'm definitely delighted to have this chat with you.

Bill Cilluffo:

We are excited to have you. I'd like to start by having you take me back to the beginning. It's always, I think, fascinating to explore someone's roots long before they got started in business. You're raised by a large family in Mexico City where your dad was an entrepreneur. How did this upbringing fuel your passion for business and problem solving?

Fernando Gonzalez:

You are correct. I was born and raised in Mexico City. I'm the oldest of three brothers, but with a very large extended family. Just to give you a sense, my mom and dad each have seven siblings and three to four kids each. So, I have lots of first cousins.

Bill Cilluffo:

Can you point them all out by name or are there some you don't know?

Fernando Gonzalez:

No, absolutely. I can point. I mean, we get together often, at least once a year, most of us. So, yeah. I know everyone's name.

Bill Cilluffo:

That's awesome.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Yeah, it's a very large family. I guess, in terms of the entrepreneurial background, one of the things that is very unique to Mexico is that it's a country of entrepreneurs, and it's been for a long, long time. I think, today, something like 60% of the workforce either works at a small or medium business or are individual business owner. So, as glamorous as it sounds to be an entrepreneur in Mexico, it's kind of a popular category and it's something that I was definitely exposed to growing up.

But that said, my story is a bit different because the entrepreneurial piece came to me more as a choice that my dad made as opposed to sort of a need. He started working for Ford Motor Company in his early career years, which at that point was, it was a tech company, it was glamorous. He got to drive fancy cars around and grew up in the corporate ranks pretty quickly. Only to decide, when I was maybe three years old or four years old, to leave Ford, to join his brother and my grandfather, who also was an entrepreneur, in starting up or building up a business.

It was a business of kitchens. They would make cabinet sinks, those kind of things. They will sell it through builders or retailers, and the business did very well. I have really good memories. He tells me that it wasn't always that easy, but what I remember was going with him to the factories and seeing the big machines building the parts, and the relationship with the workers was almost like family. And I remember vividly the pride he had in providing a living for so many families. So, that just stuck in my head and it was definitely very influential in my life.

They had a pretty good run up until 1994. And I don't know if you know this, Bill, but 1994 was a big crisis year for Mexico. It is known as a Tequila Crisis and it had actually nothing to do with tequila. But because it was in Mexico, it was named as the Tequila Crisis. The Mexican peso devaluated something like 36% overnight. And I think they'd done major investments a year prior, or two years before, some of them in dollars, and ended up bankrupt, with many other small and medium businesses.

That kind of marked a big part of my upbringing. And people say that your beliefs are driven by your own experiences, so that was my experience. And my beliefs are that there must be something unique about being a business owner, probably better than being a corporate worker, because my dad chose to do that and I think he will still defend it.

But as business owners, you do what you are really passionate about, you help others and you build real wealth, but the downsides are also really big, right? Lots of pressure may depend on you and the worst case scenario is much scarier than being an employee at a corporation. But I think a lot of these risks are mitigated with preparation.

My mom was a teacher and preparation was kind of a big deal for her, so all three of us got pushed to get a good education, sports, the whole she-bang, so that kind of builds your confidence. And that's why I'm back on the entrepreneurial track with a little bit more confidence with the preparation, but more than anything, just enjoying the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.

Bill Cilluffo:

Yeah. It's a great lesson, especially in looking at the VC environment today of being so hot last year, potentially colder this year, and how things can go incredibly well. But there's always some challenges potentially around the corner. So, amazing to learn those lessons early in life.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Your dad's experiences are incredible lessons, right? To your point, some of the entrepreneurs today have not gone through, through them will teach them big lessons. It's definitely teach or taught me big lessons, even if it was kind of one step removed with my dad.

Bill Cilluffo:

Definitely. Well, look, we like to do a lot of research here on the QED podcast. So, we talked to your little brother, Juan Pablo.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Oh, wow.

Bill Cilluffo:

And he told us, as a kid, you'd first of all only get about four hours of sleep, kind of thought Frank Rotman was about the only person that did that, so I'm impressed by that. But he also said you'd keep him up all night asking him all sorts of questions, floating your business ideas, brainstorming a little bit. Sounds like you, one day in the middle of the night, created a cheese empire. So, we've got to hear the story about this.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Oh, my gosh. I can't believe he's revealing my sleep deprivation condition, but it's true. I still have a lot of trouble getting more than five, six hours of sleep. I think four is a bit of a push. But, I'm a bit hyperactive. I think you know that of me, I always have this sense of need to get busy. And we used to share a room growing up and if I couldn't go to sleep, which was often, I would just start ranting about stuff and he would have to listen. He was my little brother. So, that's probably what he's referring to.

Now, cheese empire is an overstatement. I mean, it was definitely my first business experience or my first venture. And I guess there are two threads to it. The first one, this is something that I need take you to, it's got to do with a taco place in Mexico. It was called Los Arcos. It's a place that became super popular in the area where I grew up, which is north of Mexico City, and one of the best and busiest taco places, I would say, in Mexico City. It's a bit of a hole in the wall kind of place, but delicious, fresh tortillas, great salsas, all sorts of tacos and really good cheese.

Growing up, we used to go there and every time we would go there, we'll have to wait outside. But they were so good that you wouldn't wait more than 20 minutes. They would just turn around tables all the time, right? So, the big learning there growing up was, wow, what a business. These guys do things very well.

And I guess the other thread is, it's a place that we used to go on the weekends, north of Mexico City. It was a very small town called Cuautitlan, and they were very well known for cheese.

And growing up, we used to have the kind of handmade cheese every weekend, where we would go there. And up until when I was maybe in middle school or high school, my uncle took me to the place where they would make the cheese in the little town. And I was fascinated by the fact that they developed this cooperative model where they will make the cheese, but they will source the milk from farms around. So, every cow owner will provide their own milk and they will make the cheese. So, the takeaway there was, I saw a lot of cows everywhere around. I figured this can scale. And so, the question is, how can I get the cheese that they make to the taco place that I love?

And so, I went and met the owners. The owners of this taco place are immigrants actually, one of those very resilient entrepreneurial families. We became really friends, we were recurrent customers of theirs. The owner gave me the opportunity to sell him the cheese from this little town. And things started scaling up pretty significantly, until I start having production issues, and then an engineering degree too. And the business went by the wayside.

But it was a fascinating first venture, a good way to make some money to pay for my parties and my trips, and taking my girlfriend out for dinners and that kind of stuff.

Bill Cilluffo:

I love it. I love it. I can't wait to visit the taco place. I'm bummed you haven't taken me there yet, so that will have to be on our next trip.

Hey, so one last question on family. We also talked to Lisa, your wife, who just talks about your incredible integrity driven passion, which I've certainly experienced as well. Where does this passion for leaving the world a better place, a fairer place, where does that all come from?

Fernando Gonzalez:

Yeah. I believe that culture is perhaps the main factor that determines people's behavior and beliefs. And for me, integrity is a matter component of the culture that I was brought up into. I would say, it stems from my own childhood. Both at home and at school, there was always this notion of doing the right thing. Of course, that could be relative to the right thing, what that really means, right? Different people have different opinions about it.

But I think the acid test for me is always to ask myself if what I'm doing is going to disappoint my loved ones, right? That's always been my sort of the acid test. And so, if the answer is yes, then I don't do it. It's as simple as that. Of course that's changed over time. At the beginning, it was my parents, my immediate family, but now it's my children, my wife, so on and so forth. But it definitely comes from the values I was brought up at school and at home.

Bill Cilluffo:

Yeah. No. It's amazing. Well, look, let me keep going throughout history and talk a little bit more about your business career prior to Coru.

You've been involved in technology your whole career, couple different places over a couple decades. Take us through a quick summary of how you got to QED and Coru, and how your career and technology shaped you.

Fernando Gonzalez:

I'm an engineer by training. I went to Tec de Monterrey in Mexico and graduated in 1998. And very quickly moved to DC, hired by MicroStrategy. It was a bit of a serendipity situation, because I studied Industrial and Systems Engineering, but because of my dad's business going bankrupt, I decided to take a job at tech in the computer science labs.

So, while I was really not meant to be a computer scientist, I became a computer scientist by training. So, during the tech boom in the late '90s, MicroStrategy and many other tech companies would have to go outside of the US to hire engineering talent, right? There wasn't enough engineering talent coming out of US schools, and Tec de Monterrey was one of the schools they will go to.

I had a really good relationship with the professors, the computer science professors and engineering professors. So, every time one of these companies come to campus, they would put me in the list. I also have fairly okay grades, which allow me to go through some of these filters. That's how I got to DC in the late '90s and joined MicroStrategy.

Micro strategy, as a enterprise software organization, was a fascinating place to learning new things, learning technology, learning how to build enterprise software. I started there in the software development organization, learning the ropes, solving through complex problems, math-type problems. Then I transitioned onto commercial roles and moved through the ranks. I ended up spending 14 years of my career there and it was just an amazing school. A source of lifelong friendships, many of them have left since MicroStrategy. It's been many years and they're leading impressive tech companies. So, great, great, great school for me.

I did my MBA while I was at MicroStrategy. I spent two and a half years doing my MBA at University of Maryland. But when I left MicroStrategy, I joined another tech company in DC, called Comscore, which is in the ad tech space. It was a bit of a change, but it's still technology and data, playing a role in the digital measurement space.

I joined the senior management team to grow a software unit that they acquired, which we later sold to Adobe. It was also fascinating and very rich experience for me, which provided me with great mix of quant and creative skills, and connections to people that have those skills.

So all in all, 18 years. I think you and I met towards the end of that stage at Comscore. I had gone through the .com companies going from paper to digital, software dematerialization, trends all over the space, social, mobile, et cetera, et cetera. And I'd seen small companies become really big, including MicroStrategy itself, and many others that were kind of in that environment.

So way back in 2015, 2016, when we started talking, and I met you, Nigel, Frank, Caribou, it sounded fascinating to be able to do that in bulk, right? Be able to be part of these small companies with big ideas going after major markets, and particularly financial services market, with technology and disrupt the way things are done or were done at that point.

That's how I started a new career. I was a little skeptical to tell you through the beginning, because my last experience had been negotiating the exit for the business that sold to Adobe. And so, my idea of investor was very different from what I actually saw in QED. Into QED and everybody being an operator, I mean, it was a completely different kind of vibe and style of investing than private equity type.

Bill Cilluffo:

Well, it's interesting. You've got a really fascinating perch in that you're kind of simultaneously at QED and the CEO of Coru. So, in a minute I'd love to explore that a bit, but let's make sure we touch on Coru real quick first.

So, can you talk about Coru and what's the key problem you're trying to solve for both consumers and businesses in your case? What's the main thing that Coru is really looking to accomplish?

Fernando Gonzalez:

Oh, man. This has become an obsession for me, but I love the question. So, the problem is actually incredibly simple. It's financial stress. We've been kind of chasing different thesis, but we've arrived at the thesis that financial stress is the biggest problem in emerging communities, in financial services.

There's plenty of evidence now that financial stress surfaces in a number of different deceiving symptoms like depression, irritability, headache, stomach malfunctions, et cetera. So, people suffer it all the time and they often attribute it to something else, but it's financial stress. It's their relationship with money.

We did our research last year and found that 87% of the population in Mexico is constantly feeling stress about money. Which was surprising and it's counterintuitive because most people would think that people that are stressed are people that are in debt, or that are short on money, or low income. But 87% of the population basically means everybody, right? People that have money and the people that don't have money.

So, it's a wide and deep problem that we believe affects everyone, especially in emerging communities. We cannot go around that. We need to solve that very problem and we need to solve it through financial education. So, we built a platform that is able to scale, to provide financial education to millions of people who are stressed about their finances.

And it acts like a coach. It's a coach and it's in everybody's pocket that would engage in a problem, that we can infer based on artificial intelligence, the user has. It will help the user solve that problem to earn their trust, and then it will stay with that user because those problems will continue to come.

The way we are solving for financial stress is very unique. We've studied a number of business models, Bill, that have worked around the world. Most of them have worked in developing countries where there's much more balance in between supply and demand of financial products. Some of these models are models that we're very familiar with at QED, like Credit Karma or ClearScore, which have built a business model around free credit scoring, which is a mass market problem for the UK and the US respectively.

Other models that have been very successful have been around product comparison. Again, worked really well in developed markets where supply and demand products are pretty even. But the problem of financial stress, which is unique to what we found to happen in Mexico and in other developing markets, is something that really no one has been able to address. So, we've taken a very unique approach to solving it.

And what we did is we built a digital coaching platform. This digital coaching platform was first purposed to solve the financial stress problem by giving financial education to people. And this financial education translates into three core values, right?

Number one is around cognitive values, so that the user is playing a game to understand concepts in a very interactive way, sort of like Duolingo, or other platforms that are geared towards education. So that way we fill those gaps, but in a very short format, with that short attention span.

The second one is around the tools. So, we help and organize. We found that a lot of the stress comes from noise and things that people just cannot organize around their finances, or concepts that are creating noise but are not really well-articulated in the mindset of our users. So by creating tools, we help them organize their finances, their numbers, and focus on what really matters to them.

The third pillar is the connection to products. We strongly believe that the user has a very good amount of really strong product choices. There's no need to build another product to serve their needs. What they're really struggling with is to know what these products are, where they are, how do they get access to them. So, what we've done is we've built a way to simplify the choices that the user has based on the problems that they're facing.

We built a robust network of partners. We currently have 320 in Mexico, out of 540. We estimate these are the companies that have products available in the market related to personal finance or small and medium business finances. And we've categorized them and we've trained our coaches through the AI so that they can diagnose a user and present choices that are available to them based on the specific problems that they're facing. So, that's the third pillar.

We can connect them to these products, but not only can we do that on the Coru experience, but we've also made this platform, this digital coaching platform, available to these partners. So that when the user comes to them, to experience their products, whether they come from Coru, from any other source, they can experience a smooth digitally-enable interactive experience for these users.

This translates into a much better lifetime value of the user, the user is being coached by Coru, but is also receiving training and education when they interact with the products of our partners. This is a differentiated experience from the traditional way of providing digital experiences to users. Because most of the traditional digital experiences that have been created, especially in the developing world, are direct conversions from the analog world, right? So basically, bank branches have paper-based applications to interact with their users 10, 15 years ago, and now they have digital versions of those same papers for those applications.

That's not the type of experience that the user is having. The user is looking for a personalized assistance on the spot, but digitally-enabled, right? And that's exactly what the platform is providing for them.

And so, what this does is really translate into a comprehensive platform that is customer-centric on the Coru brand, but is also enabling the experience for the user when they interact with the brand, through the technology that we built. And all of this is powered by artificial intelligence, enabled by the data of millions of users are interacting with this platform across the board.

In the end, this means more data available, more knowledge to the brands, and less stress for the users, less financial stress that is.

Bill Cilluffo:

Oh, that's fantastic. You can tell the passion for the problem coming through and it's exciting to hear about the progress that you've made so far. I'm sure in the process of building that over the last couple years you've faced many forks in the road, many choices, had to make many decisions.

I wonder, is there one thing in particular you really feel like you got right, and had to make a choice, and it went incredibly well? And then, conversely, is there one that you sort of said, "Hey, maybe we made the wrong choice," we had to go back and fix it or overcome some obstacles? I mean, I wonder if you can share a little about the journey along the way.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Yeah. I would say the one thing that we've definitely gotten right is to tackle education, financial educations, right? It's the root of the problem and there's no way around it. People have tried to tackle this, not fully committed, have failed at it. So, you have to face it and put the best type of technology, the best type of product, to tackle financial education. I think that we definitely have that right and we've validated that over and over again in user interviews and surveys with our own NPS, which is above 91% now. So, I think we did do that right.

In terms of mistakes that we've done along the way, one mistake, and this is a bit more internal, but one mistake that I've done as a leader of the organization is to assume that the vision that I have, I spent a lot of time in the vision and the strategy of the business, but I assumed that that vision is clear to everyone. And especially assumed that everyone knows what to do with that vision, right?

I spend so much time in clarifying that vision and trying to establish how it should look like. That takes me away from translating that into actionable asks or actionable challenges to super talented group of people that we have, right?

So the learning there is you need to double down, or I need to double down, in communication and repeat, repeat, repeat, right? Especially in fast growing organizations like ours, oftentimes you convey the vision, and then three months later people are confused. And I just realize that, "Oh, these people that just join now and they haven't heard the vision." So, repeating is super important.

Bill Cilluffo:

And I would imagine that, as the team continues to grow, that's going to get harder and harder, right? So, good lesson to learn while it's small, because that's a much harder one as the organization gets larger.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to get. So, we need to work on that lesson.

Bill Cilluffo:

You sit in a really interesting seat, where you're both a partner at QED and the CEO of Coru. Obviously, you spend the vast majority of your day really building Coru and building the story you just said.

But that probably does give you a really interesting vantage point as to the role of Venture Capital in helping, or maybe at times not helping, the process of creating such transformative companies. I wonder if you could share a little bit of your perspective on the role of VC in some of these innovations and how you see that playing a role in the ecosystem.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Yeah. I feel really, really lucky to have the ability to both run a business, be sort of the beneficiary of the Venture Capital ecosystem, as well as being on the Venture Capital ecosystem and help other founders achieve their visions and grow their businesses. It's a very unique position. There's a lot of synergies in my mind.

Number one, because being on the ground, building a business creates a massive amount of empathy and understanding of what other founders are going through and allows me to help them in a very tactical and proactive way. It also removes a lot of the stereotypical barriers that often are in between the founders and the Venture Capital investors because they empathize. They know that we are on the same ground. So, that's been super useful. I'm kind of living what they're living through. I'm able to help them and I'm able to learn from other founders to help my own business. So, that's very synergetic and a very, very unique type of role.

Now, in terms of Venture Capital, I've been thinking a lot about that since I joined QED. Because there's this misconception in my opinion that Venture Capital, it's only about returning money to investors, it's a very capitalist-type role. And while I think the ultimate objective is, I mean, at the end of the day, it's an investment type business. I truly believe that it's a unique vehicle in terms of solving problems that otherwise will be really hard to solve.

If you look at the history of Venture Capital-backed companies, I think most common ones, like Uber or Airbnb, Facebook. I mean, Uber is probably a really good example in the sense that they basically put a driver in everyone's pocket, and they did this by absorbing a lot of risk upfront, putting technology to work in a way that governments or for-profit organizations will be very pressed to deliver. And all of a sudden, the entire world is running on Uber. That's a major event. Same thing with Airbnb.

And then when I think about Coru, Coru is the type of business that is looking at solving the biggest problem in financial services, financial stress, not only in Mexico, in every single emerging country. And it's a problem that we're solving through financial education, which many governments have tried to address and you would think is probably a problem that governments are to solve, but they haven't, right? Without this Venture Capital framing, it would be really hard for a business to address this problem. And there we are, going directly at it and doing what nobody else has been able to do before, right?

And the result of that is tremendous amount of social wealth, people living better lives, because Venture Capital was able to absorb risk upfront to solve this massive problem. And in the end, very good business because solving a problem at scale means lots of value back to investors. So, I think it's a very unique framework to tackle problems, that traditional businesses will have a really hard time tackling.

Bill Cilluffo:

I think that makes sense. I think the PR team for Uber needs to hire you to share that view. Probably wasn't what came across in the show Super Pumped.

But look, if you think about Uber, I mean, how many drunk driving deaths has Uber saved since they've been around, right?

Fernando Gonzalez:


Bill Cilluffo:

And looking at the financial services problems that Coru and so many others are trying to solve, and how does that help make people's lives better, so I do think that's incredibly exciting part of the ecosystem and it certainly what keeps me going as part of it. So, I love the description.

Let me switch gears from some of these business topics we've been exploring to more personal. I think anybody who knows you know that you just ooze passion, ooze leadership, and that's certainly a huge part about who you are. When we were speaking to Lisa, she talked about the unbelievable energy that you have when you walk into a room and how magnetic it is. And I think all of us have experienced that.

But she also talked about the other side of that on how you also gain so much energy from other people's passion and enthusiasm. Talk to me about that and how it's a symbiotic relationship, I guess, of how your energy can infect other people positively, and how you get positively affected by others around you, and how you're able to take advantage of all that energy in the room to drive both yourself and motivate others.

Fernando Gonzalez:

That's a really interesting question and one that I've been discussing actually with my coach.

Bill Cilluffo:

We didn't talk to your coach. There's no violation of confidence here.

Fernando Gonzalez:

I sense that. I sense that energy when I get into rooms and I think it's driven by my need to please others. My personality is a personality where I feel bad when others are uncomfortable, or when others are... Like if I walk into room and people are not approaching each other, I try to address that. And I think my motivation is to make people feel better. So, I think that's what drives that "magnetic energy" that my wife alluded to.

But it's also very true that I draw a lot of energy from others. I think it's because I'm a perceptive person. I think, often, I read people more from their body language, facial expressions, than what they are actually saying. Maybe it's got to do with my ADD or dyslexic background, which is not diagnosed. But I kind of conclude a lot of things just based on the body language and the energy that I see. And that fuels my own energy. And because I have this need to please, then it starts to kind of creating a cycle. That's my best answer to that question.

Bill Cilluffo:

No, that works. Well, as you continue to work with your coach and get other answers, we can have you back and you can share your full journey in public here.

But look, let me connect two of the topics we talked about. So, we spent a fair amount of time talking about the importance of family, certainly in your life growing up, and we know important today. Obviously, you're in a pretty high stress, high hours job that you're running and very high energy.

How do you think about bringing these things together? How do you get away from work and spend time with your family and your hobbies, and really be able to deliver all of yourself to both of these, that I know are so important to you?

Fernando Gonzalez:

One of my most go to tools has been sports. I need sports because of my high energy. It's an outlet. It's a way for me to equalize and go two or three bars down in terms of energy. And I do it every morning. But it also allows me to focus and balance things from the get-go at the very beginning of the day.

Once I gain that kind of stability at the beginning of every day, then I organize myself to balance the rest, which is a big part of that work. And then, making the moments, that I get to spend with my family, meaningful ones, right? It's not an easy balance. Definitely something that I've been working really hard on, especially back on the saddle as a CEO. But I think intention and organization are critical to that, and I try my best to make sure that the moments that I dedicate to them are meaningful.

And another thing that has worked really well for me is I try to make the weekends work. Before, earlier in my career, I used to work kind of 24/7. Now, I'm very strict about trying to be off on the weekends, so that I can refresh and dedicate that time to family, and also sports and hobbies that I have, right?

I'm also very versatile in terms of sports. So, I've always got a new thing to learn and a new thing to try. Before, it was triathlons and marathons. Most recently, it's been tennis and I'm getting into sailing, and horseback riding with my daughter on the weekends. All those things are kind of weekend time that balance things for me.

Bill Cilluffo:

Oh, that's awesome. To be able to spend that time with your kids and have your release. What's the strength of your tennis game?

Fernando Gonzalez:

I would say my serve. My serve on a good day is pretty fatal.

Bill Cilluffo:

That's probably the least surprising answer you've given me this whole podcast.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Because of my height?

Bill Cilluffo:


Fernando Gonzalez:

I'm a tall guy. So yeah, my serve is-

Bill Cilluffo:


Fernando Gonzalez:

... definitely my strength.

Bill Cilluffo:

Yeah. So thinking about the work side for a minute, what's one thing you wish you were better at? I mean, you've got so many strengths as a CEO and a leader, but everybody's always striving to learn new skills. What's one skill that you wish you were better at or had, that you don't have, or you're currently working at?

Fernando Gonzalez:

This is not going to be a surprise to you either, but being more succinct. I'm an engineer by training and I have a very curious mind. When I see things, I try to break it down in how it works, how those things are happening. And my tendency, when I explain things, is the same way. I try to explain the whole logic on how things work all the way up to what they do.

That's very important to me because that's how my mind works. But that means, often, too much detail or unnecessary detail for the people that are listening to me. They may not be interested in all those details, right?

So, being more succinct. In some settings, in some others, when we're talking product or engineering or those kind of things, it's an advantage. But in other settings, it's definitely something that I would like to improve.

Bill Cilluffo:

Don't fix it too much, or you may not be as good of a podcast guest. No, that's fantastic.

Hey, one more topic I'd like to explore with you before we let you go today. I've heard you use the phrase before about not wanting to be trapped in inertia, which I think is an interesting phrase, describing not wanting to be so stubbornly focused on one strategy and open to ideas.

But as a CEO, I know you know the value of focus, and sometimes needing to really hone in on one thing. How do you think about that? How do you think about being focused to deliver what you need to deliver, but also being very open-minded to seeing the world and not letting the inertia of life sort of push you down a path, or maybe inertia of work push you down a path? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Fernando Gonzalez:

This has been a big learning over the years, over my entire professional career. Because oftentimes, I guess, there are two sides to this.

The first one is my personality. It's a very persistent personality. I tend to stay the course and be very determined to get things through the line. But when things are not going well, the best strategy is not to stay the course, right?

There's actually a really good quote from Rafa Nadal, who's someone that I admire as a tennis player, saying that, when you're playing a point and you're losing points with your strength, what you need to do is start changing the points. And that's the same message here, right?

Staying within your shore, or staying the course when things are not working, requires you to rethink that the direction you're taking is the right direction, right? And it's a really hard skill to have, because oftentimes you're lost in that inertia, and determined to get the focus and to get the things that you want, right?

But really, the solution to the problem is not there. It's in rethinking the direction. So, I mean, it's that notion.

Bill Cilluffo:

Yeah. I think that's something that every CEO has got to juggle. Having maniacal focus and belief on your end goal, but also being very open to changing course, and keeping those two ideas in your head at the same time is not very easy.

Fernando Gonzalez:

It is not easy at all.

Bill Cilluffo:


Fernando Gonzalez:

It's not easy.

Bill Cilluffo:

Okay. So as we wrap up, I guess I have two wrap questions for you.

First of all, you've got hopefully many young aspiring entrepreneurs listening. What's one piece of advice that you would give somebody who's thinking of starting their first company?

Fernando Gonzalez:

Well first, I would say, make sure you're fully, passionately in love with the problem and not the solution. I see a lot of entrepreneurs getting in love with the solution and it makes them lose track of where they're going and what is the impact of the solution, or the process that they're following, right? So, falling in love with the problem is a very important first step towards starting a new business as a founder.

Also, in the process of finding the solution, you will feel like you live and die in the same day. Often, many times, that's kind of the nature of being a founder and being an entrepreneur. Just realize that it's normal. And also realize that it's never as bad as it may seem, when things are going bad, but it's also never as good as it may seem when things are going really well. So, having that even keel mentality or personality and being able to ride that rollercoaster without jumping on each one of the ups and downs, it's key. Just realize it's normal and the key is to stay on.

Bill Cilluffo:

Yeah, those are two great pieces of advice. This business has a funny way of having lots of highs and lots of lows, so I like it.

So, one fascinating story that I think we heard and I think is a great way to close out the podcast. Sounds like several years ago you got a chance to meet Nando Parrado, who was one of 16 folks that were plane survivors that crashed in the Andes Mountains and had to live for months on their own, and you had a chance to meet him in a brief encounter. And we heard one question you asked him, after everything you've been through, what do you want written on your gravestone someday?

Just a fascinating way to think about your legacy and what your legacy can be. If you thought about your legacy, what's one thing that you might point out, that you really think about?

Fernando Gonzalez:

Hm. Yeah. It wasn't that short of an encounter. I asked that question in an elevator after a dinner, and in the dinner he tolds the whole story. By the way, for your audience, if anyone has a chance to read his book, the Miracle in the Andes, it's a fascinating book. And there's movies about the event, and his life is actually fascinating too. Yeah, I mean, you're asking my own question back.

Bill Cilluffo:

Hey, if you're allowed to ask him a question, I can ask you a question.

Fernando Gonzalez:

I've also been working with my coach on this. I would say something along the lines as, "He who always strive to be a source of positive energy." I think it goes along those lines.

Bill Cilluffo:


Fernando Gonzalez:

But I hope it's not too soon.

Bill Cilluffo:

No, no. I don't think you were just winging that answer. I think you've thought deeply about it. And having known you for many, many years, it's very easy for me to see you're way on your way to that fantastic legacy.

So look, with that, I think we can let you go. I know you've got a huge business to go build and lots of people to go influence. But thank you very much for joining us today. Certainly your passion, your love for family, your passion for solving consumers' real financial stress, really comes through. So, we really appreciate you taking some time to chat with us today.

Fernando Gonzalez:

Oh, thank you, Bill. It's been a lot of fun and a great pleasure.

Bill Cilluffo:

Thank you, Fernando. Thank you, everyone. Until next time. Take care everybody.

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