Guest Speaker: Mike Fernandez

Mike Fernandez – April 22nd, 2015

Last Thursday, Miguel Benito Fernandez held several talks in Mary Chapel, one geared towards Spanish majors, one for COES & Pre-Business program students, and one for the entire campus. He is also known as “a penniless, Cuban immigrant turned self-made business mogul, healthcare industry leader and philanthropist.”

Forced out of Cuba at the young age of twelve, Miguel ( better known as Mike) Fernandez tried hard to make his way in the busiest part of New York City – Manhattan. He enrolled in Xavier High School – a prestigious, private, Catholic college-preparatory school for young men. There, he was defined as a “failure” and a “scholarship” student. He worked incredibly hard, yet was teased as having a low IQ and being a straight C-student. However, what his peers didn’t know was that Mike turned down the full scholarship that he was offered, working part-time as an animal attendant and a gift shop cashier to pay half of the tuition while his father paid the other half.

So how did he do it?

Although Mike only holds a high school diploma and a semester’s worth of college education, he holds more integrity, wisdom, and real-world experience than most of us do today. Through his talk and the Q&A session that followed, Mike offered several tips and insight as to how he was able to get to where he is today.

 

1. Use Your Disadvantages to Your Advantage
Mike described himself as having Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but rather than talk about how it hindered his performance, he talked about how he was able to use it to enhance his performance. He explained that it provided him with the incredible ability of multitasking- he was able to not only review, but also understand several financial statements in a very short period of time.

2. Develop a Plan
As a result of Mike’s ADD, he began to develop 7-day plans where he would map out his week from Monday of one week to Monday of the next week. This plan allowed him to be focused on achieving a specific goal within given time constraints, while also giving him the flexibility of changing his goal the next week.

3. Be Simple & Be Aware
Mike describes business to be much simpler than we complicate it to be. Broken down, business can be classified as a bunch of small decisions. These decisions are influenced by our knowledge and perceptions, and Mike emphasizes that it is imperative to be aware and understanding of whom you are working with. He explains that most of his clients and workers now are ones who have worked with him in the past, and that it is important to align business and customer incentives to be successful.

4. Break the Glass Ceiling
When asked about his experience with discrimination, Mike responded that he felt like he had two choices: to either be stepped on or to prove that he was better than those who looked down upon him. He compared the situation to be much like that of a glass ceiling. “Break that glass ceiling. You decide if it can be broken or not.” Mike emphasizes that despite what others say, we as individuals have the right and the potential to change our own future.

5. Don’t Invent. Copy.
Mike advises young entrepreneurs to take the ideas and mistakes of previous entrepreneurs into consideration before trying to make it out on their own.

6. Fail. A Lot.
“Push yourself to the point where you’ll fail and you will learn a lot in life.” Mike always focused on what was going wrong with his companies rather than what was going right. He always wanted to know what was going wrong and how to improve on his failures. Although 23 out of the 25 companies he invested in could be considered successful, he considered most of them to be failures because he did not reach his ultimate goal.

7. Stay Motivated
When asked how he stays curious, Mike responded that he keeps moving. Everything he does serves as a reminder that he is building up his own story and making his father proud.

8. Appreciate & Be Grateful
“In this country, if you can make it, you can make it anywhere.” Mike says that he appreciates the United States and all that it has to offer more than others. He reasons that coming from his background and social status in Cuba, he is really grateful and blessed to be in the U.S. today. Putting his own perspective on a popular idiom, he says, “The grass is always greener where you are.”

9. Be SUPER
“Sacrifice – Urgency – Passion – Execution – Results” Mike promotes the idea of being SUPER– that is, sacrificing your time to address important consumer concerns, prioritizing and completing tasks quickly and efficiently, being passionate about what you do, executing your ideas, seeing the big picture and satisfactory results that come along with it, and then helping others.

10. Pay it Forward
Mike’s publisher David Lawrence was also present at the talk, and he explained that Mike had projected to see about 500 copies of his book Humbled By The Journey, but in reality sold over 20,000 copies. Originally, Mike did not even want to write his own story, but after the sale of his books, Mike donated all of the proceeds to provide for early school preparation for children.  He encourages all of us to also pay it forward, connecting with others and then spreading the wealth. “Giving is really a learned experience. You need to learn to give, because the natural instinct is to keep.”

 

Fernandez_Jin Bunny EarsReflecting on Mike’s talk, I concur that we are extremely lucky to be in the U.S., where we have so much freedom and opportunity that we often take for granted. We are especially fortunate to be attending a school like Holy Cross, where students are constantly paying it forward and being men and women for others. I hope that all of you are as inspired by Mike as I am to break that glass ceiling of yours and to form your own meaningful relationships, companies, and future.

And with that, I leave you with a photo of me with bunny ears from the silly, personable and humble man himself: Mike Fernandez.

 

 

Thank you to our student writer Michelle Jin ’17 for her review of guest speaker, Mike Fernandez – and great photo!

As always – check out the new COES instapage @HCPrebusiness – and watch for future student reviews of Pre-Business events.

Cassie Gevry
Associate Director, Entrepreneurial Studies

HCEG: NYC Networking Event Summary

HCEG_AlumThe Holy Cross Entrepreneurs Group of NYC hosted its inaugural event on Thursday evening, April 3 at the Time Warner Center Screening Room in midtown Manhattan.

The event was bustling with alumni representing classes from the 1970s to 2013. Also in attendance were members of the College administration, and Professor David Chu, Director of the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies and HC’s Pre-Business Advisor.

Many thanks to those who helped organize the event, including Kristen O’Hara ’92, CMO of Time Warner Media Group, who generously secured the Screening Room, HCEG-NYC co-founders Andrew Cialino ’10 and Colin Cunningham ’09 who managed marketing and social media outreach along with the Holy Cross Alumni office.  The event was financially supported by a number of individuals and two company sponsors.  Those sponsorships were arranged by J.D. Rehm ’88, co-founder of Mercury Group and Patricia Werner ’97, attorney at Bryan Cave LLP.

HCEG-NYC co-founder and the event’s host, Dan Barrett ’93, opened the event with a question: Why a Holy Cross Entrepreneur’s Group?  In response, he expounded on two points. First, that alumni involved in entrepreneurial activities or servicing entrepreneurs have lacked a networking organization that has so long existed in other fields, such as law and finance. And second, alumni and students would greatly benefit from efforts to raise the profile of the College among entrepreneurial leads in the NY Metro area.  HCEG-NYC would provide a professional networking organization in to help fulfill these goals.

Dan also shared interesting data on entrepreneurship among HC alumni. Using information gathered from the alumni office database, he noted that approximately 200 alumni have ‘founder’ or ‘co-founder’ in their job title. These individuals come from classes as far back as 1945 and as recent as 2013. The majority of these alumni reside in Metro NY, Boston, California, Maryland/DC and Florida as the top five locations. The list also revealed a wide variety of fields in which these alumni worked, including non-profits, finance, and consulting in addition to traditional entrepreneurial fields, such as technology and communications.

The evening culminated in the hour-long discussion with Tom Keirnan ’92, serial entrepreneur and currently co-founder and CEO of ClickPay, and Jack Hanlon ’06, co-founder and VP of Product and Data at Kinetic Social. In January, Jack also received the distinction of being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 for the Marketing and Advertising industry for his transformational work at Kinetic.

Tom discussed how his early involvement in web development during the early days of the internet played a transformational role in his career and development as an executive or founder of several digital ventures over the past two decades. The concept of working for himself came as a result of advice from his father, as well as the training he received as a student. He stressed the value that a broad-based, liberal arts education provides an entrepreneur not only with the ability to think critically, but also with the skill set to solve problems and learn new tasks quickly. These skills, he claimed, were instrumental to his success thus far.

Jack added that his time at Holy Cross allowed him to explore various avenues which jumpstarted his passion for entrepreneurship. He was one of only four Music majors in his class, and he organized a thriving Ultimate Frisbee club on campus. These activities at Holy Cross required many of the same skills he leverages today at Kinetic.

It was a privilege to host such successful alumni speakers and hear their entrepreneurial stories. It is our hope that they provide an inspiration to all in their efforts, and that HCEG as a community can in the future cultivate even more talent and ideas to further our mission of connecting with each other on a professional, entrepreneurial level.

Thanks to Sydney Pugliares ’16 for attending and adding to this great review of the event!  Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the HCEG: Boston Networking Event  on June 12th, 2014.  Be sure to like us on FACEBOOK and follow us @HCPrebusiness!

Cassie Gevry
Associate Director, Entrepreneurial Studies

HC Shark Tank Winner Ben Kaplan ’16 Set to Launch New Social Networking App

As those of you who are avid readers of this blog might remember, last spring the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies and the Entrepreneurship Club co-sponsored the inaugural Holy Cross Shark Tank competition where Ben Kaplan ’16 took home the grand prize for his original social networking app: WiGO.

Well, we are excited to announce that since last spring Kaplan has taken serious strides towards making WiGO (Who is Going Out) come alive and he has the initial launch slated for this early October.  Holy Cross just might have its very own Mark Zuckerburg on its hands.

The goal of Kaplan’s app is to simplify the process of making social plans for college students.  As a freshman at HC, Kaplan felt that making social plans and figuring out “who is going out?” was unnecessarily challenging.  College students didn’t want to constantly be sending out group texts and no one wanted to always be posting all the details of social plans online and so WiGO was born.

The app creates networks based on a users’ college or university email address so that, for example, when an HCer logs in their homepage will show all of the other HCers who are users and indicate who has – or has not – said they’re headed out that night.  There’s no specifics given, just “I am going out”, and there’s no friending process like with Facebook.  Rather, if you go to HC you can see everyone else in your network and vice versa.  From there, Kaplan believes that this app will make it easy to see who wants to go out and then utilize the app’s chat function to make plans.  Additionally, if you see someone on the app who you’d like to encourage to go out you have the option to “shoulder tap” them, which lets them know you’d like them to see them out.

I had the chance to sit down and talk to Kaplan last week, as he prepared for the upcoming app launch, and what I was really struck by was the way he has developed an initial idea he had last spring into a real live app.  He explained to me how he’d started the summer interviewing web developers and coders and ultimately settled on a team from Green Mountain Software, located in his hometown of Burlington, VT.  He then spent the rest of the summer working with them to take what was initially an idea in his head and turn it into something that’s accessible and user friendly.  We discussed why he decided to hire a local team, rather than outsourcing the coding as many app developers do, and he said that the opportunity to actually meet with, and have easy access to, his coding team was ultimately one of the best decisions he made.  It allowed him to take real ownership in the creation process and meant that he could be involved making changes and decisions during the course of development.

Kaplan also credited the Holy Cross alumni network as being indispensable in this process.  The time and feedback that he said so many alumni were willing to give him was very beneficial in the development of this app.  Last spring, Shark Tank judge Chris Stephenson had told Kaplan that if he brought his idea to Seattle he’d meet with him to discuss.  Kaplan cashed in on this promise over the summer, flying to the West Coast to meet, and also said that there were many other alumni who connected him with local entrepreneurs, weighed in on questions of copyright and intellectual property law and offered feedback as he moved through the process.

Obviously in launching an app, the marketing efforts are, in many ways, as important as the actual coding and Kaplan explained that he had a clear game plan for that too: he was starting by focusing on sports teams here at HC, because such a larger percentage of students are involved in them, and had reached out to individuals on the various teams to get them onboard as ambassadors.  The plan is that these individuals will encourage their teammates to download, and use, the app thus creating the initial injection of users needed to get WiGO off the ground.  From there the hope is that it will catch on organically and as students see how easy and effective it is to use they will encourage their friends to use it, too.

What’s the plan long term?  Well, Kaplan is initially launching the app exclusively here at Holy Cross and you need to have a verified Holy Cross student email address in order to register.  But, looking forward, Kaplan said his next step would be to roll it out to a handful of additional colleges, continue to monitor its growth, and then allow it to continue to spread to schools across the country.

Towards the end of our talk Kaplan said that he thinks no matter what happens with WiGO – whether it gets off the ground or not – the process of creating the app and bringing it to market has been incredibly valuable in and of itself.  That being said, after listening to him for an hour – hearing where the idea came from, how he built the app, and how he plans to roll it out – this blogger has a hard time believing Kaplan isn’t going to make this a success.