Aldo Alvarez, the co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Aporta, a website that will promote online donations for non-profit organizations in Mexico, was born and raised Monterrey, a city in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. Aldo is responsible for Aporta’s vision, leadership, operations and strategic development. For the first time in the history of Mexico, Aporta will help non-profits accomplish their social objectives by providing an innovative online donation portal that facilitates fundraising at a low cost through a secure and friendly infrastructure. Aporta’s purpose is to reduce fundraising inefficiencies, promote transparency, create a larger donation market and drive a more formal philanthropic environment in Mexico.
Aldo graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 with a finance degree and a minor in accounting. As a student, he held internships at UBS Investment Bank in New York, at Merrill Lynch Private Banking in Austin, at Vector Casa de Bolsa in Monterrey and in the finance department of Seminis Vegetable Seeds in Oxnard, California. From 2007 to 2011, Aldo was part of the private equity firms Palladium Equity Partners and Wyndham Global Partners where he evaluated investment opportunities in Mexico and Latin America. He currently lives in New York City and is a big fan of the legacies of Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs.
A true learner, investment guru and promoter of philanthropic good, Aldo took time to visit with the Rackspace Startup Program in New York City to enlighten us on what it takes to negotiate with the Mexican government, deal with one of the largest banks in Mexico, and find a team of developers qualified to construct a donation portal for Mexico’s non-profit organizations. This is his first startup and what follows is his passion to create, invent and transform things:
What business lessons were learned building Aporta?
Some lessons learned have been that if you have raised seed money you should be very conservative with the cash while you build your product. Founders and employees should realize that the real work will begin when the product launches and understand that things can go wrong, therefore it is important to implement procedures to mitigate future risks.
What challenges did you run into?
I faced a big challenge when I started creating Aporta. I needed to find an engineering team to build a unique product that shared my vision and was willing to spend long periods of time working together while enjoying each other's company. I needed to make sure that they could trust me, that I could trust them and that they could communicate efficiently and anticipate each other's needs. I needed to make sure we would succeed.
When I found the team, I still needed to convince them to join. They all wanted stable jobs and being a startup made it even more challenging to attract them to work full time. So I decided to share with them my excitement, the potential opportunities to grow and the long-term benefits of Aporta. I wanted them to have the desire to join. In the end, they accepted, but for me this was a challenging task, because it is possible that Aporta wouldn't exist today if I had not found such a committed team.
What wins has Aporta achieved?
I think that the most important win for us right now is the fact that we were able to put together a team that gets along, knows how to coordinate and understands the vision and goals of Aporta. We have also won economic support from the Mexican Government, Banorte (one of the largest banks in Mexico) and grants licenses from Qlikview and Altaissian. We have also created strategic partnerships with big players that will help us create a more scalable business once we launch. Finally, we have also received the support of Rackspace through their startup program and investment from our co-founder Eduardo Saverin (co-founder of Facebook) and other Mexican investors.
What are the “to do’s” and “not to do’s” while building a business?
What to do: Realize that a project takes time to build and achieve success; therefore, fundraise enough money to run operations for one to two years. After long hours of work, take a break; disconnect from the computer, phones, and email; and go for a walk or hangout with your friends without any electronic distraction.
What not to do: Don’t start coding your product until you fully know how it is supposed to work. Get one designer and web developer to work on a non-functional prototype. Once you know that the prototype is what you want, go ahead and get coders. That way you avoid getting people upset with constant changes.
What was the “Good, the Bad & the Ugly” of establishing Aporta?
The good for us has been that we have been able to materialize an idea into a real working product. The bad for us has been the constant learning process of how to operate a business in a different country. The ugly part for us was the frustration of building something new from zero. We had to create our own payment and invoicing platform due to the lack of web infrastructure that currently exists in Mexico.
What stumbling blocks did you experience?
One of the stumbling blocks that we have experienced while building Aporta is the change that we need to make to implantations and integrations of third party services into our platform. These providers constantly change their systems and sometimes they would not notify us, therefore whatever we had built sometimes would stop working. In order to avoid issues we implemented procedures in our platform that will prevent us from being immediately affected by these changes. We decided that we needed to be defensive and mitigate risks as much as possible in order to provide a platform that's credible and secure.
What straight up business advice would give to a startup?
I would recommend to anyone starting a business to have the passion to create, invent and transform things. Startup life is hard and it could be a long journey before things start to materialize. Explain to your employees the expectations you have about the business. At the end of the day, no one will be more interested in success of the business than the original founders, so it's better to have a team that understands what you are working to achieve. Focus on the design and constantly test what you are building. Work to get partnerships that will help in the long-term to commercialize your product and create awareness. Keep in mind that recognition and monetary reward is a byproduct of great execution and hard work.
The Rackspace Startup Program thanks our friend, Aldo Alvarez, for taking the time out of his busy schedule to enlighten us on the fact that as an entrepreneur you must have the passion to create, invent and transform things. For more insight on hosting your startup on the Rackspace open cloud platform backed by Fanatical Support™, contact the Space Cowboys today.
To get more insight from startups, check out previous posts in our Straight Up Startup series.