The career path of CEO Ramon Nunez is almost the stuff of a Hollywood movie. After earning a living as a teenager by picking strawberries, Nunez has gone on to lead several high-tech businesses in California's Silicon Valley.
As a Hispanic executive of a tech company, Nunez is a rare commodity in an industry that isn't known for diversity. Nunez is pushing for greater representation of Hispanics in the tech world, especially among the executive ranks.
"If you don't become part of this (tech) ecosystem, you end up in many ways repeating what your parents or grandparents did," Nunez said. "In the Hispanic community, there are lots of people that don't have the opportunity, so you end up with a job or career that is lower paying with less opportunity for economic advancement. I think it's important for Hispanics to be part of this technology market."
Nunez's latest project is LiveHive Inc., an application that allows anyone to collect, organize, share and discuss their work in a single place. Think Pinterest meets a modern version of Dropbox or Google Drive. LiveHive made its debut in March to positive reviews, and the sales have exceeded early expectations, Nunez said.
The startup company was launched in the backyard of Nunez's home in Morgan Hill, Calif., in the summer of 2011. Made up of a group of engineers that Nunez had worked with at a previous company, the team set out to design a functional application that could be used on desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets.
Nunez's vision was to create a product that allows for aggregation of content such as Web pages, Word documents or emails that can be easily shared among coworkers. This is simply done by dragging and dropping it into the LiveHive app. The app allows access from anywhere by one person or a group.
Nunez got the idea from his time as CEO of MetaLINCS, a firm whose software lets companies search vast amounts of data in response to litigation or regulatory inquiries.
"In that experience I realized how much data, how many documents were in multiple places and how inefficient it is for people to work in their digital lives," Nunez said. "There has to be a better way of how people have their digital content, the ability to collaborate with others and the ability to have conversations in a much more efficient manner than via email or multiple places to store your data."
Pulling that off was a significant challenge. Not only because of technical issues but because programmers in Silicon Valley can command substantial salaries.
"Hiring and retaining top talent is one of the biggest challenges of a tech company," Nunez said.
Nunez hadn't planned to get into the high-tech industry, but a high school counselor encouraged him to go into engineering. Nunez had dreamed of being a fighter pilot as he watched the airplanes and helicopters take off and land while he picked strawberries in the Yorba Linda area. But because Nunez wasn't a U.S. citizen, he was ineligible to go to the U.S. military academies.
"My counselor came back and said, 'You have good grades, why don't you go to college?'" Nunez said. "I had no one in my circle, family or friends that had gone to college."
Nunez graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He focused on the sales and business end of the profession rather than the technical aspects.
He started in a traditional sales position and rose through the ranks, becoming CEO of IKOS Systems in 1990. He's a natural salesman, having learned the skills as a youth by selling bags of pecans to local stores to buy his first bike at age 12.
"From very early on I had the experience of dealing with people on the business side of the world," he said, later adding, "When you are raised in a very meager environment, you get to appreciate the little things. You get to value what you have and the opportunities that are in front of you."
It's those opportunities that Nunez would like to see more of for Hispanic students at the executive level in the tech world.
"Every step or junction of my career, there's been someone or something that has opened that door," Nunez said. "But that door has to be opened by somebody and that somebody is very important to someone like me."
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