News Column

The Kings of Comebacks

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Now, in the aftermath of StarMedia's demise, Mr. Espuelas has developed a new mission with a corresponding company called VOY Group. "As a Latino entrepreneur, that's how I manifest my creativity," he says, referring to the sense of purpose his companies possess. "It's really not about making money. What drives me is the creation of a business that not only makes money but also makes a difference in people's lives."

And while StarMedia's outcome was less than stellar, Mr. Espuelas says it still holds valuable lessons and validation. When StarMedia launched, for example, approximately 50,000 Hispanics were online. Today the number is 50 million. For Mr. Espuelas, that proves the accuracy of his vision. As for the company, it has morphed into CycleLogic, a purveyor of wireless software in the Spanish- and Portuguese-language markets. The flagship StarMedia Web portal was sold to eresMas Interactive, an Internet conglomerate based in Spain.

Mr. Espuelas notes that despite the nay-sayers, the digital revolution has improved economic productivity and changed people's lives. "It proves that when you connect creativity and optimism to a transformational technology, it does transform society," he says. "It was a moment of incredible fervor and creativity. Millions of people thought it was the beginning of a new period of history for the human race. I think that was correct. At the same time, business models that depend on capital markets are difficult to sustain because you never know when the capital market will turn."

Mr. Espuelas' new book Life in Action bears the subtitle The 12 VOY Principles of True Happiness and Success. VOY, meaning "I go" in Spanish, has become Mr. Espuelas' next venture, connoting both a system of success and company that puts the system into action.

"VOY is a brand icon we will establish, and the brand communicates two concepts: optimism and self-empowerment," Mr. Espuelas says. "Post-StarMedia, I spent time thinking about what I had gone through. I'm a historian by training. I realized the patterns of success at StarMedia were old and stretch across cultures and across time."

Mr. Espuelas' new company plans four distribution channels for its message: editorial (starting with the book's launch May 10), music, television programming, and a cable channel scheduled to debut in July. "He [Fernando] is a lightning rod for motivating people," says Jose Pretlow, a California-based producer working on VOY's TV programming. Mr. Pretlow describes the show as a "talk-reality hybrid" starring Mr. Espuelas as the host helping people facing challenges come on the show and apply VOY principles to achieve success.

Hispanic identity occupies a central place in the VOY strategy. Its target audience includes English-dominant U.S. Hispanics and non-Hispanics in the process of adopting Hispanic cultural ideas. "What Fernando desires to do is bring Hispanic popular culture into the mainstream," says Mr. Pretlow. "We see this as a program for everybody with special emphasis on the Latino community. It's about successful people, including those in the Latino community who may not be household names."

As VOY's prime advocate, Mr. Espuelas can speak with authority on the brand values of creativity, self-empowerment, and optimism. In addition, he has a marketable message with universal appeal. "VOY has a social mission to empower individuals. Not empower them to do a specific mission, but to be happy," he says. "I believe it's every person's duty to be happy, not only for themselves but for society."

Raul Fernandez Then: CEO, Proxicom Now: CEO, ObjectVideo

When the dot-com dust finally settled in 2002, Raul Fernandez needed a career transition instead of a comeback. In 2001, Mr. Fernandez had sold Proxicom, the company he started 10 years earlier, to Dimension Data Holdings for a reported sum near $450 million. Hispanic Business calculated his windfall from the sale at $98 million.

"I was successful in arranging a transaction at a good point in our corporate history," Mr. Fernandez says. "The company that bought us was bigger and had a bigger footprint in the global market, so I used the time to learn and apply what I didn't know in the operation I was running."

South Africa-based Dimension Data made Mr. Fernandez CEO of its North America business. But a year after the acquisition, with the integration complete, he was replaced. For the first time in more than a decade, he no longer had the CEO title, or even a job.

"I had a bunch of opportunities to run companies public ones, private ones, start-ups, you name it," Mr. Fernandez recalls. "I learned to not take the first offer. When you make the decision to go back, you can get desperate. I have friends who have sold their companies and then wanted to go back. Several made the mistake of taking the first offer that came along, and it's easy to fall in love."

Raul Fernandez
Raul Fernandez

During a period of self-described "hibernation," Mr. Fernandez worked for the venture capital firms that backed Proxicom. Having seen business both as an entrepreneur and a corporate manager, he now looked at it as a potential investor. He also served on the boards of Critical Path and Liz Claiborne, as well as keeping his hand in the partnerships that own the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals sports franchises.

Eventually, Mr. Fernandez returned to the captain's chair. In early 2004, he became CEO of ObjectVideo, a Virginia-based developer of video surveillance software. According to Mr. Fernandez, the key challenge in the security industry is too many cameras and not enough eyes to monitor the screens. ObjectVideo software helps call attention to disturbances and free the security guards' attention to focus on solving the problem. The company already has a client list that includes the Department of Homeland Security, Defense Department, Energy Department, Federal Aviation Administration, and private corporations.

"Raul's hands-on, proven experience in building and scaling a fast-growing company will help take ObjectVideo to the next level of success," predicts Jack Biddle, general partner at Novak Biddle, a venture capital firm with ObjectVideo holdings. And for his second run at entrepreneurial success, Mr. Fernandez has recruited Proxicom's former CFO, former head of marketing, and former director of corporate development.

The transition from entrepreneur to corporate manager to banker and back again has given Mr. Fernandez new insight into business development. "I always was turned off by people who said, 'I have no competition,'" he says, referring to his stint as a venture capitalist. "I thought, 'If you have no competition, you probably don't have a business.' It's the nature of the beast and you have to deal with the competition by focusing on what makes your company stand out. That applies regardless of your ethnicity or any other factor. … You need a value proposition that differentiates your company and is easily understood."

Now, in retrospect, Mr. Fernandez sees the dot-com years as a tale with two themes: Irrational exuberance in terms of company valuations, but innovation in terms of their products. "A lot of people remember the hype and the crash. But if you look back, the world is fundamentally different now and the technology from that time has underpinned most of the change," he says. "Every aspect of our life has changed in a flash through technology that is woven into every part of our lives. So the hype and crash happened, but the technology is living with us every day."



Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine


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