Great entrepreneurs have great mentors: Pablo Hernández O’Hagan

Great entrepreneurs have great mentors: Pablo Hernández O’Hagan

(This content is provided by Wayra Mexico)

Two decades ago, Pablo Hernández O’Hagan founded a business to build and design what at the time was viewed as a novelty: websites. The company grew to what today is known as Ingenia Group, one of the most important digital agencies in the country that offers brands different solutions for connecting better with their consumers through technology.

During all this time, Pablo has also been one of the most active people in promoting entrepreneurial growth, measured both in the number of entrepreneurs as in the quality of their projects. Through EO for five consecutive years he has put together a contest for entrepreneur students, and winners of the local context move on to compete in the US against students from all over the world.

The good results are evident not only because of the top positions the Mexican participants occupy, but also in the promotion of an entrepreneurial culture measured by the growing number of students who want to be part of this contest.

Ever since 2011, when the Wayra Mexico office opened its doors, Pablo has been a natural ally and mentor for the different generations in our portfolio of entrepreneurs. The experience accumulated from the more than 100 mentors Pablo has had on the way has been, without a doubt, a contributing factor for the consolidation of his projects and his character as a successful entrepreneur.

In an interview for Wayra, Pablo, who is also the co-founder of PagoFácil, shares with us the best advice he has received and given, his beginnings as an entrepreneur, and the secrets that any start-upper should know.


Q: What was your goal when you first became a mentor at Wayra?

A: I have always been a firm believer that mentors give you great advice. I have had many mentors in my life and I have grown very much as a result of these mentorships. I also believe that if you receive a lot you also need to give back a lot; it’s not cool for entrepreneurs not to give back. If you want to be a good entrepreneur, you have to be willing to share your knowledge.

Great entrepreneurs always have other great entrepreneurs behind them. Mentorship is a key element of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Many times as a mentor you come in and you get a case, and you see that as entrepreneurs we can be very stubborn. Mentors may tell you many things and sometimes you don’t listen, and you listen to your intuition instead, but failure is sometimes the best mentorship you could have. It is like punching yourself in the gut: you spend too much, you run out of money, and then you have money troubles. You may launch a product without trying it out first, or not comply with regulations, etc.

Where is the balance between listening to a mentor and listening to your intuition?

I think that an entrepreneur should listen to his gut, and that is the most important thing. Having a relationship with a mentor does not mean that the mentor should tell you how to do everything. What a mentor says is not the Bible and it is not written in blood. A mentor will also speak to you from his experience.

The attitude a mentor needs to have is: “I am going to share with you my experience and you take from it whatever you can use”, because it is impossible for a mentor to know your business and your industry fully.

There are no recipes for success. Things that work wonders for some start-ups can drive others to bankruptcy. And perhaps something that worked for one mentor with a certain personality will not work for another one because he has another personality completely.

There are some standards and things we know work, for example, being careful with money. We know that will always work. Being a ‘very daring’ entrepreneur can work in many cases, but for other sectors or industries it might not.

How many mentors have you had?

A whole lot. I think maybe more than one hundred.

Many times at the beginning it happened to me that I found sitting down with someone who was very successful very intimidating. Once I sat down with the CEO of a large company, when I was 20 years old, and he intimidated me because he was too successful and I was a nobody, and I hadn’t done anything. But one day I realized that no one in a start-up is born successful. Everyone has a point when nobody believes in them.

Steve Jobs was fired from Apple and then he came back years later. That is common knowledge. But Bimbo also started from nothing. Grupo Modelo started being nothing.

At the end of the day, what I learned was that when you are with someone who is very successful, what you want is to take full advantage of that. What does he do? What habits does he have? A question I always ask is “what is the best advice you have ever received?” and “what is the best advice you give?” And you always get different things.

On one of the walls of our Ingenia offices we have posted a phrase by Lorenzo Servitje. When I met don Lorenzo he was 87 years old and I asked him: “What is the best advice you can give entrepreneurs?” And his answer stuck to my mind:

  1. You have to work twice as hard as everyone else.
  2. You have to spend half as much as everyone else.
  3. You have to take risks.
  4. You have to put a lot of passion into everything you do.

Salvador Abascal, from Alta company, gave me a great advice too. He told me about The Theory of Constraints (TOC), a management book I had read when I was at college, as an analogy that an entrepreneur can not do everything by himself and that he has to delegate some tasks in order to not being a constraint for the growth of his project.

How do you reach mentors?

A mentor has an ego component, he wants to say: “I want to give advice to the next Steve Jobs, I want to be close to him”. The key is to be outstanding.

At Wayra there are 100 mentors and an equal number of start-ups. There are some mentors that are more popular than others, some receive many requests and they simply cannot mentor everybody. What project will be chosen? The project to which the mentor believes he can add the most value and which is most attractive to him. As an entrepreneur, if you want to reach out to a specific mentor you have to sell yourself well, he has to be able to see your potential. And, in general, mentors want to help, they want to donate their time.

Perhaps someone who is very busy won’t have the time to mentor you, but he will answer an interesting question. If you ask him on Twitter or if you send a letter to his office, I doubt he won’t answer you. You can get any person to give you advice, if you ask an interesting question that gets their attention. I mean, at the end of the day, today there is a strong start-up wave and a great disposition to help.

And the mentor is interested to know that you listened to him. When the advice sounds good to you, you better let your mentors know it.

How many people have you mentored?

A whole lot. There were so many that I decided to write a book because it is very frustrating to sit down with young people for an hour or two, and to know that it is not enough time to tell them all I want to say. When I had had Ingenia for ten years, I started writing down all the advice that I think you have to give, because one two-hour mentoring session once a month is not enough; it is never enough.

A book is a great mentorship, it is a way to sit down with unreachable mentors. For example, if I wanted Verne Harnish to mentor me, he would charge me 60 thousand dollars an hour, or whatever. I don’t know how much he charges.

What I see now is that many start-ups receive an investment and spend a lot of money. They think they need a lot of money to build up and they forget a key element: sales.

Why does a company die? Lack of sales. That is a common denominator that I see in many of the young people I mentor. Too much emphasis on financing and getting dough, when the most important dough needed to grow a business is organic. Of course an injection of money helps give you a big push, but in the majority of cases, it can do more harm because it makes you lose your concentration. So, if you misspend your first round financing, raising a second round is practically impossible. If you misspend the first round financing, you’re toast. You have to get obsessed with proving that what you are trying to do works in the market and that people are paying for it.

Who would you like to be your mentor?

I would love to have a talk with Elon Musk, of PayPal and SpaceX. I think he is the ‘Henry Ford’ of our times. He is making Tesla, he wants to go to space, he is an inventor. I would also love to talk to Richard Branson.

What type of entrepreneur do you prefer to mentor?

I like those who are very passionate and who work fast. I remember some restaurants that were my clients. We went to have lunch with them and he said to me, “I would love it if perfect service existed” and I responded, “If you are so obsessed with service, why don’t you put a piece of paper in each menu with the manager’s cellphone number on it?” I told him this on Monday and on Wednesday I went back to eat there, and he had already placed the sheets of paper with the telephone numbers.

Those entrepreneurs do listen to you when you criticize them hard, they don’t take your comments personally, and they don’t immediately defend themselves but rather sit down to listen and learn. As an entrepreneur you have to do what you know to be right for your own business.

The one thing you do have to follow is that you need to obsess about selling, and 80% of your time has to be spent on sales. An entrepreneur has to be constantly observing what sells.

Many of us as entrepreneurs make the mistake of not delegating. During the first five years of Ingenia, I worked from 8 in the morning to 2 in the morning and Saturdays and Sundays. Full time, all the time, I didn’t exercise, I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, and did all those radical things, and I did everything, the sites, invoicing. And that is the key for failure; in order for a business to grow, the entrepreneur can’t be the whole machinery.

What is the best advice you have received and that you give?

My favorite advice is what I said that you need to become obsessed with sales, because that is what makes people grow. Second, obsess about hiring the best people you can. Third, have a mega obsession with being able to say no: never over-saturate yourself. Fourth, exercise; you wouldn’t believe the difference exercising makes in the life of an entrepreneur. It makes you more productive, more alert, you make better decisions, you liberate endorphins. Another great piece of advice is to do things extraordinarily well. It is very easy to stand our when you are obsessively good.

How have you perceived the evolution of mentorship in Mexico?

The pioneer of mentorship in Mexico, as far as I can recall, was Endeavor. Endeavor began having many high level mentors and they lit a spark.

A mentorship is a two-sided relationship. Each time I meet someone I try to learn something and to ask for advice and talk to them, and if you see an article you try to learn from it. The entrepreneur is the one who ultimately will make the decisions and who is 100% responsible for the success or failure of his business. And the entrepreneur’s chip has to be “I am 100% responsible”.

Another very important thing a mentor gives is relationships. Some mentors have opened doors for me. I have mentors and consultants that still send me clients. You come very highly recommended. Mentors can give you that and you as a mentor can give that to many people.

The thing is you shouldn’t spend all your time on mentorships either, you have to go out and sell. Measure sales every day, set goals. E-Myth did a global study in which it demonstrated that companies that have a sales plan, where it is clear who the people responsible for them are, obtain better results than those that don’t define their goals and don’t determine who the people responsible for them will be.

What message would you like to send to the Wayra entrepreneurs?

Wayra is an extraordinary initiative for any entrepreneur and for the whole ecosystem of people who want to be entrepreneurs. It gives you a place, mentoring, a relationship with other entrepreneurs and last, and the least important, money. The advice I would like to give to all the Wayra entrepreneurs is: Remember that the money that comes from clients is the most important.

Anyone can have an idea; the most important thing, I insist, is selling your product, idea or service. And the obsession of the Wayra entrepreneurs has to be: how do I sell more? What do I need to do to sell? Because that is the best proof that what you are doing is working, that people want to buy from you.

The main reason for major bankruptcies is that sales drop. The secret of the great entrepreneurs is that they are obsessed with selling.