One of the things I love the most about writing for Inc. is that I get to meet and talk to some very inspirational leaders in the business world. Recently, I caught up with a serial entrepreneur who left Bolivia to come to the US to study Computer Science at UCLA.
Then in 2015, Alejandro Rioja founded Flux Ventures, a conglomerate of companies that include a portable charger rated #1 by Yahoo Tech and Digital Trends; a digital marketing agency that specializes in SEO and PR; and a media company that was launched from his Snapchat influencer account @youngslacker.
He is also an investor in Everipedia and Snapwire.
John White: Many people will tell you these days that a college degree is a waste of time for a true entrepreneur. What made you decide to leave Bolivia to study at UCLA and how has your time on campus helped you become a successful entrepreneur?
Alejandro Rioja: I always had a dream to start my own company. Being able to impact many people with my products and services was something I dreamed about every night since I was 15.
I think a big part of what made me make the jump into entrepreneurship was the idols and mentors that I had. I remember reading the bios of Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk (and about 50 others) and becoming fascinated with the idea of following their footsteps.
That dream chased me for many years until I decided to take action and come to the US to further enhance my education and uncover new opportunities. During my 4 years of undergrad at UCLA, I tried to consume as much information as possible about business, psychology, marketing, and computer science.
When I came to the US in 2013, I knew a total of one person. So, during my first year as a freshman, I challenged myself to have a meal with a new person every single day. Every time I met someone, I acted as a sponge and tried to learn as much as I could from them (while also providing value in return). This opened up my eyes to many new ideas and also helped me meet my future co-founder.
Then, the first time I went to Silicon Valley and got to tour the many startups and companies there, I instantly got the chills. It was one of those moments where you become so immersed in the moment that your senses are heightened and everything seems to be moving in slow motion. Seeing the offices, the products, the people all come together in one vision was an extraordinary experience for me, so I thought why not dream big and just go do it?
Without leaving Bolivia to study at UCLA, none of what I am doing today would be possible.
John White: Flux Chargers has been sold in 91 countries and rated #1 by sites like Yahoo Tech, Digital Trends, and Mashable. I must say, those results are quite impressive. How did this company get started?
Alejandro Rioja: The idea for Flux Chargers came about when me and my co-founder, Miles Anthony, were at a social gathering and one of our phones was about to die. As we quickly tried to find an outlet, a friend of mine handed me a portable charger. Although this portable charger did the job and charged my phone, it was rather bulky and needed an extra cable. It was also hard to carry or put in my pocket.
In short, it was far from being truly portable. At that moment we realized that we hadn't seen any portable chargers that were slim or sleek, and after some more serious market research, we were confident that the Flux Charger could fill that need.
The early days of Flux Chargers were rather rough and very unglamorous (but very very necessary). Since not many people knew our brand existed, we had to go and personally sell our product to people in the streets. I probably approached hundreds if not thousands of tourists in the streets of Santa Monica and Venice, CA and pitched my product to them. The more I pitched, the more feedback I got, and the better our brand and product became.
At some point even when online sales were consistent, I still went, to the streets as an exercise to become a better salesman. One of the key takeaways from that was to always listen to your customers and understand their pain points so you can deliver them the best experience.
John White: Clearly, you've had some massive success with Flux Chargers. You're now involved with five other companies. Can you tell us about those ventures? How do you manage them all? What are the plans for the future?
Alejandro Rioja: Flux Chargers is a subsidiary of Flux Ventures. Flux Ventures is a holdings company that has the following companies underneath it:
Flux.LA, an SEO, and digital marketing agency.
Flux Capital, our investment fund with my favorite investments being Everipedia and bitcoin.
Young Slacker Media, which encompasses my Snapchat account @youngslacker, interviews site Future Sharks, satire website Major Keys, and others.
And our ecommerce stores Flux Chargers and Maddie Jameson (women's apparel).
I am also involved with a research-based company called Inston, which owns 20+ patents for a new memory technology that will hopefully replace RAM in the next couple years.
The secret to my productivity is simple. I focus only on the tasks that I am good at and will provide the most ROI. Everything else gets delegated, deleted or deferred. I also like to use my body physiology to my advantage and thus I care about eating at optimal times of the day, snacking healthy, drinking water and getting enough exercise. Lastly, whenever I have to do a task multiple times, I like to use a script or process to automate as much of it as possible.
My inspiration for Flux Ventures comes from one of my all time favorite entrepreneurs Richard Branson with Virgin Group. Richard Branson has been able to innovate in many industries and permeate their brand all over. I am drawn to that business mentality since I have many ideas that I would like to see come to fruition and only one lifetime to make them all happen.
My dream (and plan) for Flux Ventures is to grow each of the existing businesses into a more mature size and continue to launch more products. This summer is going to be the first summer that most of us in the company will be free of school obligations (since we are graduating) so I'm very excited to see what we can do when we can dedicate 100+ hours a week into this. We already have some other exciting projects in the pipeline that we are going to be pushing out in the next few months.
I hope one day to have FLXV as a ticker on the NASDAQ.
John White: One of your passions we talked a lot about was inspiring more Latinos to become entrepreneurs or make it to C-level within their company. How do you plan to make this happen?
Alejandro Rioja: According to the Pew Research Center, the Hispanic population in the US accounts for about 18% of the total population yet only about 1.8% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies are Hispanics. This indicates to me that companies are not using their human resources in their most efficient way since there have been multiple studies that show that diversity is crucial in large organizations.
Any sort of change of this magnitude must first start with a small step. I think that that small step is to simply start to train Latinos in how to become better leaders and educate them with an entrepreneurial mindset.
I have a series of events coordinated in Bolivia for this year where I plan to share my story and advice to inspire other people to pursue their own ventures. I'm really excited about this opportunity.
I like to have three kinds of people in my network:
1) People that are 10x-100x ahead of me so I can learn from them.
2) People that are at my level so we can push each other and have a little competition.
3) and people that are just getting started so I can pay it forward by sharing what I know.
John White: When we first spoke, you told me that your long-term goal is to one day return to Bolivia and become president. What's driving your political aspirations?
Alejandro Rioja: In Bolivia, ~15% of males and ~30% females in rural areas don't receive any formal education (As reported by the Ministry of Education in 2004 and Unicef in 2017) and many children under five have to work in the streets just to survive. Although I was fortunate to have a family that could afford education and food, I always felt very empathetic to those that weren't as lucky as me.
It was quite frustrating and saddening to see the immense disparity that existed between my life and that of someone living under just a few bucks a day. As I researched into what the main causes of poverty were, I quickly discovered that our education system was lagging behind in so many aspects (which is the main reason I left the country for my higher education).
The US is a leading economy because it can produce highly qualified professionals and people that can contribute to the economy. This additional value creates more jobs and pushes people to seek better education, and the cycle simply repeats itself.
In Bolivia, the process is not as smooth, and certainly, there are ways to improve our (public) educational system. We're getting beaten by countries like South Korea and Japan simply because our investments in technology and educational infrastructure are not up to par.
I'm big on learning (I spend 50% of my day just reading) and I like to find ways to make that learning quicker and more efficient. If Korea, Finland, and Germany have developed better educational systems, then why not take on their insights to develop a better system for us?
John White: Well, Alejandro those are some highly admirable plans. May you continue to crush it in Silicon Valley! The people of Bolivia will be lucky to have you as president.