The Glamorous Life of an Entrepreneur part 5 – What to do when shit hits the fan?

Feeling like the bride abandoned on her wedding day, I was mopping around the whole evening until the Lara Croft part in me took over. It was time to develop and action Plan B.


Step 1: Get emotional support
Losing a partner is just like a breakup, the good part is that you can share it not only with your girl friends but also with your guy friends. I vented out to a few close ones, and got the immediate reinforcement that I must go on because (a) I can do it and (b) the idea is really good. I figured my friends are pretty smart so I must listen to them.

Step 2: Don’t burn bridges
I wrote a nice note to my partner who is also a close friend, thanking her for her contribution and leaving the door open for her to come back. Both sides, I am certain, felt better afterwards.

Step 3: Look for alternatives
Shortly after the BB (=Big Breakup), I remembered the lesson from dating life: the best way to get over a guy is definitely not self-pity, but rather meeting another one. With this in mind, I got back to work:

  • I skyped with a girl from a local start-up advertising agency that targets women customers. She said she could help with content development (the role my which partner was heavier on). I told her my story, sharing that now that I’m without a partner, payment would be difficult. I offered her partnership opportunities as our target audience was similar and she could leverage the project to access large retail clients.
  • I e-mailed 2 tech+fashion sites in USA to explore for potential technology sharing options
  • I wrote to my grad school to see if any motivated bright kid would be interested in doing a summer internship
  • I talked to a technology guru asking him to send anyone who might be interested in partnering my way
  • I spoke to a NY-based digital advertising agency, specialized in luxury, whose products might be useful in Brazil. Looking to help them while building my retail network here.

These are just some seeds I planted. Let’s see what tropical flowers I will be able to cultivate. More on this in part 6.

The Glamorous Life of an Entrepreneur part 4 – Real difficulties

You plan and plan and learn so much. You get happy. You get sad. But you continue, because you believe in the idea. And then, when you are finally ready to launch and break the bank, your partner just decides to give up. How does one go on from that?

The Glamorous Life of an Entrepreneur part 3 – Technical Difficulties

We did the research, found our glorious idea, defined our brand identity, so the only thing missing was making this baby walk.

One would think that in this day and age, when there are thousands of websites created every day for any possible purpose, where Google tells us the answer to anything, and having a domain name is almost a mandatory part of one’s contact information, nothing is simpler than creating your own website.

Well, turns out that things are not so simple. Unless one has the patience to spend the next six months learning HTML, php, CSS, etc., a programmer/designer are a must have.

As a start-up, you also don’t want to shell out a huge amount of money before you can actually validate your idea. We followed these guideline and tried various approaches in order to develop our minimum viable product.

Step 1: The Do it Yourself Approach

YouTube is full of tutorials such  as this one, that show how one can setup an e-commerce website in under an hour. I would say that they are mostly helpful in terms of setting up a domain ( or or getting a server to host the website (  Then the tutorial tells you that all you need to do is install a content management software (ex: WordPress), which is basically the back end where you can create and edit the pages of your website, and there you go. NOT TRUE. This is just the beginning of the end.

Once the website is setup, every little thing that needs to be changed (the logo, the title, the layout of the page, the color/style of the font) requires a customization through changing parameters in various files, that to someone who is technical may seem very simple, but for an entrepreneur it is a huge amount of time wasted not thinking about the business idea.

We got the advice that one can make a very cool looking website through a ready-made template, bought on True. It did look great –, but then small things started coming up – like how do I change the text of a button into Portuguese? How do I add another line to describe my product. How do I place links in a certain part of a page?

We wasted quite a bit of time on the above. In general, I found that being an amateur web-designer is just useful for one to have a better sense in terms of thinking on how should your future website look like and understanding the amount of effort required from a programmer.

Step 2: Hire someone of less experience but more motivation 

Through various contacts, we found a recent university grad to help us with our project. He was perfect: he asked lots of questions, he had previous e-commerce experience, he was young and motivated, he had great ideas. We were thrilled. He made a reasonable proposal, and we were looking forward to hiring him. There was just one caveat to this situation.  He was only willing to do the project as a package deal with some designer he found off the street. The designer was not that good, plus we didn’t require one at that stage. Being young and ambitious has its downside, the kid wanted to create his own his web development company and refused doing the project without the designer. We had to let him go. This ate another month from our progress.

Step 3: Use comparative differences between countries to hire cheaper talent

Another one of our numerous advisers had the brilliant idea of using oDesk or Elance to find freelance programmers. One can hire web developers in India for as low as $5/hour. Once the programmer is hired, it keeps screen shots of the work, to show the client what he is doing during every hour charged.

We opted to upgrade to one that was $12/hr. She had very good reviews, and when we skyped with her, she seemed very organized and professional. $200+ charged later, we were still explaining that we are not an e-commerce site,  discussing with her that if it will be possible to add a Facebook plugin to our website (which was what we asked for at the first place), and crying over screen shots that showed Google searches of “wordpress plugin”, or other basic stuff one would expect this type of profile person to know about or at least study before accepting the job.

We shortly decided to terminate her contract (after much grievance and blame from her side) and this is when we started hearing from everyone else we knew in this sphere about their disappointments and horror stories from hiring through these websites.

I suppose that this is the type of thing that you have to learn on your own skin in order to understand the difficulty involved.

Conclusion:  Back to reality – hire a real programmer

Talking to start-ups everywhere, but especially in Brazil, we have been hearing numerous complaints about the difficulty in finding a good and trustworthy programmer. We have been applying all of our networking powers to try and find one.  This has not been easy but we do have some promising leads. Dealing with all of the above challenges taught us a lot about the technical aspects, about working with technical people (not easy!!) and helped us focus on what exactly we wanted from our product and from our web developer.

Lesson learned: instead of spending an effort on saving money, spend it on getting someone good and then pay him a decent amount. Your time is worth much more than saving $500, especially if you believe that your business will bring $$$$$$ in the future.

In my next post, I will write about my perceptions of  Start-Up Accelerators and Lean Start-up Bible Beaters.

The creative Brazilian plumber

It has been a while since my last cultural update. I supposed I am becoming too local since I have stopped noticing the crazy things around me.

Until 2 days ago!!

I had the great fortune of getting my toilet clogged, discovering that I don’t have a plunger, learning how to say plunger in Portuguese (“desentupidor”), realizing it’s useless and eventually calling my doorman to rescue.

My doorman, Paulo, a man of few words, was quick to come and offer an interesting solution: he brought a stack of newspapers, unfolded them, placing them on top of the toilet bowl. He then brought a wooden board, the size of a kitchen table more or less, placed it on top of the newspaper stack and climbed on top of the board. He then reassured me that this trick works every time and began flushing the toilet. To my horror, after a few flushes, water started streaming out of the bowl and covering my bathroom floor. “Hm.. I guess this doesn’t work for some reason”, mused Paulo, and decided to resort to plan B before he flooded my entire apartment. He then picked up the plunger, pumped the bowl a few times, until it easily got unclogged. Problem solved.

Lesson learned in Brazil: let people be creative and innovative and at the end they will get to a simple solution and everyone lives happily ever after.

Making a difference in someone’s life

As I was sipping my morning coffee, I heard our floor kitchenette lady, Cida, speaking very angrily on the phone. She is normally extremely sweet-natured and very calm, therefore this tone raising was very strange. When I went to the kitchen a few mins later, she was crying and refused to say what happened. Asking the secretaries around, I found out she got into a fight with the person in charge of her contract (I guess she is a third party employee). Two hours later, she was still crying and looking miserable. When I came back from lunch, I went to her and said: Cida, you need to think about the future, this moment may be difficult, but it’s not the end of the world, I am sure of it. We all meet shitty people in our lives, and we cannot let it get to us. Cheer up, everything will be ok. After this pep talk she seemed a lot more relieved.

I am wondering if I actually helped in any way or she was just being polite to get rid of me..

My boss was also upset today both because of personal and work related issues – mainly lack of motivation of people. I spent some therapy time with him, saying that he just needs to let go and not think that he can solve anyone’s problems. People may pretend that they are his friends, but it’s still work and a week after he’s gone, everyone will forget about his existence and move on with their lives… he seemed to be in retrospection after our conversation. I think I should start charging for all these therapy sessions.

Helping people is a selfish thing. It is something we do to make ourselves feel better. Question for the universe: How does one become selfless?