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Mariano García-Valiño and Renato De Giorgi, co-founders of Axenya, discuss the importance of timing in becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Michael Wong talks to Mariano García-Valiño and Renato De Giorgi, co-founders of digital health platform company Axenya, about the importance of timing in becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Michael Wong: With today’s pandemic crisis and the accompanying destruction of jobs, many Fortune 500 employees are being forced to become entrepreneurs as they strive to create new career opportunities. Still, with the uncertainty of today’s business environment, could this be the worst time to explore something new?
Mariano García-Valiño: When Renato and I graduated from the Harvard Business School in the early 2000s, our home country was in the midst of a major financial crisis. I recall how The Economist eventually described Argentina’s financial crisis as “a decline without parallel.” And yet, the first three Argentine unicorns (Despegar, Mercado Libre and Globant) were founded around that time. Today, when COVID-19 seems like a disaster without comparison, there certainly are opportunities, for those who are willing to trust their guts and insights and venture off the beaten path. Most companies live longer lives than economic cycles. You will live through all if you are successful enough. We tend to be optimists and believe that there are always silver linings in every challenge; if you can think independently with decisions based on facts and principles and not on common views.
As the two of you collaborated to build GBT, that eventually went public through an IPO which was nearly five-times oversubscribed and had an enterprise value close to $1 billion, what’s the secret sauce when it comes to leveraging timing to become a successful entrepreneur?
Renato De Giorgi: To position yourself for success, consider timing in three dimensions in terms of past, present, and future. As you strive to persuade others of why your offering is of value to them, recognize that if it’s an entirely new solution, there will be little to no supporting data points of evidence and therefore clients and investors will be looking at your past track record. What have you done in the past to create value in terms of concrete dollars? Building a track record over time and being able to effectively communicate why this historical value creation has significance to your new idea is crucial to building their confidence in you.
Second, one needs to critically analyze if the business idea can be realistically deployed in the target ecosystem. For instance, our newest company, Axenya, is deploying an open platform/aggregator that enables digital health technology to access Latin America’s healthcare ecosystem. While your American-based readers might presume that such offerings are already in existence given how the US system is operating, Latin American countries have unique differences compared to America.
Frankly, just five years ago, the timing would not have been appropriate because technology was simply not there. But in today’s market, even with COVID-19, the timing is right not only because the technology has evolved but also because people’s mindset have evolved. One silver lining of this crisis is that people now understand that caring for themselves can be done through telemedicine. Also, doctors have discovered that they can stay in touch through electronic means and payors and governments understand that regulating and covering these alternatives is important.
Third, some of your readers are rightfully thinking about their next steps to create value that helps pay their bills. But what are your future goals and how does this timeline connect with your entrepreneurial pursuits? What has continually fueled our daily efforts has been a long-term aspiration to bring new technologies that can address healthcare disparities in Latin America. We’ve been very fortunate over the years such that for our recent venture, we turned down institutional investors for funding. Having greater control of Axenya’s long-term direction has enabled us to provide a potential platform that enables new technologies to support healthier lives for the people of Latin America.
Mariano García-Valiño: Finally, think about how the passage of time and its associated evolution of technology and culture produces a shift in the way you need to align your company for success. When Renato and I were at HBS, many of the case studies focused on process. We all looked up at how Jack Welch’s relentless focus on process improvements through six-sigma created enormous value. And right about that time, out of nowhere, Google, a small little company that belittled process and adopted it “only when there is no alternative” started operations based on a completely new paradigm. Google today, obviously, is a behemoth 200x more valuable than GE. Google understood how a twenty-first century company had to be organized and aligned for success not by adopting past recipes, but as Larry Page says, by ”thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.”
Mariano García-Valiño and Renato De Giorgi are Harvard Business School Class of 2001 alumni and co-founders of Axenya. Michael Wong is an Emeritus Board Member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.
 “A Decline Without Parallel,” The Economist, February 28, 2002.