Behind Business - There is an outstanding trend on entrepreneurship, such that it can be perceived as a "glamorous career", seen from outside. Do you think there is a certain glamour in being an entrepreneur?
Ricardo - One of the reasons that lead someone to want to have their own business is to be independent and, thereby, make some money. But as the business evolves, those values change entirely. We become more mature about our motivations. Firstly, we discover that it is impossible to get rich quickly; then that we are never really independent, because we begin to put the employees' interests and investors, if they exist, ahead of ours. Even their personal concerns are also significant, such as marriage, children, debts, etc. We need to make sure our employees are doing well and, only then, I can think of myself. Until it reaches the point where the company begins to give financial and psychological stability to the founders, it can take a long time; it is a process that can take much longer than it is thought. It is a mixture of knowing how to manage money, people and expectations. Heptasense is my second attempt to start a business because the first one did not work.
What has inspired you to be an entrepreneur, as you are trying for the second time?
I learned a lot from being an entrepreneur. When working for another person, we follow very closely the structure that is already developed and optimised. As entrepreneurs, we learn to manage everything on our own, and we learn the value of communicating with others. Basically, we learn how the world works by realising how people work. It is such a rich and meaningful life experience that even if Heptasense closes and if it needed to be restarted from scratch, Mauro and I would have gained unique life experience and knowledge. For example, although my previous startup failed, I had the opportunity to be in the US, meet other businesses, other people, and cultures. In this context, I realised that it is possible to achieve our goals if we are surrounded by the right people.
How did you get here?
I've always been a good student and a creative person. To the point that while I was still finishing my undergraduate degree, I had a proposal from one of the best university in the world in the UK, to do my doctorate there, skipping the master's degree. I declined it because of what was about to happen next. Right before that invitation, three other friends and I had thought about a product with which we entered into a Vodafone entrepreneurship contest, just for "fun", and ... we won! And I started thinking, "Wow, wait a minute. Creating a company should be more fun than having a career in research." Of course that we dreamt a lot at that time, thinking that "Vodafone will buy it and we'll get rich!". Of course, none of that happened. They invited us to join their accelerator where they supported us and offered mentorship on the development of the product. That same year we also won the biggest entrepreneurship competition in Portugal, BES Inovação. With the monetary prize, we went to the United States while we all were finishing the master's thesis. Unfortunately, we were unable to implement the project, and the team split up. A few months later, I joined Mauro, and we founded Heptasense.
What inspires you to continue smiling day after day?
I think it's by having a goal that can change people's lives, both ours and others. Sometimes an entrepreneur knows that he is developing something that will sell well, but in which the world can be harmed by that product. In our case, Heptasense's security camera technology does not recognise people, because, on a personal level, I don't imagine myself entering a place and being identified; I want to preserve my privacy in the day-to-day basis. It has to bring benefit to society, without expecting anything in return. I want to improve the world, this is what makes me wake up and want to continue.
What is the impact you expect to achieve in the world with your projects?
No doubt it's not stopping what we have now. I try to become influential in my area (security) but be very active in projects that share the values I believe in. In addition to Heptasense, I am involved in a social project called No Bully Portugal, which applies innovative techniques to stop bullying in schools. Even though this project and Heptasense are entirely different organisations, we get to know a lot of people who can help both, making it easier to achieve any goal at a personal, professional and social level..
"It (Heptasense) has to bring benefit to society, without expecting anything in return. I want to improve the world, this is what makes me wake up and want to continue."
What was the most courageous decision you ever made in your life?
There have been some less good times. When I was in the previous startup, I was still a researcher in college, and because I got involved in a lawsuit with my own university regarding the intellectual property, even though I had proved that the startup's one was not the same as the investigation's. No way I gave up, and I got the intellectual property. Due to this process, I had to leave school because there were even professors who did not want to teach me. It was problematic. I spent thousands of euros on lawyers. I think it was the bravest action I ever did as an entrepreneur: I was one of the best students in college, and I was willing to give it up for a dream come true.
Sir Richard Branson, in his autobiography, says that, among other things, he had to sleep in his record store, which was, at that time, the beginning of Virgin.
I can see it perfectly. I still do not mind spending the night at airports instead of spending € 100 on a hotel paid by the company. I travel very regularly, and this money may very well be used for the benefit of the company in this phase of steady growth. I take those nights at airports to get the job up to date or explore my personal projects.
How did you find your co-founder and your team?
I had just come from America, because of the other startup, with no money or project. I was trying to make the first version of Heptasense alone, and because it was too much work for one person, I invited Mauro to join me, who was my colleague in the entrepreneurship course at the university. I said, "What if we do this together, as I cannot do this by myself? You have skills that complement mine. " And so it was. We developed a first version of the product, already with the vision of the two of us, and our first customer was BMW, with a paid pilot project. With this money, we hired the first employees and opened an office in Lisbon, which made it possible to finish the first version of the software. Now the team continues to grow, with active customers in several European countries.
Do you find it easy to find co-founders?
In my case, it was easy, because it occurred naturally: Mauro and I had already worked on projects during college. But in general it is tough, in fact, the founders are the leading cause of the failure/success of a company. At the time, Mauro was working in a bank and then quit so that we could officially create Heptasense. Mauro and I are two very different people, but not at the professional level; we both share the same vision, so we complement each other really well. We have both equal percentages of the company, in which each one is responsible for different decisions.
How do you manage uncertainty?
Trusting each other and in what we are made of. Both I and Mauro have to make decisions, but in different areas; he is focused on the product and me on the company itself. The truth is that sometimes there is not a right answer, even with a lot of discussions. If we had already an answer for everything, other people would already be doing it. But this is also part of the beauty of having a startup because it is finding solutions for uncertainties that success can be generated, or the so-called black swans, which are those circumstances that no one is waiting for and suddenly turn out to be magnificent.
What is harder to manage: time, people and money?
The three are very interconnected, but maybe it's time. A startup, if it is well positioned in the marketplace at the beginning, has so many opportunities that it does not know where to turn to. Seldom we want to tackle every single opportunity - I would say for ambition - as it would give a better return in the short term, but it ends up generating a time management problem, bringing little benefit in the long run, later reflected in the human resources management.
How can you manage your life and entrepreneurial mindset with your family and friends who sometimes cannot recognise the difficulties and challenges that come from it?
It is critical that the people around us are with us in this. My parents support me greatly by showing pride in what I am getting. I always put the family in the foreground. First the family (including girlfriend), then the employees and only then my personal life. For example, if there is any commitment to the family, this will be a priority, even if I will have to spend all night working to make up for it. Having their support is a prerequisite for everything else runs better. However, it is vital to have a personal life; otherwise, it is impossible to make it. It is essential to do sports, for example. My former karate teacher once told me "If you have to ask someone for help, ask someone very busy because they will always find time for you." And it's true! If we decide to set an hour of our day for something we like, we will automatically be able to organise ourselves around that hour. We decide to allocate a specific time for ourselves and that one we can not change.
How do you define success?
It is to be happy, deep down. I think there are two types of "success": one is the success of "how people see you" and another is "how do you feel." In this new generation of social networks, people bet a lot on the first, almost like a "fake until you make it". How other people see us influence how we feel, even if being superficial and not bringing true happiness.
It's that "we want to be seen as others want us to see" thing.
Yes, exactly. We are never satisfied because we do not value the means, only the ends. But more and more people start to appreciate the way people achieve their goals, rather than just looking at the end result. And good, because that's where the real-life lessons are.