Behind Business - What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
Rita - I'm not a demagogic person, at all. On the contrary, I'm very practical. Being an entrepreneur means being an annoying person. It is true when it is said that an entrepreneur has to be persistent. It must be annoying when, for example, the first customers say no; we need to be annoying when the investors say they can only schedule the meeting for the week... Being an entrepreneur is basically being annoying. Plus, you also have to be passionate. In fact, most of the clichés that are said about entrepreneurship are true. Our project is like our baby, who is the most beautiful of all and takes a lot of pampering from us. The entrepreneur is a complete passionate about what he/she does. You have to like the project as much as you love your family, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. The first years are painful, physically, psychologically, emotionally, monetary speaking...
How long have you been in this life of entrepreneurship?
Since 2013. I've been to Malaysia that year, where I worked in a company similar to a Venture Capital firm, and where I realised that starting a venture was not just for millionaires. Then I worked for some time in consulting. I found it very dull, so I started working on my own project while still working in that area. A year and a half passed and in 2015 we registered the company.
What are the positive and negative aspects of entrepreneurial beings?
The negative side is that it is a very demanding job. We work 80 hours a week on our own company to "avoid" working 40 for others. I do not believe that any "non-entrepreneur" works more than an entrepreneur. The hours we spend working is a downside, even not hurting that much because, well, there it is, it is our "baby".
The expression "A burden which one chooses is not felt" does not apply here?
We do feel it! Hours spent working are hours that you are not with your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend and so on, and I like to sleep as well! There's always a compromise, and there will be things we inevitably have to start doing less.
"We make a very positive impact on the lives of disadvantaged people, who otherwise would not have the living conditions they have today."
What about the positive side?
The upside is that it really is our baby. I'm still in love, even after a few years. It is a growing, evolving baby; is a baby who has now more parents (the people who join the company), who also want to raise it so that it is a beautiful baby not only in our eyes but also in the eyes of others. This is the upside of creating something that works, that makes sense, that creates value, and, in the specific case of what we do, is a life changer of many people. We make a very positive impact on the lives of disadvantaged people, who otherwise would not have the living conditions they have today. That's what drives us to work "1000 hours a day", and that's what makes us proudly live what we do.
I believe that a business that does not have, at its core, any social component, will not take place in the societies of the future. Do you agree?
I trully believe that in the future all business will be social, simply because people will demand it. People will increasingly expect companies to contribute to society since seldom they take a lot out of it. Thus, it will be expected that they will give something back.
What is the impact that you intend to have in the world with your entrepreneurial initiatives?
At the company level, I hope to create jobs and new challenges so that my team is happy doing what they do. It's been a lot of work on ImpacTrip, that's true, but both I and Diogo, my partner, we're really focused on making sure the team is happy - I really believe our collaborators enjoy doing their role in the organisation. It is crucial for me to know they feel well and they learn new things in the company. Secondly, about what we do, I hope to continue to make a difference not only to our customers but also to the community. For example, some of our clients have already created volunteer programs, some went back to school to pursue further studies on sustainability, and others have established social organisations. I think that's the impact we create: to positively touch our clients' mindset and to leave a positive mark on the projects where they pass.
Could you describe a typical day at ImpacTrip?
It's impossible. It does not exist. Every day is different. Yesterday we opened ImpacTrip Barcelona. We recently opened a hostel as well, named Impact House, which is the most sustainable hostel in Portugal. Now with ImpacTrip Barcelona, I delegated the management of the Portuguese company to a collaborator of ours, and I became more involved in the international business development. So it is very unsteady. My daily tasks can either be boring ones, like accounting, or work on the concept of a possible Impact House 2.0, or trying to find more social partners, or to create more volunteer programs, to give some examples.
What inspired you to create ImpacTrip?
It started with an idea while travelling through Southeast Asia. After working in Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, I quit my job and went backpacking to South-East Asia for a month. There I saw that many people were doing the same as me: to know the locals, to understand the local culture, to go beyond the typical check-list of tourist itineraries and found that volunteering was the best way to meet the reality of a country. I liked the concept but would like to apply it within my country. After researching about it, I saw that there was nothing of the sort in Portugal, and so I started working on the idea with Diogo.
Do you think that having a social impact company has a lot to do with your principles or do you think things just happened?
I think it was a mix of the two, although it has a lot to do with my principles. When I was a girl and a teenager, they would say things like "Yes, now you are like this, but when you grow up you will realise what life is like" or "You will be that incurable idealist." I grew up, but I did not stop having the values and the ideas, some more silly than others. So, it has much to do with me. I have always been a volunteer, I was a scout when I was seeing it from another perspective. When I was ten years old, I was going out spreading and fixing pamphlets in the regular garbage containers to warn people that there recycling containers right at their doorstep. I think I can make a difference in my way.
What inspires you to continue smiling every day?
It is what comes from inside and from the outside. I have an amazing team, I really like them, I really love receiving their feedback and love the freedom within the company. And I really enjoy working. I like the freedom that having my own business provides me, allowing me and giving me space to ideate about other things. For example, the other day I saw a homeless lady at the entrance to the Baixa-Chiado's underground and I remembered that I want to create a volunteer program in the area of the homeless - and I have the freedom to do so. Obviously, as expected, I have many responsibilities, one of which is to ensure the financial sustainability of the company, as well as to ensure that there is an impact on our social partners with our programs.
Not having formal studies in social impact or impact entrepreneurship areas, was your drive alone that led you to be more connected to the social area? Do you think it is important for people to have some academic knowledge in this area, or in some related field, to be able to create more impact?
I don't think it's necessary to study social entrepreneurship or anything like that. One can study management and do something in the area of social impact. Of course, it adds value if the person has more knowledge in the field of social economy. At the MSc, I had a few classes on social entrepreneurship simply because I was interested. I was not even thinking about having a business in that area at that time. Not being necessary, it is clear that education in the area will add value. It always helps.
If someone came to you and said, "I would like to build something in the social area, as you did. Where do I start? ", What would you say?
"Think of a problem to solve and not the solution," I would say. There are a lot of people who develop a solution and then look for something, some "problem", where this solution can be applied. The first thing to think about is to understand what one wants to solve, and only then one should think about a solution that acts on the causes of that problem. Thinking about a solution that addresses a real problem and adds value to society is the key.
How do you manage uncertainty?
Quietly. Otherwise... we would be screwed. There is, in fact, a lot of uncertainty, we cannot avoid it. We can just think about risk minimisation strategies. It is necessary to know how to handle, manage and tolerate when there is no giving.
It's ... singing while going to work. I am not an early bird, but when the bad morning mood goes away, I get thrilled I'm going to work! I love going on holidays, of course, but I do not have that "after holiday" sensation of "that's boring, now I have to go to work". I am happy when I see people working, even if half of my day will be spent doing boring things; I'm delighted when I go to the office. I am aware of the impact my work has on other people's lives, so I sing while going to work also because of that. I think it can be a good definition of happiness and success because if we spend so many hours of our lives at work, having negative energy around it instead of a positive one, it might not end well.