It seems many business success stories are told the same way. The story starts at the pivotal point where the right investor, economic issue, resource, or other element pops into place launching a billion dollar business idea. If I were to share my friend Camilo’s story this way, it would start out: From out of nowhere, Camilo Ferro received a call asking him to join fifteen other Linked In users in San Francisco to meet President Obama. A few days later he was shaking the President’s hand. This chance meeting soon opened doors of which Camilo could only dream. Pretty amazing story, huh? And it is true. But when success stories are told this way, it can often lead other entrepreneurs to doubt themselves, doubt their business model, and wonder what they are doing wrong. Why are these chance meetings and incredible opportunities not coming to them? The problem is not with the entrepreneurs. The problem is with how the story is told.
Camilo’s story is amazing and true, but it is much more than a single pivotal point. What I think is the truly amazing part of his story is how for the past four years he has move forward with a new business concept even when progress was slow and resources were thin. His story is one of passion and persistence, belief and determination. His story is one that I believe can uplift other entrepreneurs who may be currently experiencing a lull or setback.
It is November 2008. The economy is in a downturn. Just two years out of college Camilo has already experienced the collapse of one company and is in the midst of watching another closing its doors. His car is going to be repossessed so he is rushing to move his things to a new apartment he can afford on his unstable income. He asks a friend for a plastic bag to put his cooking pots into for the move. As she hands Camilo the bag, he thinks about how bad these bags are for the environment but how frequently we use them. Then two thoughts strike him. First, could the bags be made out of more environmentally friendly compostable material? And second, if these bags are reused so frequently, if are viewed multiple times, why hadn’t anyone ever thought of advertising on them? That evening Camilo sits down and writes a letter outlining the concept behind The Plastic Bag Solution and having heard it was a way to ensure ownership of a concept, he mails the letter to himself.
Then nothing happened for six months.
In the meantime, there is a lot going on in Camilo’s life, the closing of a business, looking for a full-time sales position, working as a server at Gino’s East, and trying to pull himself out of the financial hole he is in. But absolutely nothing happens to The Plastic Bag Solution concept until May of 2009 when he resurrects the idea and contacts a patent attorney. Then nothing happens for another six months as once again, his focus is placed on trying to make a living. 2010 starts and a website is finally born. It is the first tangible expression of The Plastic Bag Solution. A few months later he had the first meeting with a supermarket chain, but nothing comes of it. April 2010 the first advertising client signs, while Camilo works full-time as membership sales for an athletic club. December 2010 Camilo loses his sales position and instead of trying to find a new job, he takes the risk to focus on The Plastic Bag Solution full-time. This is a difficult choice as it means no income and no health insurance. But there is no question in his mind that this is what he had to do. So two years after the concept, Camilo only has to show a website, one client, and no paychecks. It is another nine months later, almost three years after the initial idea, that he receives the call from Linked In. But even the Linked In trip is not the fairy tale it appears to be. Although his airfare and hotel are paid for, Camilo has no suit and no money to buy one. He has to buy a suit and his meals using credit he doesn’t know how he is going to pay off.
Since that time, there has been progress and setbacks and amazing opportunities and delays. One day he spends his time making calls which are never returned. The next day he is flying to Washington to meet with Illinois Senate members and House Representatives. One day he is helping Chicago or Philadelphia write ordinances to ban plastic bags. The next day he is trying to find enough money to replace his bicycle, his mode of transportation, which has been stolen for a second time. Camilo admits it is a battle every morning between following his passion, his desire to help society change for the better, and his desire to have a steady safe income. For the last two years, his passion has won the battle. In talking to Camilo, I noticed a few themes which keep him moving forward.
Focus on your passion. I believe a pivotal change in Camilo’s business was when he decided to dedicate himself to the business full time. He took the risk of investing himself one-hundred percent into his passion. He released himself from distractions and focused solely on his dream.
Ask. One of Camilo’s strengths is the willingness to make calls, ask for help, and take risks. Not all of his efforts pay off, but without his willingness to reach out he would not have received free assistance to file his patent or seed money from friends. We do not receive what we do not ask for.
Follow the path wherever it leads. I have found the path to success is rarely a straight one and things rarely turn out as we expect them. Having an openness and trust to follow the path which aligns with our passion can eventually lead to big dividends.
My hope is in sharing Camilo’s story you can be inspired to follow your own passion, you can weather the ups and downs, and you two can make the difference you are meant to in the world.