“The human characteristic I admire most is character. One of the individuals who has shaped my life the most, and who I admire, is Joseph of the historical account of the Bible. Joseph went through the most incredible challenges and life experiences. He was sold as a slave, unjustly put in prison for years, and ultimately became the headperson of the most advanced civilization of the time – Egypt. Actually, he was the CEO of a nation. This is an inspirational story of resilience, character, intelligence, and leadership like no other in history.”
I had the pleasure to interview Ruben Dias. Ruben is a VC investor, philanthropist, and helicopter pilot. He has a entrepreneurial track record of planning, creating and managing dozens of business ventures in several countries. In the last ten years alone, Ruben has created multiple tech startups and has achieved major exit deals with companies such as like Panda Security, Tyco International and SolarWinds.
What is your "backstory"?
I started my first company during my last year of business school when I was twenty-one – literally from scratch. I remember that the cost of setting up the company was about $50 and I paid it with the profit from the first PC I sold. The business was about assembling and selling computers to the university market in Portugal.
In the mid-nineties, the hardware margins were shrinking, so I changed my entire focus to B2B software. Opportunities were everywhere, so I started multiple companies in a relatively short period of time: about twenty companies in ten years.
To make a long story short, in 2007 I sold my first company for more than a 200x return. In the next seven years, I was blessed with three other exits: another systems security company in Canada; Creative Systems – a RFID solutions provider;, and Beanywhere – a system monitoring company.
In 2015, I decided to move on to venture capital by launching FastTrack.Vc, in order to apply my twenty-five years of knowhow and experience working from scratch to exit. Since our background is so unique, we add value “beyond funding;” because in the startup world, we have been there, and we have done it.
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? What was its lesson?
I’ve done four exits. Two in particular – Creative Systems and Beanywhere – taught me one great lesson: resilience is rewarding.
With Creative Systems, we aimed for what seemed impossible. The company embraced extremely challenging projects that many thought unachievable. This mindset pushed the quality of the product to a level that was recognized by the industry leader that acquired us, Tyco International.
With Beanywhere, we were facing industry giants. But by creating an amazing and passionate team with resilience culture, it made us persevere against the toughest competition, and ultimately, we received the reward of again being acquired by the industry leader, Solarwinds.
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding failure of yours? What was its lesson?
Although I have been very blessed with four exits in less than seven years, I like to say that I always gain from every single business deal. I either gain money or experience. Sometimes experience comes at a high cost.
I remember, with one company I co-founded, we partnered with the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. Apparently, we had everything to succeed: a great team, one of the highest profile endorsements in the world, and an innovative product. What we underestimated was the timing. It was 2012 and our product was simply too early for the market. During execution, we received signs that we chose to ignore. The great lesson learned is that a great, innovative product will never fly if the market isn’t ready. Maybe we were five years ahead…
Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
I’m probably going to give you an unexpected answer to this one. The human characteristic I admire most is character. One of the individuals who has shaped my life the most, and who I admire, is Joseph of the historical account of the Bible.
Joseph went through the most incredible challenges and life experiences. He was sold as a slave, unjustly put in prison for years, and ultimately became the headperson of the most advanced civilization of the time – Egypt. Actually, he was the CEO of a nation. This is an inspirational story of resilience, character, intelligence, and leadership like no other in history.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I see myself as a steward of God’s many blessings. Nothing is mine and everything is His. I have just been entrusted to manage.
We have a family culture of paying attention to people’s needs. We are particularly passionate about two areas: education and the improvement of individuals’ health by teaching lifestyle changes that can prevent disease and dramatically improve wellbeing. We run an internal organization that channels resources to support a set of these projects around the world.
What are your "5 things I need to see before making a VC investment" and why? Please share a story or example for each.
I’m talking about unusual resilience. The unshakable capacity not to be overthrown by difficulties because the focus on achievement becomes dominant and resists any tendency despite the unthinkable challenges. I have experienced how success can be just around the corner, but that corner comes after you take a long route. Test, question, change, adapt, and do it all over again before you ever quit. The persistence of a resilient individual is possibly the most important entrepreneurial characteristic.
Ability to delay gratification.
We live in a society of “I want it and I want it now.” This destroys planning, mindfulness, and long-term value. In venture capital, ultimately, I’m investing in individuals and teams. If these teams are not able to resist immediate gratification, everything will break apart very quickly. Startups and immediate gratification simply don’t go together. Bootstrapping mentality is not something to boot once you get funded.
Can anyone understand your business in 30 secs or less?
An entrepreneur must be able to explain and make sure others understand their product or service in less than 30 seconds. If you are not able to engage your audience in less than 30 seconds, you will lose their attention. I have been pitched hundreds of times and one of the most frustrating thing is to see potential wasted by a weak presentation. Test your pitch and idea in less than 30 seconds, with everybody you meet. If it gets them excited, you might have something interesting.
Focus on generating revenue as quickly as possible.
The quicker you leave that startup stage the better. There are founders whose focus is on their A to Z rounds, and revenue seems to be something to be taken care of by whomever comes next. Always review and fine-tune exactly how and when you are planning to generate revenue. There are great projects out there that are so focused on their amazing engineering that they lose sight of their whole purpose, which is to become a profitable business.
Founders and investors are on the same page.
We invest in people. People we understand we can add value to. Before we invest, we want to make sure that the interests of both founders and investors are aligned. If we are one, it’s going to be possible and much easier to achieve a win-win exit.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I schedule between two to three hours a day for my continuous learning. It’s my best investment and I try to do it every day. I consider it to be the base of my success. There are actually two outliers with whom I would love to meet, talk, and exchange ideas: Warren Buffet and Tim Ferris.
Warren Buffet because of his massive experience and acuteness in investment decisions. Throughout his life, his ability to identify and act on opportunities has been second to none. Tim Ferries because of his permanent pursuit of learning. I admire his obsession with practical life optimization, and that he is constantly seeking to aim for excellence in any aspect of life.