I recently had the opportunity to catch up with real estate investor turned tech entrepreneur Ney Torres. Not only does Ney have an extremely inspiring story as an entrepreneur who came to the United States from Ecuador and build a successful real estate empire, but he has also started a new company that has forced him to reinvent himself once again. Whether you are an aspiring real estate investor, entrepreneur or tech mogul, Ney has already been there and offers superb advice for how to whether the waters and deal with the pressure along the journey.
His newest venture, Car Footprints, is an adapter technology that he has created himself to help users track and deduct mileage from their car on their taxes.
Tell us about what your company is and how you got the idea to start it?
My CPA was talking about how you can deduct mileage if you drive for Medical reasons, moving, charity work and business reasons. But you have to have a accurate mileage records, or else the IRS can take all of those years of deductions away. An in audit, it is one of the first things they look for.
Imagine losing years of deductions (those can be tens of thousands of dollars!) for not having that piece of paper.
Most people think they can download an app that will solve it, but you still have to remember to open it every time you get in the car! They are just glorified pieces of paper.
While looking for a way to solve it, I found that it takes 30 hours a year for someone to log their miles correctly! Yes, I wrote that right. 30 hours a year to make a log the correct way: stating mileage, noting the motive of the trip, putting it into your books, etc. Somebody at Bank of Canada told us this--they actually measure the man hours their employees need to log their mileage. And these are people that are making $300/hour or so. The amount of money that can be lost through record keeping is crazy!
So I got obsessed with the problem. I wanted something that was Inexpensive and automatic that could help everybody and that would respect privacy.
It seemed to me like such an easy problem to solve... But it wasn't! it took us good part of 2 years to find the solution.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get your company off the ground and how did you do it?
This product specifically turned out to be very complex. It seems simple for the user. But it is compiled of 3 parts: hardware, website, and phone application. So in effect, we had to create 3 different products as one system to make it all work. It turned out to be a monstrosity of a project, especially with our limited resources.
Technology is extremely competitive. I knew that coming in, but what I have seen is unbelievable. So a tip I would have for any tech entrepreneur: Patents, patents, patents!
You decided to use Kickstarter to raise the funding for your company. What made you choose that route?
Well we want to make sure to test as many routes as possible to find the best way to communicate our message. We think kickstarter is the most popular page to do crowdfunding. Even though their users are not exactly looking for automating their tax deductions, we are taking a calculated risk here. We want to get that feedback as fast as possible, and try to pivot to what people want from us.
With the stresses of being an entrepreneur, how do you stay motivated and never give up?
I always ask myself the question, "Is your vision bigger than the pain?" My story is a little different than what we normally hear. You see, I come from Ecuador. Growing up I saw real poverty every day and vowed to work as hard as I could to take as many people as possible out of that situation. I'd always had perspective of how "bad" looks like. Losing money, time, etc, those are not real life threatening risks, especially in the US. If they are life-threatening risks for you, then you shouldn't be in entrepreneurship.
Stress, I think, comes from losing that perspective...for me it feels as having a huge to-do list in your head, which we all do. But you can put it on paper, share it, do something about it and not keep it in your head. Massive action helps with stress. So I don't really suffer from stress for prolonged periods of time.
It also helps to be conscious of the "illusion of control," the one that makes you believe that there is just one more thing you can do, one more stone to turn and maybe there you'll find the solution. Well, it is not always that way. "Outliers" is a great book that explains it. In the US it's even clearer to me that we live in this "mass hypnosis" that romanticizes entrepreneurship. Gary Vaynerchuk said it best, that "being an entrepreneur sucks." It's being in an uncomfortable, under-appreciated state constantly, but that's where the growing happens.
As a consequence of that "romanticization of entreprenurship" people tend to risk too much, thinking that they can control enough factors to be successful on their first try/company/year. They see in movies that people who've made it have risked it all. That's a great movie plot...but not a great blueprint for life as an entrepreneur.
The best example that comes to mind right now is Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple with Steve Jobs. I met him by coincidence in Chili's last week. He faced a lot of uncertainty but didn't take big risks (his words, not mine). As he founded Apple computers and started selling the first models, he still had a job in HP. They did it little by little. That's the real story, but that doesn't make for very exciting movies.
Where do you envision Car Footprints being in the next year and next five years?
With this product we can save 30 hours a week and up to thousands of dollars in tax deductions for people. Our goal is to reach at least 200,000 people just in the US. If we find the right partner/distribution channel that we are looking for (intuit, Xero, etc) we can definitely surpass that easily. And those are millions of productive hours going back to society. If you have a car and pay taxes, then we have something for you. It may sound dramatic, but at the end of the day, I think about how many lifetimes we can save in society, one person at a time. We are in the quality-of-life business. We want to give that time and money back to society to be used in what really matters.
This isn't your first company. Tell us about the other successful ventures you have had?
I should start by saying that I'm the biggest loser I know. Let me explain. I believe in failing often and fast as long as you learn and try again. Even Trump has had bankruptcies and all kind of companies that just vanished, and he is a multi-billionaire, you can bet he has all the resources money can buy.
Currently, I'm the managing partner of a real estate development project in Ecuador. There are over two hundred properties that I'm developing right now. Also, I have a social media company that manages brands like Subway in Ecuador. I also own some commercial properties.
Here in the US I have a small portfolio of residential properties in Phoenix, Arizona, that my wife and I got when the market crashed, at maybe 30 cents on the dollar. And we are getting ready for a project to drill for oil in Texas, but that's another story.
The one I like the best currently is a nonprofit project called "Learning Cafe" where we give access to education through the internet to poor kids in Ecuador... but it's too early still to tell if it will work.
The real reward in entrepreneurship is that you can accelerate your learning a lot! I think Joe Polish mentions that you can learn up to 10 times faster.If you could give one piece of advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs trying to pioneer a new product?
- Find Mentors, role models that have been there and done that. Nobody is a self-made person. They make this abstract ideas real in your mind, by showing you a blueprint, a plan.
- Go and sell it first! when you talk to people about it make sure their pupils dilate. Find what your customers want, and go and get it for them. you won't find that out in front of a computer.