Interview with Naveo Commerce’s new board member Louis Hernandez Jr.

Louis Hernandez Jr. recently joined Naveo’s board of directors. He’s an award-winning entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He is the founder and MD of Black Dragon Capital, a next generaation private equity company. Keeping reading to learn about the secrets behind his success.


Louis Hernandez Jr., who recently joined the board of directors of Naveo Commerce, is an award-winning entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He is the founder and managing director of Black Dragon Capital, a next generation private equity company and the main sponsor of Naveo Commerce. Hernandez is the author of three books, “Saving the American Dream,” “Too Small to Fail,” and “The Storyteller’s Dilemma.” He has appeared on leading TV channels such as Fox Business, CNBC, ABC, and Bloomberg TV to discuss technology, economics, strategic planning and globalization.

We got a chance to interview Louis to learn about the secrets behind his success, about the valuable attributes that have led to where he is today, and the key nominators behind his investment decisions.

Pleasure to meet you, Louis. Can you tell us a little bit about your investment fund, Black Dragon Capital?

Sure.  We are a group of entrepreneurs with a successful track record of building and investing in technology companies in media technology, retail commerce technologies and financial services technology.  What makes Black Dragon Capital unique is that all of the investment professionals, analysts and advisors have successfully operated businesses in the areas we invest in.  They also have a passion for building great companies and enormous respect for the entrepreneurs who dream of solving big issues.  We know the joys of entrepreneurship and have experienced the pitfalls as well. I think we’re unique in that we truly contribute to management teams by sharing what we learned from building our own companies. I myself, have started several companies, and my first startup drew $330 million in a few years and my second grew to almost $1.5 billion in value. We have codified the learnings from our experiences and share these with our leaders so they can adopt them where they make sense for the markets they serve and the regions they operate in.  As fellow operators, we appreciate how helpful it can be to have folks who have walked the walk and talked the talked by living in our shoes.  There is great respect and trust for our fellow entrepreneurs and it’s fun to build great companies.

 

 
 

How do you select the companies you want to invest in?


That’s a good question and it highlights another thing we do differently, which is that we don’t source companies and then decide whether we want to invest.  Instead, we first come up with an industry strategy by each industry category, so we have a view on, for example, the impact of digitization of the retail sector. Then we come up with a thesis of how the industry will work in the future and make things better.  We then look for companies that fulfill that thesis. At the same time, we look for entrepreneurs that share our passion for building great companies that are market leaders, and who can inspire top talent. The operations of our investments span more than 100 countries. We focus on industries we know well where digitization is disrupting the industry and how money is allocated.  We also focus on the connection between individuals, groups and enterprises. When we can help these key participants of the ecosystem, the community wins and we usually create value. In retail you have companies like Amazon as the poster child for somebody exploiting digitization, in media it’s Netflix, and in payments it might be PayPal.

But the real driver of change is the digital connection that enables the ecosystem to improve the way people and industry work, and it can be extremely disruptive to those who don’t adapt quickly.  Winners are often great brands that stay focused on the changing needs of the community and adopt the latest tools to compete and win or new entrants who act quickly to take advantage of the changing landscape and opportunities.

 

How did your story with Naveo Commerce get started?

In the case of Naveo Commerce, we are very familiar with the digital commerce sector.  The Black Dragon advisors on the Naveo Commerce board have successfully founded and grown several digital commerce companies.  This includes the founders of iCongo in Montreal, which merged with Hybris in Germany, now a subsidiary of SAP. I also was directly involved in iCongo and Hybris as an advisor in partnership with the investor, and the partner assigned to this investment was an executive in a mobile commerce company. When we looked at Naveo Commerce, we believed they had built a unique technology platform that had the potential to become the operating system for the retail industry connecting all the key constituents via the cloud.  Their more flexible and agile technology, architecture built on advanced microservices, would allow anyone who wanted to participate in the retail ecosystem to connect and conduct e-commerce more seamlessly.  It was clear that they had thought through the openness and extensibility to optimize the cloud and allow third parties to participate.  It’s not a surprise that they are starting to see more significant momentum led by large retailers partnering with them. And the reasons are simple, it’s just a better way to digitize retail operations, serve customers better and save money.

Our confidence in the company was steeped in our evaluations of e-commerce technologies all around the world and the intensity of the market demand for ideas like the solutions that Goodie was offering.  You see, large retailers have no intention of losing in the digital commerce arena.  When you’re a large, sophisticated organization that has built an incredible brand, your intent is on winning and you wait for nobody. When they recognize what Goodie can do for digital-only players and how they can integrate heritage benefits seamlessly, it’s no wonder Goodie is seeing such an acceleration in growth.

What were the most important lessons you learned growing up?


I grew up in an immigrant household in California, and my parents taught us to respect our elders, work hard, honor our family, give back to our community and focus on education.  I learned a lot from my mother, father and sisters.  We were a close family that spent a lot of time together.  What I couldn’t realize then was how important the attributes my parents emphasized would become for how I live and pursue my goals.  In the end, I learned to become a student of things that mattered to me, learned to commit to other people, and developed a desire to improve the community I was serving.  This is how I think about what I do now.  We try to solve the most significant issues in the industries that we serve while staying focused on our passion for technology and the joy of working with others to make things better.  In this way, I would say that I ended up getting close to achieving the things I learned as a child.

You’ve accomplished a lot in your life. Did you have a childhood dream, and has it come true?

My early memories of my aspirations were around making my parents proud of what I accomplished, wanting to make sure monetary considerations were no longer an issue, and that I was a good son and brother.  The fact that today I spend a lot of time with my family, get to work on things that matter to me, express myself through photography, art and music, and have the economic stability to focus on areas that I enjoy and are challenging, is as close as I can come to making my dreams come true.

So you didn’t get in trouble much?

We were good kids, but I probably got in trouble as much as the next person.  My mother was strict, and my extended family was always around, but there was still opportunity for mischief.  For the most part, I had a fun and supportive upbringing.

Sounds like your family was a big part of your upbringing?

Yes, they were.  I was fortunate to grow up with a supportive family. As the children of immigrants, my parents worked hard to live the dream of equal opportunity for all to lead successful and prosperous lives. Their words and actions are instilled in me. I watched as my mother worked full time, took care of four children and studied for her college degrees. Technology became second nature to me from being with my father, who taught computer science. My sisters and I shared many experiences and accomplishments, which taught me that human beings depend on one another. We had a large extended family that made me feel comfortable with myself, there was not much time for loneliness, and I learned how to relate to others. Our family experienced all the ups and downs that ultimately lead us to find our life path. We learned to make sacrifices for the things that were important to us.

Are you still close with your family?

We always have had each other, and because of this my family has joined me in my charity, A Little Hope Foundation. It was created to help underrepresented and underprivileged children through education, healthcare, the arts, and youth leadership development. Our goal is equal opportunity for all children. We believe their aspirations should only be limited by their own imagination of what is possible, their effort and commitment, and desire to contribute to their community.

How did you find out what you wanted to do?

Like most people, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do when I was younger.  I enjoyed education, mathematics and, thanks to my father, technology.  After obtaining an MBA, I lectured for a couple of years as a university instructor and pondered whether to further my education.  Instead, I got my license as a certified public accountant while working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It was a great learning experience, but I knew that neither of these roles excited me. This was the first time I really began to think about what I wanted to do for a living. Through my father’s role as a professor of computer science, I developed a love for technology. At the same time, I was good at mathematics and had university degrees in business, accounting and finance.  I realized that I could combine my passion for technology with my business training to try to solve significant issues faced by industries.  With my childhood attributes of hard work, sacrifice, and so forth, I set out to create companies I could be proud of and that made a difference.  I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate it quite as simply then, but when I look back, it’s exactly what I set out to do.

What is your favourite part about what you do?

The most rewarding thing about what I do is being able to work with others on common goals that help the communities that we serve.  I enjoy working on big issues and solving them with smart people who care about what we are working on, whether it’s making retailers more efficient in bringing goods and services to a community, helping regulated banks provide better service to their community to improve economic stability, or spread the joy of storytelling through media.

It has been a privilege to create products and services that have become the basis for billion-dollar companies and have spread to over 140 countries – just by listening to problems and being bold enough to believe we can solve them.  The process has been effective when I started a company, worked with founders, or partnered with entrepreneurs to fulfill a vision they had for a better way to do things. I’ve also joined boards of large companies like HSBC and Edison Energy, where we tackled global issues.  It’s such a reward to work with loyal and trusted people who share your passion.

 

Who do you look up to?

I guess I would say that my parents and grandparents are who I admired the most.  They had unflinching belief that each of us not only had the capability but the responsibility to do more for ourselves and our community.  It can be very difficult and often unpopular, but you must do what you can for communities you care about.  I’ve always admired their outlook and their belief system.

What is your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

I’ve probably had too many failures for this article!  But the biggest lessons have centered on the importance of the people you surround yourself with. Of course, I wish I had spent more time with my children when they were young and my family in general.  From a business perspective, I’ve made poor decisions in leaders, I’ve been betrayed by team members that I believed in, I’ve kept folks too long who didn’t believe in the larger cause, and I’ve put too much trust in people who had other motives.  I learned a long time ago to spend time with the community that you are serving to better understand its needs. That’s why I love to spend time in the field and have always done that extensively. But I’ve learned you also have to spend as much time with your teammates to make sure we are all aligned and that we are working toward the same goals for the same reasons.

What are your most important leadership attributes?

I’ve mentioned the base attributes I learned as a child from my parents. In addition, I have a few tenants I follow and I’ll list a few:

First: Learn how to learn. Become a student of the industry and a continuous learner.  Knowing how you learn and absorb information is important because being open to new ideas and continuous learning is so vital.  You should be viewed as a thought leader and partner with the people in the community you serve to understand their needs better.  This will improve the likelihood that you are solving the most important problems and keep you close to the changing landscape that is inevitable in any industry.

Second: Set your standard. You have to think about the self-image you want to create and be willing to make the sacrifices to fulfill it.  The standard setting process for how you want to live and who you want to become is very important and too often I find folks who have trouble articulating this important question about their own goals.  Realizing and embracing that you feel deeply and are passionate about the things that are of importance to you is a gift that should be embraced and can be a key to motivating others.

You need to work hard. I feel like I’m stating the obvious, but it is. Nothing great happens without commitment and effort.  Pressure reveals character. If you push yourself, you’ll discover if you are focused on things you enjoy and can be successful.

Work with great people. We all know that anything important requires a team to be successful.  Thinking about the attributes of a great team and the kind of people it takes to accomplish your goals is worth the effort. People make all the difference.

Be there for yourself. Only fellow entrepreneurs understand the loneliness and joy of being an entrepreneur and a leader.  Not just believing in yourself, but also being strong enough to have the courage to continue to believe when others may not, is critical to making a difference.

Last, recognize your impact. We don’t often appreciate how much of an impact we might have on influencing how another person feels any given day. If enough people take that seriously, they probably can get enough people to care about what they’re doing. It really doesn’t take that many people to build a great company. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve had for business.

Do you have a life motto?

I don’t have a life motto, per se, but I have a philosophy for how I want to lead a productive life that is governed by the set of attributes I mentioned earlier. A productive life means that I want to be compassionate and invest in people who share my convictions and want to help me on the things that I want to improve about the world. It means that I should work hard on the things I care about. It means that I should be honest with myself about who I am and who I want to become and invest in those things – and if I’m not, then I should stop fooling myself and, of course, work harder on the things I care about.

Thank you so much for the interview!

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