Tell us about your background (including your family and where you grew up) and education (including degrees held and from which academic institutions).
I grew up in Saint Johns, Michigan as one of seven children.
My mothers family is originally from Mexico. Her family came to America (Texas) when the dictator posted a note on my great great grandmothers door that said all land and everything now belonged to him. So without hardly any money and a trunk with their belongings, they fled to Texas and then eventually Saint Johns, Michigan.
My father was a World War II veteran. Although a disciplinarian, he had a gentle side to him and made me what I am today.
Although I graduated from High School I never went on to college. I was raised to have a very strong work ethic working the fields with my family during harvest time. I went straight from High School to the workforce.
What was the first job you had that really shaped your career long-term? How and why did it shape your career?
My first job was actually working in the fields with my family during harvest. I would go straight after school, changing from my school clothes to work clothes in the back of the car. We would pick potatoes, onions, and carrots in the fields.
This job definitely shaped who I am today. I remember always feeling behind everyone else in school because I didnt really have time for my studies. Going straight from school to working late in the fields, many times I was too tired for homework when I got home. But one thing I did in those fields was daydream. I become a thinker and used my imagination. That is how I was able to think of different inventions.
Tell me about your background (where you’re from, etc.)
In my small town of Saint Johns, we lived in a house where our primary source of heat was wood and soe of our food came from our large garden.
If something broke my father was not satisfied with just fixing it. He would take it apart because he wanted to know why it broke and how it worked. Watching my dad I learned to ask why in almost every situation. By watching my father he taught me something school never did.
He also taught us to save spare parts, screws, wood etc. that most people would throw away. Because of this I was able to make skateboards for real cheap from abandoned roller skates and scraps. I was able to sell them at a profit. I was only ten years old when I did this.
My mother made us kids promise we would graduate from High School. Sports helped me concentrate on staying in school. I was a natural athlete. I was a boxer, and shortly after graduating High School I won the state competition for my weight class, winning the title Golden Gloves, and best all-around boxer.
What I learned from my family was something that was practiced daily in my home. God first, family second, and work after. The hard work ethic I learned from my parents, and the time I had to develop my imagination is what contributed to my entrepreneurial and inventive spirit.
One of my first inventions was the Mondo Gator. It was a steel tray to attach to your hitch for coolers, chairs, that had add-on sides for more height (for more items golf bags etc.) but the patent pending was on the hitch its self; you could attach a bike rack to the back of the basket.
Then after selling that, a few years later I developed the Swimming Buddy.
What is your business’s name and location?
My business name is Swimming Buddy, LLC and currently is based in Lansing, Michigan.
What type of business is it?
It is a business right now focused primarily on swimming safety. I invented the Swimming Buddy. Its a cylindrical tube of recycled polyethylene wrapped in a nylon fabric with a one inch stripe of (ANSI) reflective tape at the top and an S clip to attach to your life vest. Its over-all length is 19x 2.5diameter and only weighs 1.6 ounces. It works on a stick bobber concept and gives swimmers more visibility when engaging in water sports activities so boaters and water rescuers can more easily spot them.
Though this is my primary product I do plan to expand my Swimming Buddy line to include other water products.
How did your business come about?
I designed The Swimming Buddy with my grandchildren in mind after I nearly struck a child with my boat. He and the two jet-ski operators were all thrown into the water during a collision, leaving one permanently disabled. The other one was almost run over simply because he was not visible in the choppy water.
I want to ensure people are seen in the water.
Tell us about your present position. What does it entail?
I am the CEO/President. At the present time I manage the entire company from meeting with potential buyers, logistics, management, talking with potential investors and searching for possible grant money. The only part that I dont do much of is PR and marketing materials. Jamie Hope, author of the young adult science fiction novel, Illusion and contributor to online magazines is helping me in this area.
Do you have any best practices or advice for other Latinos who are interested in starting their own businesses?
I suggest research with diligence. The upfront work in research will pay off. Otherwise you could stumble upon problems you didnt foresee that you couldve avoided by doing the upfront work.
Also, make sure your finances are in order and realize there are no eight to five days when you own a company. Hard work, determination and persistence will pay off if you dont quit. Never quit.
What are your plans for your businesses’ future? Swimming Buddy is a new concept in the aquatics industry and fortunately there is very little competition. I have had a very good reception to my product from the Michigan House of Representatives, Rep. Sam Singh in particular. Lifeguards without Borders also gave the product wonderful feedback after actually reviewing the product in the water. They believe there is a need for Swimming Buddy.
While Swimming Buddy is being carried in several small stores and in Michigans Parks and Recreations areas, I plan to expand Swimming Buddy to be carried in larger chain stores nationwide and eventually internationally.
How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
I always make sure I spend time with my family and friends. They always come first. However, other than that I am always working. Either networking, making phone calls, working with Jamie on PR, and looking over finances. It is never ending but I enjoy it and I hope to become even busier when my product is sold internationally.
Why did you choose the present location for your business?
I chose Lansing because this is where my family is and I am proud to be from Michigan. As busy as I am, it would be difficult to stay in touch with my daughter and grandkids if I lived too far away.
I have also developed a very good rapport with members of the Michigan Latino Chamber of Commerce and local business associations. We all support one another.
Are you are active in Latino organizations? Do you feel a need to give back to the community? Why? Yes. I am involved in the Latino Chamber of Commerce and I do try to help people out on an individual basis. It is important to be active in our communities. There is so much for younger kids to get into these days, drugs, gangs, violence etc. they need to know there are other better things in life. They need to learn how to dream and to make those dreams a reality. If not they will fail for a lack of vision.
How has being a Latino businessman influenced your career? I am very proud of my heritage and who I am. Latinos are the most hardworking people I know. Like I said, when we were not at school, we were in the fields. Being a Latino in business has influenced my career because I feel it is important we show others that they dont have to work in the fields or do hard manual labor. I feel it is important for me to set an example that if you put your hard work ethic to use, even if you didnt go to college, you can still achieve great things. Although I think college is important and if given the opportunity Latinos should go, there are many successful minorities that didnt get a chance to go to college. They still made it and so can you.
Who would you say is your best mentor? Why do you say that? Definitely, my parents. They didnt just tell us what to do, they showed us what to do. They instilled so many wonderful values and morals, such as working hard, being honest, giving everything our best effort. My siblings are also successful and that is a testament to our parents direct involvement in our lives. They always told us how proud they were of us and gave us love. These are the most important things parents can do for their children.
Do you mentor other Latinos? Why? I will mentor anyone that I feel needs direction and guidance. Kids being raised today, its different then when we were kids. The breakdown of the family has led to many children falling in the cracks and many times drugs and gangs are there to fill the void. My heart breaks when I see someone drifting with no direction, guidance or love. We all need to make a better effort to ensure these kids find the better alternatives in life.
Do you have any advice for other Latinos who might want to start a business?
Yes, network. Get out there and dont be afraid to ask for help. Remember, the worst thing a person can tell you is no. But if you do your part by working hard and doing the necessary preparations to succeed, if you keep asking eventually someone will say yes. Dont be afraid of the nos.
But if you are going to embark on a business venture you better be willing to dedicate your life to it and forego a lot of downtime and hanging out. Its tough but its worth it.
What is your favorite quote and why?
My favorite quote is, Some men see thing as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not? George Bernard Shaw
This is one of my favorite quotes because for people like myself, or my friend Jamie Hope whose career is built on imagination, we create a dream that never was and bring it to fruition. Instead of questioning what is, we bring things that never were into life. That is the life of an inventor.