Making the Jump from Big Tech to Startup (With Bexi.io's Cuco Vega)
Elias Torres: Ola, I'm Elias Torres co- founder and CTO of Drift. You are listening to the American Dream Podcast. Did you know that Drift is part of just 2% of VC- backed startups led by Latin American founders. Well, I'm on a mission to change that on this show, you will hear from leaders who have achieved their own version of the American dream. We'll talk about what the process looked like to get there, the obstacles they face along the way and the work we still have to do to build the new face of a diverse corporate America. foreign language Elias Torres. Today we have Kuko Vega on the podcast. Kuko is the co- founder and CTO of Bexy, a simple tool that helps small businesses create and launch landing page social campaign in minutes, Kuko has experience both in engineering and product design. And while he was born in the United States, Kuko spent most of his childhood in Mexico. Kuko, thanks for coming on this show.
Cuco Vega: No, thank you for having me, Elias. Pretty excited.
Elias Torres: Yeah, yeah. No. It's fascinating. It's really a joy to meet fellow entrepreneurs and learning about their journey. And what I'm trying to do here on the podcast on The American Dream Podcast is highlight other stories of Latinos, of underrepresented people and their journeys. And I think there's a lot of similarity between your journey and mine, and so I want to talk about that. I think the one short way of describing you is that you are an engineer working in big tech in the US that have made the big jump into become your own boss, become an entrepreneur and start a company, two major moments in there. One is achieving a job at a great tech company. And the other one is making the jump to entrepreneur. Let's talk about it. Was that easy? Was that overnight? Was it no problem? Tell me about that.
Cuco Vega: It was definitely not easy to be honest. Because before I made this jump into working for a big tech company I pretty much spent three or four years just jumping between small gates at agencies, working for startups, freelancing, at the same time going to grad school, because I was actually transitioning on my career from being an engineer, which was my first background towards becoming a designer, which was my real passion. And it was hard, not just because of the industry and how competitive it is and all that. But for me, there was a lot of things that took me a little bit to understand, culturally especially. So just to give you an example, when I first moved back to the Bay Area, after going to college in Mexico and working in Mexico for a little bit, the whole business culture is different over there. So I remember my first job interviews for a web designer role. And I would go to the interviews wearing a suit because in Mexico, even if you're interviewing for a janitor position or whatever, you always have to be very well dressed for an interview. So now that I think about it, I'm like these people probably look at me and just laugh hard about like" What's this guy doing here?" So it took me a while to start getting a lot of things about how the culture here was a little different. But then I think that once I got it, I pretty quickly understood how to jump from gig to gig, to focus on what I wanted to learn. So yeah. That was pretty much how I did it.
Elias Torres: Do you think that you should have just gone straight to Citrix? Is there a reason why you just couldn't go straight there?
Cuco Vega: Well, there's two things. To be honest, the first part, and this is probably something that a lot of people have is, I wasn't sure or I didn't think I was ready to just apply for big companies. So on one side, it was I was doubtful of myself and on the other side, I knew that even though I was a very creative person and I had a very good eye for design and all that, I knew that I wasn't ready, or I wasn't at least at the level where I wanted to be as a designer, to now go to a big company and start this. But for me, there's also a bigger lesson of also how important community and networking is because the main reason why I joined Citrix is because my now co- founder, which we met in 2008 at my first job in the Bay Area, we were together and we stayed working together at different gigs when I was freelancing. And then he's the one who tells me," Hey, we're looking for a senior designer, are you ready?" And now at that point, I was like," You know what? I feel like now I finally am ready." And that's how it pretty much happened. So I do think that there was a process, but it's also always very important that networking part and that community to help you take those steps.
Elias Torres: I think that's a fantastic case study in this dilemma that the Latinas, that we get stuck, that we feel, people talk about is the imposter syndrome. You don't think you're good enough for a company like Citrix. Given the experience that you have now that you worked at Citrix, when people had started at Citrix were they any better or more experienced than you were at that same exact time in their careers?
Cuco Vega: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. Yeah. Definitely. I don't think so. And you know what's really funny? I remember at my very first job, I was working at a biotech company, Bio- Rad. And I remember the first week when I got there and I was just a contractor for a six- month contract because they were about two launch a new website. So they literally would just give me a daily list of tasks and I would just tackle them like boom. And I remember it was lunchtime and I was already done. And I would look around and I was like," Wait, what are these people doing? What does it take for them to do this all day and I have nothing to do now?" And I would go to the manager and ask him for more work, which later my now co- founder Raffa told me like," Dude, you got to chill out a little bit. You're not doing nothing, not because it's bad, but people around are starting to get pissed because you make them look bad." And I'm like," What are you talking about? This is not even..." So I don't know, dude. I think there's a lot of also cultural differences in that aspect. But no, when I joined Citrix I didn't feel at all like I was less talented or less capable than any of my teammates and-
Elias Torres: inaudible you did feel less before you applied.
Cuco Vega: Well, before, yes. But that's because I felt like I wasn't yet as good as I wanted to be. And this-
Elias Torres: But that's the problem that holds us back from taking chances. It's like you're right. This is the point that I'm trying to make for people listening to this, is that here we were, you and I, feeling the same exact thing when I applied to IBM. My first job was IBM. And so you had to go through more steps and spend three to four years at agencies before you get a job at a big company because you thought you were not ready, but the truth is that we are just the same And in fact, your point is that we bring other things. Somebody that has been privileged and grew up here might not have the hustle that you had, that when you were given tasks, you're like," I'm going to crank through this because my parents told me that if I don't do this, I'm not going to survive. And I have to work twice as hard." That's the advantage of diversity. Different perspectives, different hustle, different values, different energy, different personalities. That's what makes us different. And so now that you've been there, you're like," Hey, I was just as prepared to apply on the first day that I graduated to do what I did." In fact, you were going to school to learn something else. So you were actually preparing yourself even better for that first job there. So fantastic. Fantastic. How was it working at Citrix? Was it tough being Latino in Citrix?
Cuco Vega: I mean, obviously I don't want to sound like an asshole here, but it was great because my team was pretty much... this was 2011, but we were already remote. We had our base in San Francisco, offices in San Francisco, but we were pretty much working from home all day. So I would either work from my place or I would go to Raffa's place, my co- founder and we would work from there. Or we would go to the coffee shop or whatever. And to be honest, now that I think about it, it was an advantage, personal advantage but at the same time, it didn't give us the opportunity to also connect wider with people in the company, because we were living in our own fantasy world where we do our job whatever, we have our review calls and we present our work and that's it. But I don't think it gave us the opportunity to grow or to connect with other departments outside of marketing communications, which is where we were until later when things changed a little bit. New leadership came to the company. We actually had to go back and start going to the offices, at least every now and then. And that's when I started meeting more people. And I actually got to see that there were also Latinos there which I don't know. I just feel like I left an opportunity to grow and connect with other people from other departments and stuff. But at the very end of that period, we did get involved pretty much with everyone from product, engineering, marketing and management. And that's when I actually started looking at all the different opportunities. And that's when the idea for us to create our own business came.
Elias Torres: That's amazing. And yeah. I was going to ask you, how many years did you do at Citrix? And how did you come up with that? By the way, your business, I'm very familiar with. I've built landing pages in... this is almost my fourth company doing that. So very, very familiar with the space. Love it. How many years? And how did you come up with the idea?
Cuco Vega: I was in Citrix for three and a half years. And the idea came out, I think, from anger from being really pissed at something that happened. We had been working for, I would say about over a year, a year and a half on this huge project. So Citrix had just acquired a bunch of smaller companies that were building online products. One of those products was GoToMeeting, which back in the day was in the top three of video conferencing tools. And some other tools that were a part of these other same companies. So the challenge for us was we had to put together all those different tools with completely different brands, messaging, functionality, product, everything. And for a year and a half, we worked together with every single other team product, design, marketing, engineering. And we pretty much built everything under one suite, the online suite. So when we're about to present, then there's a leadership change. And like most companies when there's that kind of change, these people bring their own people or at least they want to make sure that they leave a stamp, everyone needs to know that the moment I got here, I changed things and I improve stuff. And so these new guys tell us," Oh, you know what? Yeah. Thanks for what you did, whatever, but we're going to bring an outside agency to actually take over." So we're like," Take over what?" We were ready to lunch. So then they bring Frog Design, which is a top agency worldwide. I mean, I do and I have been an admirer, of course, of their work and everything. But they bring this team and then this team looks at everything that we did and then they just message it a little bit and change it, a few things here, a few things there. And then the moment that was for us that aha moment was in the final presentation when they're showing the campaign and all the different touch points and everything. And we literally saw some of the work that we did, presented exactly the way we created it, exactly the same strategy, the same design, everything. So Raffa and I look at each other and we're like,"Dude, that's our work. We could be doing this thing and charging over a million dollars like these guys.". So that was a moment where we realized that the kind of work that we were doing and the experience that we had that we were ready to start our own thing. Plus to be honest, I always wanted to start my own business. I think that's just because growing up, that's how I saw my parents. And the reason why I also love the name of your podcast is because I feel like every time that I talk about my experience, it's like this experience is really the continuation of my parents' American dream. And so for me, starting my own business had always been an ideal. And when we saw that opportunity, we were like, "Let's start." We're ready.
Elias Torres: Yeah. No, I think that that's doesn't really find a great recollection of how things happen and I think that's something for people to hear here, to pay attention because you were able to combine your work and your passion at a moment where you saw... I think that's a really good technique, is go look at your work that you do and see what's the gap between you and the people that are making money from the same work. If it's an agency, if it's a consultancy, if it's a software as a service product, if it is a whatever it is, is be able to see what others are doing with the same thing that you are doing. And that's the gap that we all have. It's like,"Oh, if I make it just slightly better, I can go from charging a hundred dollars to charging a million dollars." And sometimes the difference is minimal, but it's the people that have the boldness and the courage to go and ask for that. And so it's like, when you know that. You were like," I can do the same." I mean, that's exactly what happened to me at HubSpot. It's like at HubSpot, I saw Brian and Dharmesh, amazing founders, and they launched this company and it's worth a billion dollars. And we're like," Wow, we did a whole bunch of the work here. And they're the ones who..." It's like," It's our work there." So exactly the same thing. So David and I said," Let's go, we're going to go start our own. And we're going to make our own company go to a billion dollars." And is that drive that chip on a shoulder of an immigrant that says," I see them doing it. They're just humans like me. And I know how much I did here. I might be missing something. Well, let me go figure it out." And so is the right combination of experience that you build up in your agency days and the three years that you spend at Citrix. And so sometimes we do it early. We just got to find the right time that works for us, where we have the right confidence. Oh, unbelievable. I love it. Love it. And so then you go and you say," Who are these guys, we're going to go charge a lot?" And did you get funding? Tell me a little about that other jump, big jump. crosstalk wondering like," How do I start my own company?"
Cuco Vega: Yeah, yeah. For us. It was that definitely at that moment. I mean, we both, Raff and I, had a little bit of experience of working at startups, but working at startup doesn't necessarily give you the knowledge to actually start yours. So when we first started, we started as a digital marketing agency. We were not even thinking about building a product or being a startup or raising money or anything. So the first thing we did was, okay, we need to start getting clients. In order to get clients, we have some work to show. So we started doing some pro bono work while we were still at Citrix. So we started doing some pro bono work. And then once we had a good portfolio, we started reaching out to potential clients. Pretty much, we started looking at our Rolodex from companies that we worked at before and people that we worked with before. And that's how we started. We started telling our colleagues and people that we knew. And that's how we got our first clients. The transition from having a full time job to now being a hundred percent on the business was step- by- step except. For example, I was the first one to jump in a hundred percent once we had enough work. So I was the first one to quit my job because I was the single one with no kids and no mortgage. So I jumped in first and then a few months later, Raffa also joined in. And we ran for a year and a half. We ran like a traditional agency until we saw the opportunity. The moment of truth, I think, was in a call with a potential client. And this guy was probably one of the hardest calls that we ever had. He did not become a client, but he pretty much left this little seed in our heads that just started growing and growing. And what I remember is after we presented our capabilities deck and we show him this is what we've been doing, some success stories and this is what we can do for you and everything. And then at the end, the guy's like," Okay, so how do I know that's going to be effective? How do I know that your beautiful work is going to work? Yeah, that looks great. But how do you measure ROI on what do you do? Because I'm not going to be spending money just to have a new website and a new brand and come pains and stuff if I don't know, what am I going to get." And both, Raff and I, were like," I don't know." And it's interesting. I mean, it's interesting because it's still today a challenge for things like marketing and design and strategy to really put an ROI on it. And I'm sure you guys deal with it constantly. And that's what a lot of companies in our industry are still trying to figure out. And some of them try to do it with data. And some of them tried to do it with AI and some of them... But for us, that was the first moment that we were like," Shit. That's true. How can we make this more effective? How can we connect this with results? How can we?" So the first thing we thought was," Okay, can we use technology to do that? Can we build something that can do that?" And from there, then we started just every single afternoon we would just spend two or three hours just trying to figure out how we could build something that we saw that. And it went through different phases because before we started pivoting, the first idea for product was, okay, we need to make a platform that allows the client to see exactly what we're creating for them. And then what's going to be the outcomes and then what are the expected results, still not actual ROI, but something like that. And then as we started building-
Elias Torres: inaudible.
Cuco Vega: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of hard. And this is what we learned at the same time, that we were not going to hit the nail on the head right away.
Elias Torres: But it never stopped you from trying and that's the key. The people need to know that it takes time and iteration and I love what you did. The customer was teaching you a ton. It's like you were listening to them, even if they were not going to become a customer, you can always learn from them. At Drift, we say we got to put the customer at the center of everything that we do. And you were doing that. That's yeah. Trust me, I mean, ROI discussions all the time. And it's like, how does the customer believe? And we have a lot of data at Drift. I have a friend of mine that I'm an investor in this company called Klaviyo. And it's an email nurturing campaign for Shopify, for e- commerce. And he had done a really good job of showing ROI because he would send emails to people that abandoned their cards at a Shopify website. And so he would send an email and he could track when they clicked on the email. And then he knows that email address, how much do they buy later on. So he could tell you how much money was being purchased from their emails that they sent automatically with no effort all the time. And so I was like, that's such a beautiful ROI.
Cuco Vega: Yes. And I mean, when I think about it, I think it's about not trying to figure the ROI of the bigger picture. You can start with small things like that. What's the ROI on following up on someone who you were probably going to lose as a customer?
Elias Torres: Exactly.
Cuco Vega: So starting from small, tiny things. And I think that was also one of our first lessons. Our first prototype was this Frankenstein thing that tried to do so many things, that it wasn't doing anything relevant. It would try to do a bunch of stuff, but it wasn't really solving anything.
Elias Torres: That's a fantastic entrepreneur lesson. It's focus on one thing, do one thing really well. I mean, you still have to do a whole bunch of crap. It just never ends, but I've been there. And when I read your description. It was like, well done. I can see the maturity at the stage that you are, as a startup to say, "We do just create landing page for social campaigns." Not just landing pages because landing pages for everything could be a lot. I ran into a company, by the way, give you some ideas. Maybe you already thought of this, there's a company that's creating landing page for TikTok influencers. And so it creates a page specifically for them to put on their link, on their profiles that has the links designed for them to charge, to sell to a shop, to sell items to achieve something. So always you can start with the niche and then expand. And that lets you know, if you have traction, if you have product market fit.
Cuco Vega: Yeah, no. I agree a hundred percent. Just this morning, as I was doing a demo over product with a potential user, we jump into a little bump because this company does mortgages and the way that most advertising platforms nowadays treat specific types of companies like mortgages and other financial services, real estate and stuff, doesn't allow them to do the same kind of targeting that other industries can do. And right after the call, I was thinking, why are there not already tools that are specific for super regulated industries. Because there's a lot of them from biotech and life sciences to financial services, to I don't know gambling. There's a lot of them. But yeah. And I think little, little by little, it's going to go from these big tech companies that were doing massive stuff to the companies that are solving very, very specific problems.
Elias Torres: To wrap it up, I think there's something that I love what you said is that, about the American dream and your parents. And that you're extending that. It's like yeah. I've been talking about my American dream, but it's really in my mother's too. And actually, my case is my grandmother, who came to the United States, she crossed Rio Grande in'75. And because of her, my mother could come. And because my mother could come, I came. And so we are living a dream that started with her. foreign language. And so tell me a little bit about your mission, so to close up, and how it connects to your parents and what they taught you.
Cuco Vega: Well, I think one of the things that I got from my parents was definitely... for me, it's always been the bar that they left it, it's high already from coming here super young, no papers, no language, nothing. And then work here, start their own business, move back to Mexico. Because they wanted my siblings and I to grow with their culture and all that stuff. So for me, the bar was already high and inside of my head, I always have this thing that tells me," You have to do at least a little higher. If they already put you right here, if they already gave you an education and already gave you all the tools." And I mean, being honest and just recognizing privilege, just the fact that I could come here with papers and everything, it did give me a lot of advantages that most Latinos don't have here. So and I do think that that always makes me feel like I have to do more, like I have to reach higher than what they build and what they have reached so far. So number one? That. Number two, for me, the moment that I moved back to the Bay Area, it was very clear to me that my life was all was going to be split between Mexico and the US. I mean, before, technically already was culturally. Most of my family's actually in the US. But for me, the moment that we started our business, it was also like this is a good opportunity for me to connect back to the place where I grew up and the place where I started my career which was Guadalajara and it started at a very interesting point as well because I had been already here for about eight years. So I was completely disconnected from what was happening over there in the startup community, that when I left, it was just nonexistent. And it was a huge surprise for me that now a lot of the people that I went to school with or that I work with had startups or were working at startups. And I'm like," Wait, there are startups here? What is happening?" So it was a very, very interesting way to reconnect. And now that's pretty much how our business runs. We have an office in Guadalajara. We have another office in La Paz, in Baja Sur and we have our team in the Bay Area. So I get to go back and forth all the time between Mexico and the bay. And it's great. And it's great. It has worked for the business and it has worked for me personally.
Elias Torres: That's an amazing. And so one of those startups in Guadalajara is called Drift. You should check it out.
Cuco Vega: I know you guys just opened up recently, so how you liking it?
Elias Torres: Well, we just started remote. We have hired several engineers and a leader, Cesar Soto from Rappi. He was a VP of engineering, so really excited. And we're trying to plan our first visit where we either, they come here, a lot of them, or we go there, a good group of us. Really excited. And doing my interviews there, I find and I enjoy talking to Mexican engineers and I'm so sorry for them that they're able to work from there and stay with their family and their culture and not have to come here because it is rough being an immigrant here. It's rough being away from everything. And so I know the feeling and I wish I could have done that with my country, but we'll see how... To me, opening Guadalajara's is the beginning of me giving back. Thank you so much, Kuko. Is unbelievable. Thank you for the time and your story. It's very inspirational.
Cuco Vega: No, thank you. Thank you, Elias. Same And thanks everyone for listening.
Elias Torres: Thanks for listening to the American Dream Podcast. Make sure to hit subscribe. So you never miss when a new episode drops. If you like this episode, please leave a six star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're interested in learning more about my American Dream mission, subscribe to my newsletter link in the show notes.
"I always wanted to start my own business. I think that's just because growing up, that's how I saw my parents. And the reason I love the name of your podcast is because I feel like every time I talk about my experience, it's like this experience is really the continuation of my parents' American Dream."
What's it like to go from working your way into big tech, just to pivot and start your own company?
Cuco Vega, and host Elias Torres, know first-hand.
Cuco immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a young adult, and he worked in a variety of engineering agencies. When he decided to switch his career to product design, he also made the jump into big tech. But after a few years, Cuco realized it was time to fulfill his ultimate dream -- to start his own company, and Bexi.io was born.
Bexi.io is a tool that helps small businesses create and launch landing page social campaigns in minutes -- something Elias has experience in as well. In this episode of the American Dream, Cuco and Elias swap stories about what it feels like to try to make a name for yourself in US tech as an immigrant, the reality of building a company from scratch, and what the motivating forces are behind everything they do.
(1:54) - Cuco’s journey into big tech
(8:54) - Cuco’s experience working - at Citrix
(11:23) - Why Cuco started Bexi.io
(17:09) - The jump from big tech to starting a company
(22:12) - Different ways to show the ROI of your business
(23:57) - The importance of being specific in your startup
(26:28) - Cuco's driving force
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