Alexander Onaindia – CEO Interview

Alexander Onaindia

Co-Founder & CEO of Distinction Agency

When did you know you wanted to start your own company?

Starting a company interested me very early in my career. I worked in several entrepreneurial environments and knew I’d regret not taking a chance at starting my own agency.

What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?

The original idea for Distinction was to work directly with athletes and influencers to build their brands and partner with great companies. We’re still doing that today! We’ve refined our process over time and continue to learn what works best.

How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?

It took me close to a year from when I decided I wanted to start an agency to actually doing it. In June 2018, I was on my honeymoon in French Polynesia, a very peaceful and relaxing place. It was one of the first times in years I was able to unplug and think a lot. It was there that I decided I was going to make this happen and move forward.

Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?

There’s a lot of people who inspired me. None of this would have been possible without the support of my wife. We were newlyweds when I said I officially wanted to quit my stable job to start Distinction. She has been a rock for me and has inspired me to keep pushing forward.

Who is your favorite mentor and why?

I’m lucky that my favorite mentors have been my father and grandfather. Each of their careers were distinctly different but both have been very successful in their own ways. They helped instill a strong work ethic in me and are always there to provide me advice and guidance.

What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?

The hardest thing about starting an agency is signing clients. When you are first starting, you have to get people to believe in you and your vision. One of the first questions I’d always get asked is, “Who do you work with?” When you don’t have clients yet or only a couple, that’s really challenging to navigate. You have to get people to believe in you, your previous work and your capabilities. The other thing that was important in the early days was working extremely hard for the clients we did have. Good work gets noticed and is appreciated. By doing a great job for our clients, it helped us get referrals to people in their network.

What has been the hardest lesson to learn?

Not everything is in your control. There will always be circumstances and challenges that present themselves. Some that are your fault and many others that aren’t. A good example of that is the COVID-19 pandemic. As a small business, it wasn’t our fault but it was our problem.

What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?

The most amazing thing I’ve experienced is the great relationships we’ve been able to build with our clients. Working closely with world class athletes, amazing social media influencers and a variety of fantastic businesses has been extremely rewarding.

What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?

The weirdest thing we’ve experienced was pretty recent with TikTok and a potential ban in the United States. We work with popular content creators on TikTok and brands got very nervous about continuing to spend on TikTok once the Trump administration announced their would be a ban if the rights to TikTok in the U.S. weren’t sold. Fortunately, it looks like TikTok will be sold and the platform will continue to operate in the U.S. It was a weird situation to deal with because we had no control over it and we were relying completely on information from outside sources.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?

Embracing remote work! Before COVID-19, we were already working remotely part-time and working at WeWork. When the pandemic hit, many business could no longer use their expensive offices and were stuck with high overhead. We were fortunate that our team already knew how to work remotely. We didn’t really miss a beat with that change.

What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?

The biggest mistake was early on in my opinion. As a marketing agency, you can offer a variety of services. In our early days, we tried offering a lot of other services that my business partner and I weren’t experts in. We were looking to outsource them. What we found was that when we focused 100% on the services we know we are good at, our revenue skyrocketed.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?

The pandemic has affected us as much as almost every other business. We went from traveling often to conferences, networking events and client meetings to almost nothing. All of our operations have been remote and we’ve had to also adjust to the types of brand partners we target. We were working with large hospitality brands like MGM Resorts and Fontainebleau Miami Beach. They had to close and we had to stop our work in hospitality. Sports were also put on pause which impacted our athletes and sponsorship revenue. We had big plans for the Tokyo Olympics and those are now happening in 2021. These are just a couple examples of the challenges we’ve had to overcome. I’m proud of our team for continuing to push forward and stay positive. I truly believe this has made us better and more creative.

What keeps you passionate about your company?

I believe we’re just getting started! I’m passionate about what we’re building here and the work we are doing. There is always room for improvement and that’s what motivates me every day.

What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?

Walking outside! It sounds simple but it really helps me clear my mind. I’m fortunate to live in Miami on the water and it’s very peaceful to walk by the water. Many of my best ideas come when I’m outside on a walk.

What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?

No one’s path is linear. Everyone struggles with adversity and entrepreneurship is not easy. I truly believe you have to fight for what you believe in and make your dreams come true.

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