#21: Taking Down the Chinese Mafia with Hugo Garcia-Cotte

by | Dec 24, 2020 | Podcast

Guest Intro

Hugo Garcia-Cotte is the Founder/CEO of Cypheme, a startup that developed a unique and unhackable system that can be applied to any product packaging before leaving the factory which any consumer can scan on an app to quickly find out if it’s real or fake.

Cypheme has gone through 500 Startups in Silicon Valley, Microsoft accelerator, Lafayette Plug and Play, and Thales at Station F, a massive startup hub in Paris, and they recently raised 3 million euros from the French government and a mix of other private investors.

What You Learn

  • Why his family has been very successful
  • Why this caused him to become an entrepreneur
  • Why moving to China was the best decision he’s ever made
  • How being in China made him realize his unique advantage
  • How he set up his company and struggled through fundraising
  • One very important thing he recently realized which changed his business
  • The story of how he came to take down the Chinese mafia

Episode Links

Transcript

Introduction (0:00)
Sean Weisbrot:
Welcome back to another episode of the “We Live to Build Podcast.”

Our guest today is Hugo Garcia-Cotte, a French entrepreneur based in China, and fluent in Mandarin, and a good friend of mine for over six years. He’s currently the CEO and founder of Cypheme, a startup that developed a unique and unhackable system that can be applied to any product packaging before leaving the factory which any consumer can scan on an app to quickly find out if it’s real or fake.

Cypheme has gone through 500 Startups in Silicon Valley, Microsoft accelerator, Lafayette Plug and Play, and Thales at Station F, a massive startup hub in Paris, and they recently raised 3 million euros from the French government and a mix of other private investors.

We first met when I was organizing IdeaXchange in early 2014, and his brother and co-founder, Charlie, gave a talk at the event about the future of technology while wearing a pair of Google Glasses on his head. I spent a lot of time helping him to try to raise a seed round in 2015 for Cypheme, and despite numerous meetings with several very interested Chinese investors, none of them ended up closing, but that’s alright, because he raised more than enough from a French angel investment club.

After leaving China, I hadn’t seen Hugo in a few years despite talking online, and we finally caught up again in November 2019 when I happened to be passing through Paris. Side note, if you’ve never been to Paris, it’s super cool and now my favorite city in Europe out of the six countries I’ve been to in the region. It’s always fun talking to Hugo. So, I hope you enjoy our conversation about being an entrepreneur in China, manufacturing, and the struggles of fighting organized crime.

Let’s all say bonjour to Hugo.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
Bonjour!

Sean Weisbrot:
Welcome to the “We Live to Build.” My name is Sean Weisbrot and I’m an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor based in Asia for over twelve years. Join us every week to fast track your personal growth, so you can meet the ever-increasing demands of the company or companies you are passionately building.

Time waits for no one, so let’s get started now.

Hugo’s Special Family (2:30)
Sean Weisbrot:
It’s nice to talk to you again so soon, after our last call, it was like a week ago. I wanna get started by having you tell everyone a bit about your background: where you come from, what life was like growing up as a kid, were your parents entrepreneurs, things like that.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
So, I grew up in the suburbs of Paris, in a small city in the suburb of Paris, a very beautiful city called Provence. My parents, my whole family, have always been entrepreneurs. So, my parents, my uncles, they’ve all created their own company, and this was extremely inspiring to me. I have to say that I’ve chosen never to receive any direct help from them, whether monetary or otherwise, but the fact that they inspired me to become an entrepreneur I say is a huge positive influence they had on me.

So, I grew up in a suburb of Paris, I went to a special school, I mean, a bit embarrassing to say but a special school for high IQ students, and it was amazing. The people I’ve met there, wow, I mean, they were all very unique in their own way. They all had their own universe, you know. One of them was crazy about computer science, and at age 14, he hacked the I.T. system of the whole school. One of them was crazy about, you know, medieval stuff; another about math, and things like that. They were all very, very interesting people, they didn’t all succeed, you know, professionally, but they were all very interesting.

As for me, I have always been passionate about role-playing game, tabletop role-playing games. Actually, I started playing at age seven, that was my life growing up as a kid, special kid, but in a school with lots of special kids, so, that was okay. I was not so different than the rest. You would never want to be too different at school, so that was a really, really good thing, and yeah, passionate about role-playing games, and that was me growing up.

Then in university, I did in we call it (French word), you could translate this as an elite school— it’s a special system in France. It’s very complicated, but French universities are not good; the good students go to elite schools, but these are not schools you pay for. Like, to go there, you have very tough competitions, and most of them are free, and that’s when I decided to do a double degree with a Chinese university. And that’s how I ended up in China.


Sean Weisbrot:
When did you realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, like, age 10, I had a sign on my door, saying entrepreneur. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur because I’ve seen my whole family do it, and it’s not that they all succeeded financially, but they all had a very interesting life. Like, everyone in my family, among my uncles, and my father, and my mother who spend their whole career being entrepreneurs, not all of them succeeded very well financially, but they’ve all done insane things.

I mean, just an example, one of my uncles invented a camera that can analyze paintings in 12 colors instead of three. So, a normal camera just takes three colors RGB, and then save that. He invented a camera that can scan in 12 colors, and he struggled for years to sell it, and he didn’t manage to sell it. And until now, financially, he’s struggling. But the things he’s achieved with this are insane. For example, he had the chance to scan Mona Lisa, like, the Louvre took Mona Lisa off for a day for him to scan. And with his camera, he’s managed to discover loads of things nobody knew about Mona Lisa. Like, for example, he discovered that da Vinci, when he drew Mona Lisa, he first drew with a pencil, Mona Lisa on the wood. This is something nobody knew before, and he discovered it. Also, he discovered a new Da Vinci painting; there used to be about 20 known Da Vinci paintings. He managed to authenticate one more. So, all these are things didn’t earn him much money, but now, he’s a world-famous expert in da Vinci and painting analysis, and the adventures he tells us, and he told us as a kid— that was super inspiring.

Like, one time, he came and he’s like, “Oh, I was in Korea for two weeks because there is a major trial that hangs on a painting being a real or fake one.” And depending on if this painting is real or fake then, the accused, you know, it has major implications for the accused. It was on national tv, and again, the adventure part of it was super inspiring. I mean, financially, it was less than a normal job for him, you know, but the adventure he’s been through— that inspired me from a very, very young age to be an entrepreneur, him, and my parents, and all my uncles.

Who inspired Hugo the most? (8:47)
Sean Weisbrot:
Who was the most inspirational for you? And it sounds to me like your uncle was probably that person.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
I think they were all very inspirational for different reasons. My father was a great leader, and I think probably the happiest of them. So, if you have to choose one thing in life, if you want to be famous, or rich, or happy, probably you’ll choose happy, right? One of my uncles, also very happy, but clearly, the most famous of them— the one who authenticated the Mona Lisa; and another uncle who did an IPO in Germany super, super successful, clearly the wealthiest of them.

All of them were really inspiring for me on different topics.

Sean Weisbrot:
I didn’t really have anyone that inspired me. Like my dad’s a dentist, he had his own practice for 35 years, and he was great at being a dentist, but he wasn’t great at being a businessman. That’s not really his fault because his university didn’t teach him about business, and he didn’t have anyone to look up to about business as a kid either.

For me, China was my inspiration for getting into business, and I think that kind of move for you going to China helped spark your desire to build Cypheme, I guess in a way. And if I would go so far as to say that your uncle’s experience with paintings and telling if something was fake or real may have also played a role in Cypheme development. Am I grasping at straws here, or am I right?

Start of Cypheme in China (10:28)
Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
Maybe a bit, it’s more like on the topic of China and entrepreneurship, I think, when you have a project, you have to have a strong unfair advantage personally, which means that you have to have something in this particular project that no other team has. And that’s the reason why I chose this project, Cypheme, it’s because, me being in China gave me an advantage in this project. So, in order, in France, like in the elite school I had the choice to do a double degree. I could have been to Cambridge, I probably could have been to MIT, I could have been, you know, pretty much where I wanted, or Singapore, or whatever.

And since I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I was like, okay, where will there be the biggest opportunities in the years to come. And my thinking was there are very few Europeans in China, it’s a fact, much less than I mean French people in England, a ton, right? So, being one more French in Cambridge doesn’t give me an edge anywhere. So, I decided, okay, if I go to China, then this will be some advantage that will hopefully in the future create opportunities. And that was a big bet back then, because I made this decision, you know, in 2008-2009. So, I decided, okay, if I want to see opportunities arise, China is not a bad bet. So, that’s where I decided to do a double degree in China.

So, I went to Tsinghua to do a masters there and that’s it. And when came the time for me to choose a business, well, actually I created a couple of business even before I graduated, but when the time came, I was like, okay, that’s who I am. So, I’m French in China, and I speak a bit of Chinese but not that great. I’m not bad in computer science and algorithm than math, so here is the team that I can gather with me. “What project do I have the highest unfair advantage doing?”, and I had tons of ideas written on an Evernote notebook, and I went through them, and I thought about it again and again and again, and it was clear that, well, it was in several steps to be honest.

But anyway, the end decision was protecting counterfeit products in China. I have a lot of personal unfair advantage because I know computer vision, computer science, so, the tech part we’ll be strong at, and we are like in the market. We are clearly the tech leader, there is no doubt there because at the DNA of the team, there is a very strong tech component. Because I am very good in technology, then, I will attract people which are good in technology. I will be able to select them, and I will be able to inspire them and coach them; and if there is something they can’t do, then I will do instead of them, and show them, “you see, it can be done.”

So, because that’s in the DNA of the team, this very strong tech component. That’s one unfair advantage that a lot of competitors don’t have, because a lot of competitors, they don’t even come from a tech background. They come from a printing background, they come from a hologram background; they have no idea about computer science, so then, they hire a second-rate CTO, and they don’t coach him well, and they give him unrealistic expectations or second grade expectations and then their technology is bad.

So, that was one of our unfair advantages. Again, I’m not saying we’re awesome at everything, you know. One unfair advantage we did not have is prior industry knowledge; we had zero prior industry knowledge, zero contacts in the industry, zero sales knowledge, so, these are points that where we suffered a lot, but at least our two unfair advantages, first, technologically we really had a strong suit, and second, being French in China give us a lot of credibility for Chinese companies and help us to contact western brands.

Like, obviously, a Chinese team would have a hard time convincing western brands that they are trustworthy for anti-counterfeiting. It’s sad to say, but it’s the reality. Well, if they meet, yeah, if they meet a western company, okay. We have the credibility that we won’t be trying to make fake around their backs, so these are the two unfair advantages that pushed me to choose this project.


So, I chose China because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I thought, okay, maybe in the future, this will pay off if I see an angle on opportunity, where I have something unique because I chose China and not just being one more French dude in London, or even one more French dude in Paris. And I chose Cypheme because of the strong points that I had.

Sean Weisbrot:
In terms of knowing that China was a good bet, this was also my situation. But again, I didn’t have an idea to be an entrepreneur. I knew that my brother was working in a corporation called Intercontinental, they have a hotel chain, you know, around the world, and I didn’t want to be like him. I didn’t want to be just a cog in a machine, I wanted to do something different, and that was one of the reasons why I kind of escaped America and went overseas to southeast Asia.

And I felt like China was a good bet because I knew that China and America cooperated on trade. I didn’t know any of the specifics, but I knew that there had to be a way that I could find a wedge, that I could stick myself into, in between the two cultures. But I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Basically, I just kind of said, screw it, and I sold everything, and I went, and I was 21.

And like, you know, I went there, I didn’t get a double degree; I got my degree, my bachelor’s degree in the US, and then just went to China and went to be a teacher. Because for me, it was the fastest way to get there and have a stable income, so that when I wasn’t teaching, I could teach myself Chinese. And by living in a part of the country where there weren’t really any English speakers, it made my life for learning Chinese a lot easier because there were a lot of opportunities to speak Chinese. The minute you left your house, nobody spoke English, so everybody was an opportunity to practice, and so, that led to building a network of people that were interesting and cared about me and my well-being in China.

That allowed me to find, over time, the advantage that I had, which was being a white man in China, who understood their culture and their language, which very few people I met surpassed my level of Chinese. I met three people whose mandarin levels, reading and writing, were better than mine, and good for them. I mean, they were very happy, you know, doing what they’re doing, and they were really awesome people.

So, where you found your niche in manufacturing, I found mine in blockchain, because China was crazy about it. Well, Chinese citizens were crazy about cryptocurrencies, they didn’t care about blockchain, and the government wasn’t crazy about crypto, but they loved blockchain. So there was a huge gap there between the government and the citizens, and therefore, a massive opportunity to exploit the fact that the Chinese wanted to deal with western investors and western platforms. But because they didn’t speak English, and they didn’t understand western culture, they didn’t have the opportunity to do that, and therefore, that was my way in, being that person in the middle to hold their hands, take care of their needs in the west. They knew they could trust me because I was on the ground in China, I spoke their language, I spoke their culture, and we could have flawless communication, so it’s awesome, you know.

Again, there’s not many people I know that go to China and start businesses, and a lot of them that do aren’t successful. So, the fact that you did all of those things is freaking cool. And I hope everyone that’s listening really appreciates that themselves, because a lot of the people I talk to, when I talk about the podcast, a lot of the guests I bring on, a lot of them are based in America. So, for them, the idea of living in Asia is like, “wow,” already. So, you know, hearing about other entrepreneurs that are based in Asia and succeeding in Asia is also pretty
interesting for them.


The struggles (20:10)
Sean Weisbrot:
We talked about your reasons why you started Cypheme. Let’s get into what was the hardest thing about starting Cypheme?

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
The hardest thing were the first two years, where we basically had zero revenues, zero customers. So, very fortunate that when we started, we did a bit of consulting on the side. At first, a few days a week and then, two days a week, and then one day a week and that maybe even more, because that was our only source of revenue. And fortunately, rents are not that high in China, and food is not too expensive, too. Because it was hard, it was really hard, like, the first 24 months, I would pay myself $500 USD loans, slightly more, $600, so.

Sean Weisbrot:
Hey, after two and a half years, I’m still making zeros, so you beat me on that.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
Yeah, I mean that’s, I’m not even sure if it was just the first two years, maybe it was two years and a half, you know. It was that’s really, that was really hard, and the thing is like I had a team and I had to, you know. And I’m super grateful that my team followed me even though we were making no money, and they were earning nothing, and we kept fighting on. So, that’s it, that was really the hardest part. And then, my first fundraising was insanely hard too, because after these two years of complete starvation, again, I did not ask any money from my family or from anyone. Like, I was just, I had no savings because I was a fresh grad, so the few bucks I made consulting, I would split among all the founders. So, after two years of complete starvation, two years, two years and a half of complete starvation, including at some point, where we were in the Silicon Valley and where the rent was insane.

My first fundraising was really, I guess, the darkest time at this time, because it lasted for six months, during which, I would meet actually in within those six months. I’ve maybe met a little less than 100 investors and it was insanely hard because it was three-four-five-six-sometimes seven meetings a day pitching our company. And out of these 100 people 99 of them said no. So, imagine, you’ve been starving for two year and a half, you’re earning less than if you were unemployed because in France you have a lot of unemployment protections, much less. And you’re starving, you have a team that’s looking to you, and trusting you. They are starving too because of you, and you are meeting investors every day three-four-five-six-seven times a day, and all of them tells you you’re not good enough, your team’s not good enough, and they’re not interested in your project and that’s for six months, that was freaking hard.

But eventually, one of them said yes, and when he said yes, oh, everybody said yes, you know. Oh wow, when one investor, “I want to invest in you,” then, everybody turned to yes, and then we made the biggest angel round in France at that time.

Sean Weisbrot:
When I was talking to investors last year for the first version of Sidekick before we pivoted, one of the first questions every investor asked was, “oh, who else is investing,” you know, “can I speak to them,” and I said, “well, no I’m funding the project myself.” Like they didn’t see it like that, they saw it as, “oh nobody wants to invest.”

500 Startups (24:33)
Sean Weisbrot:
You were talking about being in Silicon Valley, and everything being expensive there. So, let’s talk a little bit more about your time with 500 startups.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
So, I’ve been in 500 Startups, thanks to a friend of mine. And I’ve had the chance to go through the Batch 13 of 500 Startups. I really had a great, great time in 500 Startups. We really felt so close to their other founders, it was really a magical moment. I’ve made lifetime friends there, you know, it really felt like when you are in the university. I did learn some good, like, the basics of entrepreneurship there, of course it’s not possible to learn more than the basics from people trying to teach you. All the rest, you have to learn in the reality.

Sean Weisbrot:
What would you say you learned the most from that experience?

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
All the basics. So, basics like if you want to fundraise, don’t just meet 10 investors, meet 50, or 100, or 200. Don’t stop at five or ten. Like, this is the biggest thing that you need to know, and that nobody will tell you.

Learning curve as CEO (26:00)
Sean Weisbrot:
What was the thing you didn’t know about being a CEO that you had to learn throughout your process with Cypheme? And what was your process, because one of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is that, often, when you start a business, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you have to find out what you don’t know, and then figure out how you can learn it. So, what was that thing for you?

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
So, the few very important things I’ve learned is that first, management. That’s not obvious at all especially for a tech person, and how to do it, not too much so people don’t feel micromanaged, not too little, so they just go in any direction. That’s something you learn in your lifetime. Basically, I have still so much to learn, I have no doubt there.

The mindset of, if you have a problem, okay first, you try to solve it yourself, or with your co-founders, but if you want excellence, and it’s an area where you have good but not excellence, you can find excellent talents and do it way better than you would have done yourself. And that’s something very surprising until you’ve seen it happen. Like, you always have this impression if you’ve dealt with interns and stuff like that, you always have the impression that the people you hire do less good than you. This is wrong, this is wrong, if you find real raw talent, they can shine like a star and do much better than if you did yourself. So, this mindset is also something I had to learn, and then how do you hire good people, how do you select good people when you receive 200 resumes. How do you go from, I have 200 resumes, some of which are trash, some of which are awesome, to actually hire a great person that will be a great fit in my company?


Because it’s not just that some people are better than others, no, some people fit better than others, that’s the thing. Like, some people may shine in company A, and do awful in company B, and it’s really a question of finding the right fit, and where they can fit in your organization. And this hiring is not something you can delegate, it’s your job as the CEO until you’re a thousand employees, and this is something I’m starting to be good at. But again, I have a lifetime of learning curve in front of me.


And the last thing that was really an eye-opener for me is, how do you have a balanced organization. Like I had a whole department missing, and I had no idea for four years. For four years, we were assuming that okay if you want to sell your product you need to have sales, so, I hired two very senior salesmen and they weren’t selling. And I was like, what’s wrong, is it just that my sales are not good enough? No, it was because we were not doing any marketing whatsoever until a year ago, we were doing zero marketing. For me, I was assuming that finding customers was the sales business, was the sales job, no, it is not. It is the marketing’s job to find leads, and then these leads have to be closed by sales, and it will make marketers laugh for me saying that, but I had no idea until a year ago.


I kind of heard about it, I kind of read about it, but it’s different to have heard about it, and to feel it in your gut. To be like, okay, this is the most important problem my business has right now. I assumed the biggest problem my business has was like, “Oh I need more sales,” or “oh, I need better sales,” or, “oh, I need a better product.” No, my first problem was I had no marketing. So, these are the kind of things you don’t know it’s your biggest problem. It’s exactly what you say, you don’t know it’s your biggest problem until you actually realize it, and then, you’re like, I had this huge hole in my organization this whole time.

Nobody told me. None of my advisors, none of my investors, no one told me, and the process for learning all these things for me was really books. So, to be honest, 99% of business books are trash, trash, trash, trash.


Actually, it is worse if you read them than if you don’t read them, because if you read them, you get poisonous thoughts, and not only you wasted your time reading it. That’s okay if it’s just a few hours, but you might even go in the wrong direction because you’ve read them.

So, 99% of business books are trash, written by people who’ve never done business in their life. But there is this remaining tiny one percent of books that are game changing, that really make you realize, okay, I had this major problem for my whole life, and I had no idea.

Just to name a few, the number one, if you’re just starting is, for me, it was “Lean Startup.” Don’t listen to people who talk about Lean Startup, they don’t understand Lean Startup. Like, I’ve seen Ted Talks of people talking about Lean Startup who said the opposite of what the book said, so, don’t listen to people who talk about Lean Startup, just read the damn book.

If you’re very early stage, that’s where you should be, and then later on there are other books that really inspired me and that really brought me actionable advice. For example, there is this book that was a Google Doc for the longest time which is called ‘The Great CEO Within,’ and this is one of these rare books that was actually written by a successful entrepreneur, not a poser, not a consultant, not a professor who haven’t done any companies in his life, “Oh, but I’ve seen hundreds,” no, no, no, someone who’ve actually done it, The Great CEO Within. And to a lesser extent, from ‘Impossible to Inevitable,’ because he was advocating outbound lead generation, and actually, some industries are just not meant for outbound, but it started making me realize that, of course, if I don’t have leads, I don’t have customers and sales, it’s not their job to find leads.

So, these three books really inspired me, and now, every time I have a big business problem, I start by asking other entrepreneurs which books they recommend. Sometimes, it’s trash, sometimes, it’s not. If you have some real entrepreneurs who say, “On this topic, I genuinely recommend this book,” then you have a small chance that it’s actually useful. And sometimes, not like, for example, everybody recommends Who: The A Method for Hiring. Well, there are some pieces of these books which are very interesting, the rest is trash.

Sean Weisbrot:
There was a lot of things for me about being a CEO that I’m still learning, and like you being a technical founder on a technical product trying to be a CEO, I’m a CEO who’s great at people, and selling, and developing a product from the user’s point of view based on my experience with psychology, but I didn’t know anything about being a CTO, or a project manager. And I spent the longest time making a lot of mistakes about the languages to use, the people to hire, how to hire them, how to measure their effectiveness, and things like that. And it was only through talking to my team that I realized all of the different ways that I was failing them as a CTO and a project manager, that I realized how to be a really damn good one.

And while I’m still learning a lot from the experience, like, my COO just insisted on us trying out user stories, because it helps the developers to understand from the user’s point of view; why a feature needs to be developed, and what the entire flow for that, and all the features that should be implemented in order to make that flow possible. Also, simultaneously helps the marketing team to create content that helps to bring people in for the salespeople to communicate with.

And so, while I knew about sales funnels and things like that, the idea of a user story it’s such a simple idea, but actually doing it makes your organization so much better. I try to learn everything I can about every position before developing a hiring process for that position, so that I can hire the person, and then, I know that they’re actually doing what they should be doing.

Chinese Mafia (35:20)
Sean Weisbrot:
We have time for one more story. I want to know about the Chinese mafia.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
So, basically, we started protecting this anti-cancer medicine in China. They thought they had a few fakes, and because it’s a life-threatening medicine, basically, if you take one set, you’re dead, like, you’re simply dead. They were like, “okay, let’s protect our products,” and they’ve put QR codes, they’ve put holograms, which were counterfeited in an instant. So, then, they started using our product, and we realized that not only they had some fakes, but actually, they had 45 percent fakes in the market.

Basically, you were flipping a coin every time you were taking this medicine, live or die. They had no proper protection in place until now because they had no idea the problem was so widespread. And this product was making 100 million euro a year, something like that. So, the mafia was making a shit ton of money as well. When they started deploying our solution, actually, even before the product, with our solution on, they started reaching the market, we saw people trying to counterfeit our solution. So, first of all, that’s proof that they have an insider, because the product wasn’t even released yet, and people were already starting to counterfeit it.

So, we saw lots of attempts who kept failing, but who kept trying again, and again, and again. It started in May 2019, and then we started to see more dots appearing on the map. So, after hundreds of attempts, they kept failing at counterfeiting us, but because they were using our system, we managed to get their IP address, their WeChat account, their GPS position, and slowly, we discovered that there was a hub in Shenzhen, not very far from us. So, we did something, pretty much suicidal, to send someone there, to have a look. And, it was a factory, it was a counterfeiter factory.

So, we rushed to the police, and we gave them all the information we had, and we, with all everything we had, we managed to get their name because from their WeChat account. They linked a bank card into a name. And then, we started to draw the link between the members. Like, we saw, “okay, he’s the designer, he’s the printer, he’s the boss, they’re the supplier, they’re the distributor, they’re responsible for,” and we came to the Chinese police with a whole mapping of the entire organization, and we were like, please do something about it because these medicines are killing thousands, and thousands of people a year, most of them in China. And then, nothing, complete silence from the Chinese police, complete blackout. And we kept coming to them with new information, like, “come on, do something about it,” nothing, no information, not a word.

Sometimes, they would like, send one sentence, and then delete it afterwards in the WeChat group. Well, like, okay what’s going on, and then, one day, we saw this report on tv, on the Chinese tv where they took down the entire network. The entire network, 18 criminals were sent to jail thanks to the intel we provided them, and we had no idea, they didn’t even tell us. We learned about it on tv, we saw the products being filmed, we saw the filthy factory where they were producing it, and the filthy chemicals they were mixing in it to get the color right.
And in a way, I’m grateful that they didn’t involve us more, because, yeah, if the mafia knew we fucked them so hard, well, I’m glad they don’t know. Let’s say it like that, and I hope they don’t listen to your podcast.

It was extremely gratifying to see this happen, because we know, and that’s the one thing I’m most proud of, we know that by taking down this counterfeiter ring, we saved hundreds and hundreds of human lives. And this is not something you can say every day, and this is not something you can be proud of unless you are an entrepreneur, and you’ve made crazy things that had a real impact. From a money point of view, this customer is a small customer, it didn’t even earn us so much, but from an adventure point of view, and from a human point of view, it was a real game changer.

Sean Weisbrot:
Yeah, I bet. It’s not every day you can go up against the Chinese mafia and come out alive, so congrats to that. Now I remember when you told me the first time, I was quite shocked about it. So, I’m sure, everyone listening is probably, like, clapping and cheering because there’s not many foreigners that succeed in China, and I think hurting organized crime in China is probably the most impossible thing to succeed at, but you’ve done it.

Follow up with Hugo (40:48)
Sean Weisbrot:
So, what have you learned recently, and how do you plan to implement it?

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
It was really a team effort. I don’t want to take credit for that. Everyone on the team was super active, and that’s how it happened.

I’ve learned recently that marketing is key, it’s a cornerstone to your organization. If you’re not, you know, making it your number one priority, you’re going to the wall. So, how do I want to implement it? So, first, we’ve hired a marketing coach that taught us the basics, I would say a great coach, really appreciated her. And now, we’re in the process of recruiting one person. We were in the process of trying to find real talent in digital marketing. If you’re listening to this podcast, and you’re interested, feel free to contact me. And we will increase five time our marketing budget. We do have, of course, for a year, we’ve done a lot in terms of marketing, and we’re already a hundred times further now than we were a year ago. But there is clearly much more to be done, and one person is not enough for that. So, yeah, that’s why we’re now creating a marketing team and having a bigger marketing budget because that’s a cornerstone of your organization. If you don’t have engineering, sales and marketing, you don’t have a company.


Sean Weisbrot:
So, what’s the most important piece of advice you can share with everyone, maybe something different than marketing?

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
If you want to create your company, and you haven’t yet, the most important piece of advice is, give yourself 24 months at least, and if you don’t, then just don’t start. That’s it. If you cannot afford to be without resources or with some resources on the side for 24 months, if you’re gonna give up before 24 months, don’t even start.

Because that’s what it will take for you to start having a company, and I saw too many people start their company and give up after three months, six months. That’s not gonna work. Like, piece of advice number one, if you’re starting a project, you have to be insanely fanatic about it, fanatic enough to keep fighting for it for at least 24 months, otherwise don’t even start. But if you keep fighting, nothing’s impossible. Like, persistence is the key.

Sean Weisbrot:
So, how can the audience keep up with you? What is it that is important to you that you want them to know about? How, you know, how they can find you.

Hugo Garcia-Cotte:
So, I accept anyone’s invite on LinkedIn, unless it’s clear that it’s someone trying to sell me outsourcing or headhunting or whatever. Hugo Garcia-Cotte on LinkedIn, send me an invite. I’m always happy to help entrepreneurs because I know, like, it’s freaking hard in the beginning. And I’m always available to help any way I can, like people have helped me when I needed it.

Sean Weisbrot:
Brilliant. Thanks, so I’ve got your LinkedIn, and it’ll be in the show notes, and everyone can find it on welivetobuild.com where your podcast will live.

So, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it. One of the things I like to say at the end of every episode is, remember “entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint.”

So, take care of yourself every day.

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