July 5, 2013
In this special instalment of Meet a MaRSian, Angelo Casanas speaks with Carlo Perez, the co-founder and CEO of Hammerati, a MaRS client and MaRS Incubator tenant. Armed with only maps and a backpack, Carlo once ventured from Beijing to Mount Everest via Borneo, mostly by hitchhiking. In this post, he shares his thoughts on travelling for both business and pleasure, as well as his experience as an entrepreneur.
What is Hammerati?
Hammerati is a tracking and collaboration tool for home renovations. We give you the tools and information you need to plan, execute and complete a renovation from start to finish.
What keeps you up at night as CEO?
You see people like Steve Jobs, and I constantly ask myself: “How does someone become like that?” What I really found interesting was how Steve communicated Apple’s vision to the company’s stakeholders (that is, to the public, shareholders, employees etc.) and how that vision permeates the entire company. That’s an amazing skill. What I want to do is to set a vision and deliver that vision to the team effectively, so that they too can be effective in carrying out that vision.
You’ve travelled quite a bit to California for business. How is the startup scene there similar to that of Toronto and to MaRS specifically?
When in California, we predominantly work at RocketSpace, which is in the heart of San Francisco’s startup community in SoMa (South Market). The reason why we’re there and here at MaRS is serendipity. We want to stay engaged in the heart of the community.
Here at MaRS we can go down after work and attend a talk, say by Mike McDerment, CEO of FreshBooks, and listen to a good story and have the opportunity to meet the person. At RocketSpace, one of my favourite memories is how one morning I was sitting at my desk and Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, was doing a talk. He’s worth a couple billion dollars, and I just threw a business card at him and ran away! That ability to stay connected to the community is why we’re in both spaces.
Having travelled extensively, if you had your own personal seven wonders of the world what would be No. 1 on your list?
The trip I’ve always wanted to take—and the next trip that I will take—is a trip off the coast of Thailand. There are a few small fishing villages there and you can catch a fishing boat out to the Andaman Islands, which lead to Sri Lanka, across the Bay of Bengal, and eventually to India. The Maldives area has incredibly beautiful oceanscapes, and I guess I’m a big water guy.
How about Hammerati’s No. 1 location to do business?
For renovations and construction, it would definitely be California, which has the highest tech adoption rate in world. Things work well there that probably shouldn’t work, like having three car-sharing programs, Lyft, SideCar and Uber, all in one city—San Francisco. California is also a $26 billion renovations market, which is larger than half of Canada in terms of [renovations] spending. If we would pick one place, it would definitely be California.
You’ve travelled to a number of places and met a variety of people. Who would you pick to have a pint of beer with?
Things were really good in Borneo. I’m not too sure why, but it was the easiest place to hitchhike. I would get rides without even asking. I’d be sitting by the side of the road trying to eat something and people would just drive by and start backing up and ask: “Are you going that way?” The people from Malaysian Borneo were incredibly warm.
From all of the people you’ve met in your travels who would you say are the most entrepreneurial?
I’d probably say the Chinese. They have gone to places and created successful businesses where you wouldn’t have ever expected it to happen. Take Nepal, for example, which has a Chinatown right in the middle of it! No other culture has done that. You also get to see the entrepreneurial spirit when you hit the markets in China. I know it’s quasi-cultural, but the whole haggling thing is built around this idea of exchanging money, getting satisfaction from exchanging money and having a win-win situation, which is what business is about.
Where’s the best food?
Probably Vietnam. The Vietnamese, having been colonized by the French, have this infusion where you would have the local roast, but at the same time have bread. They also key in on freshness, whereas in Thailand, for example, everything is curry based and strong flavours are highlighted.
What would be five essential things to have on your trip?
- Water bottle
- Cigarettes—While I’m not a smoker, nor am I an advocate for smoking, cigarettes were probably the most useful thing that I had. If you want to know anything about a country, buy a pack of cigarettes. They’re usually made affordable to the locals and it enables you to determine the economics of the country without getting ripped off. I usually say that a meal should be two or three times more than a pack of cigarettes and a bus ticket should be twice as much more. Then when you get to the bus station, you can use cigarettes to hang out with someone, to engage them or to use as currency.
What do you enjoy more, the journey or the destination?
That whole process of learning the culture is the most interesting part of the trip for me. I usually have a list of 50 words that I need to know to get by, such as river, sun, east and west, and I also draw my own maps of the cities that we visit. I don’t usually have a set plan aside from knowing what’s the cheapest way to the next destination, and my whole trip is governed by someone telling me that I have to go see this or that. It’s definitely what’s along the way that is more interesting.