Derek Capo was born and raised in Miami, Florida where he attended Florida International University and worked in finance before deciding to pursue a different challenge, learning Mandarin in China. In 2008 he founded Next Step China, a leading study abroad provider dedicated to offering a comprehensive range of affordable and flexible programs in China for students, professionals and government officials. Follow him @derekcapo.
Who is your hero?
It would be unfair to all of the people in my life who have influenced me to name just one. I have actually compartmentalized my influencers and created a utopian role model/hero that I strive to be like every day.
I admire my grandfathers (from both sides), given the sacrifices they made to improve the quality of life for my family. One was crippled and pursued an education while the other escaped Communist Cuba and risked his life more than once to pursue the American dream. They taught me the importance of going for your dream and never letting negativity or obstacles get in the way.
I admire my grandmothers (also both sides) for their ability to take care of their families when my grandfathers needed the support to pursue their dreams provide a future. They are truly the glue that had made it all possible.
In business I admire Warren Buffett given his acumen, tactics and down-to-earth personality while doing business.
Finally, I look up to my parents for allowing me to pursue my dreams and enforcing values that their parents taught them. If it weren’t for them I would not have been able to appreciate my life and live the way I do.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
My dad told me, “Just because you did something in one industry for X years doesn’t mean you can’t use skills you have learned throughout your entire life to do something completely different. Although you studied finance you also learned how to negotiate, how to sell, etc.”
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
My biggest mistake comes from not listening to those who had more experience than I did. I also tried to please too many people to avoid hurting feelings. I chose the wrong technology platform for our website because my friend from college advised that I should use it (he also happened to do our logo).
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I check the stock market and read the global news. This gets me started thinking critically and informs me if there is something that could potentially impact our business, given China is always in the headlines. I then check and resolve any customer inquires as quickly as possible. I don’t like customers to wait longer than they should to get the answers they need.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Avoid accounts receivable at all costs. Even if your competitor is using it, figure out more creatives ways to get cash earlier. Cash flow is king. You never want to be in a situation where a customer or company (who could go bankrupt or decide not to honor a contract) owes you a lot of money.
Our business requires everything be paid for upfront. We do provide financing, but it must be paid in full before the start of the program. We have seen businesses go under because of a growing accounts receivable.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Listen; a lot of entrepreneurs can be pretty arrogant or stubborn in the beginning. Their egos can often inflate as their company grows, until something bad happens personally or business-wise (they lose money, their co-founder quits, etc.). They then realize that they need to stop and take time to listen to internal and external customers in order to improve their business.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
I actually like to break this down into a few categories: the financial impact of my business, its personal impact, its impact on employees, and its impact on customers. It is truly amazing to experience the growth, development and improved Chinese language proficiency in our business. It has changed my life and I am happy to help more people experience the positive influence it can have.