Lisa Besserman Founder, Startup Buenos Aires
by, Chris Dessi
Lisa Besserman and I first met during a “Start Up Weekend.” The event took place where I had co-working space (the Digital Arts Experience) in White Plains, New York. I spoke at that event. This was just weeks before I launched the first ever Westchester Digital Summit. I was immediately impressed by Lisa. She had launched Startup Buenos Aires. Only a few weeks after meeting her, I wrote to see if she would join the Silverback team during Catalyst Week.
My CMO John and I connected with Amanda Slavin of Catalyst Creativ. Amanda invited us to co-host Catalyst Week in Las Vegas. It was a cool four day event in Vegas in association The Downtown Project.
Basically it was a business retreat in Vegas. Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project partnered with Catalyst Creativ. Silverback (my agency) curated speakers and attendees. We got a ton of smart people in the room, we brainstormed, we networked, and we had some fun (we were in Vegas after all). Lisa took me up on my offer to attend, and we’ve become great friends. She’s an inspiring and powerful female entrepreneur. I enjoyed this one.
Chris Dessi: How important are habits and routine to your success? What is your Rhythm? What time do you go to bed? Do you meditate?
Lisa Besserman: Everyone has different methods that to lead to their success, especially entrepreneurs. For me, the most important daily quality is being flexible. There have been times where I’ve had to fly to a different continent on a moment’s notice, extend a trip for weeks at a time, or drop everything to solve a time sensitive issue. It’s being able to address these unexpected turns that has allowed me to become the entrepreneur I am today. I guess you can say my “rhythm” is embracing the unexpected and being flexible in times of uncertainty. I work better at night, so I generally go to bed at around 1am and start the day around 9am, answering emails in bed. Working from home has its advantages.
Chris Dessi: I speak with many successful executives that question the value of college. What do you say to those detractors of education?
Lisa Besserman: I believe a college education is important as long as it infuses your knowledge and expands your horizons. However, If it gets in the way of creating the “next big thing” and inhibits you more than it advances you, then I believe it’s ok to forgo the traditional institution of college. Many of the greatest innovators and influencers of our time have dropped out of college to pursue their dreams and have created amazing companies in the process. Personally, I embrace a college education, as mine was incredibly rewarding and enlightening, but I don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary.
Chris Dessi: How do you define success?
Lisa Besserman: To me, success isn’t defined by the amount of money in your bank account, or how high one climbs the proverbial corporate ladder. I believe success is defined by the lives we touch. Success can be measured by the impact we make towards building a better world, and doing our part to inspire those around us to achieve greatness. The possibility of doing so is endless, and the value is unquantifiable. Success is doing what you love, doing it well, and doing good in the world.
Chris Dessi: You’ve traveled to 50 Countries, many of which you did mission work in. When did you start to notice that you had a passion for travel? Also, talk to us about how throughout your career you managed to connect travel and business.
Lisa Besserman: My first trip abroad was to Israel at the age of 15. It was my first (and last) organized trip. From there, I had a serious case of wanderlust and knew I needed to see as much of the world as humanly possible. There are so many beautiful cultures, languages, cities, and people all around the globe, I knew I wanted to explore and learn as much as possible, and no better way to do that than travel. I’ve always had a knack for leadership and loved business, so when I went to university I decided to major in International Business, knowing it would allow me to travel globally, while doing business. After I graduated college, I worked in Japan for two years, came back to NYC, worked at a startup, then moved to Argentina and wound up creating my organization abroad, as an expat entrepreneur.
Chris Dessi: You’ve been in Argentina for almost three years now. How does the business scene differ from America? What are some things you like more and some things that you wished were the same as in the US.
Lisa Besserman: Torsten Kolind, CEO of YouNoodle, and personal friend presented at the Latam Startup Conference, and his first slide read: “Latin America, where creativity meets inefficiency”. To me, that sums up the region quite poetically. Argentina is home to some of the greatest entrepreneurial and tech talent I’ve ever seen in my life, there’s a contagious energy in the city, and it truly inspires me to create and innovate on a regular basis. I’ve never felt this inspiration anywhere else in the world. Additionally, there’s a large emphasis on relationships, especially when doing business. This has its benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side, you get to know a person multi-dimensionally, which has the potential of making business and collaborations run smoother and stronger. On the other hand, the strong emphasis on relationships is sometimes at the cost of efficiency, speed and execution, which can be a major hindrance in business. There’s also a very distinct different definition of time in Latin America. This definition of time is something that varies quite substantially between cultures and regions. Showing up late to meetings, or starting events late is a normal occurrence in Latin America, as is not responding to emails for weeks at a time. For a fast paced New Yorker, this can be a challenge to navigate, and has been learning experience when assimilating to the local culture. I think one of the reasons SUBA has grown so rapidly and has become such a powerful organization, is because we were able to fuse the business cultures of the US and Argentina together, to get the best out of both.
Chris Dessi: You accomplished so much before you turned 30 – what does success in the next decade look like for you?
Lisa Besserman: I’d love to take the lessons I’ve learned and utilize them to help grow startup ecosystems around the world. Building a more connected global startup community and continuing to provide tools, resources and mentorships to fellow entrepreneurs is a dream of mine that I’m constantly working towards. As I mentioned earlier, success is defined by the lives we touch and the impact we make in this world, I’d love to continue the path I’m on, on a much larger and scalable platform.
Chris Dessi: You’ve done so much in the way of helping startups – what is it that attracts you to businesses that are just starting to take off?
Chris Dessi: Can you explain the impact, that social networking/digital media has made on your business/career and/or you personally?
Lisa Besserman: Digital media creates a borderless audience and allows missions to become movements, and words to become actions. Working with, and connecting global startup ecosystems is possible given the reach and impact that we receive from digital media, social networks, and online communities.
Chris Dessi: How much of your success was due to luck? Or are you of the mindset that you create your own luck?
Lisa Besserman: I absolutely believe in dumb luck, but I’m more of a fan of smart luck. I believe a recipe for success is through calculated risks, trusting in your vision, being flexible in your execution, knowing your market, sprinkled with a little bit of luck. Most successful entrepreneurs will not attribute their success to mostly luck, it’s mostly hard work, sweat, and dedication, however a little bit of luck always plays a nice role in the execution, and can go a long way.
Chris Dessi: When did you first think of yourselves as a success, or do you feel like you need to accomplish more first?
Lisa Besserman: I think the moment we start thinking of ourselves as successful, is the moment we stop striving for success. It’s also such a multi-faceted word, which makes it hard to measure. I believe I’ve accomplished a lot in my years, and have had many triumphs, but I also believe I have a long way to go. I suppose once I’m on the cover of Forbes i’ll be able to give in and finally call myself “successful”.
Chris Dessi: Many young executives who read this blog struggle with work life/balance. How do you strike a balance?
Lisa Besserman: This is one of my favorite topics. Whenever I give talks or presentations, I always try to incorporate something on the topic of balance. When I started out as an entrepreneur, nobody warned me about the extreme highs and lows faced on a daily basis. I’ve never experienced as many emotions in my life, than being an entrepreneur. It’s important to have a strong support system and network of people you love and trust that will help you stabilize and balance yourself. It’s hard not to get sucked into the vortex of creating, coding, building, working, etc. but it’s necessary. If you don’t find that balance, you’ll burn out, or worse. Having a strong support system is the best way to find that balance, and force you to step away from the computer from time to time. I schedule weekly gym sessions, monthly date nights with my husband and friends and do my best to mentally sign offline when I should be present in life outside of work. It may be difficult to step away, but it’s important, it helps you gain necessary perspective, and allows you to re-energize yourself, which will create major benefits in the long run. It’s crucial to find things that you love doing outside of work, and add those into your daily life, whether it be a new hobby, learning a new skill, or just unplugging.
Chris Dessi: Who has been the greatest positive influence on your life? Tell us about that person.
Lisa Besserman: As cliche as it may sound, my mother. Before I was born, my father was involved in a car accident that left him disabled. My mother held our family together emotionally and financially. She is the hardest worker I’ve ever seen, who fully dedicates herself to everything and everyone she loves. She’s raised three kids, taken care of our disabled father, and her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s, while working full-time and supporting our entire family. Incredibly, she did it all with a smile and inspired us to not only accept challenges, but overcome obstacles to achieve our dreams. She’s the most positive and kind-hearted person I’ve ever met, and for these reasons she’s the most positive influence in my life.
Chris Dessi: What do you think is the one characteristic that all the successful people you know share?
Chris Dessi: As a woman in business, have you ever experienced discrimination – how has that affected your outlook, and drive to succeed?
Lisa Besserman: I’ve been fortunate to be a minority in a field, but never felt discriminated against. I expected some push back when creating Startup Buenos Aires because it was a community movement that required the city to get behind me and my crazy mission. I anticipated that being a foreigner and a woman would work against me in a multitude of ways, but thankfully it has not. The only issue I’ve faced was when I created SUBA and would frequently ask to meet with influential members of the community, many of which were men. Given the business society in Argentina, it was common to meet over drinks, rather than in offices. On more than one occasion I found myself on accidental dates, rather than business meetings. Somehow the tone of the meeting shifted, and I found myself in unexpected romantic situations, rather than the business meetings I proposed. At the time I was single, so it wasn’t really a problem, now I make the agenda clear, as well as my marital status, so there’s no confusion.
Chris Dessi: How has your childhood (the way you were raised, your birth order) affected your career success? Did it at all?
Lisa Besserman: I’m a classic middle child. I’ve always been very independent, curious, and an overachieving perfectionist. I think that deeply affected who I am today because I felt a strong need to create a voice for myself. Additionally, I was the only one of my siblings to go away to college, live abroad, and make a frequent lifestyle out of leaving the country.
Chris Dessi: Here is your chance to brag a bit – what has been your greatest career success to date?
Chris Dessi: My daughters know that I hate witches – what’s one thing that scares the hell out of you?
Lisa Besserman: Death
Chris Dessi:Best day of your life?
Lisa Besserman: My wedding
Chris Dessi: Worst day of your life?
Lisa Besserman: The death of my grandfather
Chris Dessi: Who is your hero?
Lisa Besserman: My mother
Chris Dessi: What is the best gift you’ve ever been given?
Lisa Besserman:A plane ticket to Europe for my first solo backpacking trip
Chris Dessi: Do you collect anything?
Lisa Besserman:Stamps on my passport and magnets from countries visited.
Chris Dessi: What motivates you to work as hard as you do?
Lisa Besserman: Success (see definition above)
Chris Dessi: Name someone who knows more about you than anyone else in the world.
Lisa Besserman: My sister
Chris Dessi: Most powerful book you’ve ever read that you recommend to everyone?
Lisa Besserman: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
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