Episode 433 - Todd Westra / Luis Garcia

00:22 Hey, welcome back to the show. And I'm so glad today to have Luis with me because he's gonna tell us all about what he does, who he helps. Luis, who are you and what do you do?

00:32 Well, thank you. Thank you for having me Todd. So I am Luis Garcia, as you said, I am the president of Pete. And Pete is an AI powered learning platform to help companies scale workforce learning. 

00:48 Okay, so learning platform, tell me, dive deeper. Who do you help with this?

00:53 Okay. So, so we target companies that are growing and are in between 50 and 500 employees. And this happened to me a few times on my co -founder as well. Every time you're scaling an organization, it could be a department or a full company. There is a point at which you need to start training people more formally. So, and it gets to a point in which you can no longer just shadow and kind of informally pick it up. You have to say, okay, I need to really onboard these people with this particular information and so on. But companies, when they're small, they don't know how to do that. So what they do is that they go to the experts and say, hey, Todd, you're the head of sales and that you're the sales person. You create the training program for the new salespeople that are coming to your company or the head of HR. You'll do your onboarding for us and make sure it's great and experts and I think that because they're experts that they can create curriculum for people to learn from. And what they realized once they sit down to do that, this is a lot more complicated than they thought. And so they thought they're gonna spend a couple of weeks creating some PowerPoints and they're gonna deliver via Zoom or now in a conference room. And they realized that they take them a couple of months to do it right and they end up with PowerPoint that no one likes and the training is not really that great. And then six months later when that has to be updated, no one wants to really deal with that anymore. 

02:22 No, no, they're done with it. Forget it.

02:24 And that they're done with them. They just leave without problems and they keep stumbling through it. They try to recruit the next start to see if they can trick them into doing it. And so what we did is we created AI power tools that take your knowledge and we automated that process of translating expert knowledge into training materials. So just to give you an example, I've been in education for 20 years and that creating courses takes time, you know, it takes months sometimes. Even getting to an outline takes a few weeks while you synthesize a lot of information and try to create, okay, a structure for learning. Our software will do that in seconds. And then we'll go and clone your voice and take all your materials, the manuals that you have, operating manuals, knowledge that you have in different formats, put them into our platform, and then it spits out all courses, all ready to go. And yes, that's what we do. 

03:23  Are you kidding me? What? In video as well?

03:29 Yeah, so we can output them as videos, or we can be a slideshow with a voice in the synchronizer. So every slide has a script to narrate the slide that's automatically created, and the voice narrating is automatically created. And then some people want to export that as a video to make micro learning courses, or it can be there as that. And then we have simulation modules that then can help assess the learning by putting the learner through situations and then through conversational assessment really understanding that here in the mark of the learning that they're supposed to.

04:08 Holy cow, that sounds awesome.

04:10 Yes, thank you. Thank you. We're very excited.

04:13 That is very cool. And so I guess I'm gonna have to dive deeper into this. So you're able to take like a course outline and the objectives you wanna hit and then a manual or does it write the manual as well based off of the bullet points of your outline?

04:31 So the outline we create automatically with course outcomes that the person wants to have. And then if you don't have any other information, it goes to public sources and tries to create from there. But if you already have information, let's say you wrote down all the process or the standards or the regulations that you want to make sure that then we just ingest that and then it raises off of it.

04:55 Nuts. 

04:56 Yes. 

04:56 Amazing. I'm so, I'm, I'm so amazed.

05:00 Yes. And it can even be, it can even be in different languages.

05:03 My gosh, stop it. Okay, yeah, that's crazy. I can't even tell you, the reason I'm so impressed with this is because, you know, like six years ago, we did a lot of course creation for companies, content production course creation, and to hear what you just told me completely eliminates the need for that kind of agency.

05:24 Well, they had to move on market to something more specialized and things like that.

05:29 Yeah, I guess to be honest, it sounds like the type of tool that is probably like anything else, garbage in, garbage out. So if you had an agency that was good at developing a course, they would probably be the better route to use this type of tool to help a company. Is that probably accurate?

05:48 That's correct. That's correct. So we have companies that don't have any training department. And then the individual experts are the users. Or we have companies that are large and they already have a training department with people in the trainers and professional designers and all that. But then want to use our content creation capabilities to address places that they don't even address. They never have time. And so both ways can really work out.

06:17 That makes sense. That makes sense. Okay, that's fantastic. I am so impressed. So I can't wait to jump into this. So as you were developing the model, I mean, it sounds like you spent 20 plus years in education. How has the transition been and I mean, AI, how was the company and how long you've been using AI to help you with this?

06:38 So the company is really young. We were just about under a year old. And my co -founder is a serial entrepreneur here in Orlando. He founded two companies that he exited from. And his last company was a FinTech company that went unicorn. And in his last year in that company, they acquired four other companies. And then it was onboarding all these people. And that would make him think about how much work it was to get him. And so when he left and he exited that one, he thought, and it coincided around the time that generative AI became what we all know today. And he said, he's a technical, he's our CTO. And he said, I bet I can use that to solve this problem. And so he started it and about a month later. He took me out to lunch and said, this is what I'm trying to do. What do you think? I was like, yes, I've been thinking about the same thing. And generative AI can really help in the course creation portion because it's very expensive and very difficult to do. But also in the assessment part, how do we make sure people learn?

09:37 So tell me about, as you were starting to create the idea for this business, was there a trigger point in there where you were like, okay, we totally got this nailed and this is exactly what we're going to do? Or did you try to start with something more broad and niche it down or tell us a little bit about the evolution of where you come?

09:56 So the evolution was, it was quite impressive because he had a person that came in with, he had lunch with some business associate. And I tell him that this person was a marketing company, has been hired by a large tourism organism that wanted to, organization that wanted to create courses to help people. Sell the state, I won't tell the state because I can't devote to a customer. But they wanted to create many courses to help small businesses do marketing and things like that. And he was already prototyping the solution. So he came in and showed, well, this is what I have. I have prototyped this in that you can define here what you want to do. And then the tool already, it was command line back then. There was no interface. And I speed up the courses for her and she's like, how much do I pay you to use this for my customer? And so we started the company, we already customers in. And so we've been catching up, catching up, building the interface to the solution as we go along. Yeah.

11:08 That's not fair. That's not fair. Most businesses have to really develop and then they get a client and you started with a client and developed the product around their needs, I'm guessing.

11:18 Correct. And, which is the best way to, to, to start, for me to start a business is with revenue because, and, and I respect sometimes there are solutions that need to be stealth because the, for whatever reason, but then you miss that customer feedback. And, and, and it's been, it happened many times that you go stealth, you go for six months of a year developing this thing, and then you offer it and it's not what anybody wanted. And, and, instead. Everything that we build, go ahead. Yes. Everything that we build comes from an E. 

11:51 no, no, I totally agree.

11:52 Yeah. Everything that we build comes from an E.

11:56 Okay, I gotcha. Yeah, you know, honestly, stealth mode to me is dangerous. I know that some iterations of a product, you do need stealth mode because it is kind of, you know, proprietary and all that kind of good stuff. But I love that you actually started with a client developing product around that. Would you say that's probably the smartest thing you've done so far? Or where are you at right now when you're looking back on the last year, was there a key point where you were like, got it?

12:26 I think you asked me that where we are, if that was the smartest thing we've done and where we are in the business. I will say yes. I will say yes. That's the smartest thing we could ever done. And because it does two things for you. Number one, it gives you product market fit immediately. And it helps with your subsequent sales because then say you already, I have a customer here already. So you're not the only one. It helps fundraising because investors love to know that you already have some traction and it brings your credibility and everything that you build, again, it's already for the customer. So you're never wasting time. And I think it's a pretty smart way to go at it. If you start with revenue on customers, you know, you're in a good, for sure, you know that you're going to have product market fit.

13:19 I love it. I love it. I agree with you 100%. And for those of you listening, when you're in a growth mode, it's so much easier to grow when you have clients actively using your tool or your service or whatever it is you're building. And because you do get that live feedback, you do get that instant iteration of saying, well, I don't like that, or I do like that. And Louise, I'm curious with your client acquisition strategy, everybody does this, but are there things you look for in clients that really make a great client versus the clients that are kind of a pain in your butt?

14:05 Yes. And I heard you talk about avatar and which is a great way to look at it. You have to have an idea of customer and you better get that quickly. And when you start, you say yes to everyone. And sometimes it doesn't really matter if they're paying you a hundred dollars or they're paying you a thousand dollars, but you really quickly got to get to your target customer. If nothing else, you're not distracted. And, so we are targeting a growing organization between 50 employees and 500 employees. Very easy for smaller organizations to come to us, try to use our tools and we definitely listen to them and try to accommodate them, but they're probably too small for it. It's gonna be too expensive for them to do it. And larger organizations over a thousand, 5 ,000, we do talk to them, but then there's more decision makers and they already have a solution that then you have to work with. So it's more difficult. We find that when we stay true to this avatar, as you would call it, then we become the full solution and they're eager to work with us.

15:08 And they have nowhere else to go because you know what they want, right?

15:14 That's all. That's all for now.

15:15  I love it, I love it. Luis, this is fantastic. When you look back on those stages of growth and your new client acquisition, and I'm sure you'll continue to refine your avatar as you go, but looking forward, is there a challenge that you hit in finding the avatar that you like to work with that you were a little surprised about that kind of threw you off? Or has it been pretty smooth sailing the whole time?

15:38 No, it's never smooth sailing in the startups. And is the discipline to not go after the client that is not in your avatar. Is the discipline to say, you know, I know you could use our solution. I know you think you could use our solution, but you're better off with these other providers. And that they really target what you're trying to do. And to keep my sales team away from them as well. And, because it takes a lot of heavy lifting every time we onboard a customer. And even though our tool makes things easier, this is still a complex thing to do. So we spend a lot of resources onboarding the customer, making sure that we co -create the first few courses with them to make sure they're ready to be on their own. So you can't really do that if you're not getting the revenue to pay for it. And so the difficult thing has been, how do we stay disciplined with our target to make sure we're not wasting our very scarce resources?

16:47 Fantastic. That is such good advice. There are so many businesses out there that try to serve everybody, trying to be everybody's best friend. And when you stick to Avatar and you grow with the Avatar, you understand what their needs are, it doesn't matter that there's all these other businesses that could maybe possibly kind of sort of use your business. When you stay true to your Avatar, you become their best resource. And you're not trying to deal with learning all those other industries. It's fantastic. Fantastic. Well, tell me a little bit about, as you've been working with these clients and working with the build out of this project, I mean, are you raising money? Is this something that you've been able to bootstrap or is it something that you feel like the industry you're servicing right now is kind of driving enough revenue to build your growth?

17:42 So no, we definitely needed some investment to make sure that we had a core team that was able to execute. And so I told you, my co -founder already came from an exit. So he wrote his own investment and a few of his last partners as the initial investors. And then we went through a seed round that was among angel investors in our area. And we have a lead investor as we just closed our first $2 million seed round. But mostly the money is for growth. The product we were able to develop it, it's always in development, but to get it to this point with the initial investment that we have from our initial investors.

18:37 Good for you, I can't wait to try this tool out. This sounds fantastic. 

18:46 Thank you, thank you.18:47 As you have traveled through this space so far, obviously you're probably seeing all over the place opportunities for people that need or could use this software. What is the niche that you've kind of settled in on right now? What's been your primary avatar that you're hitting? 

19:02 You're going to be surprised. Sports venues.

19:04 Whoa, I am surprised. That's awesome.

19:07 Yes, and we were too. Yeah, so something I would recommend to people, if you're part of a city, an ecosystem, lean into it. Lean into your local network. We'll people will want to help you. And so we knocked the door of our professional soccer teams here in Orlando, the Orlando City Soccer SE and Orlando Pride. And through our contact, we got to the president of the team and to showcase the tool. And so happens that a sports venue fits the bill perfectly because they have about 50 people, 50, 60 people on staff only, but on game day that goes up to two feet. And all those people that are temporary workers need to be trained and it's really hard to train them without a digital solution on their customer service, on the things that they have to know, depending on the role on safety and security and all those things. So they became our partner really quickly for that. And then we went after the other sports venues and say, well, Orlando city is using our solution. Do you have the same problem? And they do. So the Kia Center and Camping World, which are the only very large sports venues in Orlando, one for the Orlando Magic and the other one for the College Bowls. And Ken Johnson says, yeah, we do actually. We have the Saxon problem. And because Orlando City has signed up, they signed up as well. So they became our customer too. So now we're thinking, OK, venues, here we go. So we're really leading into sports venues.

21:00 I think it's amazing that you've leaned into it that way and that you're seeing the kind of success that you need to from doing that and it's so smart. It's so smart because too many entrepreneurs and too many founders get so distracted by shiny objects that they don't lean into the type of avatar that you've leaned into. And some might think, it's probably a small market, but no, there are venues everywhere. that have that fluctuating staff needs and all that kind of stuff you're talking about. I mean, I could see it in ski resorts and I'm just thinking out loud, but there's a lot of activity -based venues like that that you have part -time help. They kind of fluctuate during the busy time, then they're not there. And what a fantastic solution you have. Way to go.

21:49 Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

21:52 So I know you've got a partner who's had an exit and is familiar with growth and scaling and building a business, but is there someone in your network or someone in your life that's kind of been that peer support or that motivator to help keep you on the path you're doing as an entrepreneur?

22:12 You know, I'm being asked that question again. So who do you, you know, lean in, you know, who's your support? And I'm actually very traditional with that, but I think that your support system should be the people that love you unconditionally. And, and, so my, always starts with my wife and who will tell me how it is. And then my mom and my siblings who are incredibly smart and very, very experienced. So, throughout my life, those are the people that have been in my foundation for every business decision that I make. And it works out very well for me. I do have mentors, the people that have definitely been influential in my life, but nowhere near my family.

23:05 I love it, I love it, that's fantastic. Luis, this has been such a fun interview and what a fun business model and all the stuff that you've talked about today is so relevant to our listeners. If you're listening and you wanna learn more about what Luis is up to, go check him out, we got links to his LinkedIn down below and to his company. I highly encourage you to check it out. It's so fun to learn from the journeys of other people and Luis is on his way to building a great, great company. And thank you for taking the time to be here today, Luis.

23:35 No, thank you, Todd. It's been a lot of fun. I hope it was as much fun for you as it was for me.

23:39 Oh, fantastic. I love the story. Great, great experience. And for those of you still listening, we cannot wait to catch up with you on the next one. Please, please check back in. We're launching new episodes all the time. We'll catch up with you later. And Louise, thanks again for your time today.

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