Mentored, episode 9: Emmanuel Oquendo

In October 2017, Brain Hi founders decided to switch gears and focus on a particular market. Since that moment, they’ve continued to growth 15% each month and have become the first Puerto Rican startup to join the well-renowned Y Combinator. Cofounder Emmanuel Oquendo speaks with Sebastian about their vision, the importance of being open minded, having a great team and more.

On Emmanuel’s upbringing and studies

I’m from Vega Baja and Manatí. I studied mechanical engineering because I used to tell my parents I wanted to solve problems. In high school, I was told that meant being an engineer. I went to Mayagüez to study mechanical engineering, but it didn’t feel like a fit. I still don’t know how to change a tire but I loved to explore. During my fourth year, I went to MIT for scientific research. There, I spent 9, 10 hours locked up with gloves and that’s when I realized that this was not for me. I started listening to podcasts and learning about ideas. Then I did research in natural language processing, techniques and algorithms that can transform the way we we talk into commands that a computer can complete. When I returned for the semester, Idea Platform was born. One of the biggest issues in Mayagüez is that our engineers are leaving the island and Idea Platform helps them stay tied to the island. Now Idea Platform is the largest entrepreneurial student organization in Puerto Rico. While creating the organization, parallel18 and Sebastián came to campus. He taught me what entrepreneurship was, that’s when I decided to become an entrepreneur.

What is BrainHi

It is an automated receptionist for medical offices. We noticed that these offices are understaffed, with one or two employees doing the work of five. That is why the patient experience is bad. Doctors are tired of handling administrative stress, frustrated that there is not enough personnel and want to get back to just doing medicine. BrainHi becomes and oasis for them.

At first, we were mostly a software agency where Israel and I were dealing with customer projects. We then start parallel and Seba and Lucas told us we needed to focus. We decided to focus on what really interested us, which was health.

On the importance of narrowing their scope

We made the transition to health in October, after Hurricane Maria. After that happened, everything was destabilized and some entrepreneurs, like us, saw an opportunity. It was an opportunity for BrainHi because people were leaving the Island, phones were not working. We were able to execute everything in a week and not one client left, we had no churn, and we kept growing. In our case no one has left the platform. It was a very important moment for SMBs.

I’ve seen a correlation between the quality of my decisions and the amount of time I spend with a client. The more we talk, the better it is.

On creating a great & flexible team

Rodrigo learned that he had to sell like an entrepreneur, not a salesperson. He sold BrainHi’s vision, the company, that we are young people in Puerto Rico. He had many tools to capture the doctors’ attention. Diana is a great customer service leader. Once the customer makes it to that say, she creates tight knit relationships with the administrative staff.

I’ve seen a correlation between the quality of my decisions and the amount of time I spend with a client. The more we talk, the better it is.

On their Y Combinator experience

We are the first Puerto Rican company, the twentieth Latin American company to be accepted. Talking about your product and company is always extremely complicated. We had to purge all that information and make it something we could say in ten seconds. That was really for engineers.

We worked on that application for close to a month, reading everything we could, even the publicly available applications. We learned how to simulate the language used there. We practiced incessantly. We had about 10 interviews. The first question on the first interview was what do you do. We said “we’re an automated receptionist for doctor and dentists offices.” There was silence, then they understood us. After that everything was extremely positive. There was a shift and, afterward, we had incredible rhythm.

On getting ready to apply and interview at Y Combinator

This was an almost 100% commitment. We had to prepare. We had good traction but without execution that meant nothing. And I can say that that every Latin American startup had amazing traction, more than the others. I think Y Combinator is still learning about the LatAm market.

Israel and I have good chemistry. This was a beautiful process because, though I’m the one that loves to speak, Israel really has an incredible impact whenever he does it. That confidence I have in him, helped him. They noticed that we are a strong team. And I, as a CEO quiet down and let Israel do his thing, which made us shine as a founding team.

At the beginning, part of my pitch was, “we’re from Puerto Rico and we’re going to be the first unicorn out of this island.” And that’s something that I live by, but I learned from the conversations I had at Y Combinator, that you have to be ready to prove the competitive advantage of where you are. You have to have strong reasons, you have to address their concerns. When investors passed up on us, it was due to us being far. Once I became more flexible in Brain Hi evolution, and the advantages of Puerto Rico, the conversations were more fruitful.

On U.S. investor mindset

There is a bias when you’re speaking with an investor. They invest in patterns and, if you’re doing something outside of the mold, you’ll have to fight harder. It’s a statistics game, and not being a local affects the outcome.

At the beginning, part of my pitch was, “we’re from Puerto Rico and we’re going to be the first unicorn out of this island.” And that’s something that I live by, but I learned from the conversations I had at Y Combinator, that you have to be ready to prove the competitive advantage of where you are. You have to have strong reasons, you have to address their concerns. When investors passed up on us, it was due to us being far. Once I became more flexible in Brain Hi evolution, and the advantages of Puerto Rico, the conversations were more fruitful.

Book Recommendations

The Challenger Sale — It’s a tactical book. It gets down to the sales conversation, that challenging process on being assertive and moving forward with your sale. This books explains everything in detail.

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT!

Brain Hi is looking for staff for tech support and customer service positions. Reach out to them for more info.

Mentored is a Facebook Live Series, where parallel18 visiting mentors share their knowledge, experiences and advice. Watch Live every Friday at 10 a.m. To rewatch this episode, go here.

*Translated and edited for the blog

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Parallel18 is a startup accelerator that represents a unique gateway for global startups to scale from Puerto Rico.