Pedro Espinoza

Founder of SmileyGo

Pedro David Espinoza was born in 1994 in Lima, Peru. Coming from a family with Quechua, Andean, and Incan roots, Pedro David grew up attending The American School of Lima: Roosevelt School. In 2012, he received admission – with merit-based scholarships – to the best public university in the world: University of California, Berkeley. Before attending Berkeley, Pedro David worked as a station manager for a Shell (Primax) gas station in Peru. It took him four years to gain his bachelor of science in business administration. During his time at Berkeley, Pedro David received the University of California Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Janet Napolitano. In addition to Berkeley, Pedro David enrolled in classes at Stanford University during the summer quarter of 2014. At Stanford University, Pedro David took management science, engineering, and entrepreneurship classes. It was in his engineering 145 class at Stanford, that he felt inspired to start SmileyGo: a platform that helps companies invest in nonprofits. Pedro David was part of the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy where he pitched his SmileyGo idea to venture capitalists, angel investors, and high net-worth individuals. Pedro David received the Leadership Scholarship Award two years in roll from 2013 until 2015 for his extraordinary leadership, audacity, and initiative. Pedro David Espinoza became a US Citizen at the age of 23 in Washington, DC. At the age of 23 he also gave a TED talk in Georgetown University where over 200 attendees were inspired on the power of building bridges, relationships, and connecting the dots. In 2017, Pedro David started investing in early stage technology companies in autonomous vehicles, music technology, and retail software. In 2019, Pedro David wrote his first business book called Differences That Make A Difference. During his book venture, Pedro David recruited tycoons, luminaries, and executives such as Eric Schmidt, Reed Hastings, and Dan Schulman to be contributing writers. Pedro David teamed up with Jorge Titinger to become co-authors. At the age of 24, Pedro David founded Pan Peru USA – a 501c3 nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering women to become entrepreneurs through training programs. Today, Pedro David serves on boards of nonprofits, corporations, advises startups, implements keynote presentations, and leads Pan Peru USA.

Where did the idea for SmileyGo come from?

The idea of writing a book on diversity, inclusion, and belonging came from my childhood: my immigrant family has always been entrepreneurial. My mom Julia is an engineer, my sister Karina is a doctor, and Dianna is a businesswoman. I am surrounded by powerful women, immigrants, and leaders. During a summer in New York, I came to the realization of writing a book to not only share the lessons learned in my early career but also focus on how imperative inclusion is for the global economy. Coming from a developing country, being educated at Stanford & Berkeley, and starting a technology company, I figured this could be right timing to create a roadmap for corporate America executives to implement in order to create a culture of belonging, to prepare for the future of work. When I was 19, I started my first technology company. Being myself a tech founder in Silicon Valley I saw the lack of representation from the Hispanic, Latinx community. Coming to San Francisco, which prides itself in being one of the most (if not the most) progressive and open-minded place in the country – yet, a small percentage of Latino founders get venture capital funding. Same with Black founders. Being affiliated with top tech hubs such as Skydeck, Stanford, Berkeley, I saw the lack of diversity. This inspired me to write a roadmap, to write a book on the power of differences, as my friend and former Stanford Professor Lindred Greer said diversity is “any difference that makes a difference”. In addition, being part of top schools like Berkeley and Stanford, I saw the small numbers of representation in regards to Hispanic/immigrant students in the most STEM/entrepreneurial classes such as industrial engineering, computer science, and statistics. I want to change that. I want to inspire the next generation of Latinos to dream bigger, to have that winner’s mentality, that victorious mindset that yes they can do it, if they work hard.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Board meetings, committee meetings, and 1 hour of Chinese Mandarin every day. I am very fortunate and blessed to have an outstanding Mandarin Teacher every 24 hours. I enjoy exercising such as swimming, tennis, ping pong and golf. Listening to my music (pop music singles I composed in Spotify/apple music), working on my MacBook, drinking chamomile tea, and not eating dairy. I don’t waste time from looking at social media for hours, I don’t have the FB or messenger app on my phone. It’s not productive. I don’t have many apps on my phone. I don’t stare at screens much.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am big on execution. The best way of learning is by doing. I like to build roadmaps. I’m big on priority management. People talk about time management. However, if you look at where you spend time it’s clearly on your priorities. In 2015, when I was leading SmileyGo, I deactivated my Facebook/Instagram/snapchat for 12 months. Having this social media fast enabled me to be more productive, crush it, and reach my startup goals. Having 3,000 friends on Facebook, it was hard for me to let go off Facebook. However, I decided to go for it. The outcomes were phenomenal. Paradoxically speaking, that was the year when I ran into Mark Zuckerberg at a Guitar Center store. I learned to bring ideas to life from my entrepreneurial parents – I have fond memories of shadowing my dad and mom when I was 10 years old. Once, we were in a virgin/exotic valley in southern Peru, when my dad said “son, we will build a five-star hotel here.” I was amazed and stunned. I questioned, “dad how in the world will we start a company here where this lot of land is pure dirt?”. My mom said “that’s where vision and execution meet”. Little did I know, that in 3 years we had the Hotel Lunahuana River Resort. The same applies to the Toyota dealerships, Hertz Peru stores, and others. Having outstanding entrepreneurial parents gave me the strength, foundation, and knowhow to become an entrepreneur and bring ideas to life. The best way to bring ideas to life is to have the vision and the plan of execution. Many people can have great ideas – the key is to implement them. You need doers, executives, managers, leaders who form leaders. I’ve been blessed to have 2 older sisters that have been mentoring me for decades. I am the youngest member in my family and have the “last child advantage” where my parents empowered me, gave me more freedom, and trusted me at a young age. I remember buying groceries for them with their credit card at the age of 11. My two sisters helped me throughout the high school, college application, and networking process. An example is in 2014 when I enrolled myself as an undergraduate visitor scholar for Stanford, my sister Karina introduced me to her close friends at Apple, Google, and Facebook. Turned out to be that those were the early users of my first startup called SmileyGo. Karina introduced me by email, and boom, met them in their job campuses, ate free food, but most importantly, started building those bridges. It’s all about building bridges. Like my TED talk: build the bridge.

What’s one trend that excites you?

How quickly the economy is becoming more and more digital. I had my first iPhone when I was in middle school. I remember driving to Starbucks using apple maps when I was a teen. Today, seeing how artificial intelligence and machine learning is shaping how we communicate, interact, and do life is crazy. Having Alexa in my home is ridiculous. The speed at which daily quotidian things are changing is fascinating. I’m excited by how technology is disrupting all the industries looking at Airbnb, google, and uber. At the same time, the changing demographics of our American economy: there are more Hispanic kids in a kindergarten class in Los Angeles or San Francisco than Caucasian kids. The future is diverse. Companies have to embrace that, they have to be ready to create that inclusive culture. That’s where my book comes!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m a doer. I’m very disciplined and energetic. My philosophy is to be relational over transactional. I like to foster long-term relationships at work, family, and life. For example, even at school at Berkeley or Stanford, I would meet with faculty members in unusual ways like at airport lounges and tennis courts. Another example is I foster my personal board of directors. It’s very important to have your own tribe. Having that drive to get things done, that type a personality, really helps me to achieve things ahead of others. When I was a senior in college, I was already featured as a successful alumnus of the business school of Berkeley Haas. This was hilarious because 1. I hadn’t graduated. 2. I wasn’t an alumni and 3. My professor brought this up in my accounting class in front of 300 Berkeley students, my professor was stunned and astounded. I like to be ahead of the game. I like to be an overachiever. Another example is in high school, my computer lab / computer science teacher said “Pedro David, why don’t you create your own album? You love music and tech, so use your skills to create your own music!”. Next month, I was recording my music compositions and songs in a professional studio. Later, I registered them in Broadcast Music Inc. It was on the national radio in Peru and on TV marketing commercial spots as background music.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Focus on the end goal. Go outside your comfort zone. Bring your passion with you at all times. Don’t focus on your competitors. Don’t envy people. Don’t be jealous. Be grateful in all circumstances. Be thankful, have a thankful mindset. Have a winning mentality. Don’t waste time in video games. Don’t eat junk food.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I don’t need coffee. I dislike coffee. I don’t do caffeine at all. I’m too hyper. I’m a morning person and a night owl. I love being productive and getting things done. I don’t eat desert. I don’t like sweets. I don’t eat dressing. I don’t like dressing. I like natural. I don’t like spicy food. I like bland and natural food. I don’t like spices. I grew up in a disciplined household where you ate what was there. No complaining. My mom never told me to study. Turned out great. My oldest sister Dianna was offered a full-ride scholarship to Oxford University, Karina is class of 2012 at Stanford University, and I went to Berkeley class of 2017. I don’t eat junk food. I don’t like movies. I don’t go to the movies.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Follow up. Embrace tenacity and persistence at all times. Success comes from hard work, hard work comes from consistently and efficiently working.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Make it easy for people to help you. For my latest version, writing this business book on the power of diversity for companies to thrive, it was key to make it easy for people to help me. Part of the deal was to interview 150 executives from different industries, backgrounds, and achievements. Thus, I had to make easy for them to help me. Many of the interviews were done via a 15-minute conference call. People always ask me how I get so many things done at once while being able to invest much time with family, friends, working out, sleeping 9 hours, and a community. The key is in making it easy and practical for people (peers, supervisors, board members, direct reports) to help you and say yes. The older you get, the busier you get. Be coachable. Hence, when you make it easy for people to coach you (you do your homework before seeing them, ahead of time), you will have better chances of success.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My cofounder Richard Zhang (Princeton University graduate) and I had a startup idea to build a platform to connect Ivy League students with prospective students for college essay advice services. It was a great idea given that many of the Kaplan tutors are not fresh out of college (or current students at prestigious universities). Nevertheless, while we received good feedback from 30 prospective students from China, Korea, and Japan, we didn’t meet our conversion goals in the first quarter of our fiscal year. The name of the startup idea was Skawlar – as in Scholar. We overcame this by pivoting the resources to making the website of Pan Peru USA. Pan Peru is a venture that empowers women to become entrepreneurs. This is a much more noble, pure, and clear organization.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Solve a problem that a billion people have and you will be a billionaire. Traffic is a major problem for humanity. There are a plethora of parking lots, cars, and spaces misused by societies. Look at one example, there are so many churches in the United States that have unused parking lots from Mondays through Saturdays in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. There is a huge potential of creating a network system to connect the dots and create a marketplace. My point is there is an unmet need that billions of people have in terms of parking, traffic, and transportation. Look at Silicon Valley, where I abide, it’s the innovation capital of the world yet it struggles with traffic issues. There needs to be a platform where car owners that need to get to a meeting at x location can get to that location (in front of the main door of the meeting) and another person who needs a car at that time at that place can receive the car on the street and switch drivers. When the car owner is done with his meeting, the other person can come and drop off the car. Algorithms are smart enough to determine how many people need a ride, own a car, don’t want to pay parking, and want to save 15 minutes (average time a person takes to park, pay parking, get to his meeting, and walk). Time is more valuable than money. Time is something you can’t purchase. You can purchase pretty much anything except time. While the car owner is in his meeting, the other person can enjoy having a car in a congested part of the city where public transportation is not the most enjoyable experience i.e. BART in San Francisco where there is literally not enough space for you to sit on a weekday.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I got a Costco membership. I eat a lot. I burn a lot of calories and have a fast metabolism. I love eating carbs, veggies, fruits, oatmeal, grains, I buy in bulk. I enjoy cooking. I have a YouTube channel. I cook from scratch. I never use microwaves. I don’t watch TV. Costco has good gas prices, and it has pretty much everything you need. Yes, I live by myself and am independent. I don’t have kids. Yet, I eat like I have a large family.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Google calendar. Setting up every day. Between board meetings, team meetings, etc. Having a calendar is beautiful. Everything is organized. My dad and mom always taught me to have my own calendar, agenda, my business card. I got my personal business card light blue with my Gmail when I was 12 years old. I got my first business suit when I was 12 at a Toyota convention where I met the CEO. I remember when I was a teen, we were on a flight from Miami to Lima, and turned out to be that the former President of Peru was there. I shook his hand, got out of my comfort zone, introduced myself, expressed my passion for leadership and public speaking. I am grateful to my parents that inspired me to be an entrepreneur, to build my personal brand, to be a champion of entrepreneurship.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Differences That Make A Difference. It provides the roadmap not only for corporate executives but also for future leaders to embrace diversity as a strength for them to succeed in their career. By diversity I mean diversity of thought, differences in backgrounds, reinventing yourself, bringing your whole self to work. You are not just Hispanic. You are not just an immigrant. Earlier in my career, I was working for a software company where the CEO said “you are a jack of all trades, you can sell, you can lead, you can code, you can market, you can promote, you can hire, you can manage, you can follow. We will create a job for you”.

What is your favorite quote?

Proverbs 10:4 “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth”. The strongest force is not gravity, speed light, electricity, it’s your willpower. It’s in you! It’s up to you. Be grateful for what you have and get things done.

Key Learnings:

  • Be an effective entrepreneur by being a doer, following up, and being shrewd
  • Build bridges, build relationships, your own personal board of advisors, and mentors to succeed
  • Work hard, bring your passion with you always, be disciplined, and say no to most things that waste your time such as social media, TV, games, etc.