Lou Paris is the Founder and Executive Director of Konkeros, a platform that helps international students get jobs in the U.S. Lou is also an instructor of International Business and New Venture Creation in the School of Business Administration at Stetson University. He was born in Venezuela, but is a German and American national.
He has lived and worked in six countries: Venezuela, Canada, Spain, Germany, England and the United States. Because of his worldwide exposure, Lou has a passion to help international students achieve employment goals in the United States.
In this interview, Lou tells a little about how he lives the life of an entrepreneur, how getting his business off the ground was more of an intellectual challenge than a financial one, and how he started an epic entrepreneurial venture.
His advice for entrepreneurs in Florida:
Think of yourself as a scientist more than a business person, and think of your business ideas as hypothesis that need to be tested. To the extent you understand this, you will eventually be a successful entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, Lou, and your life as an entrepreneur/founder/CEO?I have a weird international background. I was born in Venezuela; lived in Canada during my teenage years; went to college in the US; then lived in Spain, Germany, and England. I think these experiences abroad nurtured a knack for detecting opportunities. You know, seeing things done differently across cultures may have helped me think more critically about solutions to everyday problems.
My life as an entrepreneur can be summarized in one word—hustle. I view every day as a juggling act—one that often requires me to be in two places at once and to tackle mutually exclusive activities. I work creatively to keep all the balls in the air.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur? Did you ever have an ‘aha moment’?I guess I always had the “trep bug”. I filed for my first patent when I was 13 years old (I invented a shoe strap for skateboarding). While the patent submission didn’t lead to the creation of a business, I learned about the effort required to act upon an idea.
Intuitively, I discovered most people have business ideas, but only a few act upon them. I also realized, as long as I continue acting upon my ideas and learning from my mistakes, at some point I will have a successful business.
How did you get Konkeros off the ground? bootstrap? pitch with local accelerators or VCs?Getting Konkeros off the ground was more of an intellectual challenge than a financial one. It required a crazy amount of research and thinking time. During this phase I focused on building a platform with basic features, so I could test the market quickly and inexpensively.
Once I determined what I needed to build, I took a loan against my 401k, and built my 1.0 version. Since then I’ve used the revenue to finance the on-going development.
I foresee the need to expand Konkeros more aggressively in the immediate future, which will require greater resources. For that reason I am currently contemplating bringing at least one investor on board. Luckily, there are several potential backers. Now I need to determine the best fit.
How would you recommend fellow entrepreneurs overcome that kind of problem?For me nothing has ever come easily. I work really hard to overcome challenges every day. Sometimes the situations suck, and that’s when I remind myself, “Work today like no one else WILL, so tomorrow you can live like nobody else CAN.” Then I suck it up and continue working.
What's your most epic moment/story as an entrepreneur? Do you mind sharing?About two years ago, I sat in my car late at night and I experienced an emotional breakdown. The rain was pouring down and I could barely see anything outside. I was drenched and exhausted because I had spent the last 12 hours moving out of my house and into a storage facility.
It was close to Christmas and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to give my 5 year-old a proper holiday because we didn’t have a house. To top it all off, my most recent business venture had failed. My ambitions and dreams had been squashed. I felt pathetic. At that moment, I decided I would not get out of the car until I came up with another business idea.
I took out a sheet of paper and started writing ideas down. After 20 minutes, I narrowed down my ideas to two things. Eventually one of those ideas turned into a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign and the other became Konkeros.
By the way, I ended up buying a nicer home three days before Christmas, and had an incredible holiday with my family.
What makes Konkeros unique from the rest? How did you bump into your niche?Konkeros helps international students get jobs in the US. This is admittedly a little-known industry, in fact, very few people know it exists. The most frequent reaction I get from people is, “I would've never thought of this business idea in a million years.”
I decided to develop this platform, because I was an international student myself. I knew intimately the challenges international students face when they look for a job in the US. I simply wanted to help.
Konkeros.com is a comprehensive program and ranking system to help international students achieve their career goals in this country. The program empowers and educates students to get employment as an international student/graduate.
Students can use our ranking system to find all the companies that have recently completed work visas. Konkeros.com also provides a viability score, based on which company is more likely to hire them due to THEIR profile and historical company data.
As an entrepreneur, how do you balance life and career to remain connected with your loved ones? Any advice for our readers?This is a tough one. I’ve had to sacrifice lots of family time in the last few years. But I'm learning how to optimize my time. Among other things, I'm making adjustments to my workflow based on an excellent book I read called, “The 4-Hour Work Week.”
What is your greatest fear as a business owner? How do you overcome it?My greatest fear isn't having a promising project to work on. I'm scared of running out of ideas and suddenly finding myself employed—with a plain job.
I don’t really do anything special to overcome this, other than working very intently in my business. I am very passionate about deciding my own future—that’s my driving force.
In my perfect world, I will continue to run my business(es) and teach entrepreneurship in college (as I do now.) Both things are fun – especially when combined.
Can you explain how your personal mindset influences your life and business?While I enjoy tackling life and work with a creative mindset, I notice that lately, I behave more like a scientist. I think of my business ideas as hypothesis that need testing. I’ve discovered that this mindset forces me to keep my research and development quick and inexpensive.
What advice can you give to entrepreneurs in Florida who want to start their own business? Can you give the top 3 rules for success?Think of yourself as a scientist more than a business person, and think of your business ideas as hypothesis that need to be tested. To the extent you understand this, you will eventually be a successful entrepreneur.
Lou's Three rules
- Grit: Being an entrepreneur will take you on an emotional roller coaster, with almost intolerable highs and lows. Regardless of what happens, keep pushing.
- Hustle: Nothing will be handed to you, nor will anything be easy. You will need to work creatively to make things happen.
- Books: Reading and learning new things will help you tremendously in your entrepreneurial career. Read as much as you can before going to bed.