Fernando Tito, owner and managing director of comes from a family of entrepreneurs. His father never forced him to stay within the family business, preferring that his son would get into a “stable company.” However, eight or nine years ago, Tito felt the need to test his limits.
“Even though I was moving up the corporate ladder and holding different senior positions, it seemed like something was not there, something was missing… I could cruise along into the sunset and just plug away, or try something different and start looking at a complete career change. Try something different, or start my own business.”
“My brother and I, we always do something on the side. So it’s not like we’re really working from 9 to 5. We always did something on the side just because we’re passionate about it.”
“So, I’d say about 7 or 8 years ago, I started my MBA, I just had to go back to school and do my MBA. And the MBA was sort of either try to stimulate my brain again… it was something that would help me steer into that path and try something different. At that time, I started interviewing a couple of management consulting companies along the way.”
“Then this opportunity came up: I got in touch with a developer basically and said, “listen, this guy’s been considering doing something on his own; would you give him a bit of a push to get started?” And after about a year of going back and forth in discussion, while I was finishing my MBA, it came to the point where I had to decide whether to keep going or try something unique.
“Talking a little with my wife, she basically said, “you know what, you’re not even 40 years old…you could easily get going, and now you have a really good reputation within the company and you have a good following as well. I’m sure they’ll take you back if you do decide to leave.”
I basically decided, with the support of the family, to go on my own. My brother and I along with two other friends… we started SkyGrid.
“Honestly, we didn’t do it for the glory, we didn’t do it for the money; it was more to try something different, a new challenge.”
“I don’t know what it’s like as you’re hitting the forties, you either decide to say, ‘okay I wanna try something different,’ or you kinda just put your mind to it, ‘this is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life,’ and accept that. The four us didn’t wanna do the same thing and we kind of joined hands and when I told them I was resigning, they said, okay, if you leave, we’re gonna come with you as well. And that’s how the company started.”
Tito had the choice to stay in a safe environment that was already established by a businessman, or he could spread his wings, and set new limits for himself, financially and mentally.
“It’s been 6 years plus and part of it are the ups and downs but I’m not regretting the choice. Sometimes I miss it, I miss the support from the big company and having people around you to do your day-to-day stuff, but we do enjoy every day. A few years ago, I talked to someone who basically said:
‘It’s not about the money that you accumulate, but more of the time that you spend doing the stuff that you enjoy.’
“Being on my own, it kind of gave me the opportunity to do little things I really enjoy on my own time at my own pace without being forced. If you’re working at a corporate world, unfortunately you’re tied up, you’re restricted. No matter how high up you go to the corporate ladder, you’re always restricted to do certain things and you’re always restricted in terms of what opportunity to explore or how you wanna explore. Being on your own, it gives complete experience to a lot of things without restriction. And that’s what we were looking for. ‘You know what, we gotta try something different.’ Along the way, there’s other things that come up, why not explore it?”
One of Tito’s favourite revelations was discovery of opportunities that could open up for a new entrepreneur. He realized that as a business owner, he had more freedom to pursue an opportunity, and set his own hours. This meant a clearer line toward success for him.
“Whether it’s a new partnership agreement, whether it’s an investment opportunity, it seems like it’s a lot easier to say ‘okay, this is an opportunity that’s worth exploring,’ and that you can dedicate some of your time. Going out there and exploring it, it made sense to either pursue or back away or not, except you can’t do it if you work for someone.
“Basically, if you’re in the corporate world, if you have an opportunity…you can’t take the time off during the day to go and say, ‘I’m looking at applying at another company…’”
Tito’s ‘ah-a’ moment when he realized he was ready to take the plunge came after a long discussion with his wife. He realized he loved a challenge, but didn’t want to risk his family’s well-being to pursue this interest.
“Just before dinner time, I talked about it, I go, ‘listen I’m graduating in about a month, a month and a half, this thing is an opportunity… I think, actually it’d be a bit of a challenge for the first year, but hopefully we’ll be back on our feet. But I like the challenge, why not try it and she basically said, ‘do it. What’s the worst that’s gonna happen, right?’”
His wife is also a child of an entrepreneur, so she understood the need to stand out from the crowd, to establish a personal connection to an industry. The family ensured that there was a safety net of two years, should any financial hardships be faced, but Tito’s new venture SkyGrid had the advantage of working during a construction boom.
“We pursued a project where our past employer was one of our competitors in the proposal. I remember like driving to the office in the morning and the client called me and they told us that we’re successful in the project pitch, and that was a huge flag that kind of basically showed us that we could sell. We worked on that proposal, all the partners, we really wanted it.
That was was kind of like the first flag, the first win that we got and that was pretty special.
Tito feels that an entrepreneur lives with and love adrenaline. While momentum is crucial to getting a project off the ground, a good businessman should put their whole focus into the project.
“I always live in fear…I was having just a conversation this morning with a friend of mine. Basically he was telling me, you always have to have your foot on the gas pedal, you can never let it go… I guess my only advice is that if you’re going in, make sure you’re jumping in with both feet.
If you try, go full in, don’t go half-half kind of thing and do it. Whatever projections you have for revenue, cut them in half and make sure you give up to survive.
“I was kind of overambitious at first and I remember one of my projects when I was starting out. I decided to run the financial model for the company. I thought I was gonna hit [my target] the first year; it took me 2 years. So basically, go full in and have a good understanding of what the opportunity is, and the market size that you’re trying to accomplish, and what potential revenues you could have. Know your numbers, at least a bit.”
Tito firmly recommends a cooperative environment, where a team of various people all pitch in and contribute in the way that best reflects their skills. He also acknowledges that time gives one perspective; a look back can yield a fresh view. Tito feels that an objective party’s advice is valuable as a sounding board, as well as a source of advice at any stage of a business.
“We could have potentially just gone on with the business on my own with my brother, just the two of us. But the way I look at it, we go with four people who kind of sets our own board of directors, and each one of us is completely different. I have a mentor that you could actually call in… don’t be afraid to call for help.
“We’ve worked with two business coaches already along the way. We’re probably gonna search for a third one because as the business evolved, you find your needs are different.
“You cannot work with the business coach for 10 years. They’ll eventually tap out of their resources. Don’t be afraid. You can’t do it by yourself.”
Within SkyGrid’s dramatic first two years, part of Tito’s support system lay in finding advice from his peers. A professional association helped him get advice from other entrepreneurs who had experienced similar obstacles.
“I’m a member of EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization.) That’s really good for the first 2 years. Like-minded individuals – they gave me some advice. Also, they put me in path of a couple of business offers along the way. Learn to outsource some functions within the business, and bounce my ideas off other people.
One advantage to EO was learning how to establish a business culture, a crucial step for a fledgling business. Marketing was one thing, but trying to focus on gaining clients at the early stages was a struggle, as it is, with most start-ups.
“Who wants to join a company that’s 2 years old? Nobody. So we had to really outsell ourselves to our competitors.”
“After year 3, we decided to work with a more of a ‘numbers person,’ where we spend time with our controllers, and basically put checks and balances on the financial side. Are we there yet? No, you’re never there yet. But at least we started to kind of see it nod in the right direction.
“Out of four partners, I’m the oldest, so somehow I have to always be the strong one within the group, which is tough. They see it sometimes, it’s overwhelming…but we support each other along the way. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years. I’ve known my brother for my entire life, but we bounce off ideas with each other and one of us will take the lead.”
Fernando Tito can be reached through Entrepreneur’s Organization, LinkedIN and Twitter @ftito.