Martin Martinez Mentors Emerging Entrepreneurs at FI Texas
Martin Martinez (pronounced: Mar-teen) is the Managing Director of the Founder Institute Texas, a global idea-stage accelerator program that spans over 200 cities in 65 countries globally. He oversees events, operations, partnerships, and graduate success across chapters in Austin and Houston, with additional chapters launching late 2020.
Since 2017, the FI Texas programs have launched over 65 Texas-based companies, with graduates collectively raising over $1M in pre-seed investment to-date. Some FI graduates have moved to later-stage programs like Techstars, MassChallenge, the University of Texas Jon Brumley Venture Lab, DivInc, and more.
The early admission application deadline for Cohort 6 of the Founder Institute Texas program is end of the day on Sunday, August 30. Final application deadline is end of the day on Sunday, October 4. .
In addition to his work at the Founder Institute Texas program, Martinez is also the Founder & President of A-Player Media, a creative live and virtual events company headquartered in Austin, Texas. A graduate of the University of Texas, Martin began his career as an early Austin employee at Facebook before moving to Google to launch marketing products for small-to-medium-sized businesses.
He says that the last great book he read was “Medium Raw” by Anthony Bourdain.
“I love cooking, and I’ve taken up cooking a lot more than I used to since we’ve been left to our own devices baking sourdough and gambling our health on grocery store runs. Bourdain bluntly examines the wake of his Kitchen Confidential success while diving into the wider culinary world, detailing some of his many eclectic contemporaries to understand their thought processes and management styles.”
What kind of person is best suited for the Founders Institute Texas program that you manage?
The FI program is tailored to founders that are just at the Idea or MVP/prototype stage.
About 70% of our enrolled founders every semester have an idea (or multiple) that the program helps validate into something that is worth turning into a company. It’s also a great program for those that have an early prototype or a small team, with potentially a pilot customer or initial user base. We help identify the blind spots in the company building process that give entrepreneurs a solid platform to launch their product and build an early advisor team to ensure growth and accountability well after graduation.
For those who are considering applying for Cohort 6 the Founders Institute Texas program, what kind of time commitment should they be prepared for?
The Founder Institute curriculum is notoriously difficult. Successful FI graduates should expect to put in an average of 25–30 hours of work each week to complete the program.
On average, only 30% of those enrolled on day 1 complete the 14-week program. That is by design; not all ideas should become companies, and we provide a method to help entrepreneurs learn what will work and not work without spending years figuring that out alone. That, for some of our entrepreneurs, is more valuable than completing the program itself.
Is there a specific focus for Cohort 6 of Founders Institute Texas?
In 2019, FI implemented a vision to support companies that follow the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals initiative which were adopted by all UN Member States as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Now that initiative has gone into hyperdrive amid the ongoing crisis, emphasizing ways we can bring normalcy back while waiting for a long term solution like a widely accessible vaccine.
We see great opportunities in workforce technology that makes remote more efficient as well as tools to help us find new work. Tools that help us educate our children while we work is something I’m already starting to see, as are tools that help us communicate, congregate, and connect — and not just superficially through the social media (aka: data mining) platforms we use right now.
All this boils down to how do we, as a community, find ways to remain a community when we cannot perform the most basic functions of togetherness in a world full of isolation and uncertainty. Those who find elegant solutions to these problems will be looked at like we do the unicorns of the Great Recession, where innovations in transportation, housing, gig work, and payments shaped everything we do right now. We’ll look back on this time in ten years and recognize these companies just as easily as we do AirBnb or Square or Uber. I hope we get a chance to nurture one of those ideas in the months ahead.
What are some of the best success stories from the first five cohorts of the Founders Institute Texas program?
I’ve been really excited to see how well Prowess (founded by Ashley Connell from ATX Cohort 3), has been doing since graduating from the program back in early 2019. Prowess’ mission is to eliminate the obstacles women face in the workplace who leave temporarily to start a family. In the midst of the COVID crisis, the shift to virtual for the majority of her customers has led to an explosive growth of qualified candidates that are vetted through the Prowess matchmaking algorithm, allowing employers to close the hiring gap from a matter of weeks to a matter of days. From getting stay at home moms back to work, to providing a key resource in virtual talent hiring, Prowess has made great strides, achieving profitability at the start of the year.
Also out of ATX Cohort 3 is Check (founded by Michael Odiari). In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, a much needed look at how law enforcement interacts with civilians, especially Black Americans, has been thrust yet again into the spotlight. Check provides a new way to facilitate initial interactions virtually between an officer and a civilian from the safety of their vehicles, eliminating the tense and too often fatal consequences that can occur during a traffic stop. Michael’s mission is to end police-related traffic stop deaths altogether and, now more than ever, that is a mission that should be realized given the collective traumas we’re sharing as a nation.
Lastly, I’m excited about ATX Cohort 4 graduate Radical Girl Gang (founded by Bre Cruickshank). It’s one of the most interesting and impact-driven companies that have come out of the Texas programs to date, and also one that has seen the most transformation. RGG started as a singular clothing brand that has evolved into an online marketplace featuring scores of women-owned brands and makers from across the country. RGG has seen monthly double-digit revenue growth in 2020 and has already secured significant angel investment that will allow them to scale the marketplace infrastructure and onboard new brands onto the platform.
Given your experience with the Founders Institute Texas program, what’s your top tip for young entrepreneurs?
Learn to say “I don’t know” when you don’t have the answer.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given early on as an entrepreneur was knowing when to say “I don’t know.” It shows humility and confidence in what you do know, as well as demonstrate an openness to feedback and new ideas. That single piece of advice has done wonders for my growth as a founder and now a leader. It’s okay not to know all the answers, no one does, and no one expects you to have all the answers on day one either. The more young entrepreneurs can acknowledge what they don’t know early on, the faster they can learn from others who have made the same mistakes, avoiding them altogether.
Also, don’t be afraid to talk about your idea, and be okay with not knowing much about anything in the beginning.
Far too often I meet aspiring entrepreneurs who are worried about someone stealing their idea in passing. It’s a common yet debilitating error that FI corrects by giving that entrepreneur an open and candid forum to discuss these ideas without fear of theft or lack of empathy. It’s the tough love of our program that gives entrepreneurs an edge when approaching investors in the real world.
Does the Founders Institute Texas program teach someone life skills that are also applicable in non-entrepreneurial situations?
Public speaking, hands down.
I’ve met people on Day 1 who are absolutely terrified of speaking in front of more than three people, let alone 100. Even if the nerves are still there by the end of the cohort, one wouldn’t notice it, because they’ve practiced their speaking skills everyday for four months straight. They’ve committed their pitches to memory, so much that it’s basically an extension of their body and mind.
It’s incredible to see it happen over and over again. By the time of their graduation demo day at the end of the cohort, when they’re standing in front of hundreds of family, friends, and complete strangers, the person we met Day 1 at FI Orientation is but a distant memory.
From your perspective, what’s the biggest challenge for the Austin startup ecosystem?
Unfortunately, it’s the same issue we have had for a number of years — diversity at the top. We’ve been making incremental changes year after year that’s mostly been self-serving to those already in positions of power and influence.
The new focus given to initiatives like the A-LIST Awards this year are getting us to a respectable pace, but we need to keep asking more out of our partners in the ecosystem — especially our venture capital community — to step up to the task.
We’ve seen way too many press releases this year hyping up new partners at firms who seemingly were booked straight out of central casting. There aren’t a lot of Hispanic VCs in this town, nor are there too many women VCs (aside from True Wealth Ventures), or BIPOC VCs. I hope that’ll change sooner rather than later, but we have a lot more work to do to get there.
Martin Martinez photo by Jazmine Sausameda.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also posts frequent interviews on Medium with innovators and thought-leaders from Austin, across the United States and around the world. Browse here for the full list of these interviews.