Guillermo is co-founder and CEO of We Gift, a marketing agency whose mission is to help non-profit organizations and businesses by creating shared win-win relationships through creative marketing campaigns. Guillermo's journey shows how following your heart and soul can lead you to fulfillment. Born in Tacicuaro, Michoacán, a small farming village in Mexico, he and his family moved to Santa Maria, California when he was 11. "It was really tough," Guillermo recalls. "Culture-wise and not speaking a word of English. Those years were a challenge." Seeing how hard his father worked on the strawberry plantations, Guillermo determined to go to university -- the first in his family to do so -- where "I questioned things a lot," he says. He studied Business Administration and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State University, a creative and fecund environment where his ideas for We Gift gelled.
O'Brien: I like the name, "We Gift." What does your company do, whom do you serve?
Guillermo: Well, originally the idea was to tap into leftover money in gift cards to help non-profit organizations raise funds. There's at least $8 billion unredeemed cash in unused gift cards. Most people don't know this, but almost every state in the US has laws saying that businesses have to refund your unspent money on your card. So we got people to donate their cards for charities and non-profits. But our core business now is building bridges between businesses and non-profits.
O'Brien: Great, but I'm sure most business peoples' eyes go blank when you mention "non-profit." Even the word itself is off-putting; it's like, "What?" And the image of those who work for non-profs is sandal-wearing do-gooders attired in baggy orange pants from Tibet. Not very sexy to bottom-line businesspeople...
Guillermo: [Laughs] Not at all! The people who run non-profit organizations are very savvy, not dreamy airheads. And businesspeople actually love giving something back to their communities in a clean, good way. It's a win-win partnership. Fund-raising is really hard to organize, and you don't make much money for your efforts. We design creative marketing campaigns for the non-profits, and companies love the concept; it's fresh for them. They love the chance to support something good which provides them with great exposure and amazing PR. What We Gift does is not a typical advertising or marketing campaign.
O'Brien: Nice. You're the second-to-youngest of six siblings, and the first to go to college and not do back-breaking work in the fields. How did you achieve this?
Guillermo: Well, you have to choose a different road. In a Latino family, the way you prove yourself is by working physically hard. After high school, my parents said, "Get a job." They wanted me to work, follow the system. In total contrast to the clichés, Latinos are disciplined and hardworking people. This is good, but it can hold you back. I saw my dad and my bothers working so hard for so little. I worked in the fields, too, but I felt there was something better for me out there. I realized in college that I wanted to start my own business.
O'Brien: How did you get started?
Guillermo: I'm a true believer in the power of networking and building relationships. I co-founded the Santa Maria Young Professionals in 2010 as a networking group, a place where young professionals could connect to build relationships. We organize events and workshops. Currently, we have more than 500 members. Then I pitched We Gift at a local Start Up Weekend event and we won the completion.
O'Brien: But you don't make big money from this. Why do it? What drives you?
Guillermo: To build networks to help people accomplish their dreams. I have a passion for helping others. And there's no better way to do this than by helping them fund raise to accomplish their mission. If there's no money, there's no mission.
O'Brien: Very admirable. You sound like a type of Superhero, saving the world on your own...
Guillermo: [Laughs] Oh, no, no - I'm a firm believer in mentors. They're great for advice when you feel stuck and need support. They share their stories so that you can learn from their mistakes. They give you hands-on life skills, which is very different from reading about it in a book. They show you how to run a meeting, exchange ideas and, most importantly, connect to networks.
O'Brien: What advice would you give start-ups and entrepreneurs?
Guillermo: Pursue what you want to do and don't give up. It's a long, slow process. Keep pushing, work hard, have patience and don't let anybody tell you "you can't do that." Be yourself. Be smart. Know what you're good at. Follow and do what you love to do. It's important to build quality relationships and to surround yourself with positive and intelligent people with goals. Also, find those people who can do the things you're not good at, people who can help you develop your ideas. Don't worry too much about the details or the planning because your ideas will evolve and change as you go on. And don't get disappointed.
O'Brien: Bueno! More power to you, amigo. I admire how you are living your passion to help others.
Guillermo: Gracias, amigo! I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to share my story with you and your readers. I hope that when people read this article they will become inspired to work hard and accomplish their dreams by following their passion.