In this special episode, Bryce Watson joins Julian Alvarez, your host, to talk about their entrepreneurial journey and their startup Vize (short for Incentivizing Good).
Vize’s mission is to help billions of low skilled workers find a job that they love and empower them with the skills they need to advance in their professional lives. Vize launched its pilot in Tijuana, Mexico, where the current goal is to improve working conditions for factory workers in Tijuana. These factory workers are often overworked, made to work in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, don’t feel respected by their employers, and are sometimes made false promises prior to their employment that are never fulfilled once they start working. Vize aims to improve working conditions by allowing workers to anonymously write reviews about their work experiences so that the transparency of working conditions can help workers make better-informed decisions bout where to work and hold factories accountable for treating their workers better.
Bryce Watson is a Co-Founder and the CEO at Vize. He has a Masters in Economics and International Development from Texas A&M University and has over 5 years of experience working in international development.
Julian Alvarez is a Co-Founder and the CTO at Vize. He is the host of this podcast and will start working as a Software Engineer at Facebook in June 2021. Previously, Julian has interned as a Software Engineer at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Goldman Sachs.
Learn more about Vize: https://www.vize.mx/acerca-de-nosotros
Bryce’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryce-watson/
Julian Alvarez: Hello, Universe. Welcome back for the second episode of the Inventing the Future podcast. I’m your host, Julian. This is actually going to be a very fun episode because I have a very special guest with me, Mr. Bryce Watson. And Bryce is the CEO of my startup and a dear friend. So, Bryce, welcome aboard. I’m thrilled and grateful to have you as my first guest.
Bryce Watson: Thank you. I’m honored. I listened to the first episode and absolutely loved it, so, I’m excited to get into it.
Julian: Amazing. We’re only going upward and onward from here. So, happy you’re on board, the rocket ship. So, yeah, I had the privilege of meeting Bryce when we were at our university, Texas A&M. I met Bryce while he was in the process of looking for engineers that we’re interested in working on this crazy idea that would help low skilled workers in developing countries. But we’ll talk more about this idea named, the Vize, in a bit. So, this episode is going to be a little different because I want to start by talking about my entrepreneurial journey. But I felt it would be very appropriate to have Bryce along with me as my first guest. So, we can both kind of tell our story with Vize together and you guys can learn more about what we’ve been up to. So, I’ll start off with a very quick intro so you get to know a little bit more about both of us. So, Bryce is the co-founder and the CEO of Vize. Vize is short for incentivizing good. You’ll see why that makes sense in a bit. And Bryce currently works at Chemonics, where he has had five years of experience working in international development. He’s worked on development projects in China, Guatemala, Nigeria, Iraq and many more. So, Bryce is very focused on social development, and that’s why social entrepreneurship is something that really appeals to him. For myself, maybe you guys know a little bit about me, but as a brief bio, I’m an engineer, a software engineer, a podcaster, and most importantly, a lifelong learner. That’s why we’re all here. I am the co-founder as well at Vize and the CTO. I recently graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in computer science. And in June of this year, 2021, I’ll start working with Facebook as a software engineer and I’ll join Bryce in the double life of balancing work and a startup.
Bryce: That’s the best.
Julian: Yes! The way I like to think about it is, you kind of have your side hustle until your side hustle becomes your main hustle. So, right now we’re in the process of making that happen. But it’s all a journey. Awesome! I think a good place to start then Bryce would be just asking you what got you interested in entrepreneurship? Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur? Because it’s not something you do, because it’s easy. So, yeah, what got you interested?
Bryce: For sure, yeah, I was thinking about this and it’s funny. It’s a variety of things, I think. One question is why it ever came to mind in the first place? And for me, and we’ll get into more detail this a little bit, but I was living in China at that time. And I have to give huge credit to my friend Leslie Dong, who started her own company and then as an entrepreneur of her own. And I was talking to her one day, and this is when I was like nineteen, I think. At one point, I was talking to her and she’s like, “Oh, yeah, you know, I was working on this thing in Colorado. So, I started my own nonprofit.” And she was, I think, a year older than I was. And I was like, “Wait, what do you mean you started your own nonprofit?” She was like, “Oh yeah, just got a team together and started something.” And I was like, “Wait, so you can just do that? You just start something. What does that take? What’s going on?” And it kind of opened my eyes that if you see a problem that you’ve identified, just go after it. Right? Try and solve it and see what happens and learn from it and grow and change everything else. And then and again, we’ll get into this a little bit as far as the problem space and everything, but when I saw this enormous, enormous challenge that I wanted to solve, for me, it wasn’t about choosing entrepreneurship necessarily. It was just that there was an enormous problem that I thought I understood and had a unique way of going about it. And I didn’t see any other organizations doing that. And so, the only way to really make it happen was to start my own organization. So for me, it was never about deciding on the title of entrepreneur, like, “Oh, I want to be an entrepreneur.” It was just, there’s this huge, huge problem that I really want to solve and how do I do that? So, yeah, I would say that’s probably how I got around to it.
Julian: That’s beautiful. I love that. And I mean, at the core, entrepreneurs are problem solvers. A lot of people solve problems, but I think entrepreneurs solve problems at scale, especially with the technologies that we have today. Yeah, I find it really interesting that you found this problem. It’s kind of like the only or the most effective way in which you could actually do something about that problem was through entrepreneurship. So, it’s not like you wanted to go towards entrepreneurship because it’s like I want to be an entrepreneur, but rather you solve this problem, you want to do something, and entrepreneurship was the answer for that.
Bryce: Yeah, absolutely. And I was very naive walking into it for sure. I mean, I did a lot of reading. The YC podcast class was kind of my first introduction to that whole world.
Julian: “How to Start a Startup?”
Bryce: Yeah, exactly. The original one, they did back at Stanford is like their lecture series. And that was really, really influential for me and kind of helped me start to realize all the different things that we could start to do to put together this idea.
Julian: And so I would say for me, what got me into entrepreneurship was two things. The first is that ever since I was young, I always felt like I was ambitious. But initially, this ambition was mostly monetary. It was just like, I want to be wealthy. And so, when I looked at some of the most successful people and some of the richest people, it’s like they’re entrepreneurs. They started companies and the companies started producing billions of dollars. Initially, that was attractive but obviously, money is a fruitless pursuit. And so, once I went to Tony Robbins seminar about 4-5 years ago, I really cultivated that ambition. And I let it grow and expand into something that was far greater than I could ever be. My purpose shifted to be focus more on serving humanity and what I could give of myself to the universe, into the world rather than how much money I could make and what not. Fortunately, entrepreneurship was still the answer for that renewed purpose. So now, I really see my business as an extension of my mission. It’s like I want to be able to empower people to discover and manifest what they’re truly capable of, to really impact and benefit as many people as possible. And entrepreneurship really is kind of the shovel that you’re able to use to dig a path towards a brighter future. And I think that’s true more than ever now that we have exponential technologies that are allowing us to solve problems that could have been solved before. We have faster computers and cheaper technology that is allowing almost anyone to start a company. Like even if we had this idea a couple of years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do it because it either be too expensive to have the servers. It take much longer to do the development. And also most of our users are in developing countries, they need smartphones. Only recently do they have smartphones. So, it’s kind of like, again, entrepreneurship is the main tool here to achieve the impact we want to see.
Bryce: Totally agree. I love it. I think that the connection between your personal mission and what you want to do with your career, with what you want to do with the work that you do into the world is so incredibly important. And it’s something that we have the privilege to do, too. Like most people in the world, don’t have that privilege. Most people just have to survive. They have to feed their families and everything else. And so, when we’re given the opportunity to do something at a higher level than that, I think we have a responsibility to do it, too. And that’s what I was kind of go back to.
Julian: That’s a great point. I strongly feel that because we were born into privilege. And I think when you have privilege and opportunity, you can do two things. You can take that opportunity and that privilege for granted and enjoy it and what not or you can take advantage of the doors open to you to make the most of yourself so that then you can pay that forward to those that weren’t in the lucky sperm club. So, that is a big motivating factor to me, is knowing that I’m in a position in which I can help others and knowing that, yes, I can live a beautiful, calm, free, peaceful life. But when so many other people are suffering and surviving, it doesn’t feel right to be normal. So, I think what would be good to go into next is giving the audience a bit of an overview of Vize. What is Vize? What is it that we actually do? So, how would you describe that?
Bryce: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a big question. We’ve been going back and forth on our mission statement, everything else. But I thought you put it well when you said helping billions of low-skilled workers, find a job they love and to empower them with the skills they need to advance in their professional life. And there’s a couple of things that I’d love to pull out and I’d love to get your thoughts on this, too. One is the find the job they love. That’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. In a lot of places, there just aren’t a lot of great jobs. And if that’s the case, how do we actually help improve the quality of the jobs that are there so that they’re available, but then also create the transparency and accountability so that people can find those really great jobs. I mean, it’s kind of a dual thing. And then the other aspect of this, which is that the skills they need, I mean, I think this is something that’s going to be really, really challenging moving forward and such a motivating factor for me. Because when we talk about where jobs came from and economic growth in general, you look back at the industrial revolution, that’s kind of the key moment where all of the sudden productivity just skyrocketed and manufacturing allowed. Basically, countries to use a fairly simplistic development model where the people needed about the same skillset, so training was pretty straightforward. You didn’t need any kind of special resources necessary to do manufacturing. You just needed kind of the skillset in the country and things like that. And so, now that’s been used all over the world. In China and India, you’ve seen that be the kind of the key moment of productivity and income generation is through industrialization. The primary problem that I’m looking at now is the future of work. If automation happens fast enough, to where basically all of the jobs that would normally be created through this industrialization process goes away, what do we do? How do we solve that problem? And I’m a big believer that the market will find other jobs, but they’re not going to be the same jobs and it’s not going to be as easy as it was to train people into those more standardized positions. And the positions are likely going to be a lot more localized to individual economies. Because even right now, when you look at the United States and Western Europe, most of our economy is based on service work. And that service work is really specialized to that individual state, that individual county, whatever else. And so for me, when I think about how do we train people to get the jobs that improve their income, improve their lives, how do we make training responsive to the needs of that local market and accessible to very poor people? Because most of the time you just don’t have the money to go get a loan. The banking infrastructure isn’t there to get a loan to go to school. You don’t have the money to afford to take some time off of going to work and everything else, to then invest in education. I think those are the two big things for me. How do you make the training responsive to the needs of the local market? And how do you then also provide it to make sure that it’s accessible to people? Those are the two things I would pull up.
Julian: That’s good. And I like that we started diving a little bit into the problem space here because there are core problems that we’re aiming to solve but it’s such a massive problem in just people’s professional careers and their jobs and making sure they have good jobs. There are so many problems that stem from that that it just goes in so many different directions. So, I agree. I think there’s a more immediate need and to how can we help these workers? And these are, for example, where we’re starting. We’re starting in Tijuana, Mexico, where we’re focusing on low-skilled factory workers. So, these are people that don’t really have a college education. Most of them didn’t even finish high school. And it’s very basic standing up all day and doing the same task almost repeatedly as if they were machines. There’s very low-skilled work. And the problem is I’ve been to Tijuana and spoken with several of these workers and many of them have expressed, one of the workers told me he’s worked at eight different factories and not a single one of them has he felt respected. Can you imagine that? To go to a job and not feel respected, not feel that you’re valued, not only for one company, but for all eight of them, and for this to be the normal occurrence. And to realize that it’s not just this one person, but it’s probably many factory workers, not only in Tijuana but in all of Mexico, not only in Mexico but across the world. So, when I think about something like that, the scope of the problem is massive. That’s why as part of the mission is that we want to help billions because there’re literally billions of these low-skilled workers. And I think the problem is many of these low-skilled workers are the ones that need the most help out of everyone, yet they’re the ones that have the least attention paid to them.
Bryce: One thing that I would really want to preface this conversation with, too, because this is something I think we see a lot in international development and a lot of other places is this kind of vision of poverty and the vision of poor people as being helpless, destitute, incapable, what have you. And that’s just never been my experience. I mean, I’ve been fortunate now to work in a lot of different places and talk to a lot of people. They’re all incredibly smart, incredibly hardworking, incredibly genuitive. And actually, they’re all individual entrepreneurs in their own families trying to find ways to survive and everything else. And so I think for us, it’s realizing that there’s an incredible amount of missed opportunity here. And so then, how do we provide those people with the opportunities they need to improve their lives? It’s not about fundamentally changing who they are as people or anything like that. They don’t have anything wrong with them as people, it’s just that they don’t have the opportunities to start moving forward.
Julian: And it’s something so core because your job is your source of livelihood. If you don’t have a good-paying job, it’s so hard to support your family. It’s so hard to support yourself. So, to go more into the problem, many of these workers are overworked. They have to work in unsafe, unsanitary working conditions. They’re often made false promises like, “Hey, if you come to work for us, we’ll give you Social Security, we’ll give you health insurance.” And then when they actually go and start working there, none of that is honored. Basically, factories have every incentive to cut corners and they do it because there’s not a lot of accountability, because there is a lack of enforcement from the government and actually making sure that these worker rights and laws are followed properly. So, yeah, factories can do whatever they want.
Bryce: Yeah, and I definitely want to also say that we take the point of view that it’s not that factories are evil. I think that’s another challenge a lot of people have whenever they look at this problem. And then problems in general, is that they really want some kind of easy, simple solution where it’s like there’s this person at the top who is an evil human being. And because they’re evil, all these bad things happen. And in general, that’s almost never true. Every once in a while, there’s like a very, very evil person, your Hitlers, et cetera, that cause a lot of damage. But most of the time, people see themselves as the hero of their own journeys and they are responding to incentives in their system. And so, that’s why one of our taglines is ‘incentivizing good.’ It’s because we want to try and make those more moral choices easier for people, more affordable for people, and personally beneficial for the individual. So, when you look at it from the perspective of the factory owner, the challenge for them is they are getting a crazy amount of demands from the owners of the customers in the United States, the customers from Western Europe, that need their products very, very quickly, short time frames, et cetera. And their number one criteria is cost. They can say that they care about other things and all that fun stuff. But in the end, 99% of their decision-making is going to be based on cost. And oftentimes the factories that we’re working with are subcontractors to larger companies. So, it’s not just your Samsung, et cetera, it’s a subcontractor that then makes something that then Samsung does and so on, so forth. And so, these factories are really, really pressured to make really tough choices really quickly. Oftentimes factory workers are at the bottom of their priority list because they have no power. And a lot of the places we work in, they have no labor unions, no ability to organize. And if that’s the case, if I’m a manager, I’m not really going to care that much about what’s going on with my workers. I’m going to care more about how do I just get my bottom line down. Now, what we’re working on is how do we help them see past that kind of short-termism. And say there are really, really cheap ways that you can improve the lives of your workers and decrease turnover rates, which increases your quality assurance, increases your profitability, decreases the cost of training, and everything else. And I think that’s really key because it’s one of those things you mentioned, too. It’s the small stuff like, does my manager respect me? That’s not something that requires a lot of investment or cost necessarily, but it might not be something that’s prioritized by the factory owner or what have you. So, how can we help them do those kinds of smaller things to improve conditions?
Julian: Yeah, exactly. And I think a good analogy is like there are electric cars and when we had electric cars before, it was really inconvenient and you kind of did it just because you want to save the environment, but not because it was actually cheaper or because you actually wanted to. But now electric cars are becoming so good and the batteries are becoming way cheaper and the range is getting much longer. That now it’s not even about saving the environment, it’s actually way cheaper than an actual gas car. And it’s so much more convenient because of the little maintenance you have to do. So, real change happens when the incentives are aligned and that’s exactly what we want. We don’t want factories to be good just because it’s a good thing to do. We want them to do good because it’s going to benefit them. And this leads to also the problems on the factory side that we kind of touched upon, where factories face huge turnover rates, like some factories have turnover rates as high as a 120% of their workforce every year. They are just so focused on hiring and getting the people they need that they’re not really paying as much attention as to what they’re recruiting and training is costing them because of these high turnovers. So, yeah, I agree. It’s small little investments and changes can go the extra mile. If you help them become aware of these opportunities to improve, everyone is willing. And that’s the only way something is going to be sustainable if everyone wins. And that’s our mission to help both sides see that there is a positive light on both ends.
Bryce: Yeah, absolutely. I can say it better myself.
Julian: There you go. Okay, cool! So, we talked a little bit about the problem. In a quick summary, I talked in the first episode about how to analyze how big a problem is. So quickly, you have the scale the number of people that have the problem, there’re literally billions of low-skilled workers around the world. Then you have the frequency, how often does someone experience a problem? Well, if you go to your job and you don’t feel respected, you go to your job five, sometimes these workers go six or seven times a week. So, it’s almost every day where they’re experiencing this problem. And then, you have the intensity. When they do feel the problem, how bad is it? How severe is it? And so how do you feel when you don’t feel respected? How do you feel if you work in a place that doesn’t value you? And then finally, is it growing or decreasing? And over time, I think this problem is definitely growing and our potential to solve it is also growing as more and more people adopt smartphones over time.
Bryce: Yeah, the other aspect to me on intensity, actually, I’ll start kind of at the top of the scale, which is just the scale of the problem. And I just briefly looked up some of the data because I hadn’t looked at it in a while. But about two-thirds of the world’s working population makes less than $10 a day, and that’s adjusted for purchasing power. So, you as, if you’re in the United States or wherever you are, $10 a day to survive for the month, that’s at most $280 a month. That is not very much money. And that poverty creates an enormous challenge for people. So, that comes down to the frequency and the intensity of the problem. I was recently reading a book called, “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in the United States.” It’s great because it brings us back home. This is happening not just in other countries, but also in the United States. They told the story of this family in the Mississippi Delta where they’re really getting by on almost nothing. They have about 16 family members in the House because they’ve had to take care of other family members that weren’t able to pay for their kids’ food and everything else. And so, they’re getting by on almost nothing. Every single day, the kids feel hunger pains, aren’t able to focus because they’re not able to get enough food and nutrition every single day. And the intensity that you feel of that problem is just I mean, it can’t be matched. A lot of those kids talked about committing suicide. It constantly drives me to think it’s not just about improving the conditions of one factory, of one place, or anything like that, but then also how do we help these people increase their incomes, increase their skill set so that they’re not just subsisting on the smallest amount of wages? How do we get them past that? So, yeah, that is what kind of keeps me going, I guess, and why I love your metric as far as the scale of the four factors.
Julian: Exactly. It’s important to think about problems on different dimensions. And yeah, when you multiply all those four dimensions, it turns out to be pretty fricking big. So, that’s why we’re motivated and we’ve had significant challenges along the way. But the bigger the magnitude of the problem, the more willing and likely you are to persevere when it gets tough. And we’ll talk about that more in a bit. But yeah, so okay, we talked a little bit about the problem. So how are we going to solve this? How are we going to save the world? How would you describe our solution right now and maybe also paint a little bit of the vision and where we’re going?
Bryce: So basically, the way this came about originally was I was living in China at the time and working with factory workers and their kids are in the slums of Beijing and talking with factory workers, some of the challenges they were facing. And it was really interesting because all of them would use their informal networks and talk about like, “Oh, yeah, you definitely want to work at X factory, but avoid that other factory at all costs because it’s absolutely terrible.” But there was no formal way for them to share that information, especially in a place like China where labor unions are not okay, not accepted. But at the same time, I was looking around and smartphone usage was exploding everywhere. Every single person, no matter how poor you were, had a smartphone is one of the fundamental things that allowed you to function in society and so they were willing to spend their money on that. And so, it got me thinking, well, then why couldn’t we just put this informal thing that’s already happening all over this community online so that anyone that moves into the community, if you’re coming in from a southern part of China into Beijing or what have you, could you just go online and immediately figure out these are the factories that are really great. These are the ones that are really terrible, so I’m going to void those ones that are bad. And then ideally, that creates an incentive, because then if you’re a factory that gets terrible ratings consistently, all of a sudden you can no longer meet your orders because you’re not able to convince people to come work for you. And you’ve created a direct incentive for them to prioritize working conditions higher than they would have previously. So, that is kind of the idea we’d had like, “Okay, well, great.” So, what if we did create some system for ranking and reviewing working conditions so people could write that review on a variety of different factors and metrics? And when I got back to the United States was looking at places where we might be able to do that. And China, unfortunately, just didn’t seem like a very realistic option for launching an MVP. They’re not really big on open information and data. So, seemed like a pretty risky option and also just the cost of traveling back and forth. I’m a big believer that you constantly need to be talking to your users to be able to better understand their challenges. And that would have been really, really difficult to do if I was flying back and forth between, Texas and China. So then, looked at a bunch of other options and Mexico just seemed to make the most sense, just close by, we were able to travel there. Still faced a huge amount of those same problems due to the Maquiladora industry, which is basically the factory industry there. So yeah, that’s kind of how we got started. And that’s kind of a broader idea of what our solution looks like is creating a platform for anyone to anonymously write ratings and reviews so that in places where labor unions aren’t allowed, et cetera, there is a single platform that allows you to see which factories are true to you well, which ones are treated really poorly? How can you avoid those? And I can get into a little bit more on the future of the training aspect and everything, too, if you’d like but I’ll pause there.
Julian: So, yeah, it’s really about creating transparency into the working conditions, because what happens is that when you create transparency, it also creates accountability. Because if you know exactly if you can see exactly what’s going on, people behave differently. People make different decisions. If you know what it’s like to work somewhere, you are empowered to make a better-informed decision about where you want to work. And because of that, there’s accountability to make sure that you actually have great working conditions.
Bryce: And to add on to that but I think there’s one of the things that I’ve always struggled with in this industry because there are other organizations that are trying to solve similar problems, nonprofits, and things like that. The thing that I think really differentiates us is the difference between transparency and accountability. And a lot of non-profits focused purely on transparency. And so, what they’ll do is they’ll work with your owners like Patagonia, et cetera. I’m not maligning any of them as an example, right? Patagonia will say, “Oh, we want to know what’s going on in our factories.” So they’ll hire one of these NGOs to go in and get survey results from their workers and then they’ll give those survey results to Patagonia. And Patagonia can make decisions on where they want to buy and everything else. The problem with that is you’re actually not giving any of that information to the people that need it the most, which is the factory workers in a public environment so that they can actually make choices based on that information. And it’s when they’re able to make choices based on that information is that gives them power. It’s that information combined with the power that then gets you to accountability. Because if it’s just transparency, those factories often don’t care unless they’re asked directly or they have to in some kind of way. And so, I think that’s kind of one of our big differentiators.
Julian: Absolutely. Yeah, and it’s important to note there that it’s not only transparency for the factory workers, it’s also for the brands like the Apples and Nike’s that are looking to actually find factories that are socially responsible. And the good thing about this is that more and more companies or brands over time care about finding factories that are socially responsible because there’s been a lot of incidents in the past where bad working conditions have gotten exposed and it’s been really bad for these brands from a PR perspective. So, now there is an increased desire. But the problem is, again, what you mentioned, how do you know whether a factory is actually treating their workers right or not? So, the great thing about this transparency is that it helps both sides, both the factory workers and these brands, so they can both see would it’s like to work there. And one thing to add on there, there’s, of course, a platform like a Glassdoor that exists. The concept is the same, right, creating transparency. The major difference is we’re focusing more on the low-skilled workers, world-class over focuses more on professionals. And by having a different focus, the nature of the solution changes. So, for example, we have a health and safety rating to measure and gauge how are people actually being treated? What is the working condition within the factory itself? And of course, by focusing on factories right now, that also provides value to the brands that you don’t get from a platform like Glassdoor.
Bryce: And a feature we’re actually developing right now to some insider secrets, I suppose, is because we’re focused on low-wage workers, a lot of the times the skillsets that you need, and everything else are a lot more standardized than high-wage workers. So, the application can be a lot more standardized than with hig- wage workers. If you’re a high-wage worker, honestly, you’re probably listening to this podcast. You know like most people listen to this podcast or probably in the higher income level, right? All of the applications you’ve ever written are very specialized to that particular company. Like Julian, when you were applying for Facebook, you have to be really, really specific about why you are good for that particular position. In lower-wage jobs, that’s not all that necessary. Don’t get me wrong, those jobs still require a lot of skill sets, but they can just be standardized a lot more across different factories. And so, it allows us to develop a standardized application process and a standardized user profile for workers so that they can basically just click, ‘Apply Now’ after filling out their job application, and it allows them to automatically apply to hundreds of jobs across Tijuana. And all of a sudden we’ve just improved the quality of the job search process exponentially for workers and for the factories themselves because they’re getting this data in a much faster and accessible way than just individual resumes coming from random people all over the place. So, yeah, I mean, again, I think that’s why it’s so important to understand your audience, understand your user because their individual problems are going to be very different than I think if you don’t have that audience identified and described very clearly.
Julian: That’s an important lesson, by the way. Figure out what’s unique to your target audience, to your users, and then build solutions that actually solve their problems. By understanding our users, we know that their application process is more standardized. We thought about how we could take advantage of that fact to improve the experience by 10X. So, that’s something very important to pinpoint. One last question on the solution is how would you think about the vision of Vize. Like if Vize was to achieve its ultimate destiny and it got to the point where it fulfilled its vision, at least to a grand extent, what would that look like?
Bryce: Great question. For me, it would be that anybody, no matter where you were in the world, could log in, could see what positions were available around you, which ones met your interests and everything else, and then also, how to go about getting to where you want to be. Five years from now, what position do you want to hold? And then, we could give you all of the resources you need, training, et cetera, at an extremely low cost so that is accessible to absolutely everyone. They could get all of that access through our site or all that training through our site. They could then use that training to directly get a job in their local economy. That training would be based off of the needs of that local economy so that they know that after they’ve gotten the training, that there are jobs available for them and that they can improve their income. And in the end, having the people that are using our site actually accomplishing those goals. I think one thing you and I have talked a lot about is how important community is to that as well. And I think being able to build that community of people that are all looking to improve their lives, how do we connect people that are trying to improve their lives in the same ways? So that way they can create a community of growth, a group of people that are all seeking the same end goal. And if we can do all of that, I would be really, really happy with that. I think there are tons of indicators we would need to look at to see. Are our people’s incomes actually improving? Are they reaching the goals that they’re actually reaching? So that way we’re not just focused on things like engagement and stuff, but like real outcomes for our users, because I think that’s what we really care about.
Julian: Yeah, exactly. It’s really important to pinpoint those key success metrics and see how our solution is changing those things on a significant level. And yeah, so I love that vision. I think the only a few things I’d add on top of that is that in terms of reskilling, I think one part of our vision is that either we or a partner is able to build a solution where these workers can easily and quickly learn anything that is most in-demand, like whatever skills are most in-demand in a fun and engaging way. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I do think virtual reality is probably one of the best solutions for that because it’s fun and engaging and I think you can get creative in how you gamify learning. But I think it’s easy to get a sense of what are the most in-demand skills and have a platform where you can easily and quickly learn them in an engaging way. That would be the key part of our vision so that these workers can continue to learn the skills that are going to help them stay ahead of the curve of technology advancing and displacement that comes with it.
Bryce: Really great point! And I think it goes back to that accessibility question, too. It’s not just about how much it’s going to cost to get that training, but also, with people that might have lower literacy rates, people that might have lower educational attainment, how do we make that training accessible to all of those people so that they can also improve their lives, even if they haven’t gotten as much like formal education?
Julian: So, how would you tell people where we are right now and what’s been challenging?
Bryce: Oh, man! Yeah, oof! So many things have been challenging for sure. I’m really, really proud of our team of how far we’ve gotten and with the team that we have. It’s been incredible. To start from the beginning, we identified the problem in the first place. We then actually went out to Tijuana; interviewed people; got to understand their challenges firsthand; designed an MVP with a phenomenal team at Texas A&M where all of our engineers are from and they were able to develop the MVP. I was able to move out to Tijuana for about six months or so. Build our marketing team there, of incredible people that have been able to now launch our MVP. We’ve got about 3,000 reviews of different factories in Tijuana, and now we’re in the process of actually getting factories themselves to come on board as our partners, both for job applications and future development. As well as building up a huge community of people on social media that we can engage with in Tijuana. I think that matters a lot because like I said earlier, one of the biggest things that we care about is constantly being engaged with the people that we’re actually trying to help, the people that we’re actually building a product for. And so having that access via Facebook and Instagram has turned out to be, I think, extremely, extremely valuable, and through WhatsApp as well. I think it’s been one of our biggest useful things, figuring out what channels are people already using and then let’s engage them through those channels. And that’s been extremely valuable. So, yeah, I’d say that’s where we are right now. And now, we’re trying to actually make it a sustainable business model by getting factories to come on board and paying us for job applications and then eventually us helping them actually improve working conditions.
Julian: For sure, great summary. And by the way, one side note I want to highlight is that out of all the things that Bryce mentioned, probably one of the most impressive was that he lived in Tijuana, Mexico, for six months without knowing any Spanish, and somehow he managed to recruit our marketing team. So, I don’t know how the hell he did that? But I was insane.
Bryce: Actually, that might be good, I don’t know, about the lesson necessarily, but something to pull from it. It was a really interesting process because when I was there, I was like, well, all right, we want for a marketing team, some that really understands factory workers. People that have worked in, whether it’s non-profits or what have you, just really can empathize with their challenges because that’s our number one priority. But then ideally also understands what’s going on with factories and can empathize with them. So, I was trying to look around in Tijuana and decide, okay, well, how am I going to find someone that has this experience with factory workers and kind of the poor population in Tijuana? So, it’s looking at different non-profits. Unfortunately, Tijuana doesn’t have a very large non-profit sector. And so, it’s like, well, what other institution is serving factory workers? And the number one probably across Mexico, to be honest, but definitely in Tijuana is the church. And so a lot of churches are kind of the key access point for very poor people to get some kind of support, whether that’s food or health care, et cetera. So, I literally just went to like five to six different churches every Sunday during their services. And then, at the end of it would like to go and talk to the people afterward and be like, “Hey, how’s it going?” Hopefully, someone spoke at least a little bit of English. And then eventually, I met Jesus, who was our kind of team leader there and was able to go from there. So, again, breaking down your problem, right? Constantly asking why, why, why, why, why? In that case, we’re able to pull it off.
Julian: And by analyzing that situation, because I think it’s impressive that you just go up to random people at a church where very few of them speak English. You can’t speak Spanish. I think one thing that comes to mind is that obviously, I’m sure you felt like fear or just anxiety and going up and talking to these people. But one thing to realize is I think oftentimes people think about what’s the risk of failure or the fear of failure that they have or in getting rejected, going up and talking to someone and them not being interested, for example. We almost always think about what the fear of failure is. But we hardly ever consider what the risk of an action is. What is the risk if we don’t take action? In the case of Bryce, he kind of have no choice. He knew he had to build a team in Tijuana. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know Spanish. He knew that if he didn’t do this, the risk of not doing it was just failure. We could never succeed without having people that were actually in Tijuana. So that’s, I think, a very important mindset to consider. Any time you’re doing anything, yes, consider whatever risks are involved. But more importantly, think about what if I don’t do this? What would it cost me?
Bryce: Yeah, fantastic point. And for me, it’s also reminding myself, what’s the worst thing that could happen, right? What am I actually afraid of? Is the worst thing me walking up to someone being like, “Hey, idiot, get out of here.” If that’s the case, like my ego isn’t that big, who cares. Do you know what I mean? I can walk away and talk to someone else. It’ll still be fine.
Julian: That’s hilarious. Yeah, in a strange way, humility helps a lot, in that case. One good thing I would like to highlight in terms of the adversities that we’ve gone through is we’ve been working on Vize for a bit over three years now. There was a time for almost over a year and a half where we literally had close to no results. We launched our product and it was out for several months and nothing happened. And at this point, we were trying to get people to write reviews. We’re even paying them to write reviews. And no one was interested. We had no traction. We’re struggling tremendously. It was so bad that we lost a brilliant engineer. We’ve learned that another one of the engineers had done close to nothing in the last few months, and we eventually let him go. And the entire team was really unmotivated and had almost little to no commitment. So, yeah, Bryce, I want to bring that to the surface and get your side of the perspective of what was going on then? How did you feel and how do you think you managed to persevere when the going gets tough?
Bryce: Yeah, that was brutal, for sure. I definitely don’t want to just gloss over it because I feel like it’s so easy for people to romanticize entrepreneurship and make it sound super cool and fantastic. There’re tons of times where it suck, right? And I think this is definitely one. And the thing that was really hard about it was one of the things that I think really gives me energy every time I start working on Vize is working with the team and me feeding off of their motivation and energy and vice versa. And so, when that’s not coming from the other side and it’s really you just having to like, try and re-motivate people every single week, it gets kind of exhausting and it’s really tough. For me, the thing that kept me going was I was just so convinced that this problem needed to be solved and that no one else was solving it in a way that would get it done. And if that’s the case, then like, who cares about my own comfort or whatever at that point? Like, it doesn’t matter. I need to always be thinking about what’s happening? What’s the cost of me not doing everything I possibly can to solve this problem? And if at the end of the day we’re wrong, fine. We’ll find a different solution. We’ll keep working towards it. But I wasn’t convinced that we were being proven wrong about our theory. I just didn’t think that we had tested it properly enough, right? And I think that’s what kept motivating me. It was like, I still think this works. We just haven’t figured out how to make it work yet. And I think that was kind of the thing that kept me going. And fortunately, having lived in Tijuana and talked to a lot of the people that would be our users, constantly trying to keep their stories in my mind that they’re the ones that we have to constantly be thinking about. And that were if we failed or if we gave up, we’d be giving up on them and giving up on what we think we could provide them. So, yeah, that, I think, is what kind of kept me going. I know we’ve talked about it a little bit, too. I’d love to hear your perspective on going through all of that.
Julian: Yeah, I know. I resonate with a lot of what you said, but it was a very difficult period. It was a period in which the thing that seemed to make the most sense was to just give up and just move on from there. Because you also have to consider a startup takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of time, especially when you’re doing other things on top of it. So, investing all this effort, all this time, all this sweat, blood, pain, and tears into something and seeing no results for more than a year and a half, it’s very painful. And the easiest thing is to want to give up, especially because what else can I be doing with my time? So it was hard and even my dad or my parents didn’t even believe in the idea. They thought I was wasting my time as well. So it was difficult. But I agree with what you said and what helped me persevere. And I think the core thing is I always think back to the conversations I had with the factory workers. Fortunately, I’m from Columbia, I speak Spanish. So I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a lot of the factory workers. And I always think back to those conversations in which I talk to them. Because it’s not just about what they told me, but it’s how they told it to me. And when they expressed the challenges and the difficulties they went through, there was this sense of hopelessness in their voice. It’s like, well, things are just like that. What are you going to do? It’s like things sucked and they had no hope that things would get better. And so, I completely agree with what you said. I wanted to give up, but I also knew that if I gave up, I would be giving up on them. And that’s something that I couldn’t fathom doing because I knew from firsthand experience, how deep their pain and their suffering was. And so, I knew that, “Hey, this is hard.” And I agree, we hadn’t fully tested everything. And I think knowing when to give up is an art. There’s no science behind it. And to that point, we have done a lot. But we hadn’t tried everything. I started to perceive the challenge as something like, “Hey, this is hard, but let’s see this in a positive light. This provides us an opportunity to be creative and to see things differently. What else can we try? What else can we do differently? How can we dissect this problem that we’re experiencing to focus on it more specifically?” So people weren’t writing reviews. All right. How are we going to go about it? Do we want to improve the writing a review experience and make it shorter? Is it the Facebook ads that aren’t working as well? Like pinpoint exactly and measure what’s not working and get through it. As well as communicate your vision on a higher level to the team because I wanted to lift the weights on my own, but I knew that this wasn’t a single-person effort. We really have to rally and unify people through their vision, and so that’s really how I led is by communicating that again and again alongside with you.
Bryce: I love that point. Strangely enough, the thing that got us out of it wasn’t results, which I think both of us thought was going to be the solution. Was that like, well, once we actually do start getting reviews flowing in and whatnot, the team will get really motivated and they’ll love it and everything else. And it turns out that actually, and I don’t think that was the key, we also changed a bunch of management structures where we were being much more intentional, where we said, “Okay, what are you working on each week? Why are you working on those things? How does that tie into our long-term vision?” And so that they could see, “Okay, I’m working on this, but it’s not just because I have to.” And so they’re slugging away at their computers, miserable, right? It’s because, “Oh, that’s really cool. Once I finish this, it will feed in to this feature that plays this role in our long-term strategy.” And having those weekly check-ins and that accountability and like you said, leading by example as well, like showing that we were also doing that work on a weekly basis and showing what progress we were making in the time that we were putting into it. And that, I think, completely transformed the team’s mindset. I think that was a big eye-opening moment of, you can’t just talk about the problem, you can’t just ask people to continue to work on things and do the things you asked them to do. You really have to show them in a really structured way and have some kind of structured way to show that management throughout the process. And that’s something if we get to talking about having co-founders that complement each other, skill sets, I mean, that’s something that I’m not very good at. I’m not very good at creating those business structures and things like that where I think you had come in with a great skill set to be able to do that and teach us the sprint methodology and everything else, things that I just hadn’t implemented before. And that was incredibly, incredibly useful.
Julian: I completely agree. I love the operational side of things. Surprisingly, I didn’t think would be one of my strengths or something I enjoy. But I became so fascinated by, like, “Hey, we have this team, we’re not paying them.” And so you can’t really tell them, “Hey, do this because we’re paying you.” It’s more like, no, you have to influence without authority. You have to inspire them to want to do those things. So, it became a very hard and fascinating challenge in how do you rally these people? And at a higher level, how do you create a system where everyone is kind of able to work together in a consistent manner, in building that consistency? And I found that apart from the vision which you implemented something called, ‘Starting every meeting with a vision statement.’ So basically, a story or a little excerpt or something that speaks to our vision or to the problem that we’re solving. I love that. And then, I think complementing that really nicely with the operations, right? So, we’ve been moving our operations to Notion and just organizing all of our tasks and making everything operationalize; doing the sprints; planning the retrospectives. And just having this whole system that we designed, we build, and then it starts to work for us. And I think that’s been huge and getting the team up and rolling and also starting to give the team members feedback and understanding them. Because I think in order to influence someone, you have to know what influences them. And that personal time is really what creates the space for the vulnerability and the personality of someone to come out.
Bryce: And that’s something I think we implemented early on, which is our one-on-ones where we meet with each one of our team members one on one each month to go over and really talk to them just about their lives. What’s going on? How do you feel? And what are you working on? And I think that’s so key for all of us because we need to make sure that the things that they’re working on still align with their own mission and their own values and what they want to accomplish with their lives. And if that’s completely contradictory to what we’re trying to do at Vize, then you have to have the conversation about it. Is it makes sense to have that person still be on the team and everything else? But most of the time that’s not the case. And there’re ways to alter what they’re working on or what have you to make sure they’re working on something that really interests them and that drives our long-term strategy because it needs to be both of those things. It can’t just be stuff they’re interested in and doesn’t drive strategy or vice versa. So, I think that’s also been extremely valuable over the years.
Julian: And again, we don’t pay them, so the best way to keep someone motivated is to make sure that they’re working on something they enjoy while also helping them find the work that is also most valuable. So, finding the intersection between the two. And the final thing I’ll mention there is to ask them when they think they can get something done, because if you tell them, “Hey, get this done by next Tuesday.” Then it’s kind of more of a command. If you ask them what’s their goal on when they plan to get it done? Then they’re the ones that have to take self-ownership when they don’t live up to their own expectations. And they’re also more motivated to meet their own goals and the goals of others.
Bryce: And helping them, too, with their own productivity methods and structuring their own task lists and things like that. There’re tons of stuff that we’ve helped out with here and there that I think has had, well, hopefully, I hope if our team is listening to this podcast, they’ll agree with this assessment but hopefully, these things have helped over time.
Julian: Yeah, and I’ve had a lot of fun teaching people how to be more productive. It’s one of my passions.
Bryce: Yeah, absolutely!
Julian: Yeah, cool! So, I want to ask one final question, Bryce, to kind of wrap up here. I’m curious, what has entrepreneurship in both its glorifying and agonizing moments, what has it taught you about life?
Bryce: Yeah, I mean, I think the number one thing is humility. And I want to break that down a little bit because I think it can sound kind of trite. And when you talk about being humble and whatnot, it always kind of sounds like you’re just being humble to come off as more accepting or what have you. But I think of it more as epistemological, like truth about the world. It’s like one of my most core beliefs, I think, is how little we know as human beings. You and I individually know extremely little about the world. And we as a human society we’ve been able to use science and things like that to build a better understanding of the world. But even that, I can’t read every single scientific study or all the evidence around all of these things all day long. And so, you have to come at every single problem with the assumption you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, and then, ask questions. “Okay, so you’re facing this problem. You’re really poor. Okay, but why is that?” “Oh, interesting.” Okay, well then if that’s happening, then like what’s going on there, right? And just constantly asking questions and always assuming that you might not be right about your own assumptions about your solutions and everything else and always being open to if we get new evidence if we get new interesting insights from our users, change. Do something else. And I think that’s extremely valuable, not just with Vize, but for the rest of my life, in conversations with people, in relationships, and everything else. Just assume you actually don’t fully understand what that other person is going through because people are complicated, things are complicated. And build that into your view of the world.
Julian: Yeah, that’s actually one of my key takeaways as well, because in entrepreneurship, if you make an assumption and you think it’s a fact and you act on that fact without verifying or validating that it’s actually an assumption, you could completely fail. So, in the beginning, in entrepreneurship and also in life, I’ve gotten better at being very clear, like, “Okay, what’s true? What do I know to be true?” And if I do know it’s true, why do I know it’s true? How can I support this truth? And then also layout what are my assumptions, what do I assume to be true? And make sure you separate the truth from the assumptions and also what you don’t know and you want to know. So, you have to very clearly separate what you know, what you want to know and what you assume. Because once you do that, you can specifically say, “Hey, we can’t act on this assumption first, let’s validate it before. So, I think that’s core and it’s true in life as well, right? If someone is saying, “Oh, they think this, they think that about me.” It’s like, how do you know that’s true? Are you assuming or that’s actual fact? In our minds, we’ve died a million times in fear of anything when in reality we don’t actually know what the other person thinks or what’s actually true. So, it’s like my philosophy is I want to assume the best in people unless I validate with facts that they actually have horrible intentions. So, I’ll let people be free before they’re guilty. And then, the last thing I’ll add for what I’ve learned about life, I think it’s just like the way that I look at problems, because entrepreneurship, as I mentioned in the beginning, at the core, it’s about solving problems. But the thing is, naturally, for most people and even for me, before I started being an entrepreneur, I would see a problem that kind of scare me. Like a problem in my own life or a problem that someone else had that kind of cause, like stress or it’d be like something negative, like, “Oh, I don’t want problems.” But now I’ve completely shifted my perspective on problems because now I see problems and I see opportunities. I see opportunities for growth. I see opportunities for business. And specifically for entrepreneurship, I see opportunities for impact as well. So, just shifting that around, it’s taught me so much about the mind and psychology because so many people see it as negative, it can actually be a very positive thing if you flip it around. And that’s made me question like, what else am I not looking at in a different light? And that’s kind of made me see where is the light? How can I shine a light on this thing that appears to be negative and how can I re-perceive it? And I think that’s been invaluable because we deal with problems in our daily lives every single day, and just by asking yourself, what is the opportunity here? How can I engage my creativity in order to solve this problem? It just shifts everything.
Bryce: I love it. Yeah, it’s funny how much I used to not really believe in how important mindsets were. I always get skeptical, but now I’ve completely gone the other direction on that. But I think your mindset walking into something is one of the most critical things. And so that’s why reflection and stuff like that are just absolutely pivotal for success.
Julian: With that, we’ll wrap it up. So, if you guys want to learn more about Vize, you can visit our website Vize.mx, for Mexico. You can also follow us on Instagram or LinkedIn. I’ll provide the links for that in the description. Even though we don’t have money, if you’re interested in learning more, you can talk to us and we can always see if we have opportunities available for you. But we’re always looking for talented people that really care about the cause and the problem we’re aiming to solve. So, yeah, with that, Bryce, do you have anywhere people can find you on any socials you want to mention?
Bryce: Oh, man! I have to admit, I hate social media. So, I guess the answer is really no. I mean, I suppose I could put my LinkedIn and stuff like that in the show notes. If anyone is interested in reaching out, I’m more than happy, obviously, to talk to anyone that wants to reach out. But yeah, I try to avoid your Instagrams and your Facebook and your Twitters at all costs.
Julian: I feel that. I like that. If you want to reconnect with yourself, you have to disconnect from the world at times, and not having social media helps with that. But cool! I’ll include your LinkedIn on there. I’ll put show notes in the description for socials and everything else. With that, thank you, Bryce, for being the first guest. Stay infinite, my friends.
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