#12 Rebeca Minguela: co-founding a travel tech, exiting to Groupon, building a social impact investing tool backed by Blackrock
Founder and CEO of Clarity, NY based B2B SaaS offering enterprise software for better social impact investing, with funding from investors like Kibo Ventures, Founders Fund and BlackRock
Rebeca Minguela is the Founder of Clarity, a New York-based company trying to solve the problem of inefficient and unequal allocation of capital by developing a universal framework and building an automated tool that leverages cloud and artificial intelligence tech to rate companies, projects, governments and NGOs in order to help investors optimize the social impact of their investments. Clarity has raised funds from investors like Kibo Ventures, Seaya Ventures, Founders Fund, Deutsche Borse and Blackrock. The company has 100+ employees across its different offices in New York, London and Madrid.
Previously, she was defining and leading the Global Digital Transformation Program at Banco Santander. She also was Founder & CEO of Blink Booking, a leading award-winning last minute hotel booking mobile app in Europe, with more than 800,000 downloads and almost 3,000 hotels, available in 6 languages. Blink was successfully sold to Groupon in 2013 less than 1 and half years after launching. Post sale she became General Manager and Senior Director of Product and Operations at Groupon, leading one of the top priorities of the company. She is also an advisor at several startups with a focus on social impact. Prior to Blink, Rebeca worked at Bain Capital Private Equity, Boston Consulting Group and as an engineer at the German Aerospace Agency, Siemens and IBM.
Rebeca holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, MSc in Telecommunication Engineering from Polytechnic University in Madrid, and Stuttgart University (all of them with Distinction). She was the only Spanish named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2017 and has also been featured widely in the press in several countries with features in publications including Forbes, The Economist, Financial Times, El Pais and El Mundo, among many others.
👤 Brief intro: Cuellar, engineer, range, serial founder
🥇 Win: inaugural speech in Cuellar, mistakes as learning factors
🚫 Fail and lesson: trusting wrong people, choose right relationships
🚀 Ideal founder: not founder but team, aligned but with diverse backgrounds
💸 Ideal investor: shared vision, trust, listen x2 and challenge
📈 Markets: global sustainable investments with long-term angle
🦄 3 startups: solving humanity’s biggest problems with global impact
📖 3 books: “The Bible”, “The Torah”, “The Quran”
Could you give us a brief intro about you and your origins?
Raised in Cuellar, a very small town with a 8,000 population in Segovia (north of Madrid). This fact has been instrumental in both my personal and professional development as all my friends and family are still there and I believe being raised far from big cities has helped me have the feet on the ground and focus on those things that I enjoyed the most, as you come from a place where there is no excessive pressure to show off in comparison to other type of environments. You can do what you like to do and there are no toxic expectations. That definitely played a role in me founding Clarity some time later.
Professionally speaking, I am an engineer from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and got a masters degree in Germany. I started working early in different companies like IBM, Siemens, German Aerospace Agency and Boston Consulting Group. I did my MBA in Harvard and my summer internship in private equity. However, while working in private equity I already founded my first company Blink, and once it started to get some traction I left the industry to pursue entrepreneurship full time.
During 2012’s mobile boom, the company grew very quickly throughout Europe and we eventually sold it after 1.5 years to Groupon (September 2013). I worked for the company 2 years leading its product and tech efforts. After that and before founding Clarity, Banco Santander asked me to work in a digital transformation project so I spent some time there.
Since 2016, I’ve been working in Clarity, a company I incorporated 4 years ago - it still shocks me that in such a short period of time we increased our team to 100+ employees. We based our company in Delaware (USA) and have subsidiaries in Spain and UK. During the last few months, we have raised our latest rounds with Deutsche Borse and Blackrock. Covid has been tough but we are working hard and I really feel the mission of improving social impact tools.
What would you say has been the biggest win in your life?
Personally, when I dit the inaugural speech in my town. That was very special as you have in front of you all the people that have seen you grow as well as the people you love the most. Even some friends from other surroundings showed up!
Professionally, there is no specific milestone. I’d rather take the things I haven’t done that well, from which I have been learning a lot. These situations help you be more resilient and strengthen your character and career. For instance, I had a setback in Blink where we faced a very challenging situation after the first round - one of the cofounders lied to us and we had to fire him. Really difficult moment but also you learn about your strengths. I ended up bringing in to work with me one of my best friends from Cuellar and, together, we were able to tackle this horrible experience around ultimately turning it into a successful case.
Related to the above, and your biggest failure?
I have had tons of failures and the issue is that, regardless of many mistakes, we continue repeating some of them. After some time, you probably don’t fail that often but you continue failing.
The lesson for me has been to work with people that you really trust, whose you enjoy working with - not necessarily have to be your friends from the very beginning but you need a good relationship. When you start a company, that’s your dream, your baby, and you should interact with people you rely on and have fun working with them. Brilliant people? Good, but that is not enough.
My biggest mistakes have come from trusting the wrong people. You get better at it but this happens across the board, with clients, investors, suppliers and/or partners. When you start interacting with people you don’t get along with, where neither of you understands each other, your daily routine changes. Among the most important lessons is, if there is no fit at the beginning and you already see red flags, that first feeling can end up being more critical than we think.
What is your ideal founder profile?
I believe there isn’t an ideal profile. Anyway not sure if I am the best to talk about ideal founders. I’ve been a cofounder that faced challenges with this topic and now a solo founder. We put so much weight on this role and, at the end of the day, what is more important is the team.
I don’t have cofounders at Clarity but people with a very important role have joined and tend to be the same. The ideal executive team is people you have fit with, those you get along with and understand each other, absolute trust. Most of the frictions that arise within executives are around issues like where should the company go, what is our culture, why we do X relative to Y, and even though it seems like small things if there is no alignment it generates a negative noise.
There has to be a click, complementary people. We don’t need people that have the same backgrounds but rather have a common vision and shared values, pushing each other every day because they think differently but are aligned at the same time.
What is your ideal investor profile?
Someone both aligned with the company vision and that really trusts the team, not the founder but the team. An investor can get along with the founder without even getting to know the team, but the team is key.
I want to emphasize that I don't really like the company vision that is very founder-centric, even focusing only on the executive team I already feel like it is not enough. A company is never the founder only, if you think that you have a very simple view of what a startup is.
Investors have to be aligned with the vision of the company, trust, listen and challenge. Listen profoundly. I feel investors usually join a company trying to put puzzle pieces together from lessons learned in other portfolio companies. Yeah, you can apply some but every company is a different world. Business, people and overall dynamics can differ. For instance B2C and B2B aren't comparable with each other. So first listen and then challenge. But, before challenging understand what the team has done and why, and then you can jump in. And even then, as an investor, you will probably have to do a leap of faith. For example if we are talking about something new and the team has intuition but they still can’t prove it 100%, you have to trust them. Trust, listen and challenge. And remember that if you don’t listen, trusting becomes a challenge.
What present and future markets are you most interested in?
Keen for global companies. When we created Blink, it was born global. I'm also really interested in sustainable investments space, mainly in USA and Europe. However, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region and Latam are growing fast when talking about social impact and environmental markets. I tend to look at markets that are growing quicker, and that tends to not be exclusively the USA and Europe since they are very mature economies.
Europe is very fragmented, which drive us down somehow. There is no common market so you can't launch a new product and expect to be live across the continent. You look forward to starting something in Europe but the truth is you have to deal with 27 countries. For instance with Blink in B2C, we could see how an italian buying experience and a german buying experience differed significantly. Every market works differently. However if you launch something anywhere in the US, you are already in a bigger common market. Consequently Europe becomes less attractive as you have to work harder to eventually find yourself with fewer exit opportunities. As an entrepreneur, there is room for improvement in order to make Europe as attractive as other bigger and more accessible markets.
Additionally, I believe in the factor of long-term, there are many new projects popping out but aren't visible short-term. A good example of this is green tech. This factor allows you to do better things with bigger impact.
That being said, there is not a specific thing within sustainable investments with a long-term angle under a global approach that stands out for me but one thing which is what I am working in right now with Clarity - how to optimize what you do. To understand where investors/consumers focus on you have to measure and dive deep on how to make better decisions. We have to be careful with mixing marketing with social impact and losing real perspective on the best options. Is it best for me to plant trees, to not catch a plane or to not eat meat? I believe we are seeing increasing amounts of noise when talking about sustainability, that are not necessarily the most efficient approaches. As an investor and as a consumer, for me the most attractive thing right now is to measure and understand what is the best approach for social impact in order to obtain a clear data based direction. 100% exact? No, but at least optimize estimates to take better decisions. Just in the investment world? Not at all. We are seeing it in the COVID situation. Is there really no better alternative to problems like bad vaccine logistics or destroying businesses? What is happening? What do numbers tell? Who is looking into this big picture, measuring, analyzing and deciding where should we allocate our effort to help better? I am so shocked about the way we are doing this.
And I’m talking about COVID but similar things happen with other stuff like climate change. When they want to reduce carbon emissions nobody knows what is better whether plant some trees or, as I read the other day, invest in whales as they are the animals that capture more carbon. Is someone really doing the analysis based on trustful data? I don't think it is very logical to walk blind.
I believe or want to believe there are good intentions but there is so much misinformation. We don’t know what is the best thing we can do. Entrepreneurs, due to being incentivized through a need to win and survive or fail and die, try to be constantly better because if not … well, you die. I feel like politicians drivers are not aligned with what they have to do. In a company, incentives have to be aligned to succeed. In the political world, I don’t see that because their timings, mandates, elections, etc are too short term so mission and incentives are misaligned. Also there is no relevant quantitative measuring and focus in execution. I do not want to sound like this is not difficult and I do not want to fall into criticizing too much because I am aware it is a super complex work and nobody knows how any other people could have performed in such a challenging environment. But damn, this inefficiency generates so much tension.
Critics for all, more union and less conflict between sides. We have to be solution oriented, way more resolutive instead of fighting with each other.
Could you share with us 3 startups you like and why?
It might sound unorthodox but I'm not as plugged in as someone may think on this regard, I am not following startups continuously. Maybe I should? I'm very fact-based and if I share 3 I would use meritocracy to name a few, but right now I would share companies from friends and that won't be fair.
I like to think about those that have high potential and that solve society's biggest needs. I see startups that have achieved enormous valuations while only solving very marginal convenience needs in developed countries (i.e. mobility, delivery) but I believe we should focus more on solving problems that have a global impact.
Let's channel the right resources to try to solve humanity's biggest questions. For example, in the long-term climate change and in the short-term, COVID. If a company understands how to deploy the vaccine logistics and make the process more efficient everyone will thank them, it's a nightmare right now.
Still, I don't really have a name in mind. Before COVID I attended many startup events like Founders Forum or South Summit where you met some great companies and that helped you check the pulse of the industry better, but now I am heads down with my company, hyper focused.
Could you share with us 3 investors you like and why?
You really know your investor when you have been with them through all the different scenarios. I will focus on those I know the most, which are:
Kibo Ventures, I've known them for 10 years now and I can say they are one of the best investors I know. They invested in my first company and since then I've been through a lot of situations with them, good and tough times. Javier Torremocha and Aquilino Peña are extremely good, their whole team is amazing.
I would also mention angel investors. They are those who believe in just an idea, the team and the founder risking their capital. I've had very good angel investors in my companies, shootout to Charles Petruccelli and Holger Wohlenberg, among others.
There are other investors who are also good but these are the ones with whom I have dealt more, I’ll wait for the other ones to see them across different circumstances.
What are the 3 books you feel everyone should read and why?
I don't want people to read books about startups. I've been asked to write books about lessons when starting companies, I respect that and I think you can learn something but that would be oversimplifying. I'm more into fiction and classic books.
For instance, during lockdown I've read religious books like The Bible, The Torah and The Quran. I think everyone should read them as the impact they have had and continue to have in the world as a whole and more specifically in culture and our personal lives is huge. Religion has an incredible influence but people just don't read them. Also it's interesting to see they have some similarities but at the same time, they generate huge differences.
Also, History books since they help us understand how things work together with nature, sociology or philosophy more than entrepreneurial books. Or maybe I should read more of those to be more successful, haha
Anyway, I think the books you feel everyone should read depends on the life stage you are in. For instance, I am now in Dubai and I've been reading books about the Emirati culture or Emirati poems written by the same Emirs. However, if you had asked me some time ago I would probably have said other novels, poems and biographies. Stuff like Rayuela by Julio Cortázar, Bukowski, Bertrand Russel or the biographies of Barack Obama and Tony Blair. Additionally, when I want to learn something specific I do it through a lot of blogs, I ask many people and look at specific book chapters without necessarily reading the whole book.
Based on your prior wide range experience, what lessons are you levering to succeed in tech for good at Clarity while tackling the sometimes called binary and utopian challenge of succeeding while having a positive social impact?
The single and most important lesson, range. It's always curious to see people advising others to drop out from whatever they are doing and just jump straight into something specific. Those that didn't go to school or university are outliers (i.e. Zuckerberg). People don’t like to check the numbers but around 90% of the entrepreneurs have a higher experience level than the average people, they have graduated from college and have worked X years before deciding to become an entrepreneur. I don't mean you can't do drop out and succeed but usually, those tend to be surrounded by people with tons of experience. You do not need to be a 20 years old genius, that is not real. If you look into these anecdotes a lot of times you find that these young people brought in early really experienced allies.
Personally speaking, having had range has helped me acquire different angles in many ambits that I feel have given me so much. Also, I would say you should surround yourself with people with more experience than you in every aspect of the company. You realize that the more you know, the better worker you become. If only I had more years of experience when I was with Blink, Santander or Groupon, I would have probably done things better. No brainer.
And about commitment between impact and being profitable? You should focus on the biggest issues we are facing as a society, if you resolve one of those it will pay off in the long-term. You can do do that and be profitable, it is not incompatible. You have to show it is possible and precisely select the problem you want to solve.
Solving a short-term marginal need for a niche society group is a bluf, doesn't scale. You have to reach as many people as possible with as little money as possible. Having impact but not being profitable? The opposite, that is the Holy Grail, if you have big impact you will be profitable. And there are many more options to do this than people realizes. However there is an increasing number of companies solving very marginal issues like instead of clicking 5 times you can do it in 1, which might eventually scale and improve users’ life a bit but we are becoming too lazy when there are millions of more important needs to be solved within bigger markets hiding more attractive opportunities, and nobody is looking at it. Take the example of hotels and airlines, they already have a price optimization software for seats and rooms based on their capacity, but that we don't have similar mainstream software for hospitals is crazy. The idea you take a blood test and aren’t able to systemically analyze that is complete nonsense. I understand there are cultural and political barriers to tackle this bigger challenges but there are so many profitable opportunities.
But one thing to keep if mind is that if we talk about one of the main drivers of this type of improvement, such as VCs, unfortunately a big number is not that long-term oriented. They say they invest 10-20 years forward but they ask for detailed reporting every month. I ask them to challenge me in key topics rather than track all the metrics in short time periods and lose sight of what really matters. An example, at Clarity, we try to measure the impact per dollar, kind of the Net Present Value (NPV) of both environmental and social impact long term. But not all big funds act coherently in this aspect. More names than you think have some type of schizophrenia in the sense that either they believe in the idea and team regardless of positive social impact, they allocate a bunch of money and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or they are super data driven ending up too focused on short term metrics with an approach more similar to building a sales engine for a factory of investments rather than on making the best long term impact. So they gravitate between too hype focused or too short term focused.
Ultimately, all is about prioritization and execution. What should I do first and how. Also good team, good idea and growing market. Any company behaves like this. What is interesting is how COVID has showed how in many situations there is not the proper way of thinking, no KPIs based prioritization and proper execution. Not the best causes. And now, we have an opportunity in to do better, let’s put the next $500M in something that can really help society and not the clubhouse #10 to listen Zuck and Elon chat for the umpteenth time.
Big thanks Rebeca for sharing your views with us !
Big thanks to you, reader, for your time and interest !
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