Meet Alejandra Mustakis
A conversation with Alejandra Mustakis
Medular (http://www.medular.cl/), furniture design, created in 2007
Kauel (http://ww.kauel.com/), development of technological solutions, created in 2007
IF (http://ifchile.com/), idea factory, created in 2013
Role in the company: Co-founder
What did you do before deciding to become an entrepreneur? When and how did you know that you wanted to found your own company?
I studied industrial design, a field that entails a lot of creativity. Since graduating, I never worked for someone else. I was always very much on the move, starting my own initiatives, not knowing that they were enterprises. In fact, when I was in college, I had never heard the word “entrepreneurship.” It was a time when everyone was talking about where they wanted to work, but for me the idea of creating businesses came very naturally, and not because I had been inspired by great entrepreneurs or because my parents had raised me to become an entrepreneur.
Describe the process of creating your own companies.
When I finished college, I did some home decorating and worked a bit with my father, but I was very focused on the search for what I really wanted to do.In that process, I ran into a friend, also an industrial designer, who had the idea of making children’s furniture. I said: “Let’s do it together, and let’s turn the company into the biggest children’s furniture design company in Latin America.” That’s how we founded Medular, in 2007, which in the end turned out to be the best business school I could have had. Although we managed to place products in the big stores, we saw that they weren’t selling, and we rapidly retooled the business and started making modular furniture. Since then we have done very well.
The second business I created was Kauel, a technology development company, also in 2007. I had met two guys who were coming out of college, a civil and an electrical engineer, with experience in having worked on technological projects at the university. I didn’t know anything about technology, but I joined up with them and proposed that we form a company. They accepted and we created Kauel, a technology solutions development company. Since then, the business grew a lot, today we work with other big companies, and the truth is that the international technological and engineering companies have nothing on us.
When we started to be successful with Medular and Kauel, I realized that I wanted to help many more people be able to create and develop “dreams,” since in Chile there is a lot of talent but we haven’t made good use of it. Then, I got the idea of starting an ideas factory, a factory of the future: a collaborative platform, filled with organizations and people with different backgrounds who had a bigger dream. Crazy as it was, I convinced other entrepreneurs, and together we created IF, the first collaborative ideas factory in the world. We rented a nearly 4,000 m2 building and we began inviting all of the organizations that shared that dream of creating and developing together, in an atmosphere of collaboration and valuing our differences. Two years since the creation of the business, we are about to open the third IF site, in Valparaiso. Currently in IF there are more than 80 government agencies, universities, traditional businesses, and business, innovation, and design firms with which we are learning to build and work together, with the mission that many more people, coming from the most diverse places and conditions, can have the opportunity to develop their talent and make their dream a reality. I could sum it up by saying that it is a real estate, event, training and innovation outsourcing business where companies, rather than housing their innovation management within the company, can have it in IF together with others. Technically, this is a place where we bring together the traditional firm with talent, creation, and diversity, with the new world.
IF was created to have the ability to develop the talent of our people and create in our country, but naturally it evolved into a mini-society, based on collaboration, creation, diversity, a refusal to underestimate, and a place of trust, where we trust in ourselves, in our capacities, in each other, and in our country. Trust that in recent times has been scarce in Chile. The invitation is this: either we keep on arguing through the newspapers and TV stations, blaming ourselves rather than those responsible, or we all unite as a country to develop our most precious assets, our people and our country. And by joining together the most diverse people, rethink and work to build better ideas, better organizations, and a more unified and happier country.
Moreover, seizing the great opportunity of the digital age, it is an age full of opportunities. It is an era in which every person, even those who are uneducated, regardless of where they come from, their social class, their sex, religion, political beliefs, where they studied, who their family is, their physical abilities and most likely having attention deficit disorder, can think in a different way or in a more ingenious way of doing something, changing an industry or creating a new one. Today we cannot underestimate anyone, and with respect to being different, only those who have the possibility of working with the greatest diversity will be those with the necessary vision to confront the challenges of the future.
What is your role in the companies that you have created?
I am a designer of models and companies, I am an incentivizer that connects the different component parts, and I push, gently, to make things happen. I have been in positions of responsibility before, but today each business has its own teams, and I participate on their boards. I am especially very involved in IF, to which I devote most of my time.
I would like to be able to leave a legacy about the way to create companies and the new way of doing business. We must create companies that do good, that are inclusive and diverse, that contribute to society as a whole, companies that have positive impacts on all kinds of things, based on creativity, collaboration, and inclusion. If we do that, we will be able to make dreams come true and do things together with everyone.
What was the biggest ‘failure” that you had to face as an entrepreneur, and how did you face it?
The world failure strikes me as very harsh. Personally, I prefer to say that I have made mistakes. I often made mistakes in the three companies, which is, in the end, part of the learning process.
When I founded Medular, I took a business course where they taught me that the mission of the business was immutable. The mission that we had chosen was to be the biggest children’s furniture company in Latin America. Following my father’s advice, I went out to talk to a lot of people in the sector, especially those who had not done well in this business, who all said that in Chile these types of products don’t sell and that you can’t design in this country. Innocently, I thought that they were telling us this because they wanted to copy us. But, in the end, they were right about the first thing they said but not the second: in the process, we found a store that asked us for different furniture, occasional furniture, and our mission changed in two seconds.
What are the main lessons that your experience has taught you?
We learned about the importance of being able to change course when things don’t turn out as expected. We all have dreams, but when those dreams collide with reality, they become a different product, and this is where accommodation comes in. We learned to steer in order to keep going, and not to stay mired in things that aren’t working. We also learned that we shouldn’t be closed with respect to our missions, especially as entrepreneurs. You have to keep adapting to opportunities. Google has three-month missions!
Where is your company today, and what are your plans for the next five years?
You have just asked me precisely what I would never do. Especially with such innovative projects as IF, we are trying, building, learning, and innovating, and this means that in the end, the path forward is not all that clear. Yes, we have the will, the desire, and the strength to be able to seize the best opportunities and achieve our next dream: that IF generates a real impact and cultural change in society.
What advice would you give to a woman who is thinking about creating her own company?
We are in the era of collaboration and creativity, two very femenine competencies. I believe that we women more than ever have a huge opportunity to lead companies in this new era. Life goes by very quickly, and one of the most interesting ways to live it is to live it fully, to work on something that you love doing. We have to be brave to go out and seek our dreams. It is not an easy path, but without a doubt, it will give us a lot of satisfaction and a full life.