Once a migrant worker, Bismarck Lepe now leads Wizeline, a tech company that builds digital products and software for the largest companies in the world. Prior to Wizeline, Bismarck founded Ooyala which was acquired by Telstra in 2014 for over $400M. Bismarck is a passionate, forward-thinking tech innovator who believes that the next Tech Hub will be in Mexico, where he currently employs hundreds of staff and talented engineers. And for him, it’s just the beginning.
Bismarck started his career at Google in 2003 as a sales engineer. Today, he is an active investor in dozens of companies and the Chairman of StartupGDL– a nonprofit based in Mexico focused on increasing the number of technology companies in Guadalajara, Mexico. Recently, Bismarck visited the Latino Community Foundation where he sat down with Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, Masha Chernyak, and Sara Velten to talk business and the American Dream.
LCF Team: What gets you up in the morning?
Bismarck: Up until 2004 when Google went public, my main motivation was money. I grew up poor and I understood that money gave you freedom and opportunity. After Google went public, I realized it was time to make a difference in the lives of others. Now I’m driven to make an impact.
What did you learn from your parents?
For them, education was everything. I learned that to succeed, you had to be #1 in school. My mother earned her master’s Degree and my father – even though he only has a 6th grade education – put six of his seven siblings through college.
I also learned that with hard work, anything is possible. Before I turned six, I worked in the fields with my parents. We would start the year in Oxnard, California and work our way up to Modesto, then to Gridley, Oroville, and all the way up to Washington State – always following the harvesting of the seasonal fruit. Then we’d travel back down to Juchitlán in Mexico. I was happy to be with my parents, they are amazing people.
I will never forget what it feels like to wake up at 4 am, getting to the fields to pick fruits or vegetables when it was still dark and cold. By the afternoon, it was unbearably hot. My father started doing this at the age of fourteen after his father died and he had to take care of his mother and his seven siblings.
When my brother was born, we settled down in Oxnard. Then my parents worked several jobs at a time -maintenance, delivering newspapers, teaching at a trade school- to ensure we had access to the best education.
Even today, my parents still work very hard- my Dad is in maintenance and my Mom does accounting for a small company. They enjoy working, even though they no longer have to.
What was the transition like from home to Stanford University?
Stanford changed my life – it opened up new possibilities for my family. As soon as I got to Stanford, I told my younger brother two things: 1) look into boarding schools, the smartest kids here went to one, and 2) this internet thing is going to be big, learn about it now. He listened, went to boarding school, took coding classes, and stayed focused. By the time he got to Stanford, he was ready. Today, he’s at Ooyala, a company we started and sold.
Stanford also introduced me to other successful Mexicans who were different from the people I had grown up with. They were the sons of executives and political leaders. It was inspiring to see other people who looked like me who had succeeded.
How do you hope to instill the Mexican values of hard work in your children?
I care about this very much and believe we need to expose our kids to our work. That’s what my parents did, maybe not intentionally.
We should bring kids to our offices and expose them even if it’s only on the weekend for a few hours. The kids can help with tasks, watch you at work, and understand that money doesn’t just materialize – you must work very hard to earn it.
What are your thoughts on the American Dream? Is it still possible?
In the 1980s, my Dad worked picking lemons. With a day of hard work, he could earn enough to pay the month’s rent. He had a 6th grade education, and a lot of drive to support our family. This is no longer possible – life in America is now too expensive.
Today we have college graduates that are making $15 an hour but they have to pay over $1,000 in rent and pay off their student loans. Housing is expensive, food is expensive, everything is expensive. America has been built and so has its wealth.
We should be looking to other places for the same opportunities that we had in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The type of opportunities that can afford a middle-class lifestyle with one salary. For me, that place is Mexico. If you are bilingual, the opportunities in Mexico are similar to the opportunities in the U.S. after World War II. We are seeing more people from all around the world- Egypt, Pakistan, Australia- come to Mexico because they find it full of opportunity.
What is your advice to young Latinos who are graduating college and looking for opportunity?
I would say two things:
First—Work for a Tech company. You don’t need to be an engineer, there are job opportunities for everyone. Tech companies have higher margins and they have better economies of scale.
If you are bilingual, look at all Spanish speaking countries to grow your career! Go beyond your state, and your country. Look at Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile. For me, Mexico is the most interesting by far. It has 120 million people, the 12th largest economy, a growing middle class, and it’s close to the U.S.
What is your message for youth who are afraid of deportation or fear losing their DACA status?
We have jobs for you in Mexico.
You’ve accomplished so much already. What are you proudest of?
I am very grateful for everything that the United States has given my family. I feel very American, and I also feel very much Mexican.
That is why I am so proud that we are helping to grow the middle class and to impact the education system in Mexico. We’ve partnered with the Mexican government to put together a Tech and Education agenda. There’s a lot of greenfield opportunity in Mexico. We are just getting started. You can feel the change. It’s really exciting.
Our last question… are you hiring?
We are. For many roles. In every single office! Even in places like Vietnam. That’s another country that’s full of young people and a lot of excitement about the future. They are not complaining about the past, they are focused on the future.