Our guest today: Helena Escalante
Helena Escalante and I met through Seth Godin’s altMBA in early 2017. We spent just about a month together working on various projects and “ship it” constantly. As one of the ideas that came out of altMBA, Helena started her blog, Entre Gurus, attracts thousands of readers daily from around the world.
Helena is a fireball, full of energy. You can’t help feeling upbeat, life is good when you are around her. After altMBA, we kept in touch with Gustavo Serafini‘s (also a guest on Feisworld) weekly Mastermind Group, when Helena more fully unveiled her potential and helpful nature as a colleague and a friend.
- [08:00] You mention that a podcast is likely going to be part of EntreGurus as well. Since the content is in both English and Spanish, are there going to be different podcasts or the same?
- [10:00] How do you feel about translations? How can you express the same emotion in one language and the other?
- [11:00] What are some of the things you have learned that you wish you knew before, now that you started with this podcasting journey.
- [13:00] How do you “write for the ears“? What are some of your examples?
- [16:00] Are you planning on writing for your podcast, and recorder it afterwards? Or would you prefer having a list of bullets and improvise a little bit.
- [18:00] What are brain writing and brain mapping?
- [25:00] Can you share with us your origin story? Where did you grow up and when did you move to the US?
- [26:00] How old where you at the time you were helping your parents with their business? What did you do to help them?
- [28:00] Do you think your parents influenced what you do today, your interests and your love for knowledge?
- [29:00] Was your path unusual for a Mexico City-based family?
- [30:00] How did it make you feel when you were young that your parents had such different activities and ways of living compared to other Mexican families?
- [33:00] What brought you to the US?
- [36:00] When did you start your own business and why did you choose to do that?
- [37:00] What are some of the services your business provides?
- [40:00] What is your experience hiring a contractor for a task? What lessons did you learn and what do you look for?
- [45:00] How did you decide to become an entrepreneur? Why did you join altMBA?
- [59:00] How do people find you and connect with you?
[10:00] One of the things that I love is this term called ‘transcreation’: you are not just translating, you are taking a little bit of freedom of changing the message to where it really resonates but without taking anything away from the essence. It’s really that act of transcreation that you are putting together when you go from one language to another.
[13:00] I have come to believe that one of the best things you could do is not sound canned. Also, it is very different to write for an audience that it’s going to be reading, versus an audience that is going to be listening. You have to write ‘for the ear’.
[16:00] We all have this ‘reading’ detector. You know who is reading and who is not, so you want to give them what they want, which is that connection with you.
[32:00] There were times in which I wish I didn’t work because something was happening. But overall I really enjoyed the work, and also, I really enjoyed meeting foreign people and showing them Mexico. That part of becoming some sort of an Ambassador to my country I love and cherish.
[36:00] My professional life when I was an employee was always focused on marketing, advertising, public relations, international relations, and trade. I always saw each of those as a separate one, until I got this lightning moment that put all of those together. That moment connected all those dots and I said ‘Yes, I can do that’.
Transcript of Interview with Helena Escalante.
How many episodes have you recorded so far with other podcasters?
Helena [6:28] I don’t know. It’s several definitely. But I have decided just recently to change the whole format. So, as you know, I have started my blog Entregurus, which delivers one idea a day from the best book of the top entrepreneurship gurus. And this is my promise that you can read it and benefit from it in less than five minutes. And my podcasts, they’re wonderful. But the format was being too long, I was not being congruent with what I was promising. So because we’re all busy, and because we still want to keep up with everything, I decided to change the format. And so what I’m going to do is deliver the same thing, one idea a day, in less than five minutes. And then the authors’ interviews are going to come as a bonus during the weekends. So that’s what I changed instead of the whole other idea, which is fantastic.
Fei Wu [7:32] So I remember during our last connection, I had mentioned just how high quality your blog posts are. I’m still getting them every day, and I have wanted to hear you actually just read that blog post. But obviously, your idea is probably a little more advanced and way more prepared than that is, but I would be happy if you just read a story or read your own writing to me.
Helena [7:57] Oh my god. Well, thank you. Thank you so much. It makes my heart sing to hear that you like it, definitely. But I think this could be another way of bringing value to entrepreneurs and professionals everywhere. But oh, and also it’s going to be both in English and in Spanish. So I’m going to have the podcast in English and then the podcast in Spanish so that in the Spanish speaking world, they can also hear it.
Are you going to have two separate podcasts for the English-speaking and the Spanish-speaking audiences?
Helena [8:33] They’re going to be technically the same. However, it’s going to change simply that it’s going to be in English and Espanol. So it’s going to be the exact same podcast translated into Spanish so that they can be simultaneous, but they’re going to be two different RSS feeds, different everything. I’m trying not to mix because those members of the audience that only speak English would have no interest in that. And I don’t want to take away their time, which is so valuable. And same with the Spanish speaking audience that doesn’t speak English – they don’t necessarily need to go through that. So that’s why I’m trying to separate as much as I can to give them each what they need.
Fei Wu [9:19] That’s smart because the work has already been done. But I mean, at the same time, there’s still more work and I know it because I try to write the same article in Chinese and in English, and the translation isn’t super direct, at least for those two languages, you do have to modify your approach so you can relate to readers who speak that language. And I once talked about languages with my other guests, because I do have a very big variety of guests whose first language isn’t English. And I find that fascinating. One of them told me that so much of it is a visceral connection when you speak the language. It’s not just the sound you make, but also how the language is making you feel and making you think differently.
Helena [10:08] Absolutely, you’re absolutely right. And one of the things that I love is this term called “trans-creation”, which is the translation that is used for marketing, advertising, public relations or legislate promotional purposes, that you’re not just translating, but you are taking a little bit of freedom of changing the message to where it really resonates, without taking anything away from the essence. So it’s really that act of trans-creation that you are putting together when you are going from one language to another.
Fei Wu [10:49] That’s super exciting. Right. And we’ve been talking about your show since last year, and I’ve been really looking forward to it. I’m sure you’re the same way. I know we have so much to talk to you about.
What are some of the things that you learned, the things you wish you knew when you first got started with the podcasting journey?
Helena [11:15] Absolutely. I don’t even know where to start because I think what that question leads me to answer you that I need more fingers. And I have to be able to answer that whole thing completely.
But let’s just start with the first and foremost – the software. I didn’t know anything about this. So just to dive into the microphones, the different software, how to record, how to do that. So in a sense, it’s not difficult, it seems quite challenging at the beginning, but little by little, thank goodness for online demos, thank goodness for my husband, who has been working for TV for 1000 years, thank goodness for all of these wonderful people who have lend a hand, including you, to share what you know. Your podcasting group is fantastic. So it’s this incredible community, I guess that has led me to understand how the hard part works. And then in terms of the soft skills, I have really come to believe that one of the best things that you can do is not sound like you’re reading. And that also is very different, to write for an audience that is going to be reading versus an audience that is going to keep listening.
Fei Wu [12:43] Yeah, very true. So I love where you’re going with this. I’ve learned so many different lessons, and I still listen to my show, and, you know, my guests are very happy with the results, still, I catch myself doing something, especially during recording. And it’s best not to do so much of that because then it distracts you from being the host or being the guest.
How do you write for the ears?
Helena [13:12] Well, in my particular experience, I’ve been very lucky because I have done voiceovers for a number of years. So part of the work that I do is again to translate from English into Spanish, and then put that into script form. So actually, the very best thing that you can do once you’ve written something is, actually, pick it up and read it aloud. And that way you will know what sounds well and what doesn’t. That is, in my experience the very best thing simply because you’re listening to yourself. Or give it to someone else, and have that person read it to you, or have you really read it to someone else. That’s probably the best way that you can do something. Obviously, that is something if you can do it in a short amount of time. If you’re doing something such as an audiobook or something else, it’s different. It really depends on the intention, I think, as to how to write for the ear, but a podcast or something that is going to be recorded, I think, it comes best if you just do it naturally. And thank goodness for the magic of editing, as you’re going in, as you’re recording, you can always have the option of recording on top of it.
Fei Wu [14:34] That’s great advice. Because I mean, I try to read some of the blog posts, but because I spent so much time writing them, I felt like it’s a waste if I don’t turn that into what I call “the mini-episode” where it only takes 5-10 minutes for me to read a blog post and then people can listen to it and there’s no further obligation. And they find it fascinating. As you said, the way that we would write to readers versus the way we would write to listeners are so different, viscerally, fundamentally, that feels different. A sentence could be completely grammatically correct, but there would be no emotion. It’ll sound cold and disconnected.
Helena [15:28] So another thing that is important is we all have this reading detector, you know, who was reading and who was not. So you went to give them what they want, which is that connection with you. In a sense, you can compare it to one of the most modern world maladies, which is reading from PowerPoint. How many of us have been in a meeting where the speaker just reads the PowerPoint, but what you want is that connection from the speaker, what you want is what the speaker has to tell you. And I think that in podcasting is the exact same thing.
Fei Wu [16:13] It’s very true. So the format and the way you’re going to organize your podcast may still evolve.
Are you planning on writing for the ear and then record based on the script? Are you thinking about a bullet-point approach where you’re going to just improve along the way?
Helena [16:37] Well, here’s what I am doing so far. I love brainstorming, and brainwriting, and brain mapping. So with a combination of those three, the first one, if I get together with someone, and we can brainstorm together, that’s fantastic. Or if I can just do some brainwriting, which is sitting down and writing as fast as I can, as many ideas that pour out in a certain amount of time, I can do that, because that gives me ideas. And that gives me topics. And then once I have those ideas or those topics, I can go into a brain map, and really map them out. Once I have those points, I can just naturally use them as guidelines, and then just talk about them. And if I’m reading, I don’t know that I would necessarily rewrite the whole thing. Because if someone wants to read it, it will be there. But I want to give it that auditory quality that will hopefully make someone engaged and give them bottom line, this eureka moment, this a-ha moment that will prompt them into action.
Fei Wu [17:48] Very cool. So for people who are not as familiar with brainwriting and brain mapping, could you give us a brief description of what they mean, how they can go about exploring that?
Helena [17:58] Oh, absolutely. Well, I think they’re all familiar.
Let me backtrack a little bit and start with brainstorming. What happens? Well, brainstorming, for those that are not familiar, is simply getting a group of people together, so that they can all toss out ideas on whatever issue you have – whether you want to solve something, whether you want to start something, whether you want to innovate or whatever the issue is. So that’s the brainstorming part.
Fei Wu [18:29] They usually start with somebody facilitating with a single marker on the whiteboard. And some people contribute, but there could be the only contributor in that group. So it feels unbalanced, and sometimes a little forced, right.
Helena [18:43] And that is exactly what happens with brainstorming. That sometimes there’s the leader in the room or someone that just takes over, or by virtue of it being such a fantastic idea that comes out first, everybody becomes fixated to that, and therefore no more good ideas emerge. And that is something that is called “group thinking”, that, you know the group is stuck. And by virtue of the whole group thinking the same thing, you can’t move forward.
But anyway, so that’s one of the cons about brainstorming. But one of the ways in which you can make it much better is by this other technique, that is called brainwriting. And brainwriting is setting a finite amount of time – I don’t know, five minutes, 10 minutes – so that everyone in silence can write down their ideas. And then you either offer those ideas up, or someone writes them down, or you just simply post them on a wall. And then people vote on those ideas. That way, no idea is lost, and all of them count. At the same time, of course, not all of them will be viable, not all of them will be the best ideas. But from that enormous pool of ideas, you can definitely select the few ones that have merit. And okay, so that’s two ways of producing a lot of different ideas.
And then the brain mapping is really just a fantastic method, if I may say so. There’s software for that, there are some free online brain-mapping sites that you can download, there are a few paid ones, but you can do it with something as simple as pen and paper. Start in the center with your idea. So put a little circle, and then from there, start tracing out or start drawing branches with one additional point each. So if we were going to talk about, let’s say, a birthday cake – in the center is “Fei’s birthday”. So one branch goes out and says “birthday cake”. And then from there you have three points: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or whatever you want, right. And then another branch says “find a venue”. And then you write under that, you get some sub-points for the different venues that you have. And then you draw another branch that says “buy a gift”, and then you make your sub-points there. So that way you have in a visual representation what it is that you are trying to put together. And it helps a lot. I’m a very visual learner. So that way, it helps me enormously, and as I move forward, sometimes with projects or with the set of podcast I’m going to be producing, it’s going to be very helpful to just take the ideas from there and talk about those different points without necessarily reading a script.
Fei Wu [21:50] I think that’s also a fantastic idea for structuring the recording as in this type of interview recording. Because in the beginning, when I started three and a half years ago, it was like everybody else: I had a list of questions, I want to go through them, and I try to organize them and predict how the conversation is going to go. And you’re not always wrong, but you can’t really predict that, and then you become less of an active listener. So you stop listening to the responses. And so for me, things naturally evolved in somewhat brainwriting experience – I use these branches as you said, and as the guests are taking me to all these mysterious places, I simply make a quick note. And then I will look down my paper if needed. I’ll go to and travel to these branches, but without thinking “Oh, I have to go from there and to cover all these branches”. But maybe I’ll just focus on 2-3 areas and let them tell me the full story, rather than rushing them to the answer. It’s almost like a punch list, and then just keep going to the next topic, and the one after that.
Helena [23:23] Well, I like that. And I completely agree with you because it enables you to see the whole picture, as opposed to the way we write in English – you go from left to right up, from the top to the bottom. So if you’re writing an outline or something, you necessarily have to go through there. But if you have the whole picture in front of you, then you’re able to jump to those more important points or make some connections that otherwise may not have seen before.
Could you tell me about your upbringing? Where did you grow up and when did you move to the US?
Helena [24:43] Happy to do that! Well, I was born and raised in Mexico City, in a family of translators. So from a very young age, even though Spanish is my native language, my parents wanted all of us, siblings, to learn more languages than just Spanish. So they enrolled us in English classes. I grew up almost with English all my life. And because Mexico was so close to the United States, most of our vacations were someplace in the United States. So that enabled us to practice. We also saw a lot of English TV, my parents would also buy us a lot of children’s books in English. So they really wanted us to learn a different language. And that’s how I came to learn English.
Both of my parents were very entrepreneurial, and they have, to this date, a translation agency, to which they later added international consulting for entrepreneurs or for businesses who wanted to enter the Mexican market and just didn’t know how to. And so I started helping with that. I fell in love with that.
Fei Wu [26:01] Oh, wow. So how old were you at the time when you were helping them out?
Helena [26:04] Oh, well, I was very young, really, about 13-14.
Fei Wu [26:10] What would do to help them?
Helena [26:15] For instance, I learned how to edit, I learned how to spell check, I learned how to transcribe, I learned how to do a lot of different things that were helpful at the time because, probably, personal computers were not to be found in this scene for a few more years. And it was just a different setting. And it was a different market too, because then, again, this is Mexico City. And we did not have all the technology that existed in the United States yet, because the markets at some point were closed. So they had to do with whatever they had. Anyway, I was helping them, which at the time I hated because that meant that I could not go with my friends and play, I had to help.
Fei Wu [27:12] How many siblings do you have, by the way?
Helena [27:14] Were four. I have one younger sister that still lives in Mexico, then me who live here in the United States, I have one older brother, the one immediately above me that lives in London, and then the oldest one who lives also in New York.
Fei Wu [27:32] Oh, wow. I was just wondering how much help your parents are getting from just the kids. And then do they also have employees as well, other than you guys, for the agency?
Helena [27:45] Oh, no, definitely, definitely. They had employees, they had assistants, they really had it all set up in a very nice way. They wanted us to learn the business, and they wanted us to learn the value of helping and earning money. So that’s why they would put us to help.
Fei Wu [28:02] I always ask about origin stories. And I typically ask people what they were doing or interested in doing when they’re 10 or 11 years old. Because you’re old enough to remember, yet so young that some of the things were just random, or that you didn’t quite focus on because you’re too young. So what you just described now kind of painted this picture. And I don’t want to over-interpret it, but I see certainly a lot of connections to your writing, your reading and just your love for knowledge.
Helena [28:36] Yeah, it’s absolutely true. I get it all from my parents, my dad was probably the biggest bookworm I’ve ever met. He would read anything and everything he could get his hands on, and he could talk to you about any topic with a certain amount of knowledge. That made him, not an expert in everything, by any means, but very well-grounded. And then my mom has, to this day, insatiable knowledge for learning, for finding, for doing new things, for running a business – she really is my hero.
Fei Wu [29:14] Oh, wow. Yeah, I do remember you talking about your mom. For your parents, raising a family, and then having an entrepreneurial business – was this unusual for Mexico City?
Helena [29:29] I mean, absolutely. Very, very unusual.
How did growing up in an entrepreneurial family make you feel?
Helena [29:58] Well, definitely, it was different from my friends’ families. But that’s where it stopped. It was never a comparison as to whether it was better or not. It simply was. Yes, my mom was with a bus full of executives, taking them to these different industries in Mexico, showing them places, telling them about the Mexican market. And some other mothers may have been taking their daughters to ballet, for instance, we didn’t have that. But we had something else that was not, again, worse or better. It was just another way in which I could compare. And in a sense, the more I grew into it, the more I liked it, even as a child, even as a teenager, I was born into this.
So my parents, I think started the company the year prior I was born. So I was really born into this. And so I never knew I needed anything different, really. I remember when they needed a translation into Hebrew, they had that writing machine which I was playing with. So that to me was like the biggest source of fun that I could encounter, right, but it really made for a very interesting life.
For instance, I’ll just tell you one story. I was the first kid in school that brought liquid paper to help with mistakes on the pages. And so I, you know, when I brought that to school, everybody was like “Oh, my God, what? How cool, what is it? How can I get my hands on that? I want to buy some”. So anyway, I was also the first kid who had a personal computer, this was when my parents obviously needed the latest technology for their business. So when they got the first computer, very few other people have it. So it was always very cool to see that.
Fei Wu [32:29] Yeah, that’s like a Bill Gates story. Bill Gates also was one of the first to get a PC. I mean, he’s much older, it was even rarer back then, and it’s kind of a privilege for him because his parents provided that opportunity to him.
Helena [32:43] Well, in a sense, you’re right, because I don’t know how to be other than grateful for that. Yes, there were times in which I wish I didn’t work because something was happening, or my friends were getting together or something. But in a sense, overall, I think I really, really enjoyed the work. And then, once I was older and was helping with the consulting and the International Relations part of it, I really enjoyed meeting foreign people and showing them Mexico. So that part of becoming some sort of an ambassador to my country I love and cherish to this day.
What brought you to the US?
When I started helping with the International Relations part of the company, I started getting more and more involved in helping US businessmen enter the Mexican market. And I fell in love with that because I really enjoyed being exposed to all of these business ideas that they were bringing into Mexico, all of these products, that was so new, so innovative, so cool, right? So I would serve as an interpreter: I would go with them to meetings and I would be back and forth between the Mexican businessmen and the American businessmen who were trying to get to agree on whatever deal was happening. So with that in mind, I thought this could be a very cool thing. So by virtue of me being exposed to all of these ideas, I thought: “Well, let me see if I can get a shot and go to a school in the United States”. And I was lucky enough to go to the University of Texas at Austin that has one of the best programs for what I ended up majoring in – Latin American Studies and history. But I did also a little minor in marketing and business simply because I really wanted to have that. And after I graduated, I already had a job. And the rest of history – I stayed because I already had, again, a job that I thought could be great for me and will give me great experience, if I can stay here for a little bit. But then that little bit turned into life. And I never went back. Well, I do go back to visit and I love it. And then I started my company, and have never gone back to live in Mexico.
When did you start the business? Why did you choose to do that?
Helena [36:07] Well, I started in 2010, there was no reason why. I always wanted to start a business. I was always very entrepreneurial on the side when I had different jobs. Let’s say, when I was an employee, it was always focused on marketing, public relations, advertising, international relations, and international trade. So if you combine that, I always saw each one of those as a separate one, until I got this lightning moment when I put all those dots together and said: “Yes, I can definitely do that”. And that light bulb moment came because like many other people that start their businesses, I had the boss from hell, and we were not getting along. Now when I look back, it was a blessing in disguise. But at the moment, it was so hard. It was so hard! But I’m so glad that I leaped into it and started the business that took many iterations to what it is today. But I am still loving it, enjoying it and meeting new people, being able to transmit messages from one language to another in a way that brings them results, in a way that gets them to what it is that they want to transmit with that message, and in a way that enables me to help touch hearts.
Fei Wu [37:37] So in case somebody listening needs a translation service, in particular for Spanish and English.
What are some types of projects that you would take on for your company?
Helena [37:51] Well, I will be more than happy to talk to, again, the client on whatever their needs are. We do not do translations of letters, a school transcript or something like that, we take on larger projects that have something to do with marketing, with public relations, with advertising. So that’s where our niche is, and where we want to continue to be. So if you have something that needs promoting, if you have a website that needs translation, if you have a campaign, if you have a podcast, if you have some sort of industrial audio recording that needs to be translated or even recorded – that’s what we do. One of the most fun projects that I’ve done is I was the voice in Spanish for a chain of hospitals in Texas. So that was very fun because we kept joking about it.
But all those projects that are industrial or commercial, and that really target a specific sector of the population, a specific ethnicity, we can do that. And we can do it in up to 100 languages. I, obviously, speak English and Spanish, but I definitely coordinate all these other languages. So a language is not a problem, or we can even find someone who can do it.
Fei Wu [39:29] You know, I feel like working with contractors or subcontractors can be tricky.
What are some of the things you suggest considering when hiring a subcontractor? What are some of the qualities that you look for?
Helena [40:09] Absolutely, there’s so much that I can tell you about this.
The very first thing that comes to mind is you have to hire people that will produce the quality of work that you promise. So it’s not just hiring someone out of an ad, it’s really testing prior to. And there are many different ways of testing, of course, and we can definitely have that conversation for another day. But another thing that comes to mind is that you have to be very clear on what is accepted, what you will take and what you won’t. In my case is, for example, I need people who can deliver on a specific date because usually the client wants the work for yesterday or the week before. So they’re always in a rush. And I also have to be very clear with my contractors and say: “Well, can you absolutely have it by a certain date?”. And they do, certainly. So that you know that you can count on them for this. And they also know that they can count on you to pay them on time. So that’s something important, meaning if you treat them well – they will treat you well.
Another thing that to me is incredibly important, this is probably the most important thing, and really comes down to soft skills – the ability to talk to them openly and have a very professional relationship. And when you’re in a family business like I am, sometimes I hire my sister, or I hire someone, but we somehow change hats, and we stop being sisters – of course, you’ll never stop being sisters, I love her – but my point is, she puts on her professional hat. And I do too. And during that conversation, all we’re doing is we’re talking about business. So my point is, even with people that are friends or people that you are close to in some other form or fashion – when there is this other connection that goes beyond professional, you have to still put on your hat of “I am a professional and this is going to be a conversation about business”. So to put that into a little box, where you know, this is it, and then we can talk about chocolate chip cookies elsewhere at another time. But just keep it very, very professional.
Fei Wu [42:55] That’s such great advice. Because, you know, I’m sure you were experiencing that for the first time when you started your business in 2010 – your relationship with the people around you changes. And it’s something that I’m sort of going through right now because I don’t want to have those conversations with my friends or people I know who have worked really well with me.
And also, one of the things I find interesting is that you are the face and the brand of your company, which gives you the authority and makes you the principal who is responsible for everything and having some of those conversations can be really hard. If someone you were friends with didn’t deliver or if they want complete creative control – have you run into any of those issues in the past?
Helena [43:59] Not really but there is the issue, sometimes, of credit. For instance, when you’re translating a book, it would be very nice to give credit to the translator. So I always ask for them, because they are somewhat removed. Right? Even in my contracts, it is spelled out that if the work is not confidential, we will kindly ask if they will allow the work to have credit to the translator so that they can add that to their portfolio.
Fei Wu [44:37] Absolutely.
So now people who are listening are clear that you’re not just sitting at home – you’re running a full-on business, and also you’re running a blog and starting a podcast.
What triggered this second wave of your creativity – to write, to record, to interview people? What was it like to take on everything?
Helena [45:59] Well, that is the next part of a story. We were living in Texas, right? So far, so good. And I was running my business from there. Then my husband’s company relocated him to New York, and that’s how we ended up here. And it has been the most joyful and fantastic ride. However, they gave him two weeks. So he came in those two weeks, and I came obviously much later, about a month or a month and a half later. But what that meant for my clients was that I could definitely bring some of them and continue with servicing them. And that also meant that I could not continue servicing others, simply because the work that I was doing for them was very, very localized. So I had to, unfortunately, let those clients go. But of course, I got them in touch with some of my friends. So I put them in touch with a professional who can continue with the work. That was not a problem. But once in New York, I found myself knowing nobody and trying to start a new somewhat business, and really wanting to connect and establish my new network in here. So once that happened, I thought: “Okay, what do I need to do? How do I connect? How do I meet like-minded people?”, and I started attending meetups and all sorts of entrepreneurial events that I could hear were happening. So I started connecting, and along the path, somewhere, somehow, I stumbled upon this fantastic place, which is the Business Library, which is part of the New York Public Library System. But it’s a library dedicated to business, actually, the name is Science, Industry and Business Library. And if you want to learn anything about business, you just go there and all the resources are at your disposal at no cost. It is again, I cannot say enough good things about this. So I was at the library. And I would like what they do in terms of programming so much that I would be coming back and back and back whenever they had something that I enjoyed.
As you know me, I’m very vocal, and I make friends easily. So I was sitting, and then I turned to the person next to me to say: “I can’t believe the quality of the programs that you have in here. This is absolutely fantastic. How long have you been coming here?”, and the person starts laughing and says: “Oh, I happen to be the assistant director, thank you so much for telling me that you like them”. So I introduced myself and we somehow became friends and acquainted ourselves. And I said: “Oh, well, I’m so glad to make a new friend. I was actually wondering if you do these programs in Spanish”, just out of curiosity, and she said: “You know, we would love to do it. But we have nobody that could teach entrepreneurship and we don’t know anybody that could do it in Spanish”. I said: “Well, I have a little bit of time in my hands. And how about I do that for you? I will be more than happy to do it as a volunteer, of course”. And they took me up on my offer. I started giving a few different programs here and there, and then I started servicing the library with their needs. So we did work for them in Russian, in Spanish, of course, in Chinese, in many different languages like this. That was when I first got to New York, or shortly thereafter. So we’ve been here for five years. That was about five years ago.
Long story short, they started hiring me for these little things and projects that they had here and there for me to go represent them and speak on radio or TV about the library here in English and Spanish there. And after a short while, maybe a year or so, they issued a request for proposals for the kind of work that I did. And they said: “hey, we’ve got this RFP out, would you like to bid?” And I said: “Oh, of course, I would!” And so I submitted my bid. And I lost. I was so upset, I was so disappointed, because I really, really wanted that contract. And also, not only because I love the library, but also because it was a great way to prove to clients that even though I am somewhat new in New York, I can provide a quality service for someone, like, for an institution of the caliber of the New York Public Library. So anyway, I was very, I was very upset. I was very disappointed. And I said: “Okay, well, let’s move on”. So I continued, and thereafter, I don’t know, maybe six, eight months after, at some point, came out another request for proposals. And I said: “I don’t care what happens, but I am going to win this RFP no matter what”. And at that point, my network was not so big in New York, because they were requesting a New York-based team. And believe me, still to this day, I don’t know how I did it. But I was able to assemble this incredible team that could service what they needed.
Fei Wu [52:00] How many people were in that team?
Helena [52:15] We were probably, if I remember correctly, about 8 or 10 people.
To be able to service 11 branches of the library system on this one particular program that they had in Spanish and in Chinese.
So finally, the day comes, I submit the RFP, give it a blessing and cross my fingers. And I did not hear anything for maybe a month or so. So I just gave it up, you know, I thought you know, that I probably lost it again. And then I got a call. It was the gentleman who let me know that I had won the bid, a three-year contract with the New York Public Library. And this was five years ago. Actually, no, this was afterward, this was much afterward because that contract was ending in December of last year. So that must have been, you know, definitely not the first year or the second one that we were in, but again, shortly thereafter.
So I was ecstatic. I started working on this program. And then they called me from the library and said: “Hey, would you help us on doing this one particular thing?”, but this was just an English, so anyway, my work with the public library has changed, in the sense that I no longer do too many things in different languages. But what I definitely do for them, and which is something that I love, is put together programs for the entrepreneurial community in New York so that they can come and learn about anything and everything related to starting or running or growing a business. So I think bring in different people, different authorities, the different subject matter experts on a weekly basis so that they can learn about that.
Then we started a program called “the CEO series” that enables anybody to come and sit down and listen to a renowned author who is also a CEO of a small business, such as Seth Godin and many others. That it’s been fantastic because, with my love of reading, I’ve always read a lot. And I’ll tell you how that started. But with my love of reading, I’ve been able to reach out to all of these authors and say: “Hey, would you mind coming in and talking about this book and addressing this one particular issue?”, so that has also worked out.
And that leads me then to this other part of the story, which is my love of books. When I started my job, I realized that I was very good at what I do: translating, the International Relations, the trans-creation part of it. So all of these things I was very good at. But there were other parts of running a business that I had no clue. And that was failing, and I was failing very fast. So I knew that I needed mentors, and mentors came in the form of wonderful people. But you cannot always have them right next to you to ask them questions. You know, they have families, they have businesses to run, they have all of these things. So sometimes I needed an answer, and I needed it fast. And it had to be very specific. So I started reading all of these business books. I’ve always been a bookworm. But I would read fiction, I would read psychology, I would make lots of different things, not necessarily business. But my focus on business books started, again, shortly after I started my business. And I simply fell in love with them, because they’re so actionable. And they gave me so many great ideas. And more than anything, I just love getting those a-ha moments that you can’t resist. And that prompts you into the action of a particular thing. Because I’m sure that you’ve had just this one very powerful idea that you get in your mind so that you have to stop everything else to go and devote your time to doing that, because it’s so good, and you just love it. So I love when that happens to me. And I wanted to share that with friends and family. So I started sharing here and there. And as a result of that some friends or some family members started saying: “Oh, my God, this was fantastic. Look, you recommend that this book, and then I did this and this and this”, and this is the only thing that I did – simply recommend a book, it is all their merit, but I could not believe the power that ideas had. And as part also of my work with the Business Library, and being able to help all of these hundreds by now of business people, entrepreneurs, I have been able to share those ideas, that love of books with them. And I have seen what they are able to do once you put a resource in their hands, even if that resource is just an idea.
So as part of that, I wanted to do something that would enable me to serve more people, to share this love of books and love of ideas with other people who can benefit from it. And that’s how Entregurus was born. Entregurus, for the listeners, is my blog, which gives you one idea every day, from the top entrepreneurship gurus books. And you can read that in less than five minutes.
Fei Wu [57:58] The story has come full circle here, getting the gig and the love for books, and then coming to starting this blog.
Helena [58:09] Also, I have a little gift for your audience. Because I love you, I want to extend this to your audience. I’ve created a page, which is entregurus.com/feisworld. In there, you will find a little survey, because I want them to tell me what it is that they are struggling with, what that most pressing issue is. And I will be happy to recommend a book or resource that can help them out. And also for the first three that sign up, I will send them this book, which is “Show your work” because your podcast is for the unsung heroes, for everyday heroes who are making a difference. And I think the one thing that makes us all an everyday hero is that we’re doing it constantly. But if we could only show it to more people, more people would benefit and more people would derive the value that we are providing. So I really want them to show their work. And this is a fantastic book.
Fei Wu [59:21] Yeah, I love that book. I also have the one before that, “Steal like an artist”.
Helena [59:30] I love that one. It’s a fantastic book. I love it too.
Fei Wu [59:33] Thank you so much, Helena, that was great, pouring your heart out and sharing your stories from start to finish. And I’m hearing so much of that for the first time! Now all the dots are connected. Thank you so much for joining the show and offering the gift.
How do people find you and connect with you?
Helena [59:57] Well, thank you. This is pun intended – I am an open book so they can find me online at Entregurus.com. And that is a blend of entrepreneurship and gurus. So entregurus.com, that’s the website for the blog. And if you want to write to me directly, my email is Helena@entregurus.com. And I will be absolutely delighted to hear from you.
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