Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Richard Villasana. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Richard, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Owning a business isn’t always glamorous and so most business owners we’ve connected with have shared that on tough days they sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have just had a regular job instead of all the responsibility of running a business. Have you ever felt that way?
I’m the founder of the international nonprofit, Forever Homes for Foster Kids, based in San Diego. I love the work that I do through my charity, reuniting immigrant U.S. foster children with their relatives so that these children have a permanent, forever home with family. In my corporate life, I was a leading authority on international marketing in Latin America. I represented dozens of U.S. manufacturers of medical products throughout Latin America, especially Mexico. I have thought about working a regular job at times. When I say a “regular job,” I’m talking about working for a company as a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or VP of International Sales pulling six figures and more. The last time I thought about working a regular job was a few years ago. I met a man, Mike, who had been at the top level of marketing. I knew that his wife had a successful charity in Uganda. Not only was she accomplishing her mission, but her charity had an annual budget of more than $10 million. Because of Mike’s marketing expertise, he had helped his wife develop her charity to this level. My vision for my charity is for it to reach $10 million in annual donations, but it was still struggling financially when I had my talk with Mike. I asked him if he and his wife were to do everything all over, what advice would he give. I was hoping to pick up some incredible insight. Mike looked at me and said, “Don’t start.” He went on to explain how much time was needed to fundraise and how fundraising never stops. Even though they had developed this very successful charity that was making a difference for many families in Uganda, the work put a strain on his wife. Mike went on to suggest working with an organization that had a similar mission to mine. Those weren’t exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for, but I gave serious consideration to what Mike said over the next few months. I was on the website of the Dave Thomas Foundation. A comment by a newly hired director caught my attention. The woman commented how she had been running her own nonprofit. She was now working for the foundation because of their resources and reach. She felt she could do more in her position that she could have through her charity. For months after that time, I thought about going in that direction, working for an organization. However, I am one of only a handful of experts in my area of specialty. I have taken my international expertise and applied it to my nonprofit. I learned so much from working internationally on behalf of large corporations such as Cisco Systems, Draeger, Comet A.G., giving lectures at U.S. and Mexico universities on international marketing and providing training to companies such as Plantronics and Thermo Fisher Scientific. Only one U.S.-based organization does works similar to that of Forever Homes, but they would not be a good fit for me. Forever Homes for Foster Kids is at the top of its field is because under my leadership, it moves more like a nimble, aggressive company rather than a large but cumbersome corporation. Nor do we act with the hesitancy that most nonprofits have. I believe in expanse, not scarcity. I believe in collaboration unlike many nonprofits that act as if everyone is out to get their ”Precious” (donations). At this point my nonprofit is moving down the road with its sights set to the horizon. This means that we have lots of adventures in front of us. You don’t jump ship when you’re having fun, and things are progressing. I’ve already gone through the sweat and tears with this organization. I know there will be bumps in the road, detours and the occasional flat tire. I also know that the organization is now on solid footing and will only become stronger. At some point I will consider stepping away although I don’t see that happening for some time to come. This doesn’t mean that there will still not be times when I get a little tired and start to reflect on my life. But I know I won’t jump ship because I’m working my dream job. My work reuniting children with family has been and will always be my vocation. When your work and passion merge, nothing can pull you away because there’s simply nothing stronger. It’s a good life. A noble life. It’s my life, and all dedicated to making the lives of immigrant and U.S. foster children better and brighter. I’m home professionally so don’t look for my resume any time soon.
Richard, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I’m a proud Navy veteran and a leading international authority on immigration issues and foster families. I have been featured on CNN International, Univision, ABC San Diego, in U.S. magazines (Costco Connections, Foster Focus Magazine) and newspapers (AP News, Washington Post, San Diego Business Journal), in newspapers and magazines in Europe and Latin America and online about my expertise in locating family members. I have been interviewed on radio, podcasts and by EFE, the world’s largest Spanish media company. I’m the author of “Insider Secrets to Doing Business in Mexico,” and an upcoming book about the results of the “zero tolerance” policy executed under the Trump administration. I’ve written articles for publications such as Customer Relations Management (CRM) magazine. In my former life, I was a leading authority on international marketing in Latin America, especially Mexico. I’ve done business with 95% of Latin American countries. I represented U.S. and European manufacturers in Mexico’s medical market. My first sale to the largest medical institution in Mexico was for a quarter of a million dollars. I lived in Mexico for more than ten years. I was a professor of Advanced English at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. I have given presentations at some of Mexico’s largest institutions, associations and corporations such as Plantronics and Thermo Fisher Scientific. I have also translated for the United Nations. One of the reasons that I was very successful in international marketing is that I approached this work much like that of Japanese companies. They were known for investing two or more years in a country just observing the market. Staff would research every aspect of the competition before making one sale. This method almost guaranteed success once the company opened their doors. Most international companies have a healthy respect for the Mexico market, the fifteenth largest economy in the world. Unfortunately, many U.S. companies do not share this respect. They will enter the Mexican market with all material written in English. They will hire staff who are Latino but have either never visited Mexico or have only done so as a tourist, not as a student of the culture. many companies continued to commit these errors as they look to do business and other Latin American countries. I was very successful in dealing with the Mexican market because I understood the culture. My first book, “Insider Secrets to Doing Business in Mexico,” focused on many cultural aspects of doing business in Mexico. Eighty percent of marketing is similar. Success or failure can hinge on understanding the culture and how it impacts the way in which someone markets their product or service. One Mexican distributor was trying to impress me with having relations with his “contact” at a large medical institution. At the same time, I was busy developing relations with the official who was the boss of the boss of the “contact.” You can do serious business when you get to this level of knowledge about an industry and its leaders in a country. While I was working internationally in Mexico, I learned I had a real talent for finding key government officials in Mexico for U.S. and foreign clients. Then some associates started to ask me to find their relatives: a brother, cousin, or an aunt. It was very exciting when I found someone’s missing sister or birth mother. Soon the word got out, and I started receiving calls from individuals in the U.S. looking for help to locate a relative, sometimes even a parent, in Mexico. During the same time, foster care agencies started to contact me. When a child enters the foster care system, agencies are mandated by state and federal laws to locate and notify the child’s relatives. While agencies are quite successful at locating relatives living in the U.S., the success rate is often much lower when a foster child’s family members are living in Latin America. Because of my years of experience working with Mexican officials at all levels of government, I was able to work with agencies to locate family members. I’ve expanded my expertise over the years so that through my nonprofit, we now locate relatives in countries throughout Latin America. For nearly 30 years, my charity, Forever Homes for Foster Kids, has worked with government agencies across the country to reunite immigrant and foster children with their families. I have helped more than 10,133 families find their relatives in the U.S., Mexico and other countries in Latin America. I worked with families from more than a dozen countries including Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, Belize, Colombia and Brazil. I have been honored as a California Hero. I’m also the leading advocate in the U.S. for Latino children in foster care. The most important aspect of the work that I am doing presently is that we are totally focused a reuniting immigrant and U.S. foster children with their families. More than 51,000 people follow us on Facebook, thousands more on Instagram, with many donating to help a foster child. I enjoy sharing with people how they can reunite a foster child with their family by supporting the work of my San Diego-based nonprofit, Forever Homes for Foster Kids. This is my vocation. and the work that I am most proud of.
Any fun sales or marketing stories?
Years ago when I was doing business in Mexico, the time was fast approaching to deliver almost 2,000 radiology products to the Mexican government. What made this sale so special was that it was my first sale to a foreign government. Even though we made the deal collaborating with a Mexican distributor, it was still up to my company to ensure that the product would be ready by a specific date. We had drafted an irrevocable letter of credit with the Mexican government. One of the benefits of such an instrument is that everyone is locked into the terms of the letter. However, unless the Mexican government agreed to any changes, we were committed to delivering the product by the date stipulated in the letter. If there were any problems in manufacturing and we passed the delivery deadline, my company would be in default, and we did not have $250,000 sitting in the bank. I wasn’t really worried about the manufacturer being able to deliver. The company had been in business for 75 years, but this was also the single largest order they had ever received. I had done business with this company for years and had an excellent relationship with the Operations Manager. He had assured me that they would be able to make the deadline even though a few weeks into the order, I found out that they were working six days a week. The operations manager confided that the order required more work than they had anticipated. However, production was not going to be the surprise challenge to this order. We were coming up to the last week before the deadline. I had talked to the operations manager just a couple of days before, and he had assured me that the order would be completed on time. Everything seemed like it was running smoothly, and it would just be a matter of having the Mexican government pick up the products. I had learned that the Mexican government was going to contract trucks to pick up the product from the factory and fly it to Mexico. This meant that we were not going to be involved in the packaging or export of the product. I was very relaxed, and then I got the call. The man calling me identified himself as the president of the company. After salutations, “Bill” started asking about the order. He asked about the size of the order and the deadline to make delivery. He could have gotten any of this information from the operations manager so I wasn’t sure why I was receiving a phone call. Then he hit me with the real reason for his call – payment. Bill was calling to tell me that he was not going to allow the product to be released until he got full payment. I explained that I had already talked to his operations manager. I had dealt with him for years. At no time had the operations manager expressed any apprehension or concern about delivering the product and then being paid. This is how an irrevocable letter of credit works. The receiving party receives the product, and if everything meets the requirements listed in the letter, payment is released. Bill was not satisfied with this and started to say that the deal was off and that the product was not going to leave until he received full payment. At this time, I was in my late twenties. I had never met Bill despite doing business with this company for years. I only knew that Bill was at least in his sixties. However, I could picture Bill sitting in the back of his chauffeur driven Cadillac, essentially taking down months of work with his decision. I started thinking about my company defaulting with the Mexican government. I then started thinking about my distributor who had an excellent relationship with the medical institution and how his reputation would be seriously tarnished by a default on the order. Of course, I thought about me and my partner and all the work that we had committed to this particular project. As the seconds passed on, Bill made a comment. I don’t remember what his comment was, but I do remember very clearly that at this point I was very pissed off. I felt that Bill was pushing me around because he was older and was not giving me the respect that I was due. I do remember very clearly what I did next. With a very deep tone because I was angry at this point, I said very calmly, “Maybe you should remember who you’re talking to.” Then I didn’t say another word. Everything you may have heard about silence is true. It seems to last forever. Your mind starts to wonder if you did the right thing. You start to wonder if you should apologize. I didn’t blink, and I didn’t open my mouth. Seconds continued to pass. I was really expecting to hear an angry comment, the phone being hung up. Then I heard the strangest, most unexpected sound. I started hearing Bill backpedal. “I’m, I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m just a little stressed right now. That’s all. I just want to make sure this works out for my company.” I didn’t gloat. I didn’t make some snide remark. This was business. Again very slowly and calmly, I walked Bill through a couple of options. I explained that I would have to check to see if we could have the letter changed so that payment would go both to my company and to Bill’s at the same time. This way Bill would not have to be concerned that my company would receive all of the money and not pay his company. Once I laid this out for him, he agreed. I would call the operations manager and give him the details. I thanked Bill for the phone call and wished him a good afternoon. Five days later, the delivery was made. The product was picked up, and we received a sizable check for our work. Bill received his payment as quickly as we received ours. We also continued to do good business with Bill’s company, having given his company their first sale ever in Latin America. There’s nothing wrong with being emotional when doing business. The mistake that many professionals make is losing control. I was very angry, but instead of losing control, I had control. I focused my anger and responded in a way that made Bill realize he had pushed a little too far. I didn’t embarrass Bill, but I let him know that he had crossed a line. Your tone and how you speak to someone may mean the difference between success or failure. I have never forgotten this lesson and have used it to my advantage in other business dealings.
Has your business ever had a near-death moment? Would you mind sharing the story?
I’m the founder of the nonprofit, Forever Homes for Foster Kids. As with many charities, mine was started with a passion to help someone. In my case, my passion is reuniting immigrant and U.S. foster children with their families. Unfortunately, passion doesn’t always pay the bills. In late 2016, my nonprofit was still without any sponsors. I was essentially self-funding my nonprofit’s work, but doing so was wearing me down. I’m not sure if the charity would have survived if something hadn’t changed just after Thanksgiving that year. I’d spent years working with large corporations. I had spent the last ten years studying Internet marketing. I had designed websites and coached thousands of entrepreneurs on ways to improve and expand their business. I had spent years working with countries in Latin America. All of this expertise was very helpful to developing my nonprofit. It specializes in locating a child’s relatives who are still living somewhere in Latin America. Forever Homes for Foster Kids is one of the leading organizations in the world doing this work in Latin America. I had met Gia Heller at a marketing event in March of 2015. She was promoting her social media service showing businesses how they could grow their presence on Facebook. I was a very diligent student attending every webinar and diligently following her formula and advice. Fast forward to late November 2016. My nonprofit’s Facebook page was still far under 2,000 followers, but all that hard work and dedication to following Gia’s methodology what’s about to kick into overdrive. I got a notice from Facebook that someone had done a fundraiser. I didn’t know someone could do a fundraiser on Facebook. Then I started to wonder how we were going to get the money. Then a few days into December, there was a deposit into our nonprofit’s bank account. More fundraisers started. About the same time, I put a post on Facebook. I had put this post up a few times before, and it had received some engagement. This time, though, the message of the post sparked something in our followers. Our engagement started to go through the roof. We had our first viral post. The engagement for this post started to drop off by April 2017, but by that time, we had more than 6,000 page Likes. Our engagement ended up being more than 160%, and we reached more than 307,000 people. Yes, we did do a little advertising for that post, about $150. The combination of this viral post and Facebook creating an easy way for people to do fundraisers gave us enough donations to stay afloat. My nonprofit now has more than 50,000 Likes on Facebook and brings in an appreciable amount in donations just from Facebook. I am positive that if we had not put in the hard work for a year and a half, we would not have been in a position to have a viral post and to respond in a way to grow our social media presence. We also would not have attracted so many wonderful people who supported our work of reuniting children with their relatives by creating individual fundraisers.
- Website: www.foreverhomesforfosterkids.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/foreverhomesforfosterkidsca/
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/FAMILYFINDINGMX
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richardvillasana/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/FAMILYFINDINGMX
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8tQWlgqt8g