Updated: May 26
In mid 2016, Justis and I met through the Entrepreneurship Club at the University of Florida. At the time, I had been hosting mastermind sessions with some of the smartest people in my network. When we met, I learned that Justis had also been doing the same. At the time, I had just won the UF Big Idea Competition, which landed me right on the homepage of UFL.edu, and got a free retail/office space at the student union for the agency I had just started (now called Rootex). Justis would often bring founders to the space and we would all share ideas and brainstorm together. We quickly became very close friends and began hosting networking events and roundtables for founders together. We also spent countless hours together watching videos on entrepreneurship. One day, the video we chose was Paul Graham's "Before the Startup", and we began absorbing every bit of content put out by YC Startup School. Our backgrounds are very different, but there are 3 important things we have in common. 1. We both come from modest means 2. We are both life-long learners 3. We were both put on this earth to help early founders Here are our stories:
Justis Mendez Justis was born and raised on the west side of Cleveland. He grew up around gang violence, drug traffickers and drive-by shootings happening as often as one could imagine. Many of his childhood friends have been either gunned down or locked up in prison. His best friend even ended up on First 48 after being involved in the murder of a high-profile gang member they knew. The gangs eventually started to come after Justis and he knew he had to get out to save his life. In 2014, he serendipitously met a business owner who lived in Gainesville, FL. After sharing his story and his desire to get away from all the violence, the man agreed to let Justis live in his closet for a couple of months while he got on his feet. That was when Justis's life changed forever. He started working for the business owner selling used cars. In his downtime, he began to sit in on classes at the University of Florida. Out of state tuition was too expensive, so he would go to classes in the business school and tell professors he was in the engineering school. He would also go to classes in the engineering school and say he was in the business school. Justis always kept a ragged notebook with him, where he would take notes on every speaker we heard or video we listened to. It's actually incredible to look back on some of these: in 2019 he had written down a note to start an accelerator for early stage founders. Little did either of us know, only 2 years later we would have an incredible program that has already helped over 25 founders in less than 12 months. Justis then started a startup called Qu Parking (airbnb for residential parking). The startup failed, but he took many lessons from it and went on to do business development for a FinTech startup out of NY called Pinata. In late 2020, he left Pinata to focus 100% on OneSixOne Group. Justis is one of the few people I've met at my age that is better at networking than I am. He applied to the Venture Capital program at UC Berkeley and after being told that they would not be able to offer him admission because it was at capacity, he called the admissions office multiple times until they finally let him in. He is now using the knowledge gained in the program to help prepare founders in our program for raising capital.
Pablo Casilimas I was raised by 2 immigrant parents who always told me that I should strive to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer because those were the most secure jobs. I started as an engineering major in 2014 at UF. In late 2015, after experiencing my first internship, I realized I definitely didn't want to work corporate, I didn't want to work 9-5 and I didn't want to be an engineer. I immediately started Rootex, a content marketing agency, and a year later I dropped out of UF. I was incredibly passionate about education and consider myself a life-long learner, but higher-ed felt practically useless for anyone looking to start a company. My undying curiosity lead me on a quest to understand what makes one business thrive and another fail. This was important because as a marketer, I had to educate my clients on how they should allocate their marketing dollars. But it was also a calling I had from a young age. I created my own personalized educational track by convincing my mentor Marty Schaffel, who built and sold AVI-SPL for 9 figures, to start a podcast with me. He invited guests to the show, and I got to sit down with many highly successful entrepreneurs (mostly with 8+ figures ARR and a few with exits of $100m+ all the way to $1b+). When COVID hit, I started a new show just 1 week after Gainesville shut down. In just 2 months, I had amassed over 10,000 views and had some incredible guests, including Jeff Hoffman from Priceline. I discontinued the show as soon as we launched the first accelerator cohort in June 2020. In addition, I published a 300-page coffee-table book known as INNOVATE® Gainesville, showcasing the top tech, startups, innovations and entrepreneurs in our region. Pablo now leverages everything he learned through his marketing agency to: 1. Maintain a pipeline of talented founders to participate in our 3 annual programs 2. Find potential speakers or mentors for our cohorts and 3. Connect with investors to help our founders get funded