Taking the Plunge: The Start of My Entrepreneurial Journey

La Gran Sabana, Venezuela

After 7 amazing years in corporate America, I decided to risk it all (or stop risking it?) and build something that I am passionate about. Taking this leap of faith involved a lot of luck, a bit of brainwashing, the stars aligning and a very supportive network.

The more I hear other people’s stories, the more I believe I can succeed. Therefore, I am going to share my experience in hopes that it gives others courage to do the same.

The Beginning

I grew up in a booming Venezuela. Back then, Venezuela was prosperous and had a strong economy. Sadly, things changed. When my generation entered the workforce, Venezuela’s economy had shrunk, freedom of speech was in danger, and kidnappings were the norm, leading many to find opportunities elsewhere. More on that here and here.

I was fortunate enough to attend the University of Pennsylvania, intern at amazing companies in NYC and South Korea, and study abroad in London. College was great.

After graduation, I had 3 months to find a job that would sponsor my work authorization in the United Stated. H1B sponsorship costs over $10,000 and it is not guaranteed. Most companies that sponsored visas and did OCR were in finance or tech. I wanted to work in marketing. Because of Wharton, most of my friends went to Wall Street. I went to Miami. Visa Inc. took a chance on me and I will be forever grateful.

Yes, my name is Isa I worked at Visa and really needed a visa.

Many of my friends followed the same path. We did not dream about starting our own companies; we dreamt about work permits, H1Bs, valid passports, and getting Green Cards. We were afraid to ask for promotions or raises since we couldn’t afford to risk losing our immigration papers. We tried to work hard and not complain but we lived in constant fear that things might change at any point.

We were doing everything we could to make a life for ourselves outside of our country. Our options felt limited, our dreams were limited, and we are the privileged ones; the ones that received great educations and found great jobs. Others are not as fortunate.

This year, things changed for me. I finally received my Green Card and was promoted to Director.

The Itch

Throughout my time at Visa, I learned a lot about personal finance. Not because of the nature of the business, but because of its employee benefits. I had never heard of:

  • 401k matching
  • Employee Stock Purchase Programs
  • Equity grants

These concepts were foreign to me and I had to ask around to understand what to do. I researched and started to understand the world of personal finance. I spoke with smart people that provided sound advice. Others around me were not as fortunate.

For example:

  • My co-worker waited 1 year to join the stock purchase program with a 15% discount since she did not understand the program. In that year the Visa stock grew ~20%. She missed out.
  • My friend never joined the 401k program. Her company matched it 3:1. She missed out.
  • My acquaintance put all of his money into a savings account with a 1% yield… for 5 years. During this time the S&P 500 grew ~+90%. He missed out.

These stories made me identify a huge gap: even the most educated people do not know what to do with their money. More on this later.

The Exit

My Green Card process took 7 years. Most people my age have already worked in 3+ companies. I have only worked at Visa. Nonetheless, I built a great career there.

I started as an intern in field marketing and made my way up to Director. I managed Central American and Caribbean marketing strategies, I consulted clients on digital transformation across Latin America and worked with Global teams to build products that drove business growth. I launched Visa Checkout across LATAM, worked on two World Cups and Olympics Games and partnered with amazing technology companies. It was extremely fun and very educational.

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • The most valuable assets you have are your relationships. Build them. Cultivate them.
  • Be authentic. People know when you are faking it.
  • Have a growth mindset. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Make sure you work really hard to learn. Hit Refresh and Mindset are two must reads.
  • Ask questions. Ask why. Ask for more. I was always afraid to ask because of my immigration situation, but the times I did, it worked. Remember that the worst they can say is no.
  • Strive for FLOW. I am a Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth fan. Read their books, have some grit, find your flow, and be grateful.
  • Give back to others. When work is not fulfilling, find other things that make you happy. Through Visa, I was able to raise +$20,000 for education programs in Venezuela, go to classrooms to motivate teenagers to stay in school with HISPA, work with children with illness in hospitals, and much more. Do more for others, it will help you more than you know.
  • Be an agent of change. You cannot rely on others to make things happen if you are capable enough to do it.

What’s next?

I am going to build a company that provides tools that educate and enable US Hispanics and Latin Americans to grow their wealth. I strongly believe that through financial education, people can achieve their dreams and build a better future for themselves.

I am also joining OnDeck’s Founder #ODF9 program and moving to Miami to make it happen.

More to come!

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Isa Penzini

Isa Penzini

30 Followers

Building something new to promote financial well-being starting in the 305. ex Visa & Penn grad. For spanish content check out www.penzinialcuadrado.com