At the end of 2020, Marcos Gorgojo’s employer laid him and 20 percent of its employees off. Rather than ruminate on the loss, Marcos invested his severance check into a startup that carved a new market in the executive education space.
At 51, Marcos hesitated to start a business so late in life. But he ultimately wanted to realize a new vision for his industry and turned down two job offers to execute it. Former clients contacted him for help, and Marcos wanted to be the catalyst for change.
In October 2021, Marcos launched The Faculty Club, where organizations hire executive educators for training and development. Educators can also browse the marketplace’s listings for in-demand education programs and contact businesses to express interest.
After leaving his former job, Marcos coached several educators individually before wondering whether he could scale it into a business.
“I thought: Can I build something around this? Can I encapsulate what I’ve been doing the last few years into something that supports educators? Can I productize what I do at scale?” Marcos says. “After conversing with organizations, I realized that, yes, we can innovate in the executive education space.”
But without entrepreneurial experience, launching The Faculty Club would be a gamble. Would his knowledge of the industry be enough?
Passion Doesn’t Buy Job Security
Marcos started following in his father’s footsteps when he earned an MBA from IE Business School in the 90s. Rather than start a business, however, he applied his new skills to a director position in Italy. Four years later, he returned to Spain to accept a role at his alma mater.
Marcos became the associate director for a new program called the Sumaq Alliance, partnering Latin American business schools with US executives. For years, Marcos traveled the world, bringing people together to learn better leadership techniques.
In 2014, Marcos joined Headspring to help a wider range of educators develop executive training programs.
“I joined Headspring as the head of faculty. I managed educators, reached out to them, onboarded them into the programs, deployed them, evaluated them, and so on,” Marcos says. “It was all about my relationship with the educators. I was the bridge between them and our clients for five years.”
Though Marcos loved his job, the pandemic forced Headspring to restructure the company and let go of many employees, including Marcos, in December 2020. At 49 years old, Marcos didn’t know where to take his skills now that his employers had temporarily closed the door on him.
Luckily, the educators that Marcos had worked with provided a window of opportunity.
“Many people I recruited into Headspring started calling me. They said, ‘Okay, now that you are no longer there, who’s going to work with me?’” Marcos says. “I was a coach to them. I helped them digitize and deliver more sessions online. I helped modernize the role of educator. So they were eager, or at least interested in, maintaining those conversations and having me support their development.”
Starting a business to support these educators seemed like the obvious choice. In Spain, you must register a company before offering services, so in February 2021, The Faculty Club launched, offering one-on-one coaching sessions to hundreds of educators.
How Do You Turn a One-Man Service into a Global Platform?
For a flat fee of $500 a year, Marcos taught educators how to work successfully in the executive education industry. As more educators signed up, they started asking Marcos if he could connect them with businesses or organizations too.
He calls this interest from educators his first “ah ha!” moment, where he realized that The Faculty Club could help educators find work. Then they wouldn’t have to rely on fee-based intermediaries to find them executive programs to teach.
Before he could turn The Faculty Club into a platform, though, Marcos needed to ensure organizations would use it. He’d envisioned a two-way communication system that benefited both parties, but only educators had confirmed their interest by February 2021.
In March, Marcos got the confirmation he needed. Two former clients asked him to connect them with educators to build and pitch executive programs. As he linked the organizations and educators, Marcos decided it was time to develop The Faculty Club into a platform.
As one man, he only had so many hours in the day to help both sides of his managed marketplace. But now Marcos knew businesses were willing to pay for a platform where they could interact with educators one-on-one and not deal with intermediaries.
“In executive education, the legacy institutions always close the door between organizations and educators. They reach out to the client, they sell a corporate program, and then they keep the educators blind to the clients,” Marcos says.
“Given how well I know the industry, how it operates, and the relationships I had with the educators, I said, ‘Okay, let’s build something. Let’s build a platform, an online space where organizations can contact and engage with educators directly.”
In July 2021, Marcos invested his coaching revenue and severance pay into developing the platform, launching it in October 2021. Leading up to the launch, Marcos learned that being a first-time founder with no previous startup experience comes with challenges.
Soloprenuering at 51
Marcos may have had educators lined up and ready to use the platform, but he still had to attract organizations. And that meant hours of studying sales textbooks and marketing guides.
“I’ve spoken with salespeople and asked, ‘How do you approach the calls? How do you write those cold emails?’” Marcos says. “So many wonderful people share knowledge on Twitter and in courses all over the web too. You follow some of them and you say, ‘Okay, I may try this. I may try to write this Twitter thread or post on LinkedIn.’”
Throughout his 20-year career in executive education, Marcos only ever had to focus on operations. Someone else always handled sales and marketing, but as a solopreneur, he had to do them himself.
But Marcos wasn’t completely alone. He leveraged his connections in the industry to meet potential clients, talk with more educators, and spread the word about The Faculty Club’s mission. He tried both social media and cold outreach, but his website continued to show a high bounce rate. In other words, many website visitors left the site soon after visiting it.
“Building content for the website or social media that answers peoples’ questions reassures them that you know what you’re talking about.”
That’s when Marcos realized that he needed to add more content to his website. Not only photos and videos but SEO-oriented blog posts as well.
“I should have started content creation earlier,” Marcos says. “Building content for the website or social media that answers peoples’ questions reassures them that you know what you’re talking about. And that they can put their money into someone who will take care of them.”
He adds, “If you have three clients asking the same questions, you need to create a blog post answering those questions. So I’m creating content following conversations with clients, which is very useful.”
Marcos learned the hard way how a business can struggle financially when marketing doesn’t attract enough clients. Due to his slow start with cold outreach and content creation, Marcos admits that he could barely afford to pay himself for the first six months. It affected everyone in the Gorgojo family, with those lean months leaving little to spare after paying the bills.
But by July 2022, Marcos boosted client acquisition by using a customer relationship management system called Apollo. With Apollo, the founder didn’t have to send individual emails for cold outreach because the CRM system scheduled and automated everything.
Marcos now spends more time drafting blog posts for his website and newsletters for his email list. Over the summer, these strategies helped bring in more clients as word spread about his business’s mission.
Although Marcos has yet to hire anyone else, he’s still confident about his continued progress as a first-time solopreneur.
“I have a friend who set up a company some years ago. And we like to refer to ourselves as young entrepreneurs, though we’re both over fifty. So not exactly young, but you need to keep yourself as young as possible while running a business,” Marcos says. “Because when you’re young, you’re able to do so many things at once, or to learn very quickly.”
A few days before this interview, Marcos stumbled across an article from Harvard Business Review that revealed how several startup founders build later in life than we think1. The average age of a founder at the time of founding is forty-five, but people rarely consider that because young founders like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg get more attention.
Marcos couldn’t believe that the “sweet spot” age for successful startup founders was 50 years old. “No way – that’s me,” Marcos thought at the time.
“Once you think that you can add more value to your industry, don’t wait too long to start building something. Start earlier.”
It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much experience you gain in a specific field. To be a successful entrepreneur, you just have to get started and keep building, Marcos argues.
“We tend to say, ‘I have thirty years, twenty years, ten years of experience.’ Many times it is one year of experience repeated ten times, depending on the field,” Marcos says. “Once you think that you can add more value to your industry, don’t wait too long to start building something. Start earlier. Because when you wake up every day, you realize you believe one hundred percent in the thing you’re building.”
Room to Grow
One year after the launch of The Faculty Club, Marcos feels proud of the marketplace he built for educators and organizations to connect. But to achieve his goal of decentralizing corporate education, he’ll need to hire more employees and automate processes that free up time to scale the business. 2023 will be the year of building, he says.
“I’ve already beaten my goal of earning $100,000. Now I plan to triple or five times that revenue by the end of 2023, maintaining those growth percentages every year after,” Marcos says. “I also want to automate many of the things that I do. Everything is manual, from conversations with clients to content writing to sales. I want to spend more time with educators.”
Marcos hopes to hire a content marketer and create Loom videos for client onboarding. Building a recommendation engine to sort through vast amounts of data can also match people up without Marcos having to provide individual recommendations.
You could say Marcos has already overcome the biggest obstacle in entrepreneurship: getting started. And though he lacked entrepreneurial experience, he didn’t let it stop him from building a platform that he knew could benefit the industry he loved. A lesson we could all learn from.
1 Research: The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder Is 45 (hbr.org)
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