Edwin Frondozo is an award-winning podcaster who strives to find the intersection of where people, business, and innovation meet. As the host of The Business Leadership Podcast & Live series, Edwin interviews many influential business leaders, subject matter experts and change makers in North America. In 2018, this podcast was rated Top 10 Global Business Podcasts from the Podcast Awards and received the Podcast of the Year at the Notable Awards.
Edwin is also a successful entrepreneur - he is the Chief Product Officer & cofounder at Slingshot VoIP. Edwin is actively involved in the startup ecosystem in Canada; he is a key leader at Startup Canada, providing mentorship and advisory services to businesses of all stages. He was the host of Startup Canada's popular Twitter chat, #StartupChats, which has over 2 billion impressions. Edwin also organizes and facilitates TechStars Startup Weekend events for 100+ participants.
Edwin Frondozo talks about what being a founder was like in the early days and the lessons he learned through his 14-year journey. He also shares what it was like to deal with anxiety when he wanted to transition away from a company he founded.
You know, when I started this movement, you were one of the first people that came to mind. I respect your authenticity because we talk about tech and business, but we have real talks too.
Wow. Amazing. I love it.
I’m so excited. What's your story?
I used to work for Nortel. I came out of university, computer engineering, during the first internet bubble. We were with the giants of the world at the time, Nortel Networks, which built up this whole internet infrastructure. I know everyone says it's Amazon, but it's all Nortel stuff that's underneath.
But I didn't get a development job. I actually went into marketing, which sort of projected me never to be a developer again. I was always fine tuning. I was working in Ottawa at that time for my internship. I wanted to move home to Toronto because I had a girlfriend here at the time.
Finally came home and my mother worked at Nortel Networks. But I didn't want the nepotism, so I told her to let me just look into the jobs that are internal. I cold-emailed the person that I thought would be a great job and I got an interview, I got the job right away. Of course a year and a half later, Nortel started their down. They started laying people off. They were about 100,000 employees. I don't think there's a Canadian tech company with 100,000 yet.
I got laid off. That was 2001. They gave me almost a year of salary, I'm like, 23, 24 years old thinking, “This is amazing! See ya later! This is the best thing in life!” But they put us through this program where you come in there, they'll help you look for a job. They help you do your resume, help with you mindset and emotions.
But I was sitting in a room with people who worked for Nortel their whole lives. They never did a resume, none of them; a lot of them didn't even have education. Like they just went to Nortel in the early 80s because they were blowing up and they were crushed. Crushed. That was my first thought of, “I'm never going to work for big company ever again.”
At the same time, my roommate at the time, he went to Mac for engineering. He had just spent a year traveling with his friends and all of them were engineers. They came by my house one time and we started our first company shortly after. Wi-Fi wasn't fully available yet. No one had wireless yet, in 2001, 2002. The idea came from someone who was a property manager. He said, “Oh, this wireless stuff is going to be big.”
We decided to sell to multiple tenant units. Condos, apartments, we're going to sell this concept of wireless internet and it can be a revenue generator for them.
Oh wow. Really back in the heyday.
Yeah. We are super early, super young, cocky. We built out a prototype. Freaking expensive. I actually interviewed the guy that is the CEO of Axis Communications. They had this wireless access point for $2000. Anyway, so we did a promo. We did some cold calling. I mean, this is before the startup ecosystem where people would tell you to be MVP, right?
And we did trade shows. Of course, we're young, we're all trying to date, we all have no money, and by the time that we did get leads, it took about a year, Even with the leads, we had no idea how we'd close an $100,000 deal at the time. We had no idea. We kept wondering: what do we do? We all quit just about the time that we started getting leads.
I actually ended up going back to corporate, which was IBM. IBM sales. First sales job. Taught me my basics of closing, understanding people, asking questions, probing questions, how do you this and ask for the sale? Didn't last long at IBM, about a year and a half. I'm like, I'm out of here.
Later on, I ended up working for a small business. Back to telecommunications and they sell solution services. The owners, the two partners, they recognized my entrepreneurship drive. They go, “Edwin, we're actually trying to start this business on the side, want to do it?” So now, I'm building their business and at the same time, I was learning how to connect with people, show our offering. I also closed their biggest, their first voice over IP solution. Which wasn't a lot, it was $50,000 worth of hardware. I was the first one in their company to do it.
The owners never did it, the number one sales guy never did it. I did it. And I was just like, “This is weird.” I'm building their business, I'm doing this, so my partner that I, he was just finishing his PhD at the time, I got an idea to start another business: voice over IP.
That's when I left my job forever. It was 2005. I never, I never I've never had a paycheck since then.
It's definitely been such a zig zag.
It's still been a zig zag, just until recently really. But I mean, that's the start of never going back. Since then, we did a hardware play like a Nortel box, but it was all our own brand.
You know, we were trying to build it literally out of our basement. We had telephone, people's phone networks coming over the wire head here downtown. It was this crusty, I don't even know where those pictures are, but our server room was in our basement. We had a generator outside, like if the power went out there. It was scary because I had people yelling at me when their internet, when their phone service went down.
That was happening and we still weren't paying ourselves. We were just learning how to build a product. I ended up being a recruiter, you know, full commission. That's one of my networks that I'm growing. I'm really good at talking to people, I'm technical, I had it all to be an IT recruiter. All the tech people will talk to me because I'm an engineer.
When we did launch, it ended up being Slingshot VoIP. My partner ended up having a kid at the time. I don't know what we're going to do. Maybe we're just going to quit, so I ended up in recruiting. Learned a lot about connecting, networking, making some pretty good money recruiting. It's just an interesting job. I did that for about three years until I decided that I would go full-time.
When you look back at this whole thing, what's surprised you the most?
How long everything takes. I mean, when you do it yourself. The surprise is like, any founder, any entrepreneur, you really come into entrepreneurship like, “I'm going to rule the world.” Right? Like I'm going to crush it.
You know, you have these visualizations that you can do it. Like you have this uncanny sense of confidence for some reason, that you can crush it right out of the gate. But it's an ego check. Maybe it's just me because I'm a little mental like that. I always think I can just crush it.
But that was the hardest part. It's all learning. It all became everything is learning, which is humbling. Persistence is real and when I see younger founders or entrepreneurs that only try for a year, I don't feel bad for them. Dude, my journey is 13 years in.
But the podcast came, which is different. Which gave me a different perspective.
Yeah. How so?
The reason for the podcast started in 2017. My daughter was six months old. I was crushing all these personal development books. I was teaching myself how to speed read. I read this one book from Jonathan Fields about how to live a good life. These personal development books, they have exercises. He had one that was called: what's your killer app? What do people know you for?
The exercise was to email your friends, colleagues, business partners, classmates, and say, what do you know me for? What do you know me for and why do you call me? I should look it up. It's scary to do that exercise, actually. But I did that. I sent it to like 50 people.
And the one thing I learned from it was, the people you think are going to reply don't, the people you didn't even think about twice will reply. They reply with a concise email: who you are, why I respect you, and why I think of you. What came back was: Edwin, you're trustworthy. You're knowledgeable. And you're connected. Trustworthy, knowledgeable, and connected, those were the three underlying ones that really came back.
At the same time, I got interviewed on a podcast. Those were like the two things that were happening, end of December. I had decided maybe I could do a podcast. I'm going to do a passion project.
Something that I'm passionate about, but I still had Slingshot. I need to growth hack it. When I looked into the portfolio of customers that Slingshot had, I saw the ones that pay us a couple of thousands a month for our service. They were either someone who became a manager or an executive, you know, they came into a new role and they change things up because they’re entrepreneurial.
That entrepreneurial or emerging business came up as a theme. It was either someone getting into that role or someone who wants to learn from other people, so I was thinking about the theme of the podcast as transformational leadership.
I wanted to do that to grow my network with people, thought leaders because the idea was that listeners are going to grow into a role, whether they're an employee at RBC or they're an entrepreneur. That was the idea for me and then, it actually grew its own wings.
I want to ask. I know you have been focusing more on the podcast [The Business Leadership Podcast]. You spent a lot of years as a tech founder and when we create companies, it can feel like it’s your baby. When were you at that point, where you had to choose between the podcast and your company, what helped you make that choice?
The original one was, “Why not bet on myself now in terms of just me?” I really believed that I was onto something and it was tough. I shared this with my wife all the time, “What do I do with this? I don't know. I feel like I'm quitting. This is not what I came in to do.”
I know for founders it sucks to say you're quitting or maybe you're giving up in an idea that you thought. Especially for me, we literally spent a lot of years on Slingshot. We didn't do it the ideal way, like the way most people are trained them to do now.
I mean, we did it probably every wrong way you probably want it to. The one thing that really pushed me over when I decided, "You know what? This year, I'm really going to go passive." I actually communicated that in the boardroom. This is it. I have to do this, put it on the table. I was so nervous to say that, but what got me to do it literally. So you have all these emotions and then, I subscribe to Seth Godin.
He has these daily emails. Like I had one in September this year that said, “If a project is stalled.” Seth says if a project is started, call it quits because one of two things is going to happen. The project will be get quick. It's going to be conducted or something will happen that we'll get it to push you over the mountain. But the longer you wait to say that you're going to call it quits, the longer you're sitting with it with a stone project.
I had all these emotions. I didn't know what to do. I already went 80/20 [leaning towards the podcast], but I hadn’t really expressed it to my partners or anything.
This email happened on the day that you were going to the board meeting?
No, no, this was in September and I ended up telling them at the next board meeting. But I remember when I read that, I feel like he wrote this for me. I was all of the deep emotions back then. I still haven't really expressed it with anyone in my business.
The feeling of torn, the wanting to voice it, but not being sure.
Yeah. I mean, the business friend was my father too, right? He sees and he's happy for my successes, but at the same time, he's tied with Slingshot. I was torn.
I do this practice with journaling. The morning pages, writing three pages when you first wake up in the morning. This anxiety always came up because if you write three pages of this problem, it always came up. Writing helps you understand the problem better, then you can get it out of yourself. I kept writing, I need to go 80/20. I needed to address it.
How does it feel for you now? Like when you think about, what's the lesson there?
The lesson is to scratch that itch sooner. Definitely, I had to trust my gut and I'm getting way better at it now. You have to trust your gut, these feelings, these anxieties, especially what showed up in my morning pages. I could see I was questioning it over and over and over again.
If your body's telling you something like this, that’s sixth sense, right? Yeah. If you get sick all the time, it's your body telling you like something's not right in your world or your relationships. The biggest lesson for me was to quit on a stalled project, so that I could give myself permission to do other things.
Because once you do that, you're now you're off to the next thing. Once I told my team, it became, “Okay Edwin, I get it now. What do we need to do? Do we bring in a partner now?”
I love that you owned what you wanted. Communication is a big problem in the tech world. We often avoid and hide our problems away and it leads to anxiety, loneliness, and other problems that spiral.
I want to ask. Back then, you felt a lot of pressure and anxiety around this decision. What supports did you have outside of your family?
I mean, I sort of know both sides. I met my wife 2011, the same year I met a friend of mine on Skype, Dave. He jokes that as the most important year of your life. When you met me and you met your wife. He's like middle management, professional. But we met because we had a shared interest. It's not business, it's not friends; it was learning how to run a marathon.
Me and him became really good friends. I mean, we would run hours, but I thought our relationship was running. I never really shared my pains even though we talked for hours. It took me years for me to share stuff with him, outside of very top level stuff.
As a founder you think, “Oh, they're not going to get it. You know, they're not an entrepreneur. Like we have this feeling when no one gets us. They don't, they're just employees. They don't get it.” But you know what I learned? They get you as a friend. They get that you're in pain. They'll tell you what they feel. When I told him this stuff about 80/20 with Slingshot, he told me, “You should do it. When you talk about your podcast, you're alive. When you talked about Slingshot, I don't get the same energy from you.”
He knows nothing about entrepreneurship. He knows nothing about being a tech founder, but he knows me when moves me. I know in entrepreneurial circles, people keep saying: you've got to find a mentor, find someone who does it, has been there, done that, and learn from them, but they might not share these pains. They're just going to tell you what you need to hear to get to the next level.
My wife was there for me. You know, I'm a totally unemployable. No one wanted to interview me at the time. I'm just going to double down on my own. She was supportive because she said that it was great that I was pursuing the podcast. She could see that I’m just going to be a different person if I get a job. She wanted me to happy. These are people who are not tech who had my back.
These are friends. Find friends. I always tell people to find new friends.
Thank you for sharing that, Edwin. That really resonates. I have been so blessed to have friends from all walks of life, people who have had my back. Who have given me perspective when I am stuck in the trees, trying to see the forest.
The part I love about what you shared is that it makes mental health, emotional support, a little bit easier. Yes, they might not be entrepreneurs, but so what? They're still your friends and they still love you to say, “Okay. I’ll listen. I’ll support you.”
If you were to ask my friend Dave, he would spend most of the time talking. I'm a good listener. I am a very good listener. You know, the last year or two years where I really started sharing my life, the protections started coming down.
That thought that the only thing we have in common is running, that's bullshit. We're friends because yes, this was our common thing, but we're still connecting for a reason. There's 100 million people running in the city that I could run with, but I am running with him. There is a reason.
Well, thanks for being part of this initiative. I was touched by your share and the lessons you have learned.
No problem. Happy to help!