Fuelling entrepreneurial success: Iván Rodríguez (40under40, EMBA’11)

Iván at IESE’s Barcelona Campus

We speak to Iván Rodríguez, a serial entrepreneur and technology enthusiast. He recently founded Modelia.ai, a pioneering startup that uses AI-generated personalized images for the online retail and fashion industry. Previously, he created Vivla to facilitate co-ownership of second homes, and Parclick, a European giant in online parking reservations acquired in 2019. Join us in discovering the entrepreneurial ride of this energetic and versatile innovator.

How did IESE’s MBA program contribute to in your journey as an entrepreneur?
IESE’s MBA program was a game-changer for me. It gave me three crucial elements. First, it equipped me with the essential knowledge needed to successfully launch a startup from scratch, covering critical areas such as finance, human resources, marketing, and sales – skills that are vital for a viable business but which I did not possess before the program. Secondly, the program inspired me to identify unique business opportunities that others missed. But the real game-changer, the key, was meeting my co-founder, Luis París, through the program. He’s the one who really pushed me to dive in. The gratitude I hold for both the program and Luis is immeasurable.

You co-founded a very successful startup and sold it 10 years later, would you do anything differently if you were to start all over again?
With a decade of entrepreneurial experience under my belt, there are certainly things I would do differently if starting over. Lessons learned have allowed me to move faster with subsequent startups – hiring smarter, raising funds more efficiently, forging valuable connections, expanding globally, and acquiring complementary businesses. Each milestone is reached sooner and with fewer missteps. I would also make sure to take better care of myself and find more balance between work and life – things I didn’t do enough of back then, even though they really mattered to me. Yet, some strategies would remain unchanged: adopting a global mindset from day one, rapidly pursuing international sales, assembling a diverse and international workforce, and strategically acquiring other startups to collaborate rather than compete.

Tell us about your new venture in IA
Modelia.ai is a groundbreaking AI image generation platform poised to revolutionize conversion rates for fashion retailers through hyper-personalization. By taking basic product shots and dressing them on models in user-specified scenarios, Modelia.ai transforms bland imagery into inspirational visuals that truly resonate with customers – boosting their willingness to buy. Today companies tailor their marketing to fit different customer groups. But product photos stayed the same for everyone – until Modelia.ai came along. With Modelia.ai, e-commerce and digital marketing teams can instantly create tailored visuals for their target audiences using the same clothing item, precisely customizing the model’s age, gender, ethnicity, hairstyle, facial expression, and background setting. This pioneering technology empowers retailers to forge an unprecedented connection with consumers through relatable, aspirational imagery, a bold step towards maximizing online conversion rates.

Innovation requires moving away from traditional paths, how would you encourage out-of-the-box thinking in business?
It’s hard to think in new ways when stuck in the daily work routine. To innovate, we need a fresh mindset: take time away from the office to clear your head, like going for a hike without your phone. Dedicate time to asking yourself crazy questions that challenge conventional thinking like ‘What would it take to grow from $1 million to $1 billion in revenue?’ or ‘How could we compress a 6-month process into just 1 month?’ or even ‘How might we achieve the same results with only 10% of the current resources, budget, and effort?’ The next step is to get fresh perspectives. Bring together people from different teams or outside the company, but meet somewhere besides the office without laptops or phones. Share the bold questions you’ve been asking yourself and your ideas so far. Have them approach the challenges from their unique points of view. Do these interactive sessions over several days. Between meetings, spend time alone reflecting on the group discussions and refining the concepts further. Then bring your updated ideas back to the next session. Keep this cycle of group input and individual thinking going until you land on innovative, practical solutions.

Looking ahead, what do you believe are the key trends shaping innovation and AI will be in the near future?
As AI technologies become commoditized, they will be embedded into nearly all apps and websites we use, enabling hyper-personalized interactions. Initially, this will be appealing, but over time, we’ll gravitate towards personal AI agents acting on our behalf. These agents will manage tasks like doing price comparisons or summarizing emails. For comprehensive understanding and security, these agents will reside on our own devices. The shift towards device-based AI processing will drive the development of AI models that maintain current capabilities but operate efficiently on smartphones. This places the battleground directly within our mobile operating systems. Lastly, the impact on visual arts will be profound. Within the next five years, the costs associated with creating content will drop dramatically. This will empower individuals to produce movies, soundtracks, and promotional images independently from their computers.

How has the IESE entrepreneurship ecosystem supported your journey?
The IESE entrepreneurship ecosystem has been key. The idea for Parclick was sparked in an Entrepreneurship class, and with guidance from professors like Julia Prats, Kandarp Mehta, and Martin Cabiedes, we laid our project’s foundation. IESE has always welcomed us back, providing access to its faculty and alumni network, which opened doors and raised our profile. We also secured funding from Finaves, thanks to Paula Sancho’s belief in our vision. Moreover, IESE’s moral support, including a case study on Parclick used in classrooms and invitations to represent IESE entrepreneurs at events, has been invaluable. Finally, being mentored in the first edition of Wegrow connected us with key advisors during a critical phase. Being part of IESE grants access to resources that accelerate growth, a privilege that has significantly impacted our success.

As an entrepreneur, you may have experienced a setback or two, what advice would you give to current IESE students who are thinking of taking the entrepreneurship route?
Beginning an entrepreneurial journey requires careful consideration with your family, as the extensive time commitment can strain relationships. It’s crucial to have their support aligned so they can stand by you during tough times. It’s also vital to set clear boundaries on how much personal resources—time, money, etc.—you’re willing to invest, and recognize the red line indicating when it might be time to stop. Once underway, listening to customers, both current and potential, is key to determine if pivoting your business model is needed, as successful startups often don’t follow their initial plan. Lastly, establish an advisory board or mentor circle of 5-6 experts relevant to your business. Regularly consulting them provides crucial external perspectives to navigate challenges and refine strategies.

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