Jose Villa, President of Sensis
Firstly, can you give us a little bit of background about your business journey?
My background as an advertising agency founder is very non-traditional. I came into advertising through a side door thanks to technology, and leveraged my research and econ background to bring strategy into advertising…and here we are! Before starting an ad agency, my background was in technical and research-focused work, specifically in economics and technology. I was living in a world of research, strategy and tech, and came into advertising by accident. I was a bit of a tech-geek, and started building websites in college. Simultaneously, I had a deep interest in all things multicultural, so I started a .com focused on the U.S. Hispanic market. I was then introduced to a lot of hispanic ad agencies that were unfamiliar with digital marketing, so we started building their clients’ websites and digital ads. There were not many companies doing this at the time, and as the agency began to evolve, we were able to find success in helping brands build a website that would represent their brand and we started to expand our capabilities to digital advertising, traditional advertising, paid media and most recently public relations.The evolution of the agency is fun to think back on.
What role has self-belief played in your journey as a business leader? How has it influenced your decision-making and overall success?
Self-belief, or confidence, as I interpret that question, has played a big role in both my personal and professional life. Personally, confidence is something that has been a strength and it was a huge driver that empowered me to want to become an entrepreneur. To succeed in business, it is critical that you believe in yourself and that confidence helps to build strong businesses, strong teams and leaders, and to come up with the big ideas to have success.
Can you share a specific moment or challenge in your journey where your self-belief was tested? How did you overcome it and what did you learn from that experience?
As grateful as I am to have a strong sense of self-belief, there have been times, particularly in the start of building the business and my career 25 years ago, that things felt challenged or tested. When Sensis initially launched, it was a leadership team that kicked off the idea of what we wanted to accomplish. We were about 3-5 years into building Sensis, and 3 of my founding partners chose different life paths and amicably exited at different periods of time. I found this stage of my life felt challenging because it brought on self-doubt, second questioning decisions, and so forth. But, when I look back at that period now, I see nothing but the huge opportunities that were actually occurring in my life. I took on a larger leadership role and had to truly believe that I was capable of working as hard as I needed to build a successful business. I have to laugh when I think about that time…I think it was a combination of self-belief and being a little stubborn that fueled the drive 20 years ago.
How do you cultivate and maintain a mindset of self-belief amidst the inevitable ups and downs of life?
I think it comes from experience. I’ve been maintaining this mindset for more than 25 years and it’s not always easy. You need to be able to understand that you can’t allow yourself to be on too high of highs, or too low of lows because life is always going to have them. It’s okay to feel great on the good days, and it’s okay to feel a little down when things don’t seem to be going your way, because you will have both feelings and that is life. Cultivate the balance.
Are there any specific strategies or practices you follow to boost your self-confidence when facing uncertainties or setbacks in your business?
Something that has helped me more now than ever before is making it a priority to put a little space between myself and the business to unplug and recharge with things that fill my life outside of my job. This includes spending time with my family and prioritizing my mental and physical health. It has been something that I’ve learned more recently than at the early stages of building my business, but it grants perspective and growth opportunities for you to be an even better leader and an even more creative thinker. I know how I feel when I return from taking a break, and I see how it benefits my team, so I will also encourage people to do the same.
How do you handle self-doubt or negative self-talk that may arise as a business leader? Do you have any specific techniques for reframing negative thoughts?
My rule is to give yourself 24 hours when different situations arise. I allow myself to think about and process for 24 hours, but after that timeframe, I need to let it go and move on. It has been a technique that has become a standard practice.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who struggle with self-belief? How can they start building a stronger sense of confidence and belief in themselves?
Again, I think this is another example that comes with experience. As an aspiring entrepreneur, you will have really high days, and really low ones as well. Continue to work hard and be mindful of actively cultivating the balance of how you manage each emotion.
Have you ever encountered external skepticism or negativity regarding your business ideas or decisions? How do you stay grounded in your self-belief despite external influences?
My parents brought our family to the United States for more opportunities when I was young, and, growing up they held me to very high standards. After I graduated from Harvard, I decided to pursue a less conventional career path of owning my own advertising and marketing business, instead of becoming a doctor or a lawyer. They had questions, and, at times, those questions felt like doubt. Now, that being said, my loving family has always been my biggest supporters, but also my biggest skeptics. They didn’t just celebrate all of my efforts, but they challenged me. I’m incredibly grateful for their approach to interacting with me. It helped create a drive within me to work really hard to achieve the goals I set for myself as an entrepreneur. My family is incredible, and I will also be grateful for their questions. I encourage everyone who is an aspiring entrepreneur to use the challenges of others too and fuel them for good.
Are there any books, podcasts, or people you'd recommend checking out for anyone who wants to change to a more self-confident and belief-rich mindset?
My favorite podcast is EconTalk. I’ve been listening to EconTalk for over 15 years. It is an economics podcast billed as “Conservations for the Curious.” I love listening to host Russ Roberts interview different people from different backgrounds, from the lens of free markets and individual liberty. It very much inspires the work we do in our business and particularly at Sensis. Ogilvy on Advertising is a book that has and continues to inspire me for the work that we do and the impact that we can make.
Finally, what are some practical tips or exercises you can recommend for entrepreneurs to strengthen their self-belief and mindset on a regular basis?
I encourage other entrepreneurs to find an outlet that helps him or her. For me, it's exercise. This has been my avenue and it’s become a priority in my life that has been very helpful.