Startup Life in ABQ: The Pros and Cons with Tech Entrepreneur Javier Romero
July 17, 2018
The 38-year-old New Mexico-native Javier Romero is not only building a tech company, he’s trying to change the way we behave on the internet. His new venture Hangerang incentivizes offline interaction and real-life friendships using an online platform. It is a heady endeavor, but he’s backed by the supportive and diverse tech ecosystem here in Albuquerque. Here’s his take on what it’s like as a startup in the green chile capital of the world.
Did you always imagine you’d be a tech entrepreneur?
No not always. When I was 11 years old, I wanted to be a rapper, at 13, a comic book artist, at 15, a musician / songwriter. I spent my 20s in touring bands and when I wasn’t doing that, I taught myself web development, coding, and design. I was attracted to the artistic and logical aspects. The appeal of entrepreneurship is the same appeal to me as being in an indie band. There’s a creative element to it and an excitement in putting yourself out there.
What’s your experience navigating the tech sector as young minority entrepreneur?
I’ve been lucky to grow up here in New Mexico, as a part of a minority group that defines our unique local culture. Here at home, I’m pretty unremarkable. I blend in. In my experiences outside of New Mexico, I confuse people. In New England, people remark on my grasp of the English language, or think I share a name with a professional baseball player. In Austin, TX, people don’t understand how I have green eyes, “look like a white dude,” and have the last name Romero.
Any barriers you’ve faced or anticipate?
I haven’t faced many substantial personal barriers yet, though my guess is that will change if/when things spread outside the state. Nationally, only 1% of Hispanic/Latinx-founded companies receive venture funding, even fewer become successful. I don’t often think about those sorts of statistics, there are more short-term things to worry about.
Recently, I’ve been paying attention to folks like Arlan Hamilton who is the founder of the Bay Area VC, Backstage Capital. She’s female, African American, and LGBT with the goal of helping folks like her. She’s making a big splash! I think there will be more folks like her, it’s inevitable.
What has helped you advance?
Since beginning in earnest in March, I’ve been attending 1 Million Cups, which has been great as far as getting a gauge on the local entrepreneurial scene. Brushing elbows and discussing ideas with the 1MC organizers led me to meet with Dorian Rader at Tech Navigators. Though Dorian, I was invited to do a pitch at 1MC. It was a bit short notice, so I wasn’t prepared, luckily I was able to get some great pitching advice from Innovate ABQ’s own John Freisinger.
What have been some highs and lows so far?
The only major low I’ve experienced recently was after the helpful conversation I had with John about my pitch. He asked some cutting questions, which really kicked me in the butt. It was a bit like a kung fu movie where the master teacher takes the protagonist down a few pegs. I really appreciate his time and advice. In general, I’m busy learning and cultivating a healthy supply of patience and optimism.
How has New Mexico shaped your business sense?
New Mexico is such an odd place. In some ways it’s this remote flyover state that feels apart from the rest of the country, though if you know your history, you know how pivotal a role it has had in shaping the world; fine art, rocketry, the atom bomb, the cold war, micro-computing…I find that really inspiring.
Some New Mexico successes that come to mind are The Shins and Meow Wolf. I meet people on a regular basis who are surprised that The Shins were originally from here. Both of those projects started from scratch, but the cornerstone of their successes is a focus on quality and craft.
How do you feel about ABQ as a place to incubate your business? What are the advantages/challenges of starting up here?
I feel great about ABQ! There’s plenty of talent here and I often daydream about what my dream team would look like if I had the resources. Luckily many of those people currently live right here! I think there are some challenges regarding creating a large skilled workforce that can compete nationally. Programs such as the Deep Dive Coding Bootamp have really helped in this regard. In a past venture, I hired some Deep Dive graduates and they’ve been some of the best people I’ve ever worked with.
What does your mom think? Do you have a back up plan?
My mom and family are super supportive! Their line is, “If you think you can do it, then do it!” I don’t have a back up plan. I’ve learned – in regard to business ventures – that having a parachute can keep you from jumping in the first place.
Learn more about Javier’s startup Hangerang and become a beta user here.