by Xosé L. Garza (Chair of Communication)

Today we speak with Mario Alves CEO and co-founder of TAIKAI, the open innovation social network, his academic training is in the world of Economics and Management and he has more than 5 years of experience in different types of consulting and advisory firms, but the is always searching. We have asked him to tell us what a day of his life does:

A day of work for me is to be always constantly on the run. From the moment I start working until I finish, I always have things to do. Having a small team, I have to do a little bit of everything: deal with the financial stuff of the company (payments, financial documents, etc.), the business & operations side (meetings with clients, reviewing proposals, define tactics and strategy for sales), manage marketing and communication (being always in touch with our marketing agency) and product development (with daily meetings to do checkpoints and understand if we’re moving according to the company’s vision and clients’ expectations). On top of that, considering that we are a VC invested company, I also have to manage relations with investors, to make sure that they’re also happy with their investment and of course, keep our team happy.

I often joke when I say that I’m not the CEO, I’m actually a firefighter.

But what I like to do most is to think about strategy and the vision for our company. That combined with leading a great team, truly makes my day.

Good morning Mario, thank you very much for joining us today, we are doing a series of inspiring interviews for the youth and we believe that your experience will be good for them.

What has made you at a given moment to make the decision to undertake? Was it a personal reason? professional? Has time told you that you have to dedicate yourself to this?

Being an entrepreneur is something that almost everyone talks about and wants to do, but many few actually do it. It takes some courage, no doubt and it is often a lonely job. For me, personally, it couldn’t be a different way. I’ve worked for big companies with the purpose to learn and have the right knowledge to start my own business. When I was already helping others succeed in their ventures I thought: now is my time and just did it. Overthinking it is mostly what keeps you from not starting your own business and you may plan it for years, but it will never be as you planned. And that’s what makes it fun…

What does TAIKAI mean? Why this name? And what is it for you?

TAIKAI or 大会 (“coopetition” in Japanese) is the act of joining competing forces to cooperate to achieve a brighter solution together. By opening their innovation processes, companies and other organizations are able to improve the quality and speed of solution development. On the other hand, talent has we know it is being misused.

Creating TAIKAI was a response to that. It is a way to build a better future for misused talent and for companies that are looking for different solutions when they face a challenge.

One of the basic axes of your work as I understand is talent. How would you define it? And how can a young person know if he/she is talented or not?

Everyone is talented. The question is if they know it or not… We all have skills that are valuable for one organization or the other. You don’t necessarily have to be an engineer to solve an engineering problem. Sometimes it just takes to have a new set of eyes, approach or mindset to answer a specific challenge in a different way.

That’s want we want to achieve! To unlock talent’s true potential that can be used to solve a specific problem or challenge inside an organization, independently of where you come from or what you studied.

I think that another of the axes of your work are also “local elements”. AYCH is a transnational project but works with local networks. What do you think Atlantic Europe has to focus on now that we see that thanks to the pandemic, people are returning to rural areas? What would you enhance?

We have now two main movements: one is migration from big cities and the other is more digital connectivity. For me, the answer is communication. If you can create more local networks that emerge from the first movement, then you have to provide the tools for the communication to be fluid and increase the interaction between all these different networks. It will take some time, but the sooner we start improving those communication channels, the sooner we will have a better work and collaboration.

You have recently collaborated with the AYCH project, at the International Creative Jam of Santo Tirso, based on your experience in this event, do you think it is good to continue holding events for youth and talent?

More than ever, it is these types of events that make our young talent thrive. In a digital world, information is key. The more these events happen, the more information and tools these younger generations will have to improve their work, local economy, culture, social interaction, among others. And this not only creates an impact for them, but for the future generations to come into building an even better society.

You know that AYCH has worked on talent, creativity and innovation, let’s put ourselves in the case of a young person that has an innovative idea in Portugal, where you live. What does he or she have to do to make it known? Are the official channels for creativity enough? Many times, youthful ideas are not visible because they are not even born.

In my opinion, although this is already worked in some top-class university programs across Europe and the world, it is not enough. And although everything is digital now, reaching the right channels is not clear for this generation. The ones that succeed are those that usually are connected with someone with experience or some community that is able to help them with their projects, because otherwise many good ideas go to waste. The way that I see this changing is not by making this generation to adapt. It is the older generations that need to adapt their communication and reach to be on the same level as young people and help them succeed. After all, they are our future.

Finally, we are interested in knowing how you have handled the pandemic in your work and how it has affected you professionally and personally.

At the beginning of last year, when reality began to set in, we did not think that a distant illness we had heard about in China could get out of hand and reach us. After it did, in March, the concern at TAIKAI was to ensure the safety of the team and take measures   so as not to put anyone at risk. We developed a prevention plan, at the same time that we went home, and, since then, we have continued to work remotely.

Personally, the hardest thing to manage in this whole situation was not being prepared to work from home, not having set-up conditions and not being able to leave the house, but adjustments were made and no activity needed to stop.

In terms of impact in the company, I can say even with aspects that were not so positive, it was overall a positive experience for us. The greatest challenge we faced, and in a good way, was that we had to go after opportunities, open new markets and approach customers that we would not reach if the plan for 2020 had remained unchanged. It forced us to change the mindset, to quickly adapt to the new context and to make challenges exclusively digital, something we’ve been advocating inside companies for a long time and that we’ve responded to, both in terms of product and business.

But we would also be interested in knowing what you think we should do for the future, what do we do from now on?

Everything we have lived and, in particular, the experience of remote work forces us to think about whether we feel fulfilled by the work we do, whether or not we are going in the right direction and improving a little bit each day. So, I think it is important to send a message of hope, in the sense that we believe that we will make a difference and change people’s lives for the better.

A lot of this change comes from initiatives like AYCH, where you plant the seed in these younger generations and see it bloom in the years to come. For that it is important to keep having these initiatives in many different stages of the process, to make sure that these seeds turn into beautiful flowers.

Thank you very much Mario for this interview, we hope that all your dreams and projects come true, it has been very gratifying to talk with you.