Name: Juan Cobos
Role: Operations Manager
Employee/hire #: 4
How big is company Negotiatus now: 27
How long have you been at Negotiatus: 1.5 years
What does Negotiatus do: Negotiatus is the first and only free end-to-end purchasing solution. It provides cloud-based order fulfillment, strategic sourcing, and productivity software to save businesses time and money. With the ability to instantly link existing vendor accounts and a user experience that is both lean and familiar, Negotiatus’ powerful ordering, approvals, and real-time analytics software can be rolled out to any size organization in less than one week. Negotiatus alleviates the pain points of the procurement process, and saves businesses an average of 20% starting on their very first order.
Q: What were you doing before Negotiatus?
A: That’s pretty funny, I am a law school drop out. I went to law school for exactly 1 week before I dropped out, I then got my masters in early childhood education then stopped doing that because I wasn’t feeling particularly stimulated or motivated to keep going down that avenue. Having a masters in childhood education has certainly helped in taming the children of the office (jokes). After I left teaching, i decided wanted to trying something that was a little more challenging, so I went to work at a bra company of all places. I did logistics for them for a year where I filled in at the production/ops role. I loved the company, especially Ira (my supervisor) and JP (the CEO), who I learned a lot from, but I was still yearning for something more fast-paced and energizing, then in comes Negotiatus. It was such an early stage startup where I knew I was going to sacrifice a lot for some time, but it was a challenge I was certainly ready for. I can confidently say it has been worth it.
Q: How did you find/hear about Negotiatus?
A: Zach and I have always been close and I always kept tabs on Negotiatus. While catching up one day, I was telling him I was ready for a new challenge and he flat out said, “Hey listen, why don’t you come work for us? I feel as though you would be a good fit.”I like to think that has been the case since then.
Q: Why did you in that moment realize you wanted to work at Negotiatus/with the founders (Tom/Zach)?
A: Two of my college buddies (Zach and Mike Dennhardt) were already working at Negotiatus. They pitched me the idea, told me how excited they were when it was just 3 people, and it did not take much for me to realize they were onto something; something that I can really get behind. That, coupled with the fact it would provide that challenge I was looking for, I was in. Once the offer was officially made, I kind of just ran with it.
Q: What were you hired to do and how has your role changed over time/as Negotiatus grew?
A: That’s the coolest thing, and I say cool even though it’s such a juvenile word, but honestly it is cool position to be in. On a daily basis, you try to figure out exactly what you are doing. At a company in this stage, nothing is set in stone so everything you do is defining a new role. You’re looking at every challenge and thinking to yourself “How can I do something that helps me on a daily basis but also improves the company as a whole.?”
On the operational side, I started by just placing orders through the vendors that we had existing relationships with. We were small enough where I could give every client’s order the most attention. You’re going item by item and losing your mind because its getting mundane trying to source it from a small selection of vendors to increase savings. That was then. Now we have structured it so you can systematize things a little more. There are processes to how everything happens, from placing orders to price analyses, to talking to vendors. You just end up learning and knowing what to do in every situation. Now that we actually have a team, we can let them know, “Hey this is the universal way to do XYZ here at Negotiatus.” I cannot stress enough that back in the day these used to be drop everything situations we had to personally handle.
Q: What was the hardest challenge you/Negotiatus faced when you first started?
A: On a personal level, since we have grown as fast as we have – from 7 people when I first started to now 27 in a year in a half – the biggest challenge is making sure you don’t get lost in the weeds. It is very easy to just do one thing, to learn to do it well and then be stuck in that one position, which is something no one wants to have happen. You don’t just join a startup and say, “Ok I’m the one placing orders!” You’re constantly trying to figure out where do I fit in best and where I can grow with the company. As a company, the biggest challenge is figuring out where are the pain points and how do we attract the best and the brightest talent. You’re always trying to figure out the best solution: constant shuffling of ideas, lots of meetings, late nights and early mornings, as you well know.
Q: Has there been a defining moment(s) in your time at Negotiatus that you really remember?
A: It would probably be the day, when I sat down with Zach and had a long conversation where he said to me “We are bringing on a VP of sales. What are you personally going to do to keep growing, what are you going to do to impact operations in the same way that he is going to impact sales and where do you see yourself in 5 years at Negotiatus?” And I really had to sit there and think about what I was going to do. Am I going to be a mid-level exec who is going to be helping people out or am I going to be someone who is going to be making higher level decisions? I know that I want to be somewhere towards the top of the company and that was the moment where I realized this hunger and drive to work hard and put in these crazy nights is going to be worth it. In that moment I knew that I was all in, laid out my hand, pushed all the chips in and said let’s do it.
Q: Zach is one of the founders and a good friend. Now that he is your boss how do you balance that relationship?
A: The relationship has been the strongest it has ever been. We laid out rules early on, to differentiate this is friend time and this is business time. We had to massage that out: you can’t bring up personal stuff during the day, you handle that sort of stuff after work so during the day you remain focused. The line was clearly drawn in the sand and we rarely cross the line.
A lot of it has also been humor, you can’t take everything terribly serious or to heart. So when some piece of criticism, whether it be constructive or seemingly harsh, just laugh it off later. I don’t take anything so seriously to the point I feel he thinks any less of me, that has always been my mentality. It is solely based on how work is going, it is not how he feels about me as a person.
Q: As an early employee working at an early stage startup how do you manage your work/life balance?
A: So I recently moved in with my girlfriend and, again, you have to set the boundaries: with the team, the co-founders, at home. You do that by opening your mouth and letting people know, “Hey I am leaving at 6:30 because it’s date night!” or vice versa at home, “Hey, I am going to home at 10 PM because we have a huge deadline that needs to be met, and we need to push a lot of orders through”. So it’s communication both in the office and at home.
Q: What have you learned from your founders (Tom/Zach)?
A: There is a lot that we have learned together in building this company, but there is more I can take away from the work they do. Tom is a 23 year old whizz kid. Being 19 and starting a company, you have to have some form of maturity: “How do I conduct myself in certain situations and what does it take to be the owner/the founder of a company?” At 19, while we were sitting in our college dorm room deciding what classes to register for or, more likely, making ill-advised decisions, he (Tom) was sitting there thinking “What tech push do I need to commit to keep this company afloat?” When you put it in that perspective, this kid is really motivated, he knows what he wants, and he has a vision. So you learn to think in that same way.
The two words I would use to describe Zach are hyper-aggressive and hyper-focused. He’s always thinking about the next way we can increase revenue, he always thinking about how we can approach a different vertical. I will say I learned to be hyper-aggressive and hyper-focused; although he would probably say obsessive. So from him, I learned to be obsessive about what I do and take pride in all the work we have done.
Q: What is the funniest or weirdest story that you have from working at Negotiatus?
A: I gotta think back and sort through the files. There is one thing, not funny, kinda gross… We had a hackathon for the entire company. And we bought hundreds of dollars worth of McDonalds. We did the calculations, it was 22,000 calories for about 15 people… this was almost all consumed in a single afternoon. From personal experience, do not eat day old McDonalds. It is not fun.
Q: What advice do you have for employees at an early stage startup and/or people who want to join an early stage startup?
A: The biggest piece of advice would be don’t get complacent. And its advice that I picked up from that pivotal moment mentioned earlier. Complacency is the fastest way to hate what you do, so push to be like your boss, regardless if he is your college roommate or if he is 7 years younger than you. Just strive and put in the work that needs to be put in – but don’t sacrifice everything.
Q: What are you most excited about in the coming future for Negotiatus?
A: I am super excited, operations-wise, for everything to be automated. We are still doing things manually despite there being a lot of integration. From a personal level, I am just excited to continue to meet everyone new on the team; to be an early enough employee where everybody knows who I am, but also know who everyone else is. Just keeping this environment and atmosphere where we are a family.
Q: Bonus question! Now that you have been at an employee at early stage startup would you ever become a founder?
A: That is tough… It would have to be the right thing to follow, you can’t just start a company and say “Oh I want to make a lot of money!” You want to be able to start a company doing something that you love. If it were up to me I would start a company that would be in the world of soccer. Our academy system is flawed and needs changing!