Expert Interview: The 3 Pillars to Become a Successful Entrepreneur

Rui Lourenço

4 September 2020

Becoming a successful entrepreneur is a question many of us will ask. In fact, it’s a question I recently came across on Quora:

How do you know if you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur?

Scrolling through the replies, one story caught my eye. 

It was from Hector Quintanilla, a brilliant startup expert and successful entrepreneur with nearly three decades of experience helping entrepreneurs build their businesses.

It went something like this:

You can predict with outstanding accuracy how successful you will be.

It’s a very easy formula to understand — yet difficult to execute.

What’s the secret?

We become like the people we hang out with.

Analyze your environment. Write down all the characteristics that you like and dislike. Well, that’s exactly where you’re heading.

We’re social creatures and incredibly influenced by our cultures. This culture gets immersed in our behaviours, which are mostly unconscious.

Do you want to become a successful entrepreneur? Surround yourself with successful people.

Do you want to be happy? Surround yourself with happy people.

Do you want to be healthy? Surround yourself with healthy people.

Do you want to become more confident? Surround yourself with confident people.

Do you want to fly with eagles? Surround yourself with eagles! Eagles don’t fly with pigeons.

It sounds like very simple advice. And it is. 

It’s also incredibly powerful.

We often talk about the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people – whether it’s co-founders, advisors, mentors, or investors.

Take Hector, he was surrounded by the right people from a young age. A third-generation entrepreneur, he grew up with the entrepreneurial mindset. Which is why I invited him to share his story in this expert interview. 

And I have to say, I ended up with a bit more than I bargained for. 

As well as sharing his insights surrounding the entrepreneurial mindset; he shared the exact framework he uses when coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs.

But first, let’s get to know Hector a little better.

Entrepreneur Hector Quintanilla

Q: Did you always want to become an entrepreneur? 

A: Yes. 

I was lucky, I was born into an entrepreneurial family. My grandfather was a successful entrepreneur, my father was a successful entrepreneur; so I was born into this entrepreneurial mindset. It wasn’t that my father was teaching me how to become a successful entrepreneur, but in many ways, it was our family mindset.

It also helped that I was a misfit to the educational system.

So, throughout my school years, my focus was never in academics. I was always searching for different types of businesses. 

For example, back when I was in college, it was popular to share notes with colleagues. So you would go to the Xerox copy-center. There was a significant need that I thought I could solve. I tried to open a shop doing that outside my college, but it never really launched. 

My next idea actually launched but I learned a bitter-sweet lesson from it.

My college had a  considerable problem when it came to parking. But I kept seeing these vacant lots nearby. So I contacted one of the lot owners and said: “I want to rent this space from you to launch a business providing parking spaces.” 

My father co-signed the lease with the owner and we had a great start. But after the first year, the lot owner didn’t renew my lease; he decided to keep the business for himself. Big lesson there!

Finding opportunities to launch a business – it was, and still is, my true passion.

I was a misfit to the educational system. My focus was never on academics but on searching for different types of businesses

My cousin had a similar mindset as me, and we were quite close – So we undertook a program at college called The Entrepreneurs’ Program.

It was good fun. The teacher would guide us on how to do market research, among other things. It was very practical, we would go out, talk to people, analyse businesses, create projections for a business’s potential, etc.

Off the back of that, my cousin and I reached out to a franchise that did shoe repairs. We travelled to the south of Mexico to see if we could make a deal to open one in our city.

That didn’t work, so we found one of their competitors and made an arrangement with them and set up shop. It was going well, but we noticed our customers needed other services. So we added clothing alteration and dry cleaning. We put a concentrated focus on those services, especially with female clients – as they made up 80% of our client base at the time. 

That business worked so well that it’s still running today, 26 years later

This startup was going on while I was still at college, so it’s safe to say my focus wasn’t in school. 

I was studying civil engineering because my father was a passionate architect. He had his own construction business and I always thought maybe I need to continue the family business. 

There is a big lesson there. I was trying to meet my dad’s expectations, not mine. We will talk more about that later when we talk about what I call The Three Pillars of Success.

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Q: What, in your opinion, is the essence of entrepreneurship? 

A: There’s this common idea that entrepreneurs are born from their DNA. 

I’ve thought about it and I’ve come to realise that there is a successful entrepreneur inside of every single one of us

However, the big key here is finding the freedom to pursue your desire. 

We all have dreams, but most people don’t take the leap because they have a complete lack of self-belief. Or because of cultural restrictions in our home, family, social surroundings, schools etc. 

So, it’s logical that if my father goes down a path that has been good for him, he wants me to take the same path. 

We are coming from the industrial age, where the value of labour was very high, due to the scarcity of qualified workers. 

For the last generation that meant: a safe secure job with benefits guaranteed a good life. A car, a house, put your kids through college, etc. Climbing the corporate ladder was enough.

This presents a lack of freedom, however. I was blessed to be born into a home where it was ok to try new things and I was supported by my family. 

I’ve come to realise that there is a successful entrepreneur inside every single one of us. However, the big key is finding the freedom to pursue your desire.

We all have different chains stopping us from gaining that freedom: 

  • Our culture
  • Families 
  • Environment 

But more importantly, are the chains inside of us. Ultimately they’re the most significant. 

Our beliefs control our actions. If you don’t believe you can accomplish something you won’t even try it

There’s no magic thing about this idea of the entrepreneurial mindset. It’s a lot of common sense. But you need to dive into the water and start swimming – or you’ll never become a successful entrepreneur.  

“Now’s not the right time.” “I have too much responsibility, I can’t do it now.” “If I do this now I will lose money, I can’t afford to do it.”

These are all things that will limit your actions. 

Whether the restriction is internal or external, you need to get free of it.

Q: You have a framework “The Three Pillars of Success.” What is it and how did it come about? 

A: It’s been maybe 10/12 years that I’ve been playing with the idea of helping other people start the entrepreneurial journey. It’s something I’m very passionate about.

In sharing my experiences with my Quora community I started learning more about the people I was reaching. Through their comments and reactions, I started to get a sense of what people needed. 

I sensed a lack of understanding of entrepreneurship and all the misconceptions that come with it, like “how risky entrepreneurship is”. 

Entrepreneurship comes with its risks, but what’s risky is bad decisions – not the entrepreneurial journey itself. 

It’s like investment, many misunderstand that real investing is not gambling. I’m not guessing if my investment will make money or not. I know my investment will make money because I did all the research and due diligence. 

Don’t get me wrong, things can change; none of us expected COVID-19 for instance. But I’m still in control of where my money is going. I can control my assets in many ways. 

That’s not gambling; neither is entrepreneurshipEntrepreneurship is about making logical, wise decisions.

The Three Pillars of Success is a process which allows you to check things off a list and reduce the risk dramatically.

Q: Let’s talk about the first Pillar: Alignment. This is about the avoidance of working against yourself. Can you expand on this a bit? 

Pillars of a Successful entrepreneur - #1 Alignment

A: If you go back in history, every single company on earth started with the vision of one person. There are partnerships, Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak for example. However, the vision came from one person, Jobs; he saw the opportunity, Wozniak had the technical ability. 

This is very important for us to understand. 

A lot of people come to me with this idea of starting a business by inventing something new. And that’s great, but the ability to see a need in the market and turn that solution into a business are two very different things. That’s what a successful entrepreneur does. They build business models around innovation.

Pillar #1 is you. Taking the passion, purpose and belief you have and knowing you picked the right battle. It’s critical you play to your strengths.

Q: Your second Pillar is all about strategic leverage. Maximizing your results with no additional effort. 

In business, this means finding the right resources to make smart choices and applying your efforts on the things that provide the biggest return,  can you expand on this a little?

Pillars of a Successful entrepreneur - #2 Leverage

A: If you look at your business you have to ask yourself: If I go down this road am I going to make a few dollars? Or do I have the potential to earn a lot while making a positive change?

Regardless of the returns, you’ll be putting in the same hours, energy, effort and stress. 

So in a word yes, we need to be very strategic about the business’ we pursue. Sure, we can make a living and stay there struggling and working hard. But that’s no different to getting a job and climbing the corporate ladder. 

Entrepreneurship is way more than just making a living. It’s an opportunity to make an impact on the world.

We can change the lives of our employees and the people we serve. We have the chance to effect positive change in our communities. 

Your energy, effort and stress can be used to make something very significant or something very average. Trust me when I say that creating the latter, and only just keeping your head above water, is no fun – I’ve been there. 

I have a full framework on strategic leverage, it’s based around eight levers you use to accelerate your wealth: 

1. Value  

In terms of leverage, I can have a bottle of water in the Amazon rainforest or the desert. The same bottle is worth a lot more in the desert than it is in the Amazon.

2. Volume

We can create a business that serves one or two customers a week. Or we can serve 10,000 customers a minute. This all depends on the business model 

3. Efficiencies 

Everyone wants efficiency. This was the battle in the industrial age, and its carried over into the tech revolution. What can you do to make your business more efficient? 

4. Scalability

Once you achieve success, find a way to replicate it. A prime example of this is Starbucks. You create one Starbucks model and it’s successful – so you replicate it 30,000 times. 

5. Control 

Control your customers and your market.  One example is Costco’s membership model. You buy your membership and you have access to these benefits. This is all about maintaining the upper hand and controlling the outcomes in your business. 

6. Effectiveness

This is a source of leverage because you can throw some nets into the water but if there are no fish you won’t catch anything. Throw that same net where you know there are fish you will catch a lot, yet it requires the same energy. We’ll cover this one more in just a second. 

7. Assets

There is leverage here because assets deliver value for us passively. Real estate for example – or an algorithm.

8. Financial 

I don’t teach this a lot. It’s imperative you seek the right advice here as there is a lot to learn. The key thing to understand here is this: financial leverage is not available without the other seven in place.

Q: Let’s talk about Pillar Three: Effectiveness; making sure your business is relevant to your landscape. Why is this so important?

Pillars of a Successful entrepreneur - #3 Effectiveness

A: As well as being one of The Eight Levers, Effectiveness is a Pillar in itself. 

Hard work alone is not enough to become a  successful entrepreneur. It’s about knowing where to make the effort to ensure you’re relevant 10 years down the road. 

My business has been running for 26 years, in part, because I initially put in the effort on the right aspects. 

The point with effectiveness is this. If you’re adapting to change you’ve already lost – you need to anticipate change.

The easiest way to start is to look at growing markets and shrinking markets; ask yourself “Where am I playing?” 

Q: If you maintain these three Pillars will you be in a better position to navigate the unexpected, such as COVID-19? 

A: Let me start by saying these Pillars can apply to your business and personal mindset. 

When it comes to the unexpected; there’s an element of luck to it as well. The day COVID happened, effectiveness in the commercial airline business went to zero. If you’re operating in that space there’s nothing you could’ve done about it. 

There are things that we can predict, we can anticipate trends. But with the unexpected, it’s much harder. 

That being said, as an entrepreneur, change presents an opportunity. Your business may fail but you, as an entrepreneur, have new opportunities.

Unconsciously, I lived through this. 

Back in 2006/2007, I was developing a 10 story high-rise apartment in a popular Texas vacation area. It was a $26M project. I had investors, construction documentation, permits, pre-sales. The banks were in agreement to finance, everything was in place. 

Then two things happened. In July 2008 a category 2 hurricane went through the area; destroying everything. Then the financial crisis happened in October devastating my project. I lost a lot of money in a matter of weeks. 

Off the back of this same crisis, however, I came to Houston. I started buying foreclosures from the banks, remodelling them and flipping them – which was very lucrative.

So in the same financial storm, I lost and made a lot of money. 

Therefore, it’s not about how you implement the three Pillars to your business; it’s about how you apply them to your mindset.

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Q: Do you have any advice on how to become a successful entrepreneur that we haven’t talked about so far? 

A: I had a thought yesterday. How do you reduce the risk? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We need to address that in this changing world.

We need to diversify with multiple sources of income. COVID-19 is a perfect example of this. It came through and businesses disappeared in an instant.

By using an entrepreneurial mindset to diversify, you can reduce the risk as it pertains to unexpected changes. It’s a mindset you have to develop that will help you find success regardless of what happens.

In a nutshell, there are a lot of economic challenges coming; but, for those who can identify them, there are a lot of opportunities as well.

Q: Do you have any resources that you could recommend to entrepreneurs and founders? 

A: Yes. It’s a book that impacted my life very deeply. I even paid my kids to read it, it’s that good. 

It’s called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. 

Wrapping Up 

Thanks, Hector for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with me to discuss what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and The Three Pillars of Success

If you’re an entrepreneur committed to success in today’s new economy, you can reach out to Hector and his team and download his full guide on The Three Pillars of Success, by visiting

Thanks for reading. 

Rui Lourenço
Partner & CMO
Rui is a partner and CMO at He’s been dedicated to B2B marketing for his entire professional career. After spending eight years honing his craft at Portugal’s first B2B marketing agency, he joined Altar, where he leads both the marketing and sales department under the same umbrella. His current focus is on business strategy, getting to know Altar’s customers and occasional early-stage strategy discussions with the entrepreneurs we work with.

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