On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Ariel Chavez. Ariel is an immigrant from Bolivia who came to the United States to be a travel advisor. Listen to this week's podcast to hear his journey of accomplishing his dreams as a small business owner.
Produced by Blue Fish in Mobile, Alabama
Ariel Chavez: My name is Ariel Chavez, I'm a travel advisor.
Marcus Neto: Very good, Ariel. Well, it's nice to finally sit down with you and get to know you a little bit better.
Ariel Chavez: Same here, thank you.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, we've been running around in the same circles, I think, for probably about a year now if not longer.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah, maybe a little longer.
Marcus Neto: One of the things that we like to do is get some of the backstory. And you told me a little bit about this, yourself, the other night, at a Mardi Gras party, but why don't you kinda give me a little bit of that story? Where are you from? Where did you go to high school? Did you go to college? All of those kinds of things.
Ariel Chavez: Sure. Yes. I was born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia. I had an opportunity to come here to the U.S. in 2002, to go to South Alabama. Some good friends of me and my family, John Madsen and his family, they were very gracious to welcome me in their house in Bay Minette. I was with them for a few months, went to South Alabama, graduated in 2005 in Civil Engineering.
Ariel Chavez: Started working at a local company, engineering company as an engineer. That's something that I thought I wanted to do for many years, working on the highway design area. And I always loved traveling. Always going to places. I think that was probably one of the biggest desires I had since I was little, to go study somewhere, so that was one of my biggest dreams and it came true when I came here to Mobile.
Ariel Chavez: After a few years working as an engineer, there were several things happening, but I had the opportunity to ... Or came across the opportunity of opening a small business, and I was reading Entrepreneur Magazine-
Marcus Neto: That's dangerous.
Ariel Chavez: Right, which you probably know very well.
Marcus Neto: Even for business owners, you start reading that magazine and you're like, "Hey, I might wanna do that."
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. Well, I thought I might be opening an engineering company or some kind of consulting company, then I came across this Cruise Planners American Express Travel logo, and I click on it and started reading, researching, and I decided to buy out the franchise. It's a franchise system and I bought it, and I thought, I had been saving since I started working and my big dream was to take a two year sabbatical around the world and just go and travel. And then, I was planning on coming back and keep doing engineering.
Ariel Chavez: But when I found this opportunity, it looked very tempting so I decided to buy the franchise. It takes a couple of years to make it profitable, so I used some of the savings and, well, it's been going well so far. I think it was a very good decision.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, no. So, you basically took something that you were very passionate about, and so you didn't tell the full story.
Ariel Chavez: What's that?
Marcus Neto: Well, the story about why you wanted to become an engineer of-
Ariel Chavez: Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah.
Marcus Neto: I just thought that was very touching, that ... And so, go ahead. Why don't you tell?
Ariel Chavez: Okay, yeah. We have some relatives in California. 1999, my parents and my siblings, we went from Bolivia to California to visit them. It was the first time we were coming to the U.S. And Bolivia is a developing country. At the time when I was living there, 20-something years ago, we had no highways or highways compared to what we have here. They're just-
Marcus Neto: There's no I-10?
Ariel Chavez: No. No I-10, no I-65. Our highways were two lane roads. When we flew into Miami, and then from Miami we flew to Dallas I think, and from Dallas to LA. And when we were flying over, I saw those huge interchanges and so ... I mean, if you live here probably it's nothing special-
Marcus Neto: Well, I don't care who you are, but if you go to Texas just in general, their highway system is absolutely insane.
Ariel Chavez: It is.
Marcus Neto: It's not like anything else I've ever experienced anywhere else in the country. The fly-over ... They have these big ... It's like three or four storey tall on-ramps and off-ramps, and stuff like that, and I'm just like ... But anyway, so I get where you would be impressed as-
Ariel Chavez: It was impressive. And I was kind of intrigued about how they worked, how it was all designed or built. My father's an engineer. He works in the water supply area, or he used to work, and so I had the engineering influence from him a little bit. We talk about transportation engineering. And so, since I was intrigued about how the highways worked, I decided I would like to go study engineering and civil engineering, and that's what I was studying in Bolivia.
Ariel Chavez: And then, transferred here to South Alabama. There were two things and I always wanted to ... My dad went to study abroad when I was very little so I think I ... At the time, there was no social media. There was no text messages. We just used to get post cards.
Marcus Neto: "I'm still alive. Love you. Dad."
Ariel Chavez: Right. Or we used to talk once a week or something. We would be waiting for his call-
Marcus Neto: Yeah, at 30 cents a minute.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. And just again, when he came back, he would have all these pictures and exciting things, so I thought living abroad was the best thing you could ever do. Yeah. I had the opportunity to come here to Mobile. And yeah, I learned how to design highways, how they work, I worked at Volkert and Associates, it's a local engineering company. It was a great experience. I think about nine years there, and I got also my professional engineering license. I got my Master's degree in transportation planning. Everything was going in that direction.
Marcus Neto: I've made him go back and tell all that story. One, because I think my father is also not from the United States. And so, I think it's very interesting to me as I study immigrants or people that are the children of immigrants that there's just this desire to go into business for ourselves. And I don't know what that is.
Marcus Neto: It's like, America is the land of opportunity and so we just want to get all the opportunity that we possibly can consume, right?
Ariel Chavez: Absolutely. Yeah. And I was thinking about it not long ago, because I have obviously met some other friends who are also either immigrants or first generation immigrants and I see the desire there they have of becoming ... I don't know if it's business owners, but just, like you said, taking advantage of the opportunities and just follow your passion and do what you want to do. I know a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs, but I was surprised of how much more likely you are to do that if you're an immigrant.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Well, and then the other thing too is just as passionate as you were about engineering, that your passion for travel was that much greater and that you'd chose to follow path.
Ariel Chavez: Right. Yes. Well, that was absolutely one of the main reasons, but there were some other things going on and happening. At the time, I just feel life changing opportunity in that I thought-
Marcus Neto: Was the right move.
Ariel Chavez: ... I had to take it. It could have gone both ways. You never know. But I just thought to myself, "I have to do it now, otherwise I will regret it and I would just keep thinking of what if, what if, what if."
Marcus Neto: And regret. Is the worst thing to live with.
Ariel Chavez: Exactly.
Marcus Neto: Kudos to you for taking that on. Now, go back for me. Do you remember what your very, very first job, and I'm talking about your first crap job that you had as like a teenager or something like that, like working at a fast food restaurant or sweeping floors or something along those lines. Were there any lessons that you still remember from that job and what was the job?
Ariel Chavez: Okay. I'm trying to think which one was the first one. In Bolivia, I was working as a translator, doing Spanish-English translations. That's one of the reasons why I think that I was able to be able to relationships with the people that I met. That I think is one of the reasons why I was able to come to the US. Because someone will introduce you to someone and someone will know someone and it's just, it goes like that.
Ariel Chavez: I think now, as a small business owner, you see the same thing. Building relationships either with other providers. Cruise lines, resort companies or other small business owners. Even with just clients. If you build relationships, I think that's probably something very important.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. We talk about that quite often on this podcast about the success of your businesses often dictated by your network or people the you know. And so it's funny that your network got you to the United States and then has also enabled you to grow your business.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah, absolutely. I feel closer to my network here because, well, my husband is here now. My sister also lives with us, but other than that, the rest of my family is far away. If you are from here, you most likely have parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and-
Marcus Neto: Extended family and also friends from high school.
Ariel Chavez: Right, exactly. But now being here in Mobile for about 17 years, that's something that I surprise myself, how not being from here I still was able to get closer to so many people and just build a strong network.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's key. Do you remember the first time ... 'Cause I mean, you took a step. Like I know the investment that you made was not insignificant. Do you remember the first sale that you made where you thought, "Okay, there might actually be something to this."?
Ariel Chavez: Yes, and I can tell you a funny story.
Marcus Neto: I like funny stories.
Ariel Chavez: Okay. Actually, I started my business in March of 2014, so it's about five years ago. Obviously, as an engineer I had a well paying job and paycheck was coming every two weeks.
Marcus Neto: Those are very nice, aren't they?
Ariel Chavez: That was very nice. I made the announcement on Facebook and I sent letters to friends and pretty much everyone I knew to let them know I was going be in business and then the first call that I got was for a friend of mine and he said, "Oh, I'm going to Vegas for the weekend." And he said, "Could you help me find a hotel?" It was my first call. I was super excited. I did some research and I gave him the options. I don't charge any bookings fees or service fees, so the way I get paid, so it comes as a commission out of the sale, so it doesn't cost people any extra.
Ariel Chavez: I was super excited about having someone calling me for something. And then when I look at the commission, I think it was like $14. I was just thinking, "Oh my God-
Marcus Neto: "What did I do."
Ariel Chavez: ... "What have I done."
Marcus Neto: "Hours and hours of research, and I just made 14 bucks."
Ariel Chavez: It was like, "Oh, okay." It was interesting. I said, "Okay, okay. Just let's do it. Let's get it done." Actually, the person did not end up booking because ... I can't remember what happened exactly, but-
Marcus Neto: Still that awakening of, "Oh my gosh!"
Ariel Chavez: Getting $14. But the first booking were actually two very good friends of mine. They were going in a special getaway and it's Annick and Brad. They were my first clients and there were still very good friends and some of my VIP clients. That was the first sale that I did. And they went on a nice vacation to San Lucia.
Marcus Neto: Very cool. I think it's funny how as business owners like that moment where you realize that's going to cost me way more to provide this service to somebody. You're kind of like, "What did I do?" I think we've all had those moments and try to, over the years, like protect yourself a little bit.
Marcus Neto: Now, if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would tell them?
Ariel Chavez: I think something that I learned is if you're gonna take a big decision is to do your homework. You can find a lot of information online, but talk to people who have done it, talk to people who might be in the area. They can probably give you good advice. Do your homework. I see a lot of people who try to start businesses and they have someone telling them this is the best investment you can do. It might be for some people, but they just believe blindly that is going to work for them too.
Ariel Chavez: Sometimes that's not the case. I think if you are interested in opening your own business, I think you should do a lot of good research and talk to reliable sources.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. It certainly helps because you don't want to go into it blindly.
Ariel Chavez: Right.
Marcus Neto: Now, are you working on anything interesting that you can share with us in regards to your business?
Ariel Chavez: Well, the most exciting part, I think right now, keeps coming back to my mind is safari, that I'm going to be taking later in May.
Marcus Neto: Let's stop for just a second.
Ariel Chavez: Sure.
Marcus Neto: If you follow this man on social media, you will slowly begin to hate your life. 'Cause if he's not on a cruise or if he's not vacationing somewhere or "doing work," someplace nice visiting resorts or something, he's talking to you about these trips that he's taking where he's going on safari or he's going to Europe or something like that. Go ahead and finish your comment about your safari there.
Ariel Chavez: Okay. Well, this is special for a couple of reasons. It's part of a top producer trip.
Marcus Neto: Just like a reward for having done good.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. I believe the franchise network has about two or 3,000 agents. I'm not really sure. 2,500, probably franchisees, and then some agencies have agents inside, so it's a bunch of agents, but I think it's about a 30 of us that have been invited or we're going to be participating.
Marcus Neto: That's just very small group.
Ariel Chavez: That's obviously very rewarding and special even after before celebrating four or five years. I liked that part. It makes me feel good, but also going to ... I actually never been to Africa. Like you said, I have the opportunity to go visit this beautiful places and sacrifice myself.
Marcus Neto: Sacrifice. Can you give me a break.
Ariel Chavez: So I can do some research for my clients.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. I'm sure.
Ariel Chavez: I think a safari is on the bucket list of almost any traveler. Yeah, I'm very excited about it.
Marcus Neto: No, that's really cool man. I'm excited to see the pictures that you post about that. If you look to the business world, is there someone that motivates you, that you kind of look at and you think, "Wow, that that person really is doing a good job."? And I'm saying like you go into the grocery store and there is a magazine there in this person's face is on the cover, you're going to pick that magazine up and buy it because you want to read what they have to say, that kind of thing.
Marcus Neto: Maybe even somebody in your industry.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. I have a lot of admiration for small people, small business owners. People who have, they just had a dream and they decided to follow it and they have built sometimes mid size or big companies, but I have met a lot of very strong, goal oriented, hard working people. And I think those are the ones that inspired me the most.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Especially as a small business owner and you understand the plight.
Ariel Chavez: Yes, yes.
Marcus Neto: That's the reason why we've put so much effort and energy into this podcast. Because we understand the plight or I understand the plight of a small business owner. And so Jared and I decided to start this up a while back as a platform by which small business owners could share a little bit about themselves and what they have learned and stuff like that to help other small businesses. It's the cycle of life over here. It feels appropriate to say that when he's talking about safari, doesn't it?
Ariel Chavez: It's good. It's good. I think it's a great idea.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Now are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward as a business owner?
Ariel Chavez: Yes, absolutely. Well, there a couple of people, but something that has helped me a lot in terms of podcasts and you probably know it's TED talks. I love those. Some people would think that going from engineering to travel, they are completely different industries, but there are a lot of things in common, and then there's some concepts that you can apply in every industry. A lot of people ask me if I regret going to engineering school, and I say absolutely not. Because probably without that education, I would have not been able to do the investment that I did. And then meet the people that I know and I think everything happens for a reason.
Ariel Chavez: I think the biggest supporter that I have had since the very beginning was my husband. When I tell people that I was going from engineering to travel advisor, a lot of people thought I was crazy or-
Marcus Neto: They always do.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. "What do you know? What are you doing?"
Marcus Neto: "Why are you starting a business that's risky? Don't you know what you're getting yourself into? It's going to be hard."
Ariel Chavez: Exactly. Is like people I had.
Marcus Neto: Something headstrong about people that start businesses though, they don't know any better.
Ariel Chavez: I can understand it was a big sacrifice-
Marcus Neto: He was a cheerleader for you.
Ariel Chavez: To go to school and I'll do all this stuff, but, Kai, my husband was ... Since I told him, since I mentioned the idea to him, he was, "You should do it. You should go ahead and do it," while others-
Marcus Neto: That's so awesome.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. Others were, not in a bad way, but there were a little more hesitant. It's like, "Are you sure? Do you really want to do this?" I think another part that I haven't mentioned yet is when I went from engineering to go in my business, I took a little break. I was not able to do the long two years sabbatical, but I took a trip around the US. I jumped in my car and I just wanted to learn more about the country. Learn the history, see the places, and that was such an eye opening experience to see ... We have a lot of stereotypes about the big cities, New York, Miami, but just driving around the cornfields and just seeing the little America that was a great experience and Kai was able ... That lasted about four months or so.
Ariel Chavez: And Kai came to meet me a couple of times and we just had a great experience. He has been the biggest supporter and my family, my parents they-
Marcus Neto: Well, if he wasn't a big supporter, he wouldn't still be around.
Ariel Chavez: Exactly. I was like, "If he would have had the idea of living for four months and going away I don't know how I would have let him do that."
Marcus Neto: Yeah. It's extremely important that that person that plays that role in your life is supportive because it is not easy. You need somebody that's going to be there and listen to you and support you and talk to you and encourage you in those days when ... It's at least once a week if not more often, where I'm just kind of like, "What am I doing here?" You know what I mean?
Ariel Chavez: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: You just need somebody to kind of like kick you in the butt, but also just let you know like, "Hey, it's all going to be good. You got this." What's your favorite way to unwind besides traveling to all these illustrious places?
Ariel Chavez: Well it's, it's kind of funny, but I was just thinking about it. I was telling you earlier, we just bought a house a couple of months ago. I spend a lot of time on my desk. When I'm not on my desk, I'm networking or doing something else. It was the first time that I was outside power washing, and I was so relaxed because I was just concentrating on what I had to do.
Marcus Neto: It's very mindless, but very satisfying.
Ariel Chavez: I was like, "Okay, I like this," but it was a relaxing, that was just funny. I just actually thought about it, this is kind of relaxing, but that's something that I found out recently, but I enjoy, well, traveling of course, but painting and talking to people, learning about what others do, how others succeed and how others fail and try to learn from them.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Well, you heard it here folks. If you need power washing done, give Ariel a call, and he'll hook you up with a good vacation while he's at it.
Ariel Chavez: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: All right. Tell people where they can find more information about you or engage with you as far as like getting you to help them with vacations and stuff?
Ariel Chavez: Yes. The best way, easiest way probably will be to give me a call or send me a text. My phone number's (251) 610-4048. They can check out my website, is newfrontiertravel.com, and I'm obviously on social media, Facebook, Instagram and they can find links there.
Marcus Neto: Be warned.
Ariel Chavez: Yeah. We'll be-
Marcus Neto: If you follow him on social you will get inspired, but man. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Ariel Chavez: No. Thank you Marcus. And I thank you again, we talk about it, but I think the way we met is through other friends and people. This is just a great idea. So thank you for the opportunity.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, absolutely man. Ariel, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Ariel Chavez: Same here. Thank you.