Scott Ball / Rivard Report
When Lorenzo Gomez's mother excitedly told him that his "employee mugshot" hung above bushels of cilantro at their neighborhood grocery store in 1999, he decided it was time to pursue bigger and better things.
From bagging groceries and stocking produce, Gomez graduated to selling computers for Gateway, working for Rackspace for 10 years, and joining a startup that eventually failed. Then he met local philanthropist and real estate developer Graham Weston – a game-changing twist that both influenced and accelerated his career.
Fast forward to 2017: Gomez is the board chairman of Geekdom, the co-working space and startup incubator huddled in the downtown tech district, and Weston's philanthropic 80/20 Foundation, co-founder of Tech Bloc, and now a published author.
Last Monday, The Cilantro Diaries was released on Amazon and has remained on its "vocational guidance" bestseller list since. Thus far, the book has sold more than 1,000 copies and topped several of Amazon's rankings in paperback and on Kindle. Three of those benchmarks were achieved in the first six hours of the book being released.
A book of "business lessons from the most unlikely places," Gomez packed into his work guiding principles and lessons he acquired over the years from a variety of sources, creating a road map for those unsure of how to channel their motivation and embark on a path of success.
The Rivard Report spoke with Gomez about his career, his book, and the events and people that paved the way for both. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rivard Report: The Cilantro Diaries is not your average business book. What sets it apart from all the other works on business advice out there?
Lorenzo Gomez: I think there are a couple things ... For every principle, I tried to find the most relatable story – not the most academic – so that made for stories from everyday places and situations like the produce department, a check stand, or a parking lot.
The other one is that there are a lot of people in the book, and that's where these stories come from. In that way, it's more like me documenting observations. Most business books are fairly academic. In this book it's about looking at everyday situations and finding something useful.
RR: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you started writing The Cilantro Diaries?
LG: It became clear that one of the major themes of the book was that all of the best lessons had to do with other people, other mentors really helping me out. And then I realized that the common thread of the book is people helping me, so I wanted to pay it forward too. If I could go back in time, give this book to young Lorenzo in 1999, and save him a lot of hassle, I would do that.
RR: Tell me about your concept of P.B.O.D. – your personal board of directors.
LG: The personal board of directors came from two things. One was when I realized that the CEO of Rackspace had a board. I didn't know what a board was when I started there. Realizing that even the head guy had a group of people he turned to for decision-making and counsel blew my mind. When I compared it to the people in my life, I realized a difference.
There are lots of people that you can take advice from. But then there's a core group of people...you'll take everything they say seriously. If they tell you something you don't want to hear, you're open to it – and you're only open to it from those people. So I tried to figure out what they all had in common. I realized that these are very special people, people that I unknowingly deputized somewhere along the way because I knew they had my best interest at heart, that they loved me unconditionally, and that even if I didn't follow their advice, they wouldn't judge me and would still be supportive. It's such a rare thing, and I wanted to assemble more people like that.
RR: Is there a book that particularly influenced you in your writing process?
LG: There are several books quoted in The Cilantro Diaries. For the personal board of directors, there's a book that Graham [Weston] recommended to me called Power of 2: How to Make the Most of Your Partnerships at Work and in Life, which had a lot to do with how I viewed that concept.
As far as the style of the book goes, I was inspired by Ben Horowitz's The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It's one of my favorite business books, because I feel like he created a new category, which is the non-MBA business book. What I loved about the book is that he took a very unconventional approach. All of his chapters and sections open with gangster rap quotes, and I just thought that was so cool. I wanted my book to be in the same category of "Let me tell you how it really is."
RR: What is the one piece of advice you would give young professionals trying to find their niche in the business world?
LG: One of the things that I've noticed having met people like Graham [Weston] or [brand specialist and author] Bill Schley ... is that they'll all point to one game-changing idea – Graham's being, "Everyone wants to be a valued member of a winning team on an inspiring mission." At this point in my career, the most game-changing realization is that everyone needs to assemble a personal board of directors, even if it's just one other person.
RR: What would you count as your proudest accomplishment to date?
LG: I was very proud of my contribution at Rackspace, both in the U.S. and in the U.K. I'm also proud of my contribution to kickstarting the tech scene in downtown and revitalizing downtown.
But right now, it's bringing this book into the world, because it's the closest I'll ever come to being an artist and creating something from scratch.
RR: How did the collaboration for the cover art, inked by local artist Cruz Ortiz, come about?
LG: I've always had a guy crush on Cruz Ortiz. I've always likened his work and style to a Hispanic Wes Anderson. [After being] introduced to him, I went to his studio to pitch him [on creating the cover art for my book]. I hadn't finished the manuscript yet – all I had was a table of contents. So I gave him the table of contents, and he was just so open to it. I can't speak for him, but I think because he used to be a high school art teacher for many years, he resonated with the fact that I was writing it for a younger audience.
RR: How long did it take you to write the book? What was your favorite part of the process?
LG: I've been working on it on and off for more than 10 years. I had a little less than 100 pages written in 10 years, and then a year ago [Tech Bloc CEO] David Heard introduced me to a company called Book in a Box. They're a subsidiary of Lioncrest Publishing and this very young, very new, amazing startup. They're basically book project managers. They have this process that holds you accountable to getting your book done. From the moment I engaged them, it was less than a year to completion. The book would not exist without them.
RR: What's next? Are you planning on writing more books?
LG: There are two things. The first is that the future of what I'm going to be doing at Geekdom will be centered around original content like this. There are already other people in our ecosystem whose books I want to read and whose stories I want to hear, in whatever format that ends up being.
I definitely have plans to write more books. I think I'm going to start on the second one in the next couple of months.