Scott Ball / Rivard Report
It's the end of the workday, and Lorenzo Gomez is posted up at his favorite North Flores Street cafe in his famously casual uniform of camouflage cargo shorts and a graphic T-shirt.
Gomez apologizes profusely for seeming fatigued. He has just launched a podcast and spent much of the first half of his week promoting it on various online channels and monitoring traffic after the show enjoyed a nice run in the Top 10 of iTunes' business news podcast chart.
But the bearded San Antonio native shows little evidence of tiredness as his voice rises and falls while sermonizing about his hometown.
"San Antonio's my calling," said Gomez, remembering a leader in the local tech space who asked him if he would leave San Antonio after achieving success. "I want to give back to the city that gave to me so much. It's one of the reasons I'm so passionate about the tech scene."
In 2001, Gomez left a job as a Gateway computer salesman and went to work as an account manager at San Antonio's budding managed-hosting company Rackspace. Not only did the job pay well, it changed the trajectory of his life and career.
Now the executive with no college degree who grew up on San Antonio's West Side is on a mission to establish the city as a tech hub. He recently helped lure United Kingdom e-commerce corporation The Hut Group to San Antonio, where it will locate its U.S. headquarters. As the original CEO of Geekdom and current chairman of downtown San Antonio's co-working space, Gomez is increasingly involved in economic development, content creation, and urban development in a push to attract "ideas people," or founders and innovators, to the city's tech community.
Although he has made a career in tech, you won't find the 37-year-old Gomez crawling through computer code or taking apart motherboards. He is a storyteller at heart, a gift he said he inherited from his parents who, at 18, got married and moved from Laredo to San Antonio.
"Storytelling is one of the most effective ways I found to sell an idea," Gomez said. "So if you're on a team and you need to sell your manager or your leader on something, to me stories have always been the most powerful way. Everyone thinks you have to have a business case and data, [which are only] part of the story."
Telling compelling stories drove Gomez to launch Geekdom Media, which he describes as the next step in the evolution of the San Antonio tech ecosystem. The venture will produce podcasts and books to share ideas with people in the tech community and others who might consider moving to San Antonio.
Geekdom Media's first offering is a podcast called The Brand Brothers, featuring Gomez and co-host Bill Schley. Schley, who in the 1980s worked at famed New York City advertising firm Ted Bates, and Gomez aim to reach an audience that will be drawn to the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene in San Antonio.
While Gomez's goal with the content Geekdom Media will create is directed at the founders of companies who are considering a move, his target audience with his 2017 book The Cilantro Diaries was a younger, up-and-coming demographic.
The book, subtitled Business Lessons from the Most Unlikely Places, is testimony and tuition for young adults who might not have the opportunity to go to college or perhaps did not find their fit in the academic system.
Like Gomez, State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) is a fellow alumnus of the Tafolla Middle School multilingual magnet program. The school, located in one of San Antonio's poorest Westside neighborhoods also graduated the likes of former Mayor Julián Castro and his brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio).
Bernal calls Gomez, who has become a friend and confidante since Bernal served on the San Antonio City Council, probably the "most likable person in town" and someone who feeds off other people's success.
"He's a symbol of the talent this city has that we have to bring into the light," Bernal said. "He knows it. That's why he wrote his book – in large part to reach people who weren't going to be reading the executive leadership books or who weren't going to find themselves at a convention with a master class from a quote-un-quote tastemaker or disruptor. He knows that this city has a tremendous amount of talent; we just have to find ways to tease it out."
For Gomez, one way to raise the level of the local talent pool is by mentoring aspiring tech minds and entrepreneurs at Geekdom, which has grown in its seventh year to become one of the largest co-working spaces in Texas with more than 1,800 members and 44,000 square feet on East Houston Street.
Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Fund,
was in the room when Gomez made presentations to The Hut Group executives who toured the downtown tech corridor and River Walk earlier this year.
She said the original lead was unusual in that
– instead of being a referral from the State of Texas – it came from Geekdom. Gomez knows The Hut Group's senior vice president, Greg Rodriguez, from their time together at Rackspace.
That's typical of the work Gomez does behind the scenes, Saucedo-Herrera said, adding that his infectious energy helps sell tech and young professionals on downtown's densifying tech corridor.
"Lorenzo's brand is a microcosm for San Antonio's brand," said Saucedo-Herrera, who estimates at $80 million a year the impact of Geekdom and the downtown Tech District on the local economy. "His style, his perspective, he's humble, he's collaborative, he's loyal. I would say all of those same adjectives are what make San Antonio San Antonio."
Gomez has become a change agent in San Antonio – helping to blaze a trail along with his mentor, entrepreneur Graham Weston, toward denser development and a more diversified economy.
Weston and Gomez met in 2001 when, as Rackspace CEO, Weston sat next to Gomez's cubicle while trying to immerse himself in a service Rackspace was launching and show support as the team learned
a brand-new service. In the early 2000s, Rackspace was a smaller operation but growing rapidly, Weston said, adding 50 new employees every month and experiencing 50 percent growth every year.
"He, to me, became such an icon within the company," Weston said of Gomez. He was "someone who was rising through the ranks quickly."
A couple of years after Gomez left Rackspace to work for the startup CityVoice, Weston offered him a job as the head of the entrepreneur's philanthropic organization, the 80/20 Foundation. Ultimately, Gomez wound up with two jobs: leading both Weston's foundation and his co-working space, Geekdom. He now serves as chairman of both organizations.
With Gomez leading the way, Weston judges Geekdom's urbanist, entrepreneurial mission to be a success in Year 7. By Year 20, Weston said he wants to see Geekdom give rise to the next Rackspace – a homegrown, multibillion-dollar tech company with a global presence. And when that happens, he expects that Gomez will have played a key role.
With a burgeoning tech economy usually comes a wave of migration to a city. These days Gomez sees himself as more of an urbanist than a "tech guy." He's read more books recently on urban planning than he has on business, marketing, and entrepreneurship.
San Antonio is the fastest-growing city in the country, so residents better brace for a future with an incoming population boom, he said. "Density is the magic" that will help the city sustain that growth.
"We need to be an urban destination," Gomez said. "I would rather have half as many startups that are densely located than five times the number of startups spread out because if you had [the latter] you would never feel the energy or impact of it."