He has put together quite the list of start ups in the area known as the Riviera Maya just south of Cancun, but his latest vision is one that is a bit unorthodox as it has to do with climate change. Always looking to be on the forefront of what is happening in our world, Young and Successful sat down with Chris to talk about his new venture, how it is going to change the world, why the current jobs program that the politicians are talking about is all wrong, how to become younger, and why everybody but him seems to deserve the credit for success. Being that the interview involved a trip down to one of the most beautiful places on earth, nestled right on the Caribbean Sea, we were happy to oblige. Here is what we asked, what he had to say, and what we really thought of this guy:
By Valarie Huerta:
(NOTE: The quotes in bold are author's additions.)
We met up with Chris on a perfect September afternoon at a coffee shop specializing in Mexican grown, organic chocolate close to his offices. He was early as most of our interviews seem to be, already leisurely sipping a cup of the delightful chocolate, which we were more than happy to partake in. At first glance he is both one part twenty-something guy on vacation and one part retired dot com millionaire without a care in the world, projecting both an aura of financial success and the ability to enjoy himself. He is wearing a white button up shirt, white linen pants, open toed leather sandals, and has closely cropped hair. He arrives with a uniform Caribbean tan, the kind of tan that guys in movies have, the kind of tan that people who move to Paradise covet, carefree. That is until you get to the eyes. As with most of Young and Successful's interviewees, it's all about the eyes. Chris' are grey, in the all white outfit he has on (not sure if somebody forgot to tell him that labor day has passed) they look as if they have no color at all, but I am pretty sure they are blue most of the time. They are intense and they have a look of self confidence that he could conquer the world. He looks exactly as I had expected he would look...
Thank you for joining us, it is a pleasure to do an article on an American Success story in Mexico, it seems as though all we hear about Mexico is the bad news:
Yea, it does seem like that. (Chris smiles as he says this, he has a very easy way of smiling when he makes a point that makes you comfortable. This involuntary reaction is surely one of the reasons he has found self-made success so quickly).
We get US TV down here and the difference between what they say is happening here and what is actually going on is night and day. There are of course dangerous parts of Mexico, but thankfully the Riviera Maya, where we do the majority of our business, is not one of them.
It sure seems safe to us in the few days we have been here. Good roads, friendly people, great food, and some of the best nightlife I have ever seen. I can see why you chose this place.
Playa (the locals and those in the know refer to Playa del Carmen as just 'Playa') has so much going for it. It is heavily influenced by Mexican, American, and many European cultures. There is a reason it is consistently one of the top vacation destinations on the planet, it's pretty great.
So how does such a great place get you focused on climate change?
The world is getting warmer. Specifically for this area, that means that the Caribbean Sea, which fuels hurricanes and tropical storms, is staying warmer, longer into the year. That means more and stronger storms.
What you are talking about is pretty controversial, many people including some renowned scientists; think that sun spots are the cause of all this warming.
The cause is not the key issue. It is happening and the storms will come. We can either bury our heads in the sand, or we can prepare. That is what this business was founded on, helping those in the 'strike zone' be prepared when they do come.
But how can you hope to stand up to Mother Nature?
Human beings already do it, and have been doing it for thousands of years. They tamed the Nile Delta through engineering of irrigation systems, in California they build to withstand earthquakes, there are even people who live all year in Antarctica! If we can set up permanent settlements at the South Pole, we can engineer against Hurricanes.
OK, OK, I get your point, I had no idea that there was even anything you could do to protect against hurricanes, besides boarding up your house like you always see on the news before a storm. What do you do specifically?
That is a good place to start. We see these images of people before a storm, it's almost like they use stock footage over and over, of people putting tape on their windows and boarding up with plywood. Well when you look a little further the only thing both are good for is to make you feel a little better, the purpose of the masking tape is for is when the window shatters it is easier to clean up. The plywood seems like a good idea, but independent studies have shown that it offers almost no protection to a projectile in a storm. Add that to the fact that the plywood is usually put up in haste, nailed or drilled directly to your home, and you have damage to the facade of the home regardless of what the storm is going to do.
So are you saying that you are better off with nothing than with the plywood?
Probably so. The type of wood that most people end up putting up is so thin that forget a projectile, the wind will rip it off. Instead of protection you are creating more things flying around in the vicinity of your house, which makes it more dangerous than it would be if nothing had been done in the first place.
Is this how the hurricane protection industry started?
Actually the industry can date itself back to Japan. Years ago, the fisherman who came in before a storm would throw their fishing nets over their huts. After the cyclone came through the houses with the nets would often be the only one standing.
Of course the world has changed a lot since fishing nets and huts. Today we have homes that are sealed from the elements. Our biggest risk during a storm is pressure equalization. Inside we have what is referred to as negative pressure, and outside we have positive pressure. During a storm there are drastic changes in barometric pressure, and if the seal to your home is broken at any point, that pressure wants to equalize. We have seen situations where every window in the home at the same time blasts out, just from that equalization of pressure.
So what you are doing is protecting the glass?
NO!!! That is not the point of hurricane protection. The point is to make sure that the seal is kept. Sometimes, normally in commercial projects and not in homes, but sometimes we get zero separation from the screen to the glass, which means a projectile launched just right, would
actually break the glass behind the screen. But that's OK. As long as that seal is not broken the things inside are still protected. The point of hurricane protection is not to prevent glass from breaking, it is to prevent the things inside the home from being ruined.
OK, slow down, what is all this talk about screens? What is hurricane protection anyway?
Hurricane protection is covering the openings of a home or building to create a seal that stops the elements from coming inside. We use a patented ballistic fabric with a special coating to applied to accomplish this. The system is professionally installed before a storm comes and once it is here it is easy to put up and take down.
I think I get it now. Changing subjects for just a minute, what did your studies at Harvard teach you in terms of changing the world?
Wow, that's a tall order, changing the world! Any school gives you what you put in, Harvard is no different. What an experience being around so many successful people teaches you is you have to have a vision, a strategy, and you have to stick to it. If you are true to yourself, the world will recognize it.
You did not answer the question....
Wow, you're good... Pin me down why don't you... Harvard teaches that changing the world is doing the right thing at the right time. Now climate change is something that is a very important topic, and it will be with us with lasting repercussions for a long time. The entire human population that lives in the areas most affected are not going to simply move to higher ground, so we need to look at ways to live with it, and minimize its impact on the world around us. That is really what this business is about.
OK, I guess I can live with that, so back to the product, is it actually made in the USA?
That is correct. 100% designed, developed and made in the USA. The entire system is patent pending and was developed by some very, very smart people in Florida.
Not something you hear everyday. A start up US manufacturer. Isn't that the truth!
(Chris laughs. It's a real laugh, not one done for making a point. I just made up my mind, this guy is genuine).
People think that all the manufacturing jobs are leaving the US, and here we are starting a company based on US manufacturing. But sometimes it is best not to follow the crowd.
The key to innovation is thinking differently than those before you. There are still many things that are done very well in the US, like quality control. On something that can literally save your life, you cannot afford to outsource so somewhere with questionable quality control. We like to say that we are protecting property and saving lives, which in a strong tropical storm or hurricane, is true.
With all this talk about jobs plans lately, maybe the politicians should pay attention to what is going on here.
Wouldn't that be the day! What we have learned over the last few years is jobs come from new ideas being executed. We saw a need for something that could protect in any sort of storm, was easy to put up and take down, then developed it. The rest is easy, educating the public and getting the world out.
OK, back to the product a second. So I put the system on my house or on my building?
We actually have 2 systems. One is the retrofit one we developed with the clip, the other is proprietary called Astroguard. If you put up the Astroguard in your house, you basically turn it into a bunker. We have taken lobbies of hotels and turned them into Class 5 hurricane refuges with Astroguard.
What does that mean exactly?
It means the lobby could withstand the direct hit of a class 5 hurricane.
Wow, that is impressive. So do you have some sort of certification that verifies that?
Of course. We have all the industry standards most people have some knowledge of, Florida Building Code approval, Miami Dade approval, but recently we passed a test that is for 'Level E' certifications, 'E' standing for essential like hospitals and Government Instillations. This raises the bar to the rest of the industry, to say the least.
What about installing this product?
Our background is a construction company. We have on our team some of the most knowledgeable engineers and architects anywhere on staff. When you work with very high end hotel and commercial clients, retrofitting a system that was never thought of when the building was designed can be a challenge. We have been able to do things that have made our clients very happy, and that in turn makes us very happy.
To what do you owe your success?
Our success (It occurs to me that Chris has not used the word 'I' one time since we sat down. Although it is my understanding that he is the sole owner of his company, he always talks in terms of 'we', another reason why success has come so quickly) has been the product of a concentrated team effort to satisfy the needs of our clients from top to bottom. The designers developed a fantastic product, the engineers figured out how to best install it in any situation, and now the marketing guys are getting the word out. So far those that have been able to find out about it, have really liked the product.
It seems that everybody deserves a bit of the credit except you?
(Chris smiles, and pauses for just a second before going on).
There are a lot of very talented people who have gotten us to this point and I am just happy to be able to be a part of it.
Come on, don't be so modest. We have done our homework, it seems everything you touch has been a success. That has to have something to do with this as well.
Far from it! I have had my share of let downs. The first business I started was a complete failure!! We just try to get a little wiser every time life throws us a curveball.
This one is really something special. It simultaneously addresses one of the most important topics of this century in climate change and does it in a way that saves both lives and property. (Chris squints when he says this and his blue eyes get very intense. He really means what he says).
Again, I am impressed. What should we look forward to with HF Mexico?
We are just getting our feet wet in this market. Mexico is a very big market and we will be doing major expansion in the near future. This season was really our first with the new product and the response has been fantastic! We are going to expand throughout the country of Mexico in the
next 12 months, and are also looking to expand in the US, we have no presence is some of the major markets like Texas and the Carolinas.
We hear that your next project has something to do with anti-aging. So first you are going to protect the world, and then you are going to make it younger?
We have a couple of other irons in the fire, but for the rest of 2011 we are focused 100% on Hurricane Protection and how to make this model work.
Come on, we want more than that. I am still in my 20's and would love to know how to not get any older. Give us something... I am guessing you are talking about Botox and the like...
No, not Botox. We are not talking about cosmetic surgery. We are talking about slowing the process fundamentally. When we talk about aging, we talk about it on 2 levels, cellular and the entire organism. Cells are just little machines, and the more efficient we can make them run, the longer they will work well. We are a lot more complex overall, so that has to be addressed separately.
Now I am really intrigued, you have to tell us more.
All I can say is when we have it all worked out, you will be the first to know.
OK, I guess we leave off there, thank you for your time and good luck in all your upcoming ventures.
Same to you Valarie. It was a pleasure.
Author's Note: We have seen over and over, the most successful companies are founded in industries that are rapidly growing. By having the best product in a rapidly growing industry, HF Mexico seems destined for success. As we have seen from his track record, anything that Chris has touched has been very successful and we look forward to hearing more from him and his ventures. https://www.hurricaneprotection.net/