After listening to Jesse Torres you’ll never underestimate the power of networking ever again. He has a knack for meeting people and connecting them to each other to broker partnerships and alliances.
Jesse owns ArroyoWest, an economic and workforce development agency, and Small Business Front, a consultancy targeted at providing small businesses with resources to start, grow, and scale. But his career didn’t start with entrepreneurship.
It started with what was supposed to be his first job at a local Los Angeles newspaper. When that job fell through due to a merger, it set Jesse on a career ladder that included rungs in academia, government, private practice, publicly traded companies, and even non-profits.
As he continued climbing that ladder to his latest role as an entrepreneur, his vast network and experience in disaster relief aligned when the pandemic happened. In this episode, Jesse shares how he leveraged his network to connect some of his local government clients to form a new organization that provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to tens of thousands of small businesses in California.
Pay close attention as he describes the business infrastructure quickly deployed to bring together the right people, processes, and tools that made this mass distribution of PPE possible.
This episode is sponsored by:
Special Guest: Jesse Torres, Founder & CEO – ArroyoWest and Small Business Front
Location: Los Angeles, CA USA
Air Date: September 11, 2022
ArroyoWest: Jesse’s management consulting firm that focuses on economic and workforce development solutions for public and private agencies. Their work “…primarily includes project management, program design and implementation, market research, strategy, partnerships, stakeholder relations, and advocacy.”
Small Business Front: Jesse’s media company that “…helps small businesses and entrepreneurs around the world launch and grow their business with the help of great information, products and services…by connecting them into a worldwide supportive community.”
PPE Unite: the covid-relief program for small businesses that resulted from Jesse’s introduction and connection of key local California government agencies.
SBA: the Small Business Administration of the U.S. which offers low-interest loans as well as a range of free to low-cost business startup, growth, and scale programs (like the SBDCs) and solutions for the 33M small businesses throughout America.
America’s SBDC: the official site of the network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) with a mission to start and grow small businesses. “A partner program of the SBA, SBDCs are hosted by universities, colleges, state economic development agencies and private sector organizations.”
Los Angeles (LA) SBDC: an organization funded by the SBA that “…provides small business entrepreneurs with no-cost, confidential, business advising services and low-cost training opportunities, across Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.”
More About Guest, Jesse Torres:
Jesse Torres is the Founder and CEO of Small Business Front, a multimedia firm focused on microenterprise growth. Jesse has a long background in supporting small businesses including having served as the Small Business Advocate for the State of California under Governor Jerry Brown.
He is also principal of a management consulting firm called ArroyoWest LLC that focuses on economic and workforce development. Prior to launching ArroyoWest in 2019, Jesse had served as the CA Small Business Advocate/Deputy Director of Small Business and Innovation for the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and, before joining the Governor’s Office, as the Regional Director for the Los Angeles Small Business Development Center Network. Jesse is also the creator of the small business podcast Hack My Business and the creator of the viral 12 Days of Takeout national social media campaign. Jesse is SoCal native and graduate from UCLA and Pepperdine University.
More About Host, Alicia Butler Pierre:
Alicia Butler Pierre is the Founder & CEO of Equilibria, Inc. Her career in operations began over 20 years ago while working as an engineer in various chemical plants and oil refineries. She invented the Kasennu™ framework for business infrastructure and authored, Behind the Façade: How to Structure Company Operations for Sustainable Success. It is the world’s first published book on business infrastructure for small businesses. Alicia hosts the weekly Business Infrastructure podcast with a global audience across 60 countries.
More About Sponsor, Equilibria, Inc.:
Equilibria, Inc. is an operations management firm specializing in business infrastructure for fast-growing organizations. Our mission is to provide access to tips, resources, and proven frameworks that revolutionize the way small businesses operate. We do that through original podcast episodes, blog posts, videos, presentations, workshops, and coaching sessions.
This episode is brought to you by Equilibria, Inc. the company behind this podcast where we design scale-ready business infrastructure for fast-growing small businesses.
“All my life I’ve had mentors telling me, one of the most valuable assets you’ll ever have is your connections and even more so if you’re the kind of person that can really find ways to help connect people together, if you do that really well, you’ll find great success in life. And so, I had learned quite a bit from folks, before me who are really, really good at that and helped train me so that when the opportunity came, I knew how to do that with people that I knew needed support.”
This is the Business Infrastructure podcast – the show where we offer strategies, tactics, and resources to cure back-office blues and to keep your business operating as good on the inside as it looks on the outside. I’m Alicia Butler Pierre and I’ll be your guide on what is sure to be an interesting journey with Jesse Torres. He’s the person whose voice you just heard. In his book, The Tipping Point, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell classifies some people as “Connectors.” These are people with a special gift for bringing the world together. And Jesse is a master Connector.
Jesse Torres is the Founder & CEO of ArroyoWest – a management consulting firm with emphasis on economic and workforce development solutions for public and private agencies in the U.S. Get ready for an interesting ride as he gives us an audio tour of his career journey. A journey that prepared him to connect resources to help solve a problem that impacted the world and tested everyone’s resolve.
This is Ep. 219: The Connector – How Jesse Torres Leveraged His Network for Mass Distribution of PPE
This is Jesse Torres, from here in sunny, Southern California, the L.A. area born and raised in, Los Angeles County. My pathway to entrepreneurship is a convoluted, complex journey. And I’ll do my very, very best to give you the shortcut version, because otherwise we’ll be here for way too long. I went to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for my undergraduate. And I actually went in thinking I was going to become the next George Clooney and not meaning I wanted to become an actor, but at that time he was starring in a TV series called ER and all of us young people at that time, we were dazzled by the idea of becoming the next cool doctor. And I quickly realized my freshman year, maybe sophomore year, that that was just not for me, you know. Organic chemistry just really kind of made me realize that I needed to pursue a different journey. And, like I say most other undergraduates, you know, I took some time thinking about what I wanted to do.
Jesse’s deep thinking led him to pursue a minor in English – a subject that he loved. He would become a writer, or…so he thought.
Right after college, I went to go work for an alternative newspaper called the L.A. Weekly. And I was in an internship there. I actually pursued and received a job at the L.A. Times and then the week that I secured my job at the L.A. Times, they were bought out by the Chicago Tribune and the position that I was originally going to be working got eliminated. And so, I realized that, oh, wow, I need to find another way to start paying for my student loans.
It was the late 90s and Jesse was in his early twenties. He found his next job at the University of Southern California.
They were hiring in the prospect research department of the health science campus of USC. And that’s actually one of the first, I would say real jobs I had after college. I got to learn all about fundraising and the nuts and bolts of fundraising, which included prospect research, which meant, how to research individuals that you actually wanted to pursue for funding. You know, you wanted to pursue them for a solicitation, and you wanted them to become a donor.
I was also processing donations, for the health science campus. So, you had two very young guys, me and my friend, Damian, managing millions of dollars, essentially of donations coming into fund things like the latest and greatest in science, discovery, to help people who are battling things like cancer and other illnesses.
Jesse eventually left that job, still eager to pursue his passion for writing. His next gig found him working at a startup geared toward supporting musicians, followed by another gig at America Online.
For those of you that still remember America Online or AOL, I became the music editor there for the West and, wrote a lot of copy, managed a team of writers, that helped promote different musical access that are traveling around the country. That was the very early stages of the dotcom kind of world, as we knew it.
Although the passion was there, the money, unfortunately, was not. Jesse needed a fulltime position that not only paid well but included benefits. That’s when he began working at the Geffen Playhouse, a non-profit regional theater based in Los Angeles.
That position gave me significant experiences that I’ve used later in my life, in my business. At the theater, I had the opportunity to work with the founder of that theater, Gil Cates. And he was the first person who really told me that, “If you wanted to build relationships, you had to treat people like family.” Take care of them. You remember their birthday, make them feel special. He impressed upon me the understanding of how to treat people well and in doing so that you can make your business run well.
I actually thought that my career would be in arts management. I really love working with the theater. but I knew that in order to become a manager, I needed to bolster my financial education.
That realization led Jesse to enroll in graduate school at Pepperdine University.
I decided to get my Masters in Business Administration. Pepperdine happened to have a program where if you were a staff member, you could actually get your education at no cost. the, the thing was that if you wanted to take a class at Pepperdine, you would have to go to one of the, any of the campuses that are offering that class.
And that’s how Jesse landed his next job. Although he loved working at the Geffen Playhouse, he knew they couldn’t help pay for his education at this private university. He first worked as an alumni officer and then as an alumni director at Pepperdine’s business school. He credits this experience with learning how to form teams to get things done. A couple of years later, he had his MBA.
One thing I discovered in engaging my alumni, who all worked in very different industries, is that they all had a fascination with entrepreneurship. So, I did a whole lot of events around things like private capital, venture capital, negotiating term sheets, the basics of entrepreneurships. I would do a lot of industry events.
Planning those events and networking with alumni gave Jesse a solid understanding of the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. It wouldn’t be long before the next stop of his career journey approached.
One day, a friend of mine and a fellow alumnus, a Pepperdine said, “You know what? There’s this position open. It’s for a federal program that helps small businesses. I think you’d be great! It’s called the Small Business Development Center program.”
Jesse applied and soon became the Regional Director of the Orange County Small Business Development Center. The Small Business Development Center (also known as SBDC) is a government funded program designed to help entrepreneurs start, run, and grow small businesses. There’s over 1,000 of them across the U.S. About a year later, Jesse became the Center Director for the Los Angeles SBDC which required managing a team of SBDCs. This expanded his network even more. When a position opened to become the Small Business Advocate for the State of California, Jesse applied and got it!
I was there for a number of years until Governor Brown, his term ended. And then from there, I went into the private sector and started my company, ArroyoWest. And that’s the journey, Alicia, that is the journey!
And what a journey it is! The entrepreneurship path isn’t straight and narrow. It has many twists and turns, peaks, and valleys, but one thing’s for sure – we pick up skills and meet people along the way. By the time he started his own company Jesse was well-versed in business communications, fundraising, building successful teams and leadership. With experience working in non-profits, government, academia, startups and corporations, he had a rolodex of contacts to envy.
As with everybody else’s career journey, you’re taking these steps up and you’re hopefully pulling experience from your previous positions and applying it to whatever you’re doing and that then the next tier.
The word that comes to mind, Jesse is laddering. It may sound scattered. But to me it seems, it almost seems very intentional, even though it wasn’t necessarily intentional it’s just how it all kind of unfolded and how these opportunities presented themselves to you. At what point did you start your own, your company?
That began in October 2019.
Is that ArroyoWest?
So well, you really roll those r’s like nobody’s business.
ArroyoWest started one year before the Covid-19 pandemic. As Jesse would soon find out, all his previous career experiences would converge to connect the right people, processes, and tools to solve a specific disaster-related crisis.
My scale tale begins in 2020 in the first phase of covid. Now as we all know, the shut down in March 2020, at least here in California. June 2020 is when you start to see things emerge as far as relief, major kind of programs. At that time, I had ArroyoWest, it was a brand-new firm. I really thought that my first set of business under ArroyoWest is going to be kind of straightforward strategy support, helping people think through programming. And it actually became all about Covid-19 relief. Because my last few years at the governor’s office, I was leading small business efforts as it related to the disasters up in Northern California and Southern California when it came to the big fires that we had back in 2017 and 2018.
So, the first two years of ArroyoWest was around Covid-19 relief because I had a disaster background. I was working with a client, the L.A. Small Business Development network, which I used to run, I had a really good relationship and still do with the current director there. And, they had this unique situation where the State of California had an inventory of personal protective equipment. And they had this warehouse full of it and they offered it to the LASBDC at no costs. They said, you know, if you can figure out a way to distribute it out, we’ll let you have this inventory. So, you can supply the small business owners in your area with face masks, gloves, et cetera, so they can continue during their business.
It was time for Jesse to put his connector skills to use!
So, the only thing the LASBDC didn’t really have, was a distributor partner or a funding partner that could help bring this inventory down to L.A. so that they could distribute it out. So, at the same time that I had LASBDC as a client, I also had the County of Los Angeles as the client. And so, what I did is I connected those two clients together and the L.A. County and the LASBDC, and they are able to form partnership, that’ll allow the LASBDC to bring this inventory down at, to distributed out, through a program called PPE Unite. And that program continues on today. And if not for that, you would have had tens of thousands of small business owners that would have had to have purchased PPE on their own. the other great thing about that strategic relationship and that brokering is that that relationship continued on and deepened.
Networking. Connections. Relationships. Coming up after the break, Jesse will explain the business infrastructure that went into making this partnership and the PPE Unite program happen.
You started your business because you believed you could make a difference. But now you have more demand than you can keep up with and if you don’t get your operations in order soon, you could lose everything you’ve worked so hard to build. The chaos is causing angry customers, bad reviews, failed audits, and more. The need for a unified team with processes they can follow and tools they can use without your presence is apparent. But where can you go for support?
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Before the break, Jesse Torres explained how he connected two of his local government clients to figure out a plan for efficiently and effectively distributing PPE to tens of thousands of small businesses in Los Angeles. How’d they do it? Here’s Jesse…
So, they would often collaborate on other relief programs. They became really close as far as programmatic work goes. And now the County really views the LASBDC as a key go-to when it comes to supporting small businesses and all manners of ways here in L.A. County. So, you know, it was, I guess one of the few silver linings that came out of the crisis. but for me, it was a big reminder of the importance of relationships and kind of drawing back from my professional experience.
It took about five months to formalize this partnership. What Jesse thought would be a one and done kind of situation actually turned into something more.
That was the first iteration. And then again, another iteration when the crisis. We all thought it was going to go away after year one and it sure didn’t and went on to 2021. So, you had additional demand as Delta variant swept through, so you had to, again, revitalize it. As the pandemic went on, so did the relationship,
Obviously, there was a whole team, all I do, which is make the connection. People kind of designed the logistics, then my friend Tova Mack over there at the LASBDC. So just the amount of work and thought and strategy that had to go into it.
And in order for that amount of thought and strategy to be sustained, a business infrastructure, that is the system by which these organizations would link their people, processes, and technologies, had to be in place to make sure the PPE distribution went off without a hitch. But Jesse was in a slight conundrum, though. You see, government programs aren’t always the best at public communication. They’d have to get the word out to entrepreneurs who would then have to navigate their large websites and endless amounts of forms – a task which often seems insurmountable.
Yeah, I mean, you’re also the right. That’s why it’s so important to have a local service provider, like the L.A. Small Business Development Center that literally has a team of people that work directly with small business owners throughout the county of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County and Ventura County who have those inroads. So, you had this really kind of great, magical thing happened where you had a very knowledgeable technical assistance provider, like the LASBDC that already had those community inroads. You had, a person like Tova Mack, who was a former business advisor, who really understood how to connect pieces together. You had the county that had the funding available to help finance and provide the infrastructure support for the initiative. You had the State of California that had the equipment handy there in Sacramento.
So, you had to have all those pieces together, but kind of to your larger point, as far as the difficulty in reaching certain communities or why communities never get plugged in the right kind of way. There are certain community champions that if you don’t know who they are, it can be very difficult to reach, you know, one particular community.
That’s why it pays to network and know people like Jesse. And likewise, for people like Jesse to know you.
It reminds me of this amazing lady named Dorothy, who was very much involved in South Los Angeles and working in that community. She passed away. And for us, it was a tremendous loss because she was one of those people that just knew everybody that you needed to know in South L.A. Whenever you wanted to do a program has helped L.A. you need to talk to Dorothy Randall first and that she would help you kind of figure out the strategy around that. So, you know, sometimes it could just literally be one person or a couple people that are these second gatekeepers, but community advocates. And if you don’t know who they are, if they pass away, it can be a real significant loss for the agency that’s trying to do work in that community.
Once the right people were positioned to assist with the PPE distribution, the agencies now had to figure out how much PPE to request.
I remember the state asked like, well, “How much do you think you need?” And we had to come up with a number. So, I think we initially went with, you know, say 14 trailers, give us 14 trailers of sanitizer. I don’t know how many products were actually within a certain trailer, but I do remember trying to do a rough math of, okay, you have, you know, 250,000 small employers in L.A. County, you have close to, on top of that, another 150K sole proprietors, you know, so how many, how much product do you think you need? who is likely to take advantage of, of your service and actually show up and get equipment? So, you had to do this rough math and really quick because you didn’t want to waste the opportunity. Otherwise, San Francisco County was going to take it.
Okay, so at this point the right people are in position ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work. PPE is officially requested. And now comes…the dreaded paperwork process!
When I was a regional director for the LASBDC, my mentor there, Shani Webber whose position I took, said to me, “The most important thing you can do in this position is figure out how the paper works.” If you know what the process is, who controls what document you need to move things forward, you will be empowered. And so, to understand things like, okay, that this process involves board approval, that you need to have a summary ready, that you should be keeping an eye on, you know, things like the board of trustees and how they vote, knowing the bureaucracy. It sure it came in really helpful when I needed to try to pull things together. and just knowing how the different partners work, you know, what were their timelines, how do they operate? That’s something I do every day now with my clients, through ArroyoWest is a lot of, is just helping them pierce through the veil of bureaucracy and understand, okay, what actually needs to get done and how do you do it?
The last element of the business infrastructure required to build this foundation for efficient PPE distribution was the technology. Specifically, a simple website that entrepreneurs could visit to learn how and where to pick up PPE.
And in fact, the website still exists. I just jumped on it right now. And I can tell you that PPEunite.org still exists and is still offering free PPE. They have distributed 40 million units of PPE. They’ve helped 50,000 plus small businesses and have 55 distribution centers statewide.
And it’s once again a testament to Jesse’s networking prowess and ability to make connections that drive economic growth at scale. As we approach the end of our journey together, I asked if he had any parting words of advice for us.
Sure. A lot of it is, is you do have to get out there. If you want to become a master networker, you have to get out there and start connecting with people. It’s not about selling your product or, you know, trying to get in with them. It’s about listening first and trying to understand what value you can bring to that person. So, I recommend you know, if you’re not already a member of your chamber of commerce, or if you’re not a part of a trade association or, you know, if you haven’t started getting back into the world again, and either virtually or in person being at networking events and conferences, now, now’s a good time to do it.
And when you start engaging with those events and activities, the way to do it well is to do what I always do is you go out there and you’re always asking, How can I be of value to you? What connections do you need? What can I offer? I often say to people, using LinkedIn is a great way to get started too, I say to them, go into my LinkedIn profile, look at my connections and see if there’s somebody there that you need access to. And I’m happy to always do that for you. And so freely offering your directory your, business cards, your contacts to others. It’s always just a good first move you’re if you’re trying to become a master connector.
Indeed, it is. In fact, I have a personal testimonial I want to share with you. After Jesse and I did this interview, I told him about the new business infrastructure course we’re now offering at Equilibria and how we want to partner with government agencies that work with small businesses. He immediately donned his connector cape and told me about the America’s SBDC conference. By the time you hear this episode, Jesse and I will have met in person at this conference in beautiful San Diego, California. I expect great things to come out of this conference.
A special thank you to Jesse and thank you for listening! If you enjoyed this episode, then please leave a five-star rating and review wherever you’re listening.
Coming up in our next scale tale is also a powerful story about partnering with a government organization. Subscribe so you that don’t miss it!
Growing and scaling a business is no small feat, but remember, Stay focused. Be encouraged. This entrepreneurial journey is a marathon and not a sprint. Until then, keep operating smoothly as you work to cure your company’s back-office blues.
This episode was written, produced, and narrated by me, Alicia Butler Pierre. Audio editing by Olanrewaju Adeyemo. Original score and sound design by Sabor! Music Enterprises.
This is the Business Infrastructure – Curing Back-Office Blues podcast.