David Mendez: Software Millionaire Latino Turned Filmmaker
I had been interested in film from a very early age and entering into the film business was like any entrepreneurial venture
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
David Mendez is an American original. As a youthful software engineer and entrepreneur he became a dot-com millionaire, then decided to change his trajectory in life and has reinvented himself as an owner of the motion picture company Monterrey Pictures. He is a former venture capitalist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
Published on LatinoLA: July 12, 2010
After years at DuPont and General Electric, Mendez co-founded Supplybase Inc, funded by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), which was sold to i2 Technologies in 2000 for over $200 million. Mr. Mendez recently founded Monterrey Pictures Entertainment to develop and package feature and documentary films. Since 2000, Mr. Mendez has advised numerous companies in the areas of corporate development, sales, business development, finance and operations.
Mendez's film work includes executive producing high-profile remakes of The Blob and Toxic Avenger (all currently in pre-production), and the documentary series Fearless Genius (based on Doug Menuez's book of the same title). Mendez's "executive producer" role involves putting the financing together for these projects and does not require day-to-day production or operational responsibilities. Mendez is also producing his own projects: 700 Hill and The 88th State. David currently serves as President of Mendez Archive Projects, a boutique stock photography company based in New York City. Mendez is an active member of The National Association of Latino Independent Producers.
He was born in Jackson, Michigan and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother is of Irish descent, his father Mexican. Once, while visiting with his family, he located a written family history outlining his great-grandfather. It was Sebastian Mendez's life story. David said, "I was so intrigued by his story. It was an epiphany." He discovered that Sebastian immigrated in the 1920's from a small Mexican village. Mendez envisioned a fictional account of his family's story coming to life in a movie. The business acumen he learned at UNC and throughout his career became a critical part of bringing the project to life. He said, "Business school catapulted me with the confidence to start my own business. All the business skills I learned in corporate America, and starting and selling my own company, were very helpful in trying to be a film producer. The goal is the ultimate in entrepreneurship. Every film is like a new company."
The story of his family is entitled 700 Hill, named after the West Virginia mining housing community where Sebastian settled. Mendez hired a screenwriter and the two travelled to Mexico and West Virginia to retrace Sebastian's journey. With the 700 Hill script finalized, Mendez anticipates the movie will be into production soon. David says, "My family's story is an immigration story that people don't know about. When people think of Mexican immigration, they think of the past 20 years, but it's not a new phenomenon. These immigrants helped build this country. We're part of the American fabric. I'm an American first and the descendant of Mexican ancestors second."
www.LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez was introduced to Mendez by his good friend the "Original Boulevard Knight" - Richard Yniguez
After our conversation, I believe that there is no doubt that David Mendez will become an innovative force in the film industry.
AC: Did your ethnicity color your perspective in any way while you were growing up? Do you consider yourself Hispanic or Irish or both? Was race an issue?
DM: While I was growing up in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1970's, my ethnicity played a very small role in my perspective. My father had moved away a decade before from West Virginia, and away from our Mexican relatives there, because he married a woman of Irish/German descent. We weren't exposed on a daily basis to the limited Mexican ethnic traditions and culture that my family in West Virginia had maintained. We did attend family reunions almost every year in West Virginia, and it was during those visits that I would be exposed to the Mexican foods and other cultural elements.
I consider myself Hispanic, as I've taken it upon myself in the past 20 years (I'm 45 now) to learn more about my Mexican heritage, to learn the language as best I can, and to understand the landscape and impact of Hispanic immigration and culture in the United States. However, when I was growing up, I didn't really consider myself anything except just American as I had a very limited view and understanding of my ethnic heritage.
When I was growing up, race was not an issue. As I grew older and went into high school, there was definitely more awareness that I was Hispanic. I'd get the occasional joke and name calling: "Wetback" "Spic" etc. - but it was not that regular. Back in 1970's Ohio there were very, very few Mexicans or Mexican-Americans in that region, aside from some migrant workers that we'd sometimes see. Therefore, I don't think that most people were even aware that I was Mexican, believe it or not, even though my last name was "Mendez."
AC: Did the community in the Mid-West, where you grew up, view your parents as a bi-racial couple?
DM: I don't believe they were viewed this way. Perhaps I was ignorant of what other adults thought of my parents, but I never remember anyone referring to my parents in this way, nor do I remember my parents ever discussing it.
AC: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? What did you want to be when you grew up? What are the good and bad about your childhood that made you the man you are today?
DM: I think that I always had the "entrepreneur bug" in me from an early age and I've always been a very creative person, which sometimes goes hand-in-hand. However, when it came to school and my early career, I was always very disciplined and focused and followed the rules. Because of that I excelled academically and got an engineering degree,and went to work for two of the largest corporations in the U.S.: DuPont and General Electric. Even after my MBA, I stayed in the corporate world.
When I was a child, I really had no idea what I would "be" when I grow up ... I do remember having an interest in architecture. I grew up in a very traditional suburban environment where you basically followed the rules and didn't cause trouble. I did, however, have the freedom to explore my interests and creativity as long as I stayed focused at school. The GOOD part was that my parents never told me, "YOU WILL BE THIS AND DO THAT" and they always allowed me and my siblings to explore what interests we had. They were however very strict, though, and insisted that if we started something, we had to finish it. We weren't allowed to move from one thing to the next but I don't remember that being a problem. The BAD part of how I grew up was that I really wasn't exposed to a diverse group of role models. Most of the adults I was exposed to worked at major corporations, were middle class, and led similar family lives to what we experienced. I had very little exposure to people of different ethnicities, religions and nationalities, or people that were artists or had other diverse professions. Once I became an adult, there was so much that I was interested in learning about and exploring, which definitely shaped the man I am today in terms of my interests and what I spend my time doing.
AC: Why engineering in college? Did you consider yourself a nerd?
DM: I chose engineering simply because I was strong in math and science and I knew that it would be a great starting point to whatever career I would choose. It came fairly easy to me and I believe that a creative mind and an engineering mind are very well connected. A lot of science and math studies have to do with finding creative solutions to a problem.
I did not consider myself a nerd at all. Most of my friends in college were not in engineering and some didn't even know I was an engineering student. When they found out, they typically would be impressed versus thinking I was a nerd. In high school, even though I was very strong academically, I also was on the swimming and water polo teams, was on student council, and participated in a lot of other extra-curricular activities. I had a large group of friends and was never considered nerdy.
AC: Like many of the rock stars I've interviewed, you had tremendous financial success at an early age. When did you realize that you had lots of money and what are some of the eccentric things you did with the money in the beginning? (Greg from Santana told me he bought an exotic sports car in cash)
DM: I had financial success in my mid-30's so I wasn't too young. The most eccentric thing I did with my resources was to travel to places I wanted to explore, like Spain, Mexico, and other European destinations. I bought some real estate, which is less eccentric, but instead of buying one piece of real estate on the coast, I bought three!!!! That's a bit eccentric and, in retrospect, was not a good financial decision! I also did spend resources and time on my photography hobby which I still participate in, and this hobby can be expensive.
AC: What are the pressures endured by a young dot-com executive that most people may not be aware of?
DM: A lot of people who have not ventured into the "startup" world don't truly realize what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Most people think that a lot of the successful dot-com executives were "lucky" and aren't really that talented or smart. I completely disagree with this, having lived in this startup world now for almost 15 years. It takes a lot of guts to leave the comfort of a corporate job to start your own business. It also takes a lot more than luck to be successful; it takes persistence, endurance, leadership, and a mature ego.
The pressures of a young entrepreneur are tremendous, especially when they receive funding from outside investors and start hiring employees.They are solely responsible for the employees' lives/careers as well as being responsible for the investment money they've received. It's the most humbling experience that anyone can go through. Even those that end up hugely successful have struggled through the beginnings of what they wanted to accomplish.
Of course "luck" and "market timing" are significant parts of a successful venture, but it takes those who put themselves out there to be there to capture that luck. I have so much more respect for a successful entrepreneur than I do for someone who reaches a CEO position at a major corporation. Not to say those people don't deserve respect, but a successful entrepreneur has overcome so many more obstacles and hurdles.
AC: Tell us why you went to live in Spain and Mexico for a while. What did you learn about yourself there?
DM: I lived in Madrid after I left my job with a venture capital firm in 2002. I was already in London for the firm during that period so I decided to immerse myself into Spain for a few months to learn the language. It was a great experience and it did help me with my language skills. I felt that the Spanish people, and Latino people in general, have a flavor to them that I connected with. In Spain, however, the ethnicity is much different from that of Mexico, where I am most similar. In Mexico, where I've traveled several times but never lived, the people are much more similar to me in terms of ethnicity. My ethnicity is more "native" than European Mexican. While in Mexico I also connected with the lifestyle and culture and feel, again, like most Latinos. Their "passion" for life is authentic. I share that passion.
AC: You mentioned that luck is 50% of being a successful business person. Why did you decide to try your luck in the film industry?
DM: I had always been interested in film from a very early age and entering into the film business was like any entrepreneurial venture. I had to network, learn about the industry and also decide "how" I would enter it. I came to the conclusion that entering the business from a financial perspective was my best path - versus attempting to be a creative producer or director.
Any film is like a startup. Each is its own venture requiring a plan, investors, human resources and a market to sell to. This was all familiar to me, except in a very different industry.
As far as luck is concerned, the film industry is just like any other business. Until that film is released there is no guarantee of success. The "luck" part has to do with how the film resonates with the public or its target market at that given time. But the other components need to be there, i.e., a good story, a quality production, credible performances, and it must entertain. The latter is in the control of the filmmaker and producer, but the former is not. Just like in a software business, the software must work, it must be a quality product and bug-free, and it must solve a problem. Having everything in place gets you to market, but market acceptance and timing is a function that is out of the company's control.
AC: Which films have inspired you? What types of films are you doing and what types do you want to do?
DM: Films that inspire me are ones that not only have a great story, but that bring out basic human emotions such as fear, sadness, happiness, excitement. I love a film that makes me very sad just as much as I enjoy a film that is thrilling and exciting. I enjoy films of all shapes and colors, from the big blockbusters to the small foreign independent. I don't think either have a lock on creative genius.
The types of films I'm doing are varied. Films that I'll "executive produce" are ones that, I believe, make good business sense, period. These are films that either I have invested in or am raising funding for, and it's likely I'll have no creative control or input. Films that I'll "produce" are ones were I am passionate about the content. These are films I'll be involved with at every level, including writing and creative control. Ultimately, I'd like to focus on "producing" the films that I'm passionate about but I'll always "executive produce" films that make good business sense and that will produce financial returns.
AC: I'm told you are re-doing The Blob with Rob Zombie. Why? What is your expectation for that project?
DM: I am executive producing The Blob alongside some credible producers who brought Zombie into the project. It's an exciting title that can be revived into today's world and I believe that The Blob can be symbolic to the paranoia that we live in today in terms of having some external force. It could be religion, the environment, or some nasty disease that could take us over and change the world in which we exist. This paranoia is as strong today as it was in the 1950's. Zombie is a great choice as he will have a very creative way of presenting this paranoia represented by The Blob.
AC: Tell us about some of the projects you have in the works. Why are you compelled to do a film about your familial roots?
DM: I am also executive producing the remake to Toxic Avenger, which was a cult favorite from the 1980's. The new version will be scaled-up from its more humble and cultish beginnings to more of a "green superhero" take. The films I'm producing include 700 Hill, the 88th State, and a documentary called Fearless Genius.
700 Hill is the story based on my familial roots. I co-wrote the story and script and am slowly putting the pieces of the production together. I was compelled to do a film on the subject when I learned more about my family's history years ago and the elements of history that surrounded the true story, as well as the elements of culture, religion and passion that was apparent in the story.
The 88th State is a futuristic political thriller I've created that will play on many themes apparent in today's society. I am in the process of writing the script for this film.
Fearless Genius is an exciting documentary project based on the photojournalistic memoir of the Silicon Valley by famed photographer Doug Menuez. I currently work with Doug on a media venture and we are working on this documentary based on his never-before-seen archive of material from the 1980's and 1990's.The documentary will focus on this recent era of American history when we truly led the world in innovation.
AC: Where do you see yourself and you company in ten years?
DM: Because I still work in technology businesses, as well as in film, I see myself being involved in both - moving forward. I see myself as part of several technology businesses that are somewhat centric to media, while blending my film productions into the media industry as it continues to evolve.
AC: How would you like history to remember you?
DM: I would like history to remember me as someone who explored my interests and was not afraid to try, to fail, to succeed, to learn, and to never quit.
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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