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Up Close with Flavio de Silva

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A few years back other parents on his sons’ soccer team thought he was just another young father, driving his sons to their local matches. Few even knew of his business success in his native Brazil. Yet, last year, the Orlando City Soccer Club’s Chairman and Majority Owner, Flávio Augusto da Silva was named Brazil’s most inspirational leader and the second most inspirational world leader by the prestigious Cia de Talentos, the largest career consulting firm in Latin America. He edged out Bill Gates and Pope Francis, moving up from the 8th position the previous year and 4th among Brazilians, to the top.

That is just a sampling of the international attention he has helped focus on Orlando because of its soccer club, that now includes the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League and the Brevard based Orlando City B (OCB). Through his Geração de Valor (Value Generation) which provides multi- media content to help young entrepreneurs succeed in their career or business, his videos, posts and articles reach more than 10 million young people in 20 different countries.

Where It Began

In 1995, Brazil was experiencing extraordinary growth and international companies were a major part of that. At that time, I noticed that speaking English was a very important tool for the adult business person. It was common for young people to be in language schools, but for professionals in the market there were no viable options. Even today only three percent of Brazilians speak English, but for those who can speak English they will earn, on average, almost 50 percent more than their non-English speaking counter parts.

We had a vision that a language school focused on adults would have huge potential. That is what we did; in 1995 with a $10,000 loan, we opened our first school. In the next eighteen years we opened some 400 schools. At the time I didn’t speak English and even today I’m still learning (laughing), sort of the same way I never played soccer professionally.

Actually I never thought or planned to do the kinds of things I have accomplished. The first time I realized I needed to make some money was when I was eighteen and fell in love with Luciana, who is my wife. I realized I needed to

take her to the movies or buy ice cream and so I had to earn some money, so I started selling watches to friends and acquaintances. When I decided to marry her, I had been accepted into a technical university, but I began working for a language school, selling their programs. It was temporary until I started school, but I really enjoyed it and had great success.

Launching Wise Up

Four years later I launched my first school. Everything was a challenge in the beginning; I was 23 and had to hire experienced professionals to operate the school. I didn’t have the resources and access to capital was difficult. But I was able to get $10,000, which is roughly equivalent to $30,000 today, though I don’t think I could do it with $30,000 today. Our goal was to prospect approximately one hundred students per month, which was ambitious, but I was confident I could handle that aspect of the business. Our venture capital came from the new students we brought in.

In the first year we had 1200 students which was a good performance. Our product was unique and well accepted in the market and seven months after opening the first school, we started our second one. The first was in Rio de Janeiro and the second was in Sao Paulo.

We opened in a very prestigious section of the city, similar to New York’s Wall Street and enrolled 1500 students the first year. This school was very important for our cash flow and enabled us to open twenty-two more schools across the country in the main capitols of Brazil.

In 1998 we stopped trying to open more schools, because it was just too difficult to

manage; we had nearly 1200 employees. So we stopped expanding and then started franchising our model around Brazil; we grew to 396 under that model. Most schools, especially those targeting young people focused on an academic paradigm. Engineers, business people or doctors, they don’t want to be an English teacher, they want it as a means of enhancing their professional skills, watch a video or participate in a conference. They were our target.

Moving Into Orlando

I moved to Orlando in 2009, because I wanted my company to be able to operate without my direct involvement. At a certain point it has to work without your presence. So I created a Board and I would spend three weeks in Orlando and one in Brazil.

In terms of climate, Orlando was very similar to Brazil; flying between the two countries was easy and my children loved the area. In many ways the company worked better without me, which was very important for a future sale.

My older son was playing soccer in the city and I became a ‘Soccer Dad.’ Every weekend I was driving him around and realized that soccer was on the rise across the country, so I started researching the professional game. I saw it was a phenomenon that had yet to be realized and therefore it was a great undervalued business opportunity. My Brazilian company signed a contract in 2012 to be a sponsor of the FIFA Cup and I hired an American company to research MLS opportunities.

Orlando City was getting a lot of support in the city, my son’s coach Marcos Machado was the goal keeper coach for Orlando City and

he introduced me to Phil Rawlins. We started talking and in two weeks we closed the deal. By the end of the year we were accepted into MLS, the timing was remarkable, there weren’t that many openings, we got on board right before everyone realized what a phenomena MLS was. Our timing was perfect.

Funding The Stadium

We got pushback from the state; they were going to contribute $13 million, but it would take two or three years and the plan was for a 15,000 seat stadium. At that time we already had about 30,000 people coming to our games. So that was unacceptable. We started thinking about going to a 100{bfd614f294d07c51b84c8dad33a56885001f0ed7300088ac66752d3246377d5a} private investor funding model.

I had attained my Green Card by using a program where I invested $500,000 in a Vermont based project. The program allows healthy people to invest in job creating opportunities, which I had done. So we put our own money into the stadium and we opened 85 spaces for this type of investor to become involved for $500,000. We created a company Orlando City Stadium, to build a 25,500 seat stadium, it was an opportunity to invest in a stadium that is sold out. Investors get season tickets, dividends and their Green Cards.

Brazil’s Olympics And Beyond

There is not a lot of good news coming from Brazil right now, both politically and economically. The mood of the country isn’t

real positive, but it is an amazing country, with amazing people and an amazing market. In 2015 I bought back the company that I had sold in 2013. I’m running it now with over 8000 employees in the country. It is a difficult moment, but in a few years Brazil will come back, though now, right in the middle of the Olympics, we are in a period of political and economic instability.

As I look forward, well, I never imagined I would be where I am; I’m only forty-four. Today I suppose my inspiration comes from young people who are from poor neighborhoods in Brazil, that I am able to encourage. I want to give them a positive message on how they can succeed, but everything that I give to them, all returns to me in the inspiration I derive from them. Over the last four years I’ve been trying to collaborate with other young entrepreneurs who are getting started with their professional lives, providing them with some advice from my past experience.

I suppose one of the most important things I try to communicate to them, which I have come to understand, is that good ideas are great. We are always on the lookout for good ideas. But it is the ability to execute the idea that makes the difference. We really don’t invest in ideas; we invest in people. Our English school was a good idea, but what made us successful was the ability to execute.

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