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An Interview with Gino Picasso, CEO of Mobile 365

Next time you send a text message to your buddy to meet you at Tony & Joe’s for drinks, it’s likely going through a little Chantilly-based company called Mobile 365. The two-year-old company has linked up with cell phone carriers like Verizon and Cingular to be the delivery service for their subscribers’ text messages. The 325-person company says it delivers 3.5 billion mobile messages monthly. And don’t think it’s just a teenager’s way of communicating. CEO Gino Picasso, 50, says Mobile 365, the product of a merger between InphoMatch and Mobileway, is expected to hit $100 million in revenue this year, based partly on the fact that more and more businesses are using text messaging to communicate with employees and customers. So don’t be alarmed when your bank sends you a message about your checking account. Picasso took over at Mobile 365 after leading Iridium, Ace*Comm Corp., and General Electric Capital Spacenet Services. He recently spoke with Bisnow on Business about being a finalist in the Northern Virginia Tech Council’s Hot Tickets competition, what life is like in the tech world these days, and his upbringing in an entrepreneurial family in Peru.

Tania Anderson for Bisnow on Business: You came close to being Northern Virginia’s Hottest Buzz. How important is buzz for a company like yours?
Getting the word out is extremely important. People need to know about us in order to engage our services. By doing this interview, for example, we inform people of what they can be doing with us. We recently got the word out on what some of the banking clients are doing and all of a sudden we’re getting calls from other banks that are interested in doing the same thing.

How much of a role do you play in shaping the message of your company?
I’m a very hands-on person. In the last 60 days I’ve gone around the world twice. That’s the way I get connected to folks and make sure that I’m aware of their challenges, their situations and how I can make their life easier. In turn, they’re aware of the collective vision.

How would you describe your buzz strategy?
We’re not measured by a public group but by a smaller set of investors. I have a little bit more freedom to talk in front of other companies and in the industry. On the other hand, I have to be cautious in protecting the privacy that my investors seek in terms of revealing financial information.

You took the job of running Mobile 365 two months ago. Why?
One of the fundamental things that attracts me are businesses that have a technology with the ability to dramatically change the way people work and play. In the case of Mobile 365, it had all those elements in spades. Then I was pleasantly surprised by finding the caliber of the team.

What are the challenges of running a tech company these days?
Tech companies always have the challenge of technology innovation and change. The mistake that many technology companies make is that they get enamored with their technology and have the “build it and they will come” mentality. Sometimes you get lucky and the technology matches a need but I’d rather not work on luck alone.

You’ve worked at some great companies. What have you learned?
The critical element is making sure you’ve selected the right people, you have the right team, point them in the right direction, and then make sure you remove the obstacles. The other important part about people is, no matter what you tell them to do, no one will give you their best performance unless they’re passionate about it. Putting people in jobs that they love to do and making sure all the parts work together creates a level of passion where people will deliver a lot more than you could ever ask of them.

How do you hire the right people?
I spend a lot of time in my interviews finding out what really turns a person on. What gets them excited inside or outside of work. If I can tap into that, the likelihood is very high that I can place them in a job that they’ll love to do.

What’s the secret of placing them in that right job?
Listen very carefully. Get to know them as individuals. Get to know their families even, as much as you can about the person.

Are you finding good people out there?
There’s always people that are very qualified. I look for qualifications, plus I look for passion and a cultural fit. I worked for GE for 15 years. I have a number of colleagues there that I greatly respect. Some of them might be good fits here but a lot of them wouldn’t. It’s got nothing to do with their capabilities.

Is there anything the Washington region lacks for tech companies?
We continue to struggle with the fact that we don’t have enough technical people. The greater Washington area is running around 3 percent unemployment in technology. Sometimes we’re forced to go outside of the region because there’s not enough workers here. It’s a good problem to have because those people are in high demand, but it’s not a good problem from an employer’s standpoint.

You’ve got such an interesting name. What’s your background?
Gino is Italian. Picasso is Spanish. I’m really a product of many different countries. My father was born and raised in Germany. He came to Peru when his family was already there with a winery. His father had started the winery with three of his brothers. Then his parents were from Italy and Spain. On my mother’s side, there’s Italian and English.

Were you exposed to technology or business growing up in Peru?
I was exposed to business from the time I drank my baby bottle. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. As far as technology is concerned, the minute I saw a gadget, I fell in love with it.

What kind of businesses did your family have?
Starting a winery in the middle of the desert in Peru. My mother, who is now 74, is on her fourth business startup.

When and how did you get to Washington?
I came to the U.S., to D.C., when I was six years old, in 1962. My parents divorced and my mother, being the feisty entrepreneur that she was, decided she couldn’t make it in the male dominated society back then in Peru. And she wasn’t about to do the traditional thing in the 60s and take money from the family and raise me that way. She came to the U.S. without speaking a word of English and launched a business.

What kind of business?
She started an import/export business while she worked her way up the ladder at the Organization of American States. : )