Pedro Santos achieved entrepreneurial success in his native Dominican Republic long before most students even consider business school, much less launch their own enterprises. At only 14, Santos started a company that became the No. 1 supplier of table tennis equipment in the Dominican Republic. At 19, he launched his second business, which became the No. 2 supplier of automotive tools and machinery in the country.
Although Santos had two successful businesses on his resume, he wanted to create more startups, and he needed new tools. In 2008, at age 24, he entered the MBA program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. But Santos’ third startup, AER-PowerSource–his first in the U.S.–proved to be a new experience in entrepreneurial failure. Business forecasts showed modest potential for growth of the industrial energy efficiency company, so in the summer after his first year at MIT, Santos shut it down.
However, Santos didn’t let this disappointment paralyze him. Instead, he used it as a steppingstone to launch OsComp Systems later that year. “Having been in sales from age 14 and doing the other companies, you live with failure every day,” he says. “I was ready for failure and wanted to do something big, that’s why shutting down AER and starting OsComp was a no-brainer for me.”
After taking MIT’s Energy Ventures course in the fall of 2009, Santos began cooking up a business plan for OsComp Systems by tapping into his engineering background. For the next several months, Santos worked grueling 60+ hour weeks to create a revolutionary compression technology that reduces the amount of energy necessary to compress and transport natural gas. Santos describes this period of the launching process as “really, really hard.”
“I slept on average 4-5 hours a day,” he says. “I didn’t get a salary for the first 18 months. I also was maxed out on personal debt, like I really didn’t have a single dollar to get from credit cards until I got funding. I pitched to 34 VCs and got turned down by all 34 before I found two to jump in … I was living off of a diet of Ramen and multi-vitamins.”
Those 18 months proved to be some of the most difficult of Santos’ career, but the struggles he faced pale in comparison to the payoff. Today, OsComp Systems is thriving as one of the only companies in North America to make a major advancement in the natural gas industry in the past 50 years. Santos projects they will triple their revenue from last year. He’s enjoying the rapid growth period, but Santos warns aspiring MBA entrepreneurs that every phase of the startup process has unique challenges.
“Just expect it to be really hard,” he says. “Even in years when you have a great business and you’re extremely successful, you still have to expect a lot of difficulty in building your business, gaining credibility, and getting others involved. Just make sure you have a vision you are going to deliver and be 100% committed to it.”