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27 December 2017

A Powerful Drive to Advance the Tech Scene

If there is one thing that Gerardo Salandra (MBA 2016), CEO and Founder of Rocketbots, has learned, it is to never give up, and keep on going and plug away — soon you will find the success that you deserve. Gerardo, or Jerry, as the avuncular MBA graduate refers to himself, has had an international experience that includes some of the world’s most famous companies. It is this background that allows him to network so effectively for his start-up and be the co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Society of Hong Kong, to boost tech innovation in the city.

Gerardo (centre) teamed up with 11 MBA students to participate in the Asia MBA competition, which was a test of his will power in the desert of Inner Mongolia.

A Rich and Varied Journey

The El Salvador native’s journey to the city could be described as fortuitous: Working for mobile fitness app Runtastic in Austria during his undergraduate studies at Reutlingen University, Gerardo discovered a partnership with CUHK. Coming to Asia for his MBA was an unbeatable draw, particularly with its focus on entrepreneurship. “Being in a start-up I thought to myself — this could be cool. I wanted to have one of my own and on top of that coming to Asia, I thought: ‘that sounds exciting and an adventure’,” he says.

Having secured a scholarship, it was a straight-forward choice to commence his studies at CUHK. “In Hong Kong it’s a true cultural mix — you are not fully in China, or the Western world and that’s a major advantage,” says Gerardo. “It’s a very fast moving city, with a lot of opportunities, and is boosting its technology — and there is not enough supply of people with those skills, and it’s fun,” he adds.

Actively participating in alumni events, Gerardo joins Ms. Stephanie Villemagne (right), Associate Dean (Graduate Programs) and Director of MBA Programs, at a Happy Hour event.

MBA Studies at CUHK: Worldwide Renowned and Great Networking

Gerardo was immediately drawn in by CUHK’s large alumni and opportunities to network, along with the practical applications taught by professors. The entrepreneur fondly remembers taking a class in business negotiation, which was just one example of how his studies helped him immensely in the tough world of business. But more importantly, when being thrust into the commercial arena upon graduation, Gerardo always recalls the mentoring and connections his professors offered.

Gerardo fondly recalls a challenging assignment in which students were paired with struggling start-ups, were assigned to rewrite their business plan, and then pitch it to a number of angel investors in a scene reminiscent of the business show “Shark Tank”. He finds these experiences were invaluable to him in his current role leading a start-up. “I pitched my business at least 75 times this year, in order to raise the amount of money I have just raised,” he says.

Gerardo (2nd from right) founded Rocketbots with the help of the first investor, Mr. Andy Ann (1st from left), an EMBA alumnus and Founder and Group CEO of NDN Group.

Gaining the Impetus for
Driving a Business

During Gerardo’s time at CUHK, his CV attracted the attention of an EMBA alumnus Andy Ann, Founder and Group CEO of NDN Group, a digital conglomerate. Having met Andy, Gerardo was convinced to work at NDN Group consulting on AI projects. It was this position at the firm which led him to starting Rocketbots, with Andy as the first investor.

The CUHK connection is very strong in Rocketbots, and Gerardo’s new team features alumni from the MBA Program, along with clients in the alumni network. Rocketbots, now based in Hong Kong and Pakistan, develops chatbots for support and sales, looking at the way brands perform their customer service operations.

Rocketbots is Gerardo’s first business, but he has worked in and served as advisor to several start-ups, and taken roles with IBM in Germany, and Google in Ireland, so he knows what makes tech companies work. For Gerardo, who has a habit of balancing work and study, hard graft is an essential component of success.

Gerardo (left) at the RISE Conference where Rocketbots was selected among hundreds of start-ups to pitch on stage

Take a Risk, Do Something
Out of the Ordinary

While Gerardo runs a start-up now, his original ambition was to work for Google, which he achieved having prepared for several years learning everything about digital marketing. At the first attempt, he failed and went to IBM instead, working on the Watson business applications project, offering him his introduction to working on AI. “When I finally got into Google and received a fulltime offer I was very excited, but to my surprise I decided to reject it having spent four years to get in,” he says.

Instead, Gerardo asked himself where he could be creating something new and exciting and that had to be in the start-up world. “After experiencing the passion of people in the start-up world I just don’t think I could go back to corporate,” he says. “How hard you have to work is rewarded by being in family-like environment and I absolutely love it,” he says.

Gerardo shares his entrepreneurial insight on Artificial Intelligence at Entrepreneur Day organised by Hong Kong Trade Development Council

Being courageous with his career is second nature to Gerardo, with a little help from his friends at CUHK, and the power of his passion. “To me it is not work: people always say ‘I need a rest’, but I say ‘rest for what’? I like what I’m doing, this is my rest, this is when I am having fun,” he adds.

And social contribution is also a big part of Gerardo’s life, having co-founded the Artificial Intelligence Society of Hong Kong. “It did not take long for us to realise that Hong Kong was not moving fast enough towards AI innovations. To date, the Society has attracted more than 3,000 local and international professionals to learn, use and invest in new technologies,” says Gerardo.

What advice would Gerardo impart to CUHK students thinking about the start-up world? “The life of a start-up founder is not easy. There is up and down in the journey, but I am definitely enjoying every single step along the way,” he says.

Video — Messages from Our Alumni

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