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December 04, 2023 • Interview with Doug Noll at Authority Magazine


Navigating Entrepreneurship in Your 20s: Antonio Castelan’s Journey

Article Summary

Explore the insightful journey of Antonio Castelan, the twenty-something founder of Fortum Digital Services, as he shares the unique challenges and triumphs of starting a tech-driven real estate marketing company straight out of high school. This article delves into his experiences as a young entrepreneur, revealing valuable lessons on resilience, innovation, and the balance between passion and practicality.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?

Thank you for having me! My journey into entrepreneurship was somewhat unconventional. Growing up in Houston as the son of hardworking immigrants, I was always surrounded by a special mentality of perseverance and ambition. I dabbled in various tech-related hobbies from a young age, which sparked my fascination with the digital world. I would single-handedly take apart everything I could and learn how they worked. I just wasn’t so good at the whole… putting them back together. However, many years later it became a paying job in the form of an internship with the United States government in San Diego. Several more years later, I realized I had a special talent for strategy and tech. It was the real estate market’s untapped digital potential that truly caught my attention. Seeing a clear gap in how real estate marketing was being handled, I decided to leap into the world of digital marketing right after high school. My mission was to blend innovative, state-of-the-art technology with personalized marketing strategies, something that was lacking in the industry at the time.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?

One of the most memorable incidents since starting Fortum involved a major pitch to a potential client. In my eagerness to impress, I overloaded my presentation with technical jargon and complex data. Midway through, I realized I had lost my audience. They were looking for solutions, not a tech seminar. This was a lightbulb moment for me. On the other side, there was another time where I was pitching to another client, and I wasn’t specific enough with my pitch. I learned the importance of communicating appropriately and focusing on client needs, not just showcasing our technical prowess. It was a funny, humbling, yet invaluable lesson in client engagement.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

What sets Fortum Digital Services apart is our commitment to marrying technology with human-centric marketing. We don’t just see numbers (and we see a lot of numbers); we see stories and potential behind each client. A prime example was when we helped a small real estate firm increase their market share. By tailoring a digital strategy specific to their local market nuances, we helped them double their leads in six months. It wasn’t just the technology; it was how we used it to tell their unique story. We all have them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I owe a great deal of my success to my dad. He never had the chance to be an entrepreneur but always harbored a dream to be one. His stories, advice, and unwavering belief in me have been my guiding light. He taught me the values of hard work, empathy, and putting people first, principles that I’ve carried into every aspect of my business. It’s his undying and unconditional love that allowed me (and my siblings) to be able to explore, make mistakes, and make the impact I am. I could tell a million stories about him; but it is the stories that I cannot tell that truly encapsulate the remarkable human he is.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Currently, we’re focused on just focused on providing the best experience we can for our clients. But in the coming year we are looking to expand our AI capabilities to offer more predictive analytics in real estate marketing. This project is particularly exciting as it has the potential to transform how real estate professionals understand and interact with their market. By harnessing AI, we aim to provide insights that not only drive sales but also create more meaningful connections between realtors and their clients. Consequently creating what we like to call the ‘Crystal Ball’.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Success, to me, has always been about creating a positive impact, beyond just business growth. At Fortum Digital Services, we’re privileged to have aided countless real estate professionals in elevating their digital presence (and will help countless others in the future with our new tool), but our commitment to ‘goodness’ extends further. One initiative that fills me with immense pride is our upcoming foundation focused on mental health resources. Mental health, often overlooked in the high-pressure world, is a cause close to my heart. This foundation aims to provide support, resources, and awareness, championing a healthier, more balanced approach to life. It’s our way of giving back and fostering a community where success and well-being go hand in hand.
Detailing the strategic pivot at Fortum Digital, this section delves into the company’s shift towards AI-centric solutions in response to market changes. It explores the steps taken to retrain the team, revise workflows, and fully integrate AI into their services. This part offers insights into the process of adapting to new technologies and the importance of an agile mindset in business.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life?

One book that profoundly impacted me is ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. It’s a story about following one’s dreams, listening to the heart, and learning to read the omens along life’s path. This book came into my life during the early days of starting my business. Its message about the importance of seeking one’s own path resonated deeply with me, especially as a young entrepreneur often flooded with doubts and fears. ‘The Alchemist’ reinforced my belief in pursuing my dreams, no matter how daunting the journey. It taught me that the treasure of fulfilling one’s destiny is always worth the challenges encountered along the way.

Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”.

Antonio reflects on the initial skepticism he faced as a young entrepreneur in the seasoned real estate industry. This section delves into specific instances where his age was a barrier, his strategies for overcoming these challenges, and how these experiences honed his determination and business acumen. It emphasizes the balance between youthful enthusiasm and the need to prove credibility in a competitive market.

I. Starting out at 17, a major challenge was the skepticism and underestimation I faced due to my age. Convincing clients and investors to take a high school graduate seriously in the real estate tech industry was an uphill battle. I remember numerous meetings where I could sense the disbelief in the room. Yet, these moments fueled my determination to prove my capabilities, not just as a young entrepreneur, but as a visionary leader.

II. My drive to innovate and disrupt the industry sometimes clashed with my need to learn and grow. I often had to remind myself that being a founder doesn’t equate to having all the answers. Embracing learning as a continuous part of the journey was both challenging and rewarding.

III. Earning credibility in a seasoned industry like real estate required not just innovative ideas but also tangible results. Each successful client case study became a stepping stone in building our reputation.

IV. Rapid growth, though exciting, brought its own set of challenges. Scaling the business while maintaining service quality and company ethos needed careful strategizing and adaptability.

V. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect has been my personal evolution. Each challenge, success, and failure in this journey has shaped me into not just a better business leader but a more empathetic and resilient person.

What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty year old who is looking to found a business?

Antonio provides an in-depth look at how he balanced his passion for technology and marketing with the practical aspects of running a business. He offers advice on how to keep one’s enthusiasm in check with market realities, financial planning, and strategic decision-making. This section is aimed at offering guidance to other young entrepreneurs on navigating the fine line between dream-chasing and pragmatic business management.
I. If you are in your twenties, we’re still just starting out. Acknowledge that there’s a lot you won’t know. Embrace every opportunity to learn — from books, mentors, competitors, and especially from your own mistakes. We all begin somewhere.

II. Entrepreneurship is not a straight path; it’s filled with highs and lows. Resilience is your armor against these inevitable setbacks and failures. There will be moments when you question your decisions — it’s that resilience that will carry you through these times.

III. Your network can and WILL be your greatest asset. Seek out mentors, engage with industry partners, attend events, and never ever underestimate the power of a good conversation. Relationships built in these early years can open doors you never imagined.

IV. Passion is crucial, but so is practicality. It’s essential to balance your enthusiasm for your idea with a realistic understanding of the market and business fundamentals. Don’t minimize and shrink yourself out of your ambitions but approach your goals from a practical standpoint first.

V. Hustle culture often glorifies working yourself to death, but long-term success requires you to look after your mental and physical health. Burnout is real, and it’s not a badge of honor. Maintain a balance. Prioritize Your Mental and physical health before anything else.

This part addresses the often-overlooked aspect of entrepreneurship — mental and physical well-being. Antonio shares his personal experiences with managing stress and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, emphasizing how crucial this is for sustainable success. He challenges the ‘hustle culture’ narrative, advocating for a more balanced approach to building a business.

Final Thoughts

Antonio Castelan’s journey as a twenty-something entrepreneur is a beacon of inspiration for young founders. From overcoming age-related skepticism to learning the importance of health and balance, his experiences offer invaluable lessons for those embarking on their entrepreneurial path. Read the full article for a deeper understanding of the challenges and triumphs of starting a business in your twenties, and how to navigate them successfully here –