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November 25, 2023 • Interview with Authority Magazine


Scaling Success: Insights from Fortum Digital’s Leader Antonio Castelan

Article Summary

Antonio Castelan, the visionary leader of Fortum Digital Services, shares his unique journey in scaling a successful business in the dynamic world of real estate marketing. His story, rooted in his Houston upbringing in an immigrant family, is marked by resilience, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. From founding Fortum Digital Services right out of high school to navigating through the challenges of the pandemic, Antonio’s approach to scaling a business is a blend of strategic vision, customer-centric focus, and a deep understanding of market dynamics. His insights offer valuable lessons for entrepreneurs looking to scale their businesses in today’s fast-paced and technology-driven market.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Antonio’s path to entrepreneurship is marked by a blend of resilience, ambition, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. His childhood in Houston, within an immigrant household, shaped his work ethic and dreams. His passion for technology, coupled with a drive to impact the real estate industry, laid the foundation for Fortum Digital Services. Despite facing skepticism and challenges, his conviction in digital marketing’s potential to transform real estate marketing propelled him to establish and grow his company.
My journey to the world of entrepreneurship and real estate marketing is a tale of resilience, ambition, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. Growing up in Houston, Texas, in an immigrant household, life was filled with challenges, but my parents instilled in me the values of hard work and the importance of dreaming big. From a young age, I was fascinated by technology and how it could be leveraged to create impactful solutions. This interest led me to explore various facets of digital marketing and software development, which became the foundation for my career.

Despite my academic performance being average, my drive to innovate and impact the industry was anything but. I was always the kid with a myriad of ideas, constantly thinking about how to do things differently and more efficiently. The real estate industry, with its vast potential and dynamic nature, captured my attention. It presented a canvas where I could apply my skills and passion for technology to bring about meaningful change.

One of my earliest and most significant decisions was to start Fortum Digital Services right out of high school. This decision, though daunting, was fueled by my conviction in my abilities and the potential of digital marketing in transforming the real estate landscape. I encountered skepticism and hurdles, but each challenge only strengthened my resolve. My journey is a testament to the belief that with hard work, innovation, and an unwavering dedication to your vision, you can overcome obstacles and achieve success. It’s about embracing your unique path and turning your aspirations into reality.

A defining moment in Antonio’s career was his decision to turn a personal adversity into an opportunity for growth. This pivot, from focusing on personal success to impacting the real estate industry through innovative digital marketing, marked a transformation in his approach. This shift led to the exploration of new digital strategies at Fortum Digital Services, significantly contributing to the company’s growth and redefining real estate marketing.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

Several decisions made me realize my career, but I believe the key decision that helped me was, what I believe to be, one of the worst nights of my life. Hospitalized and facing one of my lowest points, I experienced a profound moment of clarity and introspection the following day. It wasn’t just about recovering from that night; it was about transforming my approach to life and consequently my business.

In that hospital room, amidst all the emotions, I realized the fragility of life and the importance of living with purpose and passion. I decided that night to channel all my energy and focus into becoming the best version of myself — not just for me, but for my family and the community around me. This decision marked a turning point, where my aspirations shifted from just achieving personal success to making a lasting impact in the real estate industry through innovative digital marketing solutions.

Post-recovery, I threw myself into Fortum Digital Services with a renewed vigor. My vision expanded from providing standard marketing services to pioneering digital solutions that would redefine how real estate marketing was done. This shift in mindset and approach was instrumental in propelling Fortum Digital Services to new heights. We began exploring uncharted territories in digital marketing, integrating advanced technologies like AI and analytics to offer unparalleled services to our clients.

The lesson I learned from that unfortunate night was invaluable — embracing life’s adversities as opportunities for growth and transformation can lead to extraordinary outcomes. It’s about finding the strength to rise from the ashes and turn challenges into catalysts for success. This experience has not only shaped my career but also defined the ethos of Fortum Digital Services — a company built on resilience, innovation, and a commitment to excellence.

The strategic pivot during COVID-19 stands as a testament to Fortum Digital Services’ resilience and innovation. Recognizing the changing landscape, Antonio led the adoption of virtual tours and AI-driven analytics, ensuring business continuity and adapting to new market needs. This initiative not only helped clients navigate the pandemic’s challenges but also cemented Fortum Digital Services’ role as a leader in digital real estate marketing.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

Reflecting on my journey with Fortum Digital Services, the initiative that stands out as a pivotal and impactful achievement was our strategic pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world grappled with unprecedented challenges, we saw an opportunity to rethink and reshape our approach to real estate marketing.

The real estate industry was hit hard by the pandemic, with traditional marketing methods becoming obsolete overnight. Recognizing the urgent need for a shift in strategy, we spearheaded a digital revolution in real estate marketing. This initiative involved harnessing the power of virtual tours, AI-driven analytics, and online engagement tools to bridge the gap between real estate businesses and their clients in a socially distant world.

We innovated virtual property showcases, enabling clients to explore properties remotely, ensuring business continuity for our partners in the real estate sector. Additionally, we leveraged data analytics to provide insights on shifting market trends, helping our clients adapt their strategies in real-time to the evolving market conditions.

The success of this pivot not only solidified our position as a leader in the industry but also reinforced our commitment to being at the forefront of digital transformation. The pride I feel in leading this initiative stems from the positive impact it had on our clients and the industry, proving that in times of adversity, innovation and resilience can drive remarkable change.

Antonio’s early focus on rapid expansion taught him the importance of sustainable growth and enjoying the entrepreneurial journey. Learning from moments of burnout and missed opportunities, he shifted to a more balanced approach, prioritizing well-being alongside professional achievements. This lesson reshaped Fortum Digital Services’ growth strategy, emphasizing the value of each step in the company’s evolution.

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

In my entrepreneurial journey, mistakes and I have been constant friends, each one teaching invaluable lessons. One particular mistake that stands out was my initial approach to scaling Fortum Digital Services. In the early stages of the company, I was fixated on rapid growth and expansion. I wanted to make Fortum a marketing giant as quickly as possible, often neglecting the importance of enjoying and learning from the process.

This relentless pursuit led to moments of burnout and missed opportunities to appreciate the small victories along the way. I was so focused on the destination that I overlooked the journey. It was a mindset that not only affected me personally but also the company culture.

The lesson I learned from this was profound: success is not just about reaching your goals but also about the journey you undertake to get there. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are successful companies. It’s crucial to savor each step, learn from every challenge, and celebrate the small milestones. This shift in perspective has led me to approach business with a more balanced outlook, prioritizing sustainable growth and personal well-being along with professional achievements. It has made the journey of building Fortum Digital Services not just a professional pursuit but a rewarding life experience.

While formal mentorship was not a part of Antonio’s journey, the informal guidance from his father played a crucial role. Now, as a mentor himself, Antonio focuses on imparting wisdom while encouraging individual paths. His leadership style, influenced by his father’s teachings, balances firmness with empathy, driving a culture of respect and continuous improvement within Fortum Digital Services.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

My leadership style is deeply influenced by my father, albeit with my own twist. I believe we can all recall being yelled at for not holding the flashlight appropriately. He would yell, be stern, and get upset, but always taught me why it was important to be great at the little things. Although I do not yell and get upset, I come from a place of understanding and empathy. Acknowledging their effort, understanding where they’re coming from, but always rectify in a teaching way.

My leadership style is about balancing firmness with empathy, setting high standards while providing support and encouragement. It’s about recognizing that everyone’s contribution is vital and ensuring they feel valued and understood. This balance has helped cultivate a culture of mutual respect and continuous improvement within our company, driving us toward collective success.

Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”?

Scaling a business is a multifaceted challenge that requires strategic thinking and adaptability. Each of these elements has been instrumental in our journey from a startup to a larger enterprise, embodying lessons learned and strategies refined over time. Here are five key insights I’ve practiced from scaling Fortum Digital Services:

I. Clear Vision and Scalable Systems: Early in our journey, we realized the importance of having a clear vision and scalable systems. When we first ventured into expanding our services, we faced operational hiccups due to inadequate systems. Learning from this, we invested in scalable infrastructure that could grow with us.

II. Train, Train, Train, and Train: This goes along with #1. It is just as important to invest in your own culture. Training is just as much, if not more, important than investing in scalable infrastructure. Your infrastructure will not be able to function and operate at 110% if they are not being utilized correctly. Create an open and welcoming environment to voice concerns, learn, and teamwork.

III. Customer-Centric Approach: Scaling isn’t just about expanding; it’s about deepening relationships with customers. A pivotal moment was when we decided to tailor our services to align closely with client needs, leading to increased loyalty and referrals.

IV. Financial Prudence: One of our early challenges was managing finances during rapid expansion. We learned to balance between investing in growth and maintaining financial health, crucial for sustainable scaling.

V. Embracing Change and Innovation: The real estate market is dynamic, and our willingness to adapt and innovate has been key. We’ve continually evolved our strategies to stay ahead, such as integrating AI technologies to enhance our service offerings.

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

Scaling a business is a delicate endeavor, and missteps can be common. There’s a couple typical mistakes and ways you can address them:

I. Overextending Resources: Often, companies scale too rapidly, stretching their resources thin. We experienced this in our early days when we ambitiously expanded our service offerings without a proportional increase in manpower or systems. The key is to scale in tandem with your capacity to deliver consistently high-quality services. It’s crucial to have a strategic plan that aligns growth with resources.

II. Diluting Company Culture: As you scale, maintaining the core ethos that defined your startup phase can be challenging. We tackled this by ingraining our core values into every aspect of our operations, from recruitment to onboarding, and by regularly engaging in team-building activities. It’s about creating a culture where new members feel aligned with your company’s ethos from day one.

III. Neglecting Existing Customers: In pursuit of new markets or clients, there’s a risk of overlooking existing customers. We learned early on to balance our focus between nurturing current relationships and exploring new ones. Regular feedback and personalized attention have helped us maintain strong bonds with our existing clients while scaling.

IV. Underestimating the Importance of Scalable Systems: Initially, we underestimated the need for systems that could grow with us. We rectified this by investing in scalable technologies and processes. Companies should audit their systems regularly and upgrade them in anticipation of growth.

V. Inadequate Employee Training: As you grow, ensuring that your team’s skills and knowledge keep pace is vital. As stated in the last question, implementing continuous learning and development programs, ensuring your team is equipped to handle the evolving demands of our expanding business.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

A thorough Onboarding Process: We have a comprehensive onboarding program that immerses new hires in our culture, values, and operational methodologies from the outset. This includes workshops, team interactions, and immersion in day-to-day activities that reflect our core values.

Cultural Fit in Recruitment: During recruitment, we assess cultural fit as rigorously as we do technical skills. This ensures new members resonate with our ethos from day one.

Regular Cultural Reinforcement: You can hold regular team meetings and workshops where you reiterate your core values and discuss how they translate into your daily work. This keeps the culture alive and evolving constantly.

Feedback Mechanisms: Have open channels for feedback where employees can express concerns or suggestions regarding company culture. This helps identify and address any cultural drift early on.

Leadership Modeling: Our leadership team exemplifies the company culture in their actions and decisions, setting a precedent for the rest of the team.

Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

There’s a few tools and techniques that have helped in scaling internally:

Creating an Internal Knowledge Base: We’ve developed a comprehensive internal knowledge base that’s regularly updated. This includes process documents, best practices, and case studies, which serve as a valuable resource for both new and existing team members.

Regular Training and Development: We invest in regular training sessions, workshops, and courses to ensure our team’s skills are up-to-date and aligned with industry standards.

Project Management Tools: Utilizing robust project management tools like Asana and Trello has streamlined our workflows and improved team coordination, especially important as we take on more complex projects.

Cross-Departmental Collaboration: Encouraging cross-departmental collaboration has been key. This not only broadens your team’s understanding of different facets of your business but also fosters a spirit of unity and shared purpose.

Feedback and Adaptation: We maintain an agile approach, regularly seeking feedback from our team on internal processes and making adjustments as needed.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

We rely on several tools to streamline this process:

Human Resource Information System (HRIS): Platforms like BambooHR or Workday are excellent for managing employee data and streamlining administrative tasks. They provide new hires with easy access to essential documents and company policies.

Learning Management Systems (LMS): Tools like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera for Business offer a range of courses that help new hires acquire necessary skills and knowledge. We curate specific learning paths tailored to their roles.

Project Management Tools: Asana and Trello are invaluable for introducing new hires to ongoing projects and workflows. They can easily understand their tasks, deadlines, and how their work fits into the larger picture.

Communication Tools: Slack or Microsoft Teams facilitate smooth communication with new team members, allowing them to quickly feel part of the team and seek help when needed.

Feedback Tools: Platforms like Officevibe or Culture Amp help us gather regular feedback from new hires, ensuring their onboarding experience is continually improving.

Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement, I would inspire a movement for empathy and mental health importance. Imagine a world where everyone, regardless of age, background, or location has the skills and access to mental health resources. This movement would not only save lives but empower individuals with the tools to become better, solve problems, and create opportunities for the future.

Final Thoughts

Antonio Castelan’s narrative is a powerful illustration of what it takes to scale a business successfully. His journey at Fortum Digital Services, marked by strategic decision-making, resilience in the face of adversity, and a commitment to constant innovation, offers valuable insights for any entrepreneur looking to grow their business. His story underscores the importance of a clear vision, customer-centric approach, and the ability to adapt and evolve in an ever-changing market. For an in-depth exploration of Antonio’s strategies and experiences in scaling Fortum Digital Services, read the full article here –