Bísness School

This English teacher started his business with two $500 prepaid debit cards. Now it's an $8 million company

ThinkNow is a multimillion-dollar company with over 40 employees across the U.S., Latin America and Asia.

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

When Mario Carrasco was a high school English teacher, he never thought a career change would wind up with him becoming the head of a multi-million dollar company.

Carrasco co-founded ThinkNow, a market research firm focused on providing companies with data that allows them to better cater to multicultural audiences in the U.S. and Latin America.

ThinkNow is now one of the largest multicultural market research companies in the country, with big-ticket clients such as Google and Honda.

How did a high school teacher decide to make such a dramatic life change? According to Carrasco, it all came down to a single Google search.

Mario Carrasco

A passion for literature

Carrasco grew up in the Los Angeles area to a Mexican American mother and a Mexican father, who pushed him to pursue a career in engineering or law from an early age.

"My parents, rightfully so, wanted me to do something that I was going to be able to support myself," Carrasco explained.

But despite their wishes, Carrasco found his passion in reading and later focused on pursuing literature.

Mario Carrasco

"In high school, I was good at English and it felt good. They were supportive but worried when they found out I was going to study English," he said.

Carrasco went on to study English literature at California State University, Northridge.

A different ball game

Soon after graduating, Carrasco found out a company was willing to pay for his graduate studies if he took on a career in teaching for a few years. So, channeling his love for literature, Carrasco went on to teach high school English literature.

But his career move turned out to be a big mistake.

"You have to be passionate about teaching, not necessarily the subject," Carrasco explained. "If you're passionate about something, teaching it to high schoolers is the worst thing that you can do."

"There's very few people in high school that are passionate about literature. So right away, I knew this was not for me."

So, after a few years of teaching, Carrasco briefly explored venturing into law by taking the Law School Admission Test.

"I took an LSAT prep course and quickly realized the people there were not for me. [They were] very different than literature, humanities people," Carrasco said.

So he decided to remain in teaching until one day he decided to Google what career opportunities he could pivot to with an arts degree.

"I remember it was after class, after grading papers, sitting there in my room, 'What can I do with an English degree?' Literally just Googled that," he said. "And marketing came up."

"It sounded interesting, sounded like an appeal to my creative side," he said. "One thing that I really liked about studying literature is the research aspect."

Venture into print media

So, in order to pivot from teaching, in 2005 Carrasco applied to work for Hispanic Business, a print magazine focused on spotlighting Latino leaders in business, and he got a job in the marketing department, writing press releases.

"I got exposed to all these amazing Latino entrepreneurs for the first time," Carrasco said.

"I got to use my language skills there. Being able to tap into my culture for that job was the first time where I could combine my background with my passion."

At Hispanic Business, Carrasco learned about marketing, media, and -- most importantly -- how diverse and powerful the Hispanic business sector is in the U.S.

What he learned at Hispanic Business later got him a job with MSN Latino, where he focused on marketing and editorial.

But all those jobs had one issue: the commute was way too much.

"Both of these jobs I had terrible commutes. I was living in Simi Valley and driving all the way to Santa Barbara, a little bit over an hour with no traffic."

With the goal of getting a job closer to home, Carrasco stumbled on an opportunity that wound up changing the course of his life: market research.

A move of a lifetime

"I started to look for jobs closer to me, and that's how I got into market research," Carrasco said. "It was probably the biggest decision I made in my career."

But what is market research? According to Carrasco, it all boils down to investigating what the consumers want so companies can market and cater a product to a specific demographic.

When Carrasco entered that space in 2008, he was hired to build an online panel where his new employer, Garcia Research, paid Hispanics if they shared some information about themselves.

"As a a marketer, I was like, this is going to be easy. I get to pay people to visit the website versus trying to get them interested in something they may or may not be," Carrasco said.

"We created the website in Spanish and, flash forward, it became the largest U.S. Hispanic panel," he said.

"Garcia Research had been around for 10-plus years previous to me joining, and within 10 years (the panel) became the number one revenue generator for the company."

Carrasco's effort paid off. Two years after working for Garcia Research, the company was bought by a much larger organization in 2011.

Carrasco, along with his manager Roy Kokoyachuk, decided to leave and start their own venture.

Multimillion-dollar idea

Once Carrasco and his former boss started to brainstorm their next venture into market research, they first had to have funds to open a company. So they bought $500 in prepaid cards.

"We couldn't open a business account without having being incorporated, so we had the idea to buy prepaid cards, and that's going to be our first business card," Carrasco explained.

And so they got to work on starting their own market research company, focused not only Hispanics, but also on multicultural audience research.

And for the name? They came up with "ThinkNow."

"Companies are always putting off multicultural marketing. It's like 'next year, next budget, next quarter,'" Carrasco explained. "So we wanted (the name) to be a call to action."

You have to think about multicultural consumers now. It's not tomorrow or next year

Mario Carrasco

And to Carrasco's surprise, the first couple of months were great for the company, particularly because they launched in a space they already understood.

"We were at an advantage because we launched our company in the same space where we came from," Carrasco explained. "We were profitable in our first year, which was pretty incredible."

"Having a company focused on market research for multicultural consumers was hitting a real need out there."

Business 101

But just as they were reaching the stars with their new company, in 2015 they learned a hard lesson: don't put all your eggs in one basket.

"We had like 30% of our revenue concentrated into one client, and that client went away," Carrasco explained.

Fortunately, instead of being the end, the company pivoted and survived.

Being a founder is a lonely road

Mario Carrasco

And once the second storm came -- the coronavirus pandemic -- Carrasco was ready. The company began sending people home and to work part-time before the lockdowns officially started.

"We didn't let anybody go during the pandemic. We were able to keep everybody part-time once."

And then the business broke its revenue record in 2021.

"I'm really proud of that. We were able to weather that storm and keep our whole company intact and grow."

Thirteen years after its founding, ThinkNow is now a multimillion-dollar company with over 40 employees across the U.S., Latin America and Asia.

"We didn't come from money. We're not the smartest guys, but we're consistent," Carrasco said. "We show up every day, and have been for 13 years."

Carrasco was interviewed for Bísness School, a series that tells the inspiring stories of Latino founders. Subscribe to Bísness School wherever you get your podcasts to get future episodes automatically. Remember, business school is expensive. Bísness School is free.

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