Derek Distenfield and Gary Fowler Model Partnership for #GoGlobal

Most serial entrepreneurs want to be their own boss and make success happen on their own. Derek Distenfield and Gary Fowler recognized that they could drive even greater impact by partnering together, and the results have been remarkable. Each has considerable experience as business executives and international startup leaders, but their skills combined turn them into the powerhouse behind cross-cultural venture studio GSD Venture Studios.

Gary is an award-winning senior-level executive with over 28 years of successful experience in global strategic innovation leadership, sales, marketing, operational management, and investment management. He has co-founded 11 companies, including the successful artificial intelligence startup and the investment firm DY Investments. He has also held top-level executive positions in companies like HP, Siemens, Mirantis, and ClickSoftware.

Derek, also brings a unique background into the partnership. He most recently served as the COO for 360 Payments, which quickly rose to become a $2 billion payments company under his guidance. He was also the CEO of a social enterprise startup called NextGenJustice, which provided an alternative to the traditional legal services model. Derek is now a keynote speaker, advisor, and mentor who guides other entrepreneurs on the best path forward to success.

Together Gary and Derek have built GSD Venture Studios, unique and important addition to the venture capital scene. Unlike traditional venture capital firms, GSD does not simply throw money behind promising startups. Instead, the founders realized that there was a critical missing piece for entrepreneurs – mentorship and expertise. As a result, they take senior operational roles in their portfolio companies and get their hands dirty doing the real work that it takes for young companies to be truly successful.

According to Derek, one of the greatest strengths of his partnership with Gary is their transparency with each other. GSD has experienced tremendous early success, and Derek attributes this to being able to sit down with Gary and have an open conversation on any issue, no matter how much they disagree. Gary and Derek are very different from each other, and while others may view this as a weakness, they see it as a strength. They each bring their unique perspectives to the table, and their final decision is better for it.

Derek sees Gary as the life and soul of their firm. “Gary is someone who wants to be accomplishing goals and getting things done every moment that he’s awake. He inspires me and fuels my fire to keep working hard too,” said Derek. And in Gary’s eyes, Derek’s positivity and long-term vision are what keep the partnership steady through the highs and lows. He views a business partnership like a marriage – it is not entered into lightly and it requires commitment and works on all sides. His decision to launch GSD with Derek speaks volumes about the trust and respect he has for his business partner.

“The average startup takes 5 to 7 years to be successful so you must develop a product that will dominate in half a decade; not today,” said Gary. “In order to be a success, you have to believe in your dreams but do customer development so that you can make sure their hypothesis is real. If you stay focused, stay positive, and visualize where you want to go, there is no reason why you cannot get there. If you need to pivot, that is okay. Pivoting does not mean you failed. A pivot is like having to make a U-turn so that you can move in another direction to get to your destination.”

With this guiding principle leading the way, Derek and Gary are well on their way to making GSD Venture Studios an international name.

MOVERS and SHAKERS Interview with Kevin Leyes

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.

I’m Kevin Leyes, a 19-year-old Argentine and Italian entrepreneur from Buenos Aires, Argentina. With a complicated childhood, without much money and a very small family, at the age of 17 I founded Team Leyes, my main company, a brand and online jewelry store, which today has managed to consolidate as a leader in Argentina (with almost 50,000 organic followers on Instagram) working with internationally recognized celebrities and artists, including: Khea, Ecko, Seven Kayne, Alex Caniggia and Blunted Vato.

Throughout my life I have had the great honor of representing my country in the world through several opportunities: being selected as a Youth Ambassador by the U.S. Embassy in Argentina with a U.S. State Department full scholarship, in the TrepCamp Entrepreneurial Simulator program in Silicon Valley (where our team recently won a Demo Day for our startup called Tempo) and in Mexico City through the Latin American Leadership Academy.

I am currently working on some new projects, startups and upcoming businesses: Cohetify, a marketing and social media agency, and Tempo, a web app and platform that connects people who share their talents and passions with others looking to experience new things in their free time to break with their routines through a new and disruptive business model called pay-per-experience, in which the user pays in order to the quality of service they received.


What exactly does your company do?

Through Team Leyes, we sell and provide jewelry of all types and different models: chains, bracelets, charms, rings, earrings, watches, Grillz and much more. We work with all materials (from more affordable products to silver and solid gold) with a great commitment to the quality of our products. We also design personalized pieces, any design that a client has in mind, we can design it and produce it turning it into reality in a luxury jewel. We also tend to partner and work constantly with influencers, artists and celebrities from all over the world.

However, behind the basic purpose and commercial concept of most businesses (in my case, the sale of jewelry), through Team Leyes we offer young people, mostly insiders or interested in urban music genre (“reggaetón” and trap), the possibility to look like their favorite artists.
Psychologically speaking, idols, in general, impose patterns of behavior, ways of speaking, and among all this, also ways to dress or look. That is where Team Leyes has the role of satisfying and covering that need.


What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

1. Geographical location

My company Team Leyes was originally founded in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Unlike many entrepreneurs who are located in the United States or Europe, those of us in Latin American countries are affected by many socio-economic problems and bureaucratic government policies:

1.1. Purchasing power

In Latin America the average purchasing power of the population is much lower than in countries such as the United States or Europe, obviously the cost of living is also more affordable, however, this tends in some way to affect and limit your income and profit margin. It is common for many companies to market their products at different prices depending on the region or part of the world, adjusting to their different markets with audiences and potential customers.
I am currently planning its expansion to the United States, Latin America and the rest of the world, analyzing each market and looking for Angel Investors who may be interested in my projects and business.

2. Influencers, artists, and celebrities

They’re a double-edged sword. I recognize that they can be of great impulse and a lot of help in developing your business, however, before finding the right people, I have lost a lot of money investing in people who I thought were worth it, or who would value one’s work. The problem is that many times it is not so, not everything works as we expect or plan.
Many times, within influencing marketing, yet studying certain factors of a potential public figure such as the authenticity of their followers, their engagement, and so on, disappointments and breakups of relationships end up happening outside of everything digital: irresponsibility, breach of deals made, and similar situations that are regrettable.

Instead of becoming victimized and surrendering to problems or stumbling blocks that may arise along the way, I always love to transmit positivity and a spirit of self-improvement and resilience.
In times when social networks abound and practically perfect lives are known, without mistakes, complications, and only luxuries or achievements intact, it seems even more important to emphasize that life is not the color of roses and the concept of the typical roller coaster of the entrepreneur is totally authentic, there is no direct line to success.
Those who are starting and stumbling must be clear that social networks are a parallel life for all of us, not just guided by what we see or read there, there is a lot of effort, work and constant struggle with challenges and problems outside the networks much is not made public or visible. As an entrepreneur, you must always be ready and with your head held high to face anything.


What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

1. Execute

I always hear lots of ideas, from people who want to start a business, or not necessarily related to entrepreneurship: acquire new habits, improve certain skills, learn more about a particular topic. The problem is that there are very few who take all that into reality by acting and executing, which in the end is the most important (and also challenging) part.

I can only say that time is very valuable, and every moment simply passes, goes by and doesn’t come back, that’s why you have to jump in and start. Let the fear of failure not cloud your eyesight and prevent you from trying, because worse is not trying.

Back to business: even if the first version of your product isn’t perfect, you have to launch it anyway. It is preferable to stumble and fail as soon as possible, quickly, in order to adapt faster and improve with the passage of time.


2. Never stop learning

I started college at age 17, right after graduating with high school honors, however, I only lasted one or two months in and dropped out. The freedom and time management that entrepreneurship provides you is unparalleled.
However, I never stopped learning. I always maintained a curious spirit of wanting to discover new things, seeing beyond the superficial and wondering why everything, thinking outside the box is very important at all times.

I am not against traditional higher education, I just propose that today it is not the only source of learning to which we can turn, so there are no excuses. Wherever you are in the world, with a computer and an Internet connection you can access very valuable content in the area you want through e-learning platforms or as simple as from YouTube.

Life is learning, we die when we stop learning.


Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?

A great influence for me has been the great story of Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba. Throughout his life he has gone through countless failures and setbacks, reflecting the great resilience he possesses. I think he is a great example to all entrepreneurs, and how finally, after so many attempts, effort and dedication, the fruits come, sooner or later, and inevitably.


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 think it’s very important not to forget who was willing to help you when you started when you didn’t have anything or not much. A lot of people can come after you get what you were looking for and after you achieve success, that’s common. Personally, I think I owe everything to my family, more specifically to my mother. Perhaps as a child, I never had large amounts of money or large financial support, because the reality is that our family was always humble, but I never lacked motivation and constant support and I was always instilled with the education and mentality that I have today and I have been building and improving. I was never judged for wanting to pursue my dreams and decide what to do with my life. I feel that I have had great freedom in that regard and I am grateful for that.


What do you see as your greatest success in life?

I have always wanted, beyond being successful as an entrepreneur in my business and obviously have an economic return for my family and myself, also generate a positive impact on society or the world through some project or startup and somehow contribute to a cause or put an end to a problem that affects many people. I am still working on this, but I am convinced that it will be very soon.

As a long-term accomplishment, I would love to be a philanthropist, successful in my companies, in order to help young people and collaborate with social causes and non-profit organizations. At least from my point of view life is not just about pursuing and trying to get money for everything, which obviously opens many doors and allows you access to many other material resources to execute and finance more and more projects, but I would also love to contribute to the rest of humanity.

If we all had this way of thinking, I am sure that the world would be much better, more united and less selfish.


Please list your social media URLs

I’m @KevinLeyes everywhere, let’s stay connected!