When Success Runs in the Family
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Sometimes the American Dream can lead to Stanford, Google and a multi-million dollar startup. Twice. In the same family.
By Lorena O'Neil
Each Lepe brother is a highly intelligent, successful, young technology entrepreneur. Bismarck Lepe is an outgoing visionary, while his younger brother, Belsasar, is confident and diligent. Individually, their stories are impressive. But together, the Lepe brothers make an incredible pair.
The Lepes are co-founders of the video platform company Ooyala, along with fellow Stanford alum Sean Knapp. The streaming technology provider powers videos for clients like ESPN, Dell, Sephora and Whole Foods. (OZY Media is one of Ooyala’s clients.) The privately held company, headquartered in Mountain View, California, says it’s raised $79 million in funding since its inception in 2007. If you’ve watched an ESPN video on your iPhone, chances are you’ve used Ooyala.
This would be a big accomplishment for anyone. But the Lepe duo pushed their way up the entrepreneurial ladder using an extraordinary work ethic that they developed from watching their parents, who were migrant field workers from Mexico.
Bis, seven years older than Bel, was born in Oxnard, California and grew up traveling with his parents from Mexico up to Washington State as they followed the migratory fruit seasons. When Bis was five, the family settled in Oxnard permanently, where Bel was born.
Bis, 33, says his family always stressed the importance of education and hard work. “Education is what allows you to pull yourself up from your bootstraps and be successful. Just by example, my parents work their butts off. My parents had three or four jobs, because when it came to education, we would never want for anything.”
Their work paid off. Bis passed up West Point for Stanford, where he majored in economics, minored in computer science, and worked for multiple startups. His junior and senior years, he worked 60 hours a week while in school full time.
Big brother passed on that ethos to little brother. On a break home, Bis remembers, he told Bel, ”This whole Internet thing is going to be big, so you should probably be taking programming classes.” And so, at about 12-years-old, Bel enrolled in a programming class at the local community college.
Bis also says he told Bel prep school would give him a leg up. ”’Everyone in my class that went to boarding school is just better prepared,’” he said. ”’You should look into them.’” Bel duly attended Andover and then Thatcher, and then worked almost full time while a freshman computer science major at Stanford.
“One of the good things about Bel, is he’s always been level-headed and he’s never tried to rebel,” says Bis. “He actually takes recommendations and suggestions incredibly well.”
The Lepe duo pushed their way up the entrepreneurial ladder using a work ethic learned from their parents.
The brothers both wound up at Google, where they bonded with soon-to-be Ooyala co-founder and fellow runner Sean Knapp. Together, the young men decided to leave in 2007 and start an online video platform company. The name Ooyala means cradle in Telugu. ”We liked the idea of cradle of innovation,” says Bis.
“There are very, very few people I’ve met who work harder than those two,” says Knapp, who is now Ooyala’s Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer. The three founders all recall spending the first 35 days of Ooyala sleeping, eating, and showering in the office. Knapp and Bel worked on the product while Bis focused on the business side of the company. First step? Lying to the Lepe parental unit.
At this point, Bel had dropped out of Stanford to pursue Ooyala fulltime. “We didn’t tell my parents right away,” he says of his decision to leave school. Knapp describes Bel as the “wiz kid” of the team. “He’s really smart and he’s really articulate,” says Knapp. Although Bel, at 26, is often the youngest in the room, Knapp says he’s the “old soul” who remains “even-keeled.” Knapp credits Bis with the early vision and direction for the company and for pulling in a lot of early investors.
“We didn’t grow up with the network that I think is actually required to be successful – so we had to build it,” says Bis.
Both brothers constantly credit their parents for teaching them the value of putting effort and dedication into projects. Bel pointed out that his father would send money back to his extended family in Mexico, and says that a handful of family members he put through school ended up being doctors.
Says Bel, “I think I’ve done fairly OK in the smarts space, but fundamentally it comes down to effort. I do believe you get out what you put in. At the end of the day, I might not always be the smartest person in the room but I can definitely outwork anybody when it comes down to it.”
He laughingly adds that between him and Bis, he’s the “nice one,” saying he tends to be more patient while Bis is more direct. “That’s probably the biggest difference though, we really have a lot of similarities.”
Brothers Bis and Bel Lepe even dress the same, attending separate interviews in sweaters over button-down shirts.
Interestingly, the brothers took separate paths recently. Bel has stayed on at Ooyala as Director of Solutions but Bis, formerly President of Product Strategy, recently left to start a new company called Wizeline, Inc. It focuses on product prioritization, helping companies identify which products they should be building.
“As a founder you never leave. It’s kind of like your baby is graduating, it needs to go off on its path,” says Bis. For his new company, he’s gathered a team of seven people from Google, Microsoft and Ooyala to launch Wizeline in December. “Bis has this insatiable drive, it’s what fuels him and what feeds him in life,” says Knapp.
As the two brothers venture out into different directions, they remain remarkably similar in one critical way: the drive to achieve. At a photo shoot for this story, they reveal they have never gotten into any huge fights – unless you count the tamigachi incident from their youth. (It involved Bis hiding Bel’s tamigachi and Bel breaking a trophy of Bis’ in response. It was the only time they’ve ever come to blows.)
Oh, and one more thing? ”I’m still faster than him running-wise. You can put that in the story,” says Bel. Oh, brother.