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From Chile to Australia: How Felipe Flores created Clear Blue Water

Yolanda Redrup /

Felipe Flores is charmingly joyous, so it’s easy to understand how his start-up business has won some major contracts.

Born in South America, his accent still has its native tones, as he talks with boyish excitement about his big data business Clear Blue Water.

Flores came to Australia for the first time when he was 19 years old with his sister. He was on summer break and had intended to stay for two months and then move back to his homeland. Ten years later, he’s still here.

Never afraid to take on a challenge, Flores decided to attend university in Australia despite only speaking broken English at the time. His first job down under was as a door-to-door salesman, and it took him two and a half years to realise when people asked him which ‘mob’ he was from, they weren’t accusing him of being a gangster.

After completing a degree in computer systems engineering in Brisbane, setting a record at an international karate club for the fastest time to get a black belt, and working at a data analytics consulting company, Flores started Clear Blue Water alongside cofounder Mark James.

Now, Clear Blue Water turns over just under $2 million annually, has users in 67 countries and more than 40 clients. It was also ranked as one of Australia’s top 50 start-ups at this year’s StartupSmart Awards.  Flores spoke to SmartCompany about working with a cofounder who was once his boss, winning major clients such as Foxtel and salsa dancing.

Name: Felipe Flores

Company: Clear Blue Water

Location: Burwood East, Victoria

Mornings

Like most successful entrepreneurs Flores is an early riser.

“I get up at 5am and I go to the gym before work. I’ll arrive at work between 7:30am and 8am.

“The first thing I do is plan the day and do some strategy work. Basically, that’s working out what’s going to give us as a company the greatest benefit to do that day or for the week, and I do that for myself personally as well.”

Flores then spends the first part of the morning focusing on his most important tasks.

“At 10am I’ll start ringing existing clients, so that’s all about touching base with our customers and exploring how we can add further value to them,” he says.

“Because we have good relationships with our clients that usually gets me really pumped up because we’re doing really well, and they’re doing really well, and we can help them. Then I’ll ring prospective customers when I’m feeling pumped.”

Daily life

Within Clear Blue Water, Flores is in charge of sales, marketing and business development, while his cofounder James focuses on the software development side.

“He is a technology genius. He’s extremely visionary and he lives five years in the future in terms of technology,” he says.

“He’s an IT architect where he sees the big picture of the software, but I challenge him on the real world application of it and how we’re going to get benefit from those things. So together we structure what we want the developers to build.”

Flores describes his staff as a “team of superstars”.

“They get to work on their individual parts with complete power and complete responsibility,” he says.

“They can build the software and do the data analysis in any way, at any time and they can work from wherever, but it has to produce the output that we need and if it doesn’t it’s on them.”

Since starting the business, Flores and James have perfected a hiring technique which involves four interview stages incorporating personality, aptitude and coding tests.

“We want to see everything that the person is. We also have a 7am interview in the city which is specifically there for the people who are quite keen.

“We look for people who are up-starters, who take a lot of ownership in their work. We strive for people who Mark describes as ‘alphas’. We want them to drive their ideas and do their best work at Clear Blue Water.”

Flores’ business relationship with James has undergone a transition. Prior to starting Clear Blue Water, James had been Flores’ boss in their previous workplace and changing this dynamic proved to be a test.

“When we started this company that dynamic stuck around for a while and it definitely took a little bit of time for me to rise up and for us to have a new way of working together where we were equal,” Flores says.

“If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together. At some points in the first year it felt like it was one of us leading the company, but now we’re settling in and working more as a block.”

That first year of business saw numerous fights between the pair, but the foundation of their relationship has kept them going.

“It’s no bullshit, a lot of respect, a lot of care, and that’s the same way we treat our employees,” Flores says.

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