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Changing the Way Hospitality Workers Build Their Resumes

By Adrian Marquez

Adrian Marquez

I have been working in the hospitality space (a sommelier too!) for over 20 years while founding MARLABS in 2011. MARLABS offers innovative solutions for hospitality services and recruitment. The main project at MARLABS, Agaru, offers anonymous, transparent evaluations of service staff that can be used to support their customer-oriented track record in the tough world of hospitality. Enterprises will gain better insight of the performance of their teams with more granular data and customers will be rewarded for sharing their views in a simple way, where they can help others help themselves through their talent.

How did you come up with the idea for Agaru?

At U of Toronto, I learned about a famous researcher that lived with crack dealers in El Barrio to understand why anyone would do it. It's dangerous, pay is terrible, stressful.Turns out that they do it for one thing: Respect. Money was fine, but the respect of their peers and society is what the dealers really wanted, and money was just a proxy for it.  

And isn't respect and recognition what we all want in life?

That got me thinking. 

So, what if we could offer people a way to show they are someone and that they are good at some thing in a more meaningful and positive way?

Combined with 20 years’ experience in hospitality, the project took a few years to take shape, but it has come along rather nicely. After being homeless, I realized how hard it is to bounce back from that, even if you may have all the experience and skill in the world. I came to realize that the best way to help people is to help them help themselves, and one way is offering them a tangible record of their abilities, something that is considered 'intangible and unmeasurable' as far as hospitality work goes. Having this record will bring agency, self-respect and gratification to people everywhere.  

Did you start the venture alone?

Yes, it’s been a solo adventure for the most part. Few have the grit.

How did you manage uncertainty in early stages of business? Were you ready to pivot if needed? Did you keep it a very leanMVP?

I have a very high tolerance for risk and adventure. I have cut back all of my personal expenses, so all my extra has gone into the project. We've pivoted slightly but not much... Given that we are a platform that requires participation, we know this is a very long slog that will take at least 5 years before we see any profit, if any. Our MVP is very lean and simple. The magic really happens with the participation of the public.

What advice would you give to other founders just starting to build a company?

Buckle up. It's a wild ride. Expect disappointment. It is NOT glamorous. If you are a minority, you'll have a harder time. Do not expect money or support from friends or family. The market is brutal and will tell you the tale. Such is life.

Have you ever failed at anything? If so, how did you handle it and what did you learn?

failed miserably at my last venture, a combination of lack of experience and a market that I failed to foresee and understand. I should have pulled the parachute much earlier, but I was too proud for that. I came back from that homeless and penniless, not fun.It was hard to bounce back rom that, but I am in a much better place now. I got a handle on it by bunkering down, cutting down all expenses (going vegan is cheaper!) and getting all kinds of jobs I could find. . . thankfully I am very skilled in hospitality and my drive to prove it helped immensely to bounce back and develop my project, Agaru.  

What I learned was that in life you can play it right, do it all right, be nice and enthusiastic and still fail miserably. Nothing is guaranteed or owed to you. I also learned that a lot of people talk, but few walk. So now I take whatever anyone says with a grain of salt, until they demonstrate otherwise.

How are your hours spread throughout the week? Have you had to set any boundaries around time?

I do about 3 hours in the early morning, then another 5-7 in the afternoon. I work from home, and I work around what needs to be done, not much in boundaries now. However, I do try to have at least Sunday work free, so that I can socialize with civilians.

Is it possible to build a successful company without burning out or damaging other parts of your life (family, health, etc.)?

I’m the wrong guy to ask this because I am single, religiously healthy, and disconnected from family by distance as an immigrant. So, I can devote most of time and effort to the project. Others’ mileage may vary. I highly doubt it though, the demands of time and attention of a new business have to come at a cost somewhere.

How has COVID-19 challenged you as an entrepreneur and how are you overcoming those challenges?

Given that we work in the hospitality field COVID-19 has paralyzed customer participation in our platform.

Nobody is interested in better feedback and quality service, more on the survival. So now we are focusing in sharing resources and anything that may help staff to be better trained and live better lives. The idea is that when we return to normal, people that we have touched will be better trained, with better inner frames, a gratitude mindset and overall better staff wherever they go. Hopefully with this they will remember us and join our platform with their enterprises and help us reach others. 

Has your business made you happier and more fulfilled in life, compared to how you felt before starting it?

YES. Knowing that I am helping people in ways I'll never know gives me a satisfaction similar to a good workout, but on a spiritual level... don't want to get wishy-washy but there isa very real feeling that I am doing something good for the world, and that it will make a difference somehow, somewhere one day. Really priceless, and I can't get that feeling anywhere or doing anything else.

What impact do you want to have? Is your startup objective"getting rich" or "changing the world"? Is control or success more important?

Helping talent rise.There is a lot of talent out there, especially in the developing world that will never have opportunities, and I think that wasted talent is a moral shame.The goal is definitely not money, changing the world would be way more satisfying and interesting. Control will go to people, and how they use the system will be decided by the participants, along with most of the profits. Our goal is that our platform will open opportunities that were simply not possible before; by having a record of skill, staff can prove their talent and have a measure of feedback that doesn't exist now.  By having proof of employability this can open doors to loans, credit, further training or better jobs.

We are the ones that the prophet Peter Thiel foretold about: 'not from the valley, not technical, will empower people.' Ultimately, we will bring people everywhere what they deserve: Respect and dignity.  Cannot be bought or sold. It will be built by the talent and effort of the individual. We will make it tangible.

I'd like to invite you to be a part of changing hospitality. Your participation is rewarded, and we can make real change in peoples' lives. 

Whenever you come across someone great at their job, would you let me know?  It could be a bartender, a barista, etc.  It's simple, easy, and fast. Feedback is very hard to come by and crucial to improvement. 10 votes gets you FREE wine!


Thank you! 

Adrian Marquez

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/agaru_talent/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agarutalent/

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