"Being authentic to my passion" Leo Sanada ConnecPath CEO

July 16, 2018

I got the chance to talk to ConnecPath’s CEO Leo Sanada who is a member of ZED Coworking. His company was the first company at ZED to launch their product to the public. Leo explained that ConnecPath is “an Education Tech company that helps High School Students get into college. Using a mobile app, we are connecting high school students to college students.”

 

Leo saw a huge problem in the education system that massively disadvantaged teens who were the first generation in their family to go to college. We were talking about the information that kids get from their parents and counselors, “Because of the information gap, especially first-generation kids trying to go into college is 30% less than people who had parents who have a college degree. These first generation kids have a big disadvantage. Students don't feel convinced that college is worth it, they pay all this money and can not see the value. So that is why they drop out.”

We talked about the advantages of having College Counselors available from schools as one of the best public voices to promote the importance of college; but, Leo shared with us a scary statistic, “The college counselors are in a real shortage in the United States. Statistics-wise it 500 kids to every 1 counselor. When you think about the magnitude of the life decision, it’s impossible for one person to handle all 500 of those decisions. So I said this is a problem and I need to fix this.”

 

Leo is familiar with working within the education industry. While he was in Japan he create a non-profit that he ran as CEO and Founder for over eight years. His focus was to improve the transfer of information to the students so they could make the best decision. One of Leo’s biggest inspirations was when he met his boss’ kid at a dinner event. This thirteen year old shocked Leo, “I was shocked when I was talking to him. He said ‘I talked with Engineers, I talked with bankers’ and a lot of other professions and specific companies. He then said, ‘by comparing these experiences I want to become an Engineer, and I’ll be studying this.’ He already looked to the future, and he already knew what he wanted to do. I never thought about that kind of stuff till I become 22 or 23. I felt I lost some opportunities by not starting that earlier. I wanted to provide these opportunities so that people can talk and begin to find out what they wanna do in the future.”

 

So when Leo started ConnecPath, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Connect students with the best resources possible so that students can have the best information and the best probability of getting into college. Leo has worked on ConnecPath for the last ten months and was very excited about its recent launch.

 

“Then I moved to Silicon Valley, I realized, I’m Alone...”

 

Leo moved from Japan to the United States in 2016 to do a masters program that his work sent him on. We wanted to ask him about how he got his visa when deciding to work in the United States, “I graduated through the MBA and was able to extend my student visa into a work visa. It’s a privilege for masters holders; they can almost automatically stay in the US for one year. It was a for sure one year visa that was very exciting. I was employed  by Mitsubishi Corporation, who sponsored my visa, they are one of the top companies in Japan.”

 

The reason Leo started his company was due to the rare opportunity he was given. He was offered a one year guaranteed visa after graduating from the MBA program. So instead of going back to Mitsubishi, he decided to stay, “I was going through the future executive program. I was expected to be on the senior management team at Mitsubishi Corporation. However, I thought I had a one time change to do my own business in the US. If I go back to Japan, which would have made me forfeit my visa. I had to start my business as soon as I graduate.”

 

Leo was faced with a tough decision, “If I go back to Japan, I probably get a promoted with a pay rise. People will say that I am smart. My family will be happy, and my friends respect me because Mitsubishi is a top company in Japan. Can’t complain, sort of the happiest life in Japan. So there was no reason to throw it all it away, but I wanted to be authentic to my passion. My passion comes from helping people. I got a chance to be in the Silicon Valley. So I wanted to stay in this innovative community. I wanted to be part of the shapers with the global trend.”

 

Leo made the most significant decision of his life ever by moving to the United States and leaving Mitsubishi. Despite that he was very positive, he knew the American dream was still possible for him, “Essentially I came to pretty much wow this is a new world. However, you know that is how the United States started. People came from Europe, and they didn’t know anything. They didn’t have any friends, they throw away everything, and this is the country of immigrants. At least it used to be; now it is a little bit different.”

 

Leo knew that it was going to be tough moving to Silicon Valley all alone. He made a tremendous decision in how he was going to react to the life-changing event despite the how lonely it was, “I knew I need to go socialize. So I went to San Francisco and started my life. I went to a Hackers House to get started. That kind of place was nice to start, and it was very cheap for me to live. I could easily sleep or work. It was sleep work eat and repeat. Almost literally.”

 

With Leo settling into his new life it seemed to be the perfect way to start his story of the American dream. However, there was a huge problem that Leo had to address. His family, “I did live with my wife, and at that time I had a one-year-old kid, so living with family would have given me assurance and happiness. Once settled in your life it’s good to be with family; but, when starting a company, life is so hard. My wife and I talked a lot, and we decided that we should live separate for a while, and she moved back to Japan to look after our two kid. It’s not a sustainable way of living, but for a short period it can work”

 

Leo was heartbroken, torn between pursuing his passion and staying with family. Despite all that, Leo knew that it was the best decision for him and his families future. Even though he was confident about being without family in California he told us how hard it was and that he only really had one solution that worked for him, “I wanted to go back to my comfort zone, living with family is very comfortable, I wanted to go back. Instead, I went to socialize. I asked new friends to introduce me to their friends. Meeting new people helped me in this new place.”

 

Leo’s story is still being written, he has used ten months of his 12-month visa and will be forced to go back to Japan so that he can apply for another Visa. For him, this is a scary time as his future is the most uncertain it has been for a while and he can see it slowly creeping up the horizon. Leo wanted to end with this, “Starting a business is so hard sometimes you need people to share the pain. Just talking to someone as a friend is good enough. Even casual conversation can help from loneliness to your business.”

 

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