What I Learned from Hearing Pitbull Speak About Innovation at a Tech Conference

In which we strive to be the person who doesn’t understand the word lose, only the word learn.

Jonathan Peltz

Pitbull is not the her0 Miami deserves, but the one it n33ds. This tech-savvy revelation comes to me on the final day of eMerge America’s five day TechWeek in Miami. I am enthralled. I am hopeful. I am full of business and tech wisdom.

The website for TechWeek describes the event's mission to “serve as a the preeminent innovative thought exchange and to transform Miami into the technological hub of the Americas.” I'll admit that as someone with little knowledge of smart, world-helping things, I found the prospect of a technology conference dull, and I wasn't planning on attending something like this no matter how much innovation was promised. That is, until I noticed that the final keynote speaker was Mr. Calle Ocho, Miami's native son, Armando Christian Pérez, AKA Pitbull. Here was a prophet of innovation I could get behind. I had to ¡dale! and check it out.

I immediately realized that TechWeek was not a place I understood. The expo floor was filled with a dizzying amount of screens, iPad displays, environmentally friendly vehicles, medical breakthroughs, and Oculus Rifts. There was a large-scale DOTA 2 tournament, a concept for a giant livable underwater submarine base, and a Lego recreation of Miami’s iconic Ocean Drive. I was lost in a haze of jargon about hyperconnection, cloud printing, adaptive solutions and “connecting the 7 billion.” I needed to find my Moses who would part this technological red sea for me, and tell me what it all meant to me and my city and my future.

The prophet sat with his interviewer, Manuel D. Medina, a Cuban-born, Miami-raised entrepreneur who made $1.4 billion selling his company to Verizon. He now runs one of those capital raising companies, and blah blah blah he’s partners with the festival or some shit. Differences in fields aside, he and Pitbull had an obvious connection as two self-made men from Miami, two titans of their industries, two visionaries. Other than the obvious publicity that booking Pitbull brought, the choice of Pitbull as keynote speaker made sense on these terms. The two thought leaders sat under a futuristic metal mesh that was encased in a hexagon of black monolith screens, each projecting a godly image of Pitbull’s clean-shaven head.

A surprisingly gifted orator, Pitbull told long, memorized stories effortlessly and played the largely Hispanic room by switching between English and Spanish for emphasis or humor. He started off by repping the city that we all know and love: “I’m a born-and-raised, full-grown, three-oh-five, Dade County, Magic City…[crowd erupts over the other Miami nicknames; they’re endless]. I’m very proud of what our city has done in a short period of time. Mi mamá siempre decía que Miami tendrá su Quinceañera and it’s gonna grow up quick. And she was right. You have New York—the Big Apple—and we’re Miami—the Pineapple. [crowd erupts in laughter]. I’m very proud of being from here, and I always try to represent it anywhere I go. I’m from the bottom. I always tell people that I’m from the bottom, and they can keep the top.”

He then discussed the influence of his favorite high-school teacher, Hope Martinez. Pitbull would get into rap battles in high school, surrounded by his entire 150-person class, and Hope thought they were getting into fights. The only violence going on was verbal, though, Pitbull explained to her. Hope told him that he was talented and invited him to a DMX music video shoot at a South Beach nightclub called Salvation. At the shoot, Pitbull’s friend got cocky and told DMX that no one in the room had anything on the Niño. This instigated an eight-round rap battle between Pitbull and DMX’s protegé, Ruff Ryder member Drag-On, while Swizz Beatz and producer Irv Gotti looked on.

Pitbull won. After the battle, Gotti asked Pitbull if he rapped. Thinking he was being cool, Pitbull said he only freestyled. Gotti pointed out that freestyling didn't make money and said Pitbull should start writing some music. Ever since that talk, Pitbull’s been working non-stop, burning the medianoche oil.

“I’ve applied everything I’ve learned to this city,” he said. “Our city was never respected when it came to music, even though we were big parts of history. When you have people like 2 Live Crew...maybe their music wasn’t accepted...but you have someone like Luther Campbell who fought for the First Amendment. That gave us a chance to rap about what we wanna rap about. I feel like he got stripped of his history. I said if I ever wanted to be something in Miami I needed to go through the King of Miami; so I started dealing with Luther Campbell. One thing that Lu’ taught me was an independent state of mind. He was putting out his own music with no label. And that’s why we’re here today.”

Indeed, Pitbull then transitioned from discussing independent music production to the nature of start-up companies. I had been waiting for this moment. We'd all been waiting for this moment. We were here to be inspired to innovate and change and build, and Pitbull's business insights were just what we'd been looking for. As the keynote for the week, this talk was the moment of tech conference clarity in which distant and complex ideas became reality and the aspiring entrepreneurs in the crowd were encouraged to start businesses. It was so perfect. Like watching Bocelli at the opera.

Medina pleaded with Pitbull to tell the crowd about his work ethic: “Everyone thinks that Armando is a fun and party-loving guy...and I can vouch that he is [they shared a hearty laugh], but Armando, you have to tell them…tell them how hard you work!”

“It’s all about hard work,” Pitbull explained. “I’m in a business where it’s 90 percent business, 10 percent talent. I wouldn’t want the most talented person on my line, I’d want the hardest working. The one that doesn’t understand the word lose, only the word learn.” This was the kind of lesson we'd come here for, and Pitbull was just getting going, pulling together the worlds of tech and music like a master weaver of ideas.

“I've been through so much in the music business, that's why I relate a lot to the stories I hear on the tech side of things,” he continued. “From Miami at the time, when nobody was looking at us, they thought we were a bunch of booty shakers, which we are”—Pitbull winked at the audience and laughed—“We know how to party, and when we come to a party, we're the ones that are takin' over all over the world.” Then Pitbull got serious and had a sincere moment with the audience in Spanish, and I kind of lost him other than some stuff about how tough it was being white and blue eyed in the rap game.

He eventually continued in English, sharing wisdom that any manager who's had his fair share of setbacks and successes and metrics-driven performance evaluations could relate to. Just as we, the business innovators of America, are focused on succeeding in the meritocracy and overcoming the conventional wisdom of entrenched business forces, Pitbull is working hard to outshine the mid-tier members of the MMG roster. Just as we are looking to increase our corporate equity and build up our gross assets, Pitbull is looking to take over the game.

“I’m not the best rapper. I don’t want to be the best rapper,” Pitbull said. “But goddammit I'm the hardest worker. Out of of all them [other artists], while they're knocking out one record; I’m knocking out seven. While they're thinking about performing at awards shows; I’m thinking about owning ‘em. It’s just a different perspective coming from [Spanish about his Hispanic family influence and structure]. For anyone living in the society we live in now where everything is instant gratification; I would say being a hard worker will put you in a great position. Pasos cortos vista largo which means: Short steps, long vision. You apply that, and I promise right now you’ll be successful.”

It was at that point I realized that Pitbull was brought to the expo as a Miami Tony Robbins; a glorified motivational speaker for the hustling South Florida techie. And he was doing a sound job. The crowd was mostly tired, suited-up older dorks, and they were recording and absorbing every word that was said. I could be completely wrong and they viewed it as a gimmick, but it seemed like people were engaged. The tech industry is full of self-proclaimed gurus, but, in this moment, that's what Pitbull really was. His values were our values. His vision was our vision.

He outlined the opportunities for business expansion in Miami, “the most industrial city south of the Mason-Dixon line” and the hub of the Latin American world. He pointed to some of the city's business successes he was more familiar with: “Rick Ross runs the urban side. On the international side you have Flo Rida. Then you have myself...And I’m on the global scale. We’re all Miami boys doing it in very powerful ways in the music business. And the same needs to happen for technology.” We were ready for Pitbull to lead, for him to show us the promise of the future that awaited in Miami. We wanted to give him everything: A successful Miami start-up scene, a future-oriented mindset to business growth, an attitude of innovation. One more shot at building the killer app, another round of seed funding—anything seemed possible. It was the end of the conference. It was going down. Pitbull had shown us the promise for Miami.

“Everyone knows about Silicon Valley,” he said at one point. “We’re going to be Silicon Paradise!”

Jon Peltz is constantly looking for new innovations to drive efficiency and success in the enterprise. He can be reached at jonpeltz@gmail.com.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misquoted Pitbull as saying "Wale’s knocking out one record...Wale’s thinking about performing at awards shows." While we are fully in support of Pitbull taking shots at Wale, the original quote was a mishearing of the word "while" and has been adjusted accordingly above.


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