Alejandro Laplana ’07
Avonian Alejandro Laplana ’07 says he may be the only one-year senior to be accepted into Avon Old Farms School. (Typically, seniors are asked to repeat their junior year, or students come for one year as a postgraduate student.) Today, he holds a venture portfolio of 35 companies that boast clients like the United Nations and the MLB, and one of his products was named app of the day by the iTunes App Store twice in one month. Despite Alejandro’s limited time on Theodate’s campus and his huge professional successes at such a young age, he is committed to remaining a part of the fabric that is the Village of Old Farms, and plans to use his professional skills to help do so.
The Making of Shokworks
In a podcast with Diversified Game, hosted by Kellen "Kash" Coleman, Alejandro explains how he has always understood industry trends, and then started surrounding himself with experts in a variety of areas in order to do the work in the best way possible, often innovating to get there. “I’m learning to manage the orchestra, not play a specific instrument,” he says.
His goal in doing so was to build a self-reliant company, which today is known as Shokworks. Founded in 2017, today the company has 300 employees spanning seven countries delivering custom software development, technology outsourcing, and IT consulting services to global startups and enterprises looking to embrace digital transformation. The company website explains that companies rely on Shokworks to evolve their products using emerging technologies to build smarter businesses. “We are more than just a software shop; we are a Company Builder.”
He’s worked with the United Nations, the MLB, and the NFL. His company has built apps for Formula 1 racing, FOX Sports, the National Men’s Football Team of Colombia, and many more. Shokworks has also partnered with a variety of companies to build digital wallets to allow for the processing of cryptocurrencies. More than 10 of Shokworks’s products have received well over 100K downloads—over 10 million downloads in aggregate (on the App Store and Play store).
In the fall of 2020, Alejandro followed tech trends once more and opened a new office in Dallas, Texas, sensing things would be happening there. Quoted in Dallas Innovates, Alejandro explains, “Dallas has become a spot that tech companies, green energy, and financial institutions are pouring into to call home. We believe this is the perfect time for Shokworks to stake our claim.”
When asked what drives him, Alejandro explains the reward in designing, creating, and implementing a project, and then seeing it validated by people in the world is his fuel. “My goal is to find pain points, provide solutions, and make it scalable,” he says. “That’s how you can create a big impact.”
In terms of that impact, Alejandro also looks to create strategic partnerships, often between large corporations and nonprofits. For example, he connected the World Series with St. Jude. He says that while not every partnership will have a philanthropic edge to it, he would definitely like to see his business trend in that direction. He also is interested in helping a smaller organization a bit closer to his heart: Avon Old Farms.
Originally from Venezuela, as a teenager Alejandro was growing up in Miami, Fla. He went to school, but admits that classes were never his primary focus. As a junior, he was already working through internships in office settings and getting his feet wet in the world of business. As he contemplated his next steps in life out loud with a friend, something unexpected happened: a woman overhearing the conversation suggested he look into Avon Old Farms. That woman was Miriam Consuegra, wife of Jorge Consuegra ’51, who returned to teach at Avon in the 60s, mother of two Avonains: Jorge ’77, and Andreas ’80, and who became grandmother to two more: Eddy ’11 and Luis ’14.
“She spoke up and told me about Avon in a way that was intriguing enough to catch my attention,” begins Alejandro. “Soon enough, I was traveling to Connecticut to tour the school with the Director of Admissions Brendan Welker, and ultimately the decision was made to enroll as a senior the following year.”
Alejandro shares that for him, a New England boarding school was completely foreign territory: his family was from Venezuela and Europe, and no one had attended boarding school. Growing up in the south, the woods and river valleys of Connecticut were awe-inspiring. On top of what he called a breath-taking campus, he also felt connected to the community almost immediately.
“I made the jump, and it was good,” he says. “The seclusion was new for a young kid who had only ever lived in a city, and I enjoyed walking in the woods, reading by the pond, and got comfortable with the quiet. It was also my first experience of living among other people, aside from my family. The environment allowed me to quickly begin forming bonds with other students that have turned into lifelong friendships.”
Alejandro also says that, while at the time it probably wasn’t his favorite thing, in retrospect the work ethic required at Avon and the schedule that needed to be followed really inspired personal development. From Saturday classes to Vespers on Sundays, he began to take ownership of his days and squeeze every ounce out of them.
“After my year at Avon, I went back to the way life had been: I worked, and my classes were secondary. My year at Avon was the only time in my life that schooling took center stage, and it was a great experience for me.”
After Avon, Alejandro decided to pursue a college degree in economics from Syracuse University. He also went on to earn his Master’s from New York University in executive management of technology. While he initially thought his career would follow the path of financial services, his sense about developing market opportunities pulled him toward tech. By the age of 21 he had started his first business, a patent fund, and began to integrate more and more business aspects to his list of offerings.
Advice for Fellow Avonians
Alejandro continues to say that he always knew he wanted to run his own company, and that his young start in the business world has given him an advantage. To that end, he has some advice for today’s Avonians: it’s never too early to gain experience.
“Use high school to figure out what it is you don’t want,” he says. “As a young person, you have so much time and the risk is minimal. You can gain a lot of valuable experience because the barriers to entry are lower for young people. In today’s world, you can build anything you want.”
He also has very practical advice for young entrepreneurs: raising venture capital isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
“I raised too much money in the very beginning and as a result partnered with the wrong people because I wasn’t being as careful as I normally would have been. When you fundraise, you then have to perform and deliver on your promise; that’s why so many startups fail: they take money for something they do not know how to finish. Instead, if you can bootstrap proof of concept, and then raise capital by approaching investors from a position of strength, not a position of need, you’ll be better off.”
It’s this kind of real-world experience Alejandro has been sharing with the Avon community for a few years now. Most recently, he volunteered on two panels as a part of the Alumni Virtual Networking Series sharing advice, discussing industry trends, and guiding fellow Avonians.
“Anyway I can be of help, I am willing to donate my time, energy, and team to help Avon continue to modernize and grow,” he says. “It’s amazing. When I return to campus, it’s the same place with the same sense of community and people, yet I see how the program has grown. Exploring the Forge and Watertower which has become an engineering center was a real treat. Guest lecturing during intersession and other courses and meeting students is a lot of fun. And knowing how Head of School Detora will be able to grow the program for tomorrow’s students is exciting. I want to be there to offer all the support I can, but I also don’t want it to be just me. There are so many talented people in the alumni community who can get involved...really anyone can contribute their time and resources to help Avon grow.”
In 2019, after visiting campus to speak with a mobile app development class, Alejandro extended an invitation to then-senior Taylor Stolworthy to visit his office in Miami.
“Taylor showed me a racing app he was building, and it was extremely interesting because my company was actively working with a Formula 1 driver as a client to build an app, so I invited Taylor to come down to our office in Miami and learn more about what we were doing.”
During the visit, Alejandro brought Taylor along to sit in on meetings so he could see what the business side of app development looks like. That visit turned into a summer internship for Taylor, who is studying at the University of Tampa.
“I take a special interest in helping young people mostly because I never received that help when I was starting out. I want to help young people understand their options so they can make the right decisions for themselves. And of course, that applies to the Avon brotherhood. Keeping in touch with other Avonians and offering any mentoring advice I can is something I love doing. I’d love to inspire other alumni to get involved, too.”
That’s just one more way Alejandro is creating a big impact. If you or your company would like to explore an internship opportunity with Avon students, or if you’d be able to come and give a presentation to a few classes as Alejandro has, we would love to hear from you! Please contact Luke Archambault, alumni engagement coordinator.