How many times would you be willing to try after you fail? What if you lost it all? What if you lost it all again, would you try again?
Emi Guerra has been a part of Miami’s nightlife for more than a decade. So much history! So imagine how much of a difficult task it was to get this interview (Worth every second of it!). Emi is known to be an extremely private person so it’s truly an honor to be able to share his story with our readers.
Our conversation goes back to his first taste of nightlife in the mid 90′s, when he promoted his High School graduation party all the way to last months GO BIG PRODUCTIONS event during Winter Music Conference. Get Familiar with the person behind GUERRA Marketing.
WIT: From the first day I saw you come into Bash a lot has changed.
EG: I was 19! Wow, I didn’t expect to start like that. This conversation it’s going to be exciting!
WIT: That was 1996.
EG: Yes it was the end of 1996, the beginning of 1997.
WIT: What was the first party you did back then?
EG: It was my high school graduation party. It was great. I made $4,000 and I said, “This is for me.” Then 4 weeks later I lost it all…
WIT: So you did the party and that was it. You realized the business was for you?
EG: I realized if I did that once a week I would be rich. I was 18 years old. I just made $4,000 from a party. Man was I naive!
WIT: That was a different time all together…
EG: It was a different time, we got away with a lot back then. Then, all of a sudden the place mysteriously caught fire and the owner (and us) where out of business. Now looking back I’m sure the guy did an insurance job. I was 18 years old. I was naïve. I didn’t know what was going on… As we were doing that weekly party, we booked a big show with the Quad City DJs.
It was at Paragon for the last day of public school. I did it like 4 weeks after that other place burned down. I was promoting the weekly party and the concert both at the same time.
The last day of school was a Wednesday. It was tradition that public school kids would go out that night. It was a tradition and I’m sure they still do it to this day. Anyway, the weather refused to cooperate, welcome to Miami. The Quad City DJs showed up, they were paid. I had invested the 4 weeks worth of money I’d made plus I had saved about another $15,000 of mowing lawns and washing cars from my neighborhood since I was 12 years old, and I lost it all.
I had saved every single penny and I put it all in because in my mind, I was 100% going to fill the place up with three thousand kids and make 60k. But everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong. Long story short, I got my ass kicked by Power 96 & mother nature. That was a painful reality check.
That was my first month in the business. I had 4 weeks of making great money and in one swing lost it all, and then some. I hid and cried for about 2 weeks.
WIT: That’s crazy, but it got you to where you are at today…
EG: It did. It was a lesson learned. Shortly After that, I started at FIU. College was different for me. I never graduated since my credits were all over the place.
I believe you need about 120 credits to graduate. I definitely had over 120 credits, except that I started taking classes based on girl to guy ratios so that I could invite girls to the parties…
WIT: So the entrepreneur inside of you never stopped working?
EG: That never stopped. It was my dad who made me work hard for anything I’ve ever had. As a 10-year-old kid I collected baseball and basketball cards. If I wanted more baseball cards, I had to go cut the neighbors lawns so I earned the money to go buy baseball cards.
WIT: Since a young age you were taught to go get it.
EG: I knew things wouldn’t be handed to me. My father is a hard worker who came to this country with nothing. He worked hard for everything he has and finally at 68 years old, he finally retired last month.
WIT: Wait… At this point you went from college to full time promoter, had you already started your business?
EG: No I didn’t. I had no idea about any of that I was 18 years old…
After I lost everything putting together that concert, I started working with Angel Sanchez and Gus. Those guys had a crew called “UP ALL NIGHT.” We did 18 and over parties.
WIT: Did you guys stay in Coconut Grove?
EG: We did parties all over the beach and in the Grove. Until Miami Beach passed a law where 18 and over parties were no longer allowed. So we then stayed in the Grove. Interestingly enough, while you were working at BASH we were doing an 18 and over party at UNION Bar right next door. It used to get packed.
Back then Bash had all the celebrities so I would walk over after our party. I remember Tony (my brother) used to get pissed at me. He would be like “What are you doing you can’t be coming in here!” But then after a while I got to know everyone and the security would let me come in through the alley.
Soon after, I began working the door, so from the age of 19 on, what I really did was work as a doorman in a lot of places and also promote.
One place that brings back a lot of great memories is Mo’s Cantina. Which was in South Beach. I was 19 years old at the time but I knew how to carry myself and act maturely. At the time MC was 25 and older for guys.
WIT: Yes back then Mo’s and a few other places had that 25 and older restriction.
EG: That was a great time in my life. MC would close at 3am and I remember the staff at MC was really tight with the staff at Groove Jet & Liquid and we used to head over to those places after work.
WIT: From that point we go all the way till about 1999?
EG: Nah that was still 1997 end of 1998 and a bit of 1999. Then I hooked up with LP (Louis Puig), so I would work the door at Mo’s Cantina then work the door at the first 609 on South Beach. I remember they would force everyone to leave the back alley and I would work the 609 door in the back alley and let everyone back in from Mo’s Cantina into the small 609 terrace.
WIT: I notice you never stop marketing and networking.
EG: Yes, the marketing and networking was always there, you know? Right now we work with over 200 hosts/promoters. I tell you if they did the things that I did, I would only need 25 good ones.
What most hosts/promoters are missing today is the mentality of meeting new people and going out of their way to pick up their number and have the discipline to call and invite them to their next party. A real promoter takes the time to call their clients, speak to them and invite them to their party.
The pitch it’s simple: “Hey I have a really hot party! Come by check it out!” You’re not going to try giving them something for free or anything like that. You just tell them you have a cool party… At that point they have to believe you or not. The best promoters I work with do this regularly. It’s unfortunate that the others haven’t caught on.
Anyways, It was amazing to work the door at all those places because it made it easier to pick up 10 new phone numbers a night from people just by being nice. It was really a great position that helped me catapult into more marketing. Which at the time I didn’t realize it until one day I did a party… Mind you I was 20 years old.
The party was at the beach at a place called Les Bain’s (same building where Chaos used to be). We booked the club with 1 days notice and I promoted on the beach Saturday during the day but I put 400 friends there in one night… Most of them were people who’s numbers I had, or people I met that day. At that point I was like wow!
WIT: We just finished going through the fun period of your life. All of a sudden Shadow Lounge Hits. What were you doing at that time?
EG: At that time, we were doing a Thursday night party called “Pussy Galore” at 609 Coconut Grove with Louis. It was amazing!
We had a 4-year run through out that entire time. During that time Gil Alfaro called me up and was like: “Hey man I heard you’re not working with your old crew any more. Why don’t you come work with Louis?”
That was a big deal because at the time LP had a reputation for being very cutthroat in business and he had a very intimidating demeanor. But I was like “fuck it, I need money!” So I go and give it a shot. It turned out that Louis was phenomenal.
We took that Thursday night and doubled the numbers instantly by adding our college clientele to the clientele to the clientele that was already going there on Thursdays.
During that time, I remember Shadow was going on and we obviously liked to party! Shadow Lounge hit and it was a huge success. Dade Sokoloff and Bobby were doing a phenomenal job with the club. I would go there once in a while because I was really into the electronic music. Then one day, Nelson tells me, “You should do something at Shadow Lounge” Nelson was a VIP host at the time at Shadow.
WIT: Nelson Rodriguez, the VIP Rope guy?
EG: Yes, Nelson Rodriguez. Nelson says: “you guys should do a party here. I talked to my buddy Dade and he’s down to meet.”
I was really excited but was unsure if it was a conflict with our other night in the Grove. So we asked Louis if he minded my crew going over to promote Friday at Shadow. I made the case that this may even help if he were to ever open “that club in downtown you’re always talking about”. He was like: “Okay, go for it.”
Dude, we did very well on our first Friday. I don’t think Dade expected us to do that well the first week. But Oh man, this was a whole different animal. As time went on our college crowd wasn’t as consistent and then our pull faded but it was an awesome gig.
WIT: Yeah but was everything at that point slowing down.
EG: Yeah, I agree but we brought a new crowd there for a while. We were also finally 21. We had girls that had fake IDs. Half of the crowd was old enough. The other half really wasn’t and they would let some people slide but Dade wasn’t really having it.
Right at that time, the beach was changing. A lot of laws were passed, including that all clubs had to be 21 and over regardless of alcohol sales. Anyway our party at Shadow Lounge ended after 6 months. The timing worked out, since right after, LP asked me to come on board at Space…
One skill I had never forgotten that entire time was picking up people’s contact info.
WIT: It had become an innate part of you.
EG: That was something that I would do subconsciously till today I still do it. I’m aware that I do it a little less cause I’m a little busier during the day than I was back them.
WIT: Here comes Space!
EG: Here comes Space. Did you know we weren’t originally going to call it Space?
WIT: What was it going to be called?
EG: It was going to be called Park West 11. That’s your fun fact of the day.
WIT: So LP asked you to come on board?
EG: I was the first person he hired. I would sand floors during the night and cut bar mats and hang mirror balls and shit. And during the day, I would work on Marketing.
WIT: I remember you used to do something else. Weren’t you a transcriber? I know you could type an incredible amount of words per minute.
EG: Oh, I worked for a doctor in college as well. I would work during the day for him. He used to dictate into the voice recorder and I would type for him. His name was Dr Micky Demis.
I did data entry for $7 an hour. One thing he taught me, and I use this line today: “The more mud you throw in the wall the more it sticks.” Since I asked him why he contacted ten people a day that he didn’t know.
His letter would be like: “Hi my name is Micky Demis. I just read the article about you in the paper and I have to tell you it’s a great thing that you’re doing. I’m a Doctor in the Gables and if you ever need anything we’re here for you. “
It was that simple. I learned that from him. That was 10 a day, which were 50 a week. Back then email wasn’t a huge thing. Even with the club stuff taking off with 609 I kept at it, but eventually the nightlife consumed me and I left the data entry world.
WIT: So Space finally opened, when? The first 24HR party with Danny Tenaglia, how did that come about?
EG: Space opened on March 17 2000. 1 week later, Danny Tenaglia’s party had to move to us. It was during WMC 2000, and Danny fell in love with Space. That party helped put us on the map! Thank you Danny!
WIT: Space was also the biggest club in South Florida at the time.
EG: At that time. Except for maybe 1235 Washington. Which at the time was Level. They had just opened.
WIT: At 3:30 am they were done.
EG: They were hot when they opened. When Gerry Kelly opened it they were doing well. Then Crobar opened. I remember Level opened in November. Then Crobar opened in December. Both clubs were very successful.
Crobar lasted much longer but that had a lot to do the team they hired. Every single member of that host/marketing/promo team has their own successful businesses today. The stars were aligned.
Anyways, We (SPACE) came a few months later. That Danny party put us on the Map. We were able to do 6,000 people in and out, over the course of Danny’s huge 16-hour set.
WIT: That was one of the best parties I’ve ever worked.
EG: Me too! That was incredible. I remember I had to help at the door because we were under staffed. We didn’t expect that volume. We had a lot of infrastructure issues that night.
Remember it was all small warehouses so we didn’t have enough water pressure to support 40 toilets, 30 bartender stations and water pressure for cleaning. It was so bad we had to tap into a fire hydrant for the bathrooms to flush. It was Crazy!
WIT: It was pure innovation at the time.
EG: Yes, at the time it was. We were able to do the 24hr thing. They allowed it but the only stipulation was we had to put away the liquor for 2 hours at first.
WIT: I remember that.
EG: Going down memory lane it’s making me realize the impact we had. Holy shit, especially when you were a part of it. You don’t get surprised easily anymore.
WIT: Just like the first time Danny Tenaglia took out that huge spot light in the middle of his set and started flashing the crowd…
EG: Yep, then “Cameras ready. Prepare to flash!” What about the first time we did “NITRO”? We saw it in Cancun. We were like how do we do that here. Then we found someone here who could do it.
WIT: Alejandro Gonzalez.
EG: It was incredible. I mean being innovative like that was amazing. Now it’s so challenging to be innovative especially as you grow older. As a younger person it seems easier because you don’t think about cost, you just say fuck it let’s do it. Now to be innovative you see what it costs first… I hate budgets!
I give credit to Louis for having the BALLS to first go in the middle of that hood, to allow ideas to come to life and to be innovative enough to make them happen.
WIT: Now we move forward. Space was “the club” for those first few years. Then LP moved the club to the new building.
EG: Actually, I wasn’t there for that.
WIT: Where were you?
EG: Louis and I had minor falling-out. At 23 years old and having tasted some success I guess you could say I made some foolish decisions. Maybe I got greedy. Maybe I just need it a reality check. Anyways, the decisions I made than have led me to where I am today! So I don’t regret it at all.
WIT: Oh wow. So, during that time did you keep marketing and what kept you going?
EG: I think it was the idea of doing something new. If you’re the life of a party and you go to the party 2 years in a row, you get burned out…
WIT: I can sympathize…
EG: You can still go out and get phone numbers but at the end of the day you feel like you’re just inviting people to your house.
At the time we were doing Space Fridays and Saturdays. Staying there till 8 one day and noon the next day. Plus working Monday through Friday in an office without any days off, it’s rough.
I don’t know how I pulled it off. It was painful but when Space re-opened I’d just gotten married, I took a year off clubs and I went into the printing business for a while. It was a profitable business and I enjoyed it. It gave me the chance to taste corporate structure, plus it gave me a different perspective.
It was something that I learned. Having a 9 to 5. I felt like when I was working with the doctor. I got to see what my life was like again. I scored some big accounts. I did well financially but my love wasn’t there like it was for the clubs and nightlife.
I remember when Louis opened up the new building. I finally was getting along with him again. There was no problem. I even came into the opening and hosted for the press. All the press who came in, I was their personal host. I walked them around, I hugged them, I hung out, I wore a suit and I left. No big deal. I didn’t get paid; I didn’t ask to get paid. It was more like I wanted to help. It was more for my soul.
WIT: When did the realization that a person needs to do something they are truly passionate about in order to keep moving forward in life? When did it hit you?
EG: If you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.
WIT: When did that come into your understanding?
EG: I started to understand that while being on the printing business. I saw George Nuñez. He was about to re-open 609 in Coconut Grove and he mentioned he wanted me to be a part of it.
He offered me to be the face of the club. So what ended up happening was that Louis was swamped dealing with Space so George and me re-opened 609 Coconut Grove under a different name.
The day that I went and told the guys from the print shop, GTC, it was right before getting married
and going on my honeymoon, that I was going back into the club business. They were super cool about it. I remember, the day I got back from my honeymoon it was the day that I started working in clubland again.
WIT: Oh wow. Pretty amazing.
EG: And my life changed… Back to doing something I loved to do. But surely enough I lost everything again. The club didn’t work out as planned; it didn’t hit the way we were planning on. I invested a year worth of time (with no salary), and another 100k or so in construction. I was wiped out at 25 years old and newly married. My wife at the time wanted to KILL ME!
WIT: What lesson did you take from that experience?
EG: Humility, proper planning, and proper contracts, at the age of 25 I had to start all over again. While Marketing played a major role, I learned that operations and everything else in the business world was equally important. Budgeting, Operations, etc.
WIT: You went from everything to nothing… To learning that marketing is a huge part but is not everything…
EG: Marketing is everything but I learned that there is more than marketing.
WIT: Now, you understand the importance of operations what was next?
EG: What was next? Well, I started working with Kenny & Cal from Crobar. They showed me proper marketing. I then realized that all I knew was street marketing.
I started working with Kenny, Cal, Paolo, Natalie and the Crobar team. They needed a local person, because they were looking to open up Crobar locations everywhere. They opened in NYC, and I helped hold down the promo and marketing here in Miami. We also launched Crobar in Buenos Aires and Punta del Este which I headed those efforts and they turned out great.
They taught me proper marketing, planning, budgets, scheduling and trimester plans. Street marketing is: Yo, come check this out. Yo, come check this out… Proper marketing you develop a product, an image, a brand, etc. Who’s the DJ? What’s the sound? How does the invitation relate to this, to that? What demographic are you speaking to? How are you going to get to them?
Now you look at marketing in a whole different light! It’s a plan. We would lock our selves up in a room for a week and paper the walls. We wouldn’t leave that room till we had a plan for the next 4 months and we would do that 3 times a year.
The plans would overlap since we didn’t know how long certain things would last. We would do different campaigns. We would budget out the expenses for that period of time in one week. We would order breakfast, lunch and dinner. We would rent a hotel conference room and just get it done!
Kenny and Cal taught me proper corporate structure. Louis thought me hard work. I learned more about street marketing with Angel and Gus.
WIT: Super interesting…
EG: It’s amazing cause I picked invaluable things from each one of those people. In life you listen to what you like. It’s crazy I learned a lot from each person.
WIT: And, in the end, Crobar Downtown didn’t happen..?
EG: Crobar Downtown didn’t happen. We shelved it. We kept working on the beach. Eventually Mansion opened up. We slept on the remodel of Crobar.
WIT: When did you start working with Louis again?
EG: Crobar’s steam was fizzling out and at that point I called Louis up and I asked him if he would be interested on buying Crobar? I’ll put every penny I have. If you’re interested, I’m interested with you.
I was interested on working with Louis again but only if he would see me as a partner… At that point I had matured enough to understand that I didn’t have to be number one. I could be at least number two specially if he was going to invest a larger amount of capital into the project. I realize that if someone puts in more at risk, when push comes to shove, then they get the final say.
Because of all my failures when I lost everything I took something from every lesson by then I had gotten my ass kicked enough that I had a better understanding of how things really work.
Let me tell you that ever since then I’ve had an amazing relationship with Louis. I see him like a brother. Of course we have had our differences but it’s all good.
LP eventually came in on Crobar/Cameo. There were a lot of variables. There was Louis, Kenny, Cal, Dave Grutman, etc. We came out the gate pretty hard, but it didn’t last long. I saw it as a dream team of club guys, but the game was changing.
WIT: It was changing in every way…
EG: It was changing in a weird way and the market crashed! Everyone who was a good customer was either a real estate agent or a mortgage broker so the first year and a half we did amazing numbers. Then it went bust. It was 2008. That’s when the recession hit. Started in ’07 but it hit hard in ’08/09.
WIT: Did you make any moves?
EG: We put more of an emphasis on our outside events, like the pool parties. We actually started those about 8 years ago. We’d get our “parent” clubs involved in those.
When we did the deal to buy Cameo Louis was like: “I need your help at Space.” Which was perfect. That came about around the 6th year anniversary, which was in 2006. It 06/06/06. Yea, I was back at Space…
Like in May of that year I was already back at home running all the marketing. Meanwhile I was doing Cameo at the same time and we opened up Park West next door to Space, but then the market crashed in 2008 so again I lost it all! AGAIN!
WIT: That was the third time…
EG: That was the third time. When I closed Cameo I lost everything I had.
EG: I had gotten a divorce. It was the strain of all the work plus Cameo. Lets face it being out 5 nights a week wasn’t good for a relationship. PLUS add money issues and a tight budget to a struggling relationship and it just doesn’t sit pretty…
WIT: At that point what was the lesson learned?
EG: Another humility lesson in the sense of having a grip on reality and controlling my expenses. Because the recession hit every real estate agent but it directly affected us because those were our customers.
WIT: Yes, 100%. They were out every day!
EG: They would be everywhere spending money. You would see them at your bar or anywhere else and they were throwing money around. So from one day to the next they stop spending money. Our customers would come buy a beer and leave. Then after a while they wouldn’t even come…
At that point we downsized and we kept Space. Space now being one night a week it was not doing bad but it wasn’t my only goal. I had been a part of a couple of different projects so I started looking for new ideas.
While all this was going on. One thing I always did: “I always paid promoters.”
I think at one point I had about 400 promoters working for me. It was a promoter war between the clubs. We were good at that. We had a great system. Promoters bring people. They would get compensated per person they brought.
Having the good reputation with the promoters and downsizing allowed me to focus. At that point I had formed Guerra Marketing so I just started looking for the right venues that needed cost-effective promotional assistance.
WIT: That was a key point: Cost-effective promotional assistance.
EG: After the third time of losing everything I really realized how important the budgeting aspect is.
WIT: Again one of the lessons you learned came back in play.
EG: Yes, budgeting, budgeting and budgeting.
With Guerra Marketing I have contracts with Nikki Sundays for the last 4 years. Space obviously, and different places that don’t conflict with what we have going on. LIV on Thursday, Fridays at Arkadia, Tuesdays at Blue Martini, and Gypsy Knights Wednesdays at Nikki, I use different personalities and different marketing plans.
WIT: Oh man that’s great.
EG: It has taken me 14 years to figure it out.
WIT: If you think about it it’s the money learning curve. The first 5 years you’re learning and getting by. As the time passes the success starts showing up till you become an expert.
EG: You can imagine still keeping the same formula: Trying to get 10 new phone numbers a day. Talking to people. There is a hosting side and a personality side that I’ve tried to maintain through out all these challenges.
It hasn’t been easy but I’ve tried and it has helped in both keeping staff and getting more people to come out to our events.
The most recent thing that I did which has proven to be great for my business is: I attended a Tony Robbins Business Mastery Seminar. That was Amazing. Louis Puig went and said: “Guys you have to go to this.” So me LP and Alex Omes went.
Now Guerra Marketing up & growing, I have my partnerships with the Surfcomber Pool Parties, which have been going on for 8 consecutive years. GO BIG Productions, which we formed to produce the massive events, and of course SPACE…
We are working on a lot of big things for this year! Through everything it was all marketing, marketing and marketing.
There have been so many changes in marketing lately. Like before I used to print 100 thousand flyers. For this that, distribution, etc. But now, everything is digital.
WIT: That’s great.
EG: My web teams handles Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and generate enough tweets… For example to keep your audience engaged you need to send a Twitter tweet 12 times a day. A business owner has no time for that. They manage this for each one of my entities, parties, etc.
WIT: I know. It’s like having a full time job on top of everything else.
EG: There is a certain formula to it. Because of that we started a division within Guerra Marketing that also supplies Social Media management services to other businesses. The way things re today, Social Media Management is crucial and it’s not slowing down. With this new service we are managing more fashion brands and non-nightlife product launches. I don’t want to have to be checking on club promotions when I am older and eventually have kids.
When I hit 40 I would like to be enjoying my family. Hopefully this is a step towards that. That’s what my new team works on and they are great.
I’ve met them all through either promoting or the club. It has been something that came about organically. The fact that they’re all technology pros makes it even better.
WIT: They are the new generation of social savvy professionals.
EG: They are amazing. I wouldn’t be were I’m today if it were not for those people and the management team that we have.
That’s my next baby project. The clubs are great but if you’re not careful, its easy to burn out. I enjoy the clubs, I enjoy the people and I enjoy the lifestyle, but eventually you need balance.
WIT: Where can people find you?
EG: Twitter @emiguerra99, facebook.com/emiguerra99 and emiguerra.com, my portal that will take you to all my partnerships cause I don’t do anything alone. It’s always good to have a partner!
Some people have a strong personality and like to do everything alone. I don’t have an ego any more. I learned that lesson when I was 23 so I work with as many people as I possibly can, as long as they are positive!