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Originally Posted On: LatinX Women Entrepreneurship with Maribel Lara (growthbysabir.com)
Maribel Lara is a champion of female entrepreneurship. She also works hard to provide opportunities to Latino and Latina business owners and has years of experience to draw upon.
In the latest episode of This Week With Sabir, I was delighted to sit down with Maribel and talk about the difficulties faced by women entrepreneurs and the Latinx community.
You can watch the full interview above. In this guide, I will be discussing some of the tips and resources that Maribel discussed.
Where we Are Right Now
Latino and Latina Americans are the second-largest ethnic group in the United States, accounting for roughly 17% of the total population.
In New Mexico, California, and Texas, the numbers are much higher—between a third and a half of all residents in these states are Latinx.
This means the Latinx community is approximately the same size as the Asian and Black communities combined.
And those numbers are rising. In a few years, as noted by Maribel during our discussion, roughly 1 in 4 Americans will be part of the Latinx community.
But despite this prevalence and this rising trend, Latinos and Latinas are severely underrepresented in the United States.
At the time of writing, there have been 13 US senators with a Latinx background, accounting for just 1% of the total. And of the 100 highest-grossing films between 2007 and 2018, just 3% featured Latino leads or co-leads.
They have politicians, actors, artists, and writers in abundance, they’re just not given the same chances as everyone else.
And as bad as things are in politics and film, they’re even worse in business, especially for women entrepreneurs.
Latinx Women in Business
Latinos aren’t the only underrepresented group in the United States. Despite an ever-closing gender gap and improving opportunities, women are still paid less and given fewer opportunities than men.
Women entrepreneurs, therefore, face tougher challenges when it comes to founding and running their businesses.
One of the issues that women face is that a bias still exists, and many investors are more likely to sink their money into male-run businesses. In fact, in 2018, just over 2% of venture capital was invested in female-run businesses.
It has been suggested that banks are more reserved when dealing with women entrepreneurs. If anything, they are the ones who should be adopting an unbiased approach, one that focuses only on the idea and the ambition, but they still lean more toward male entrepreneurs.
There are also confidence issues among women entrepreneurs. They see an industry that is dominated by men, and they become apprehensive about getting involved.
It can be hard for shy and anxious women entrepreneurs to take a risk. If they are surrounded by family and friends that adopt traditional “values”, ones that see women as homemakers and not creators; as caregivers and not earners, it’s difficult for them to go against the grain.
For some, those situations would serve as encouragement, a way to break the mold and prove the doubters wrong. But if you’re suffering from a severe lack of self-confidence and don’t have any financial backing or experience, it can seem like an unscalable mountain.
The purpose of this guide, and my interview with Maribel, is to help people in this situation, and that’s what the following tips are all about.
The Things that Latina Women Entrepreneurs Need to Know
Every day, Maribel receives questions from women entrepreneurs and Latinas looking to follow in her footsteps. She is always happy to help and offer advice. During our conversation, she highlighted some of the most common questions that she receives and provided top tips for each of them.
How Can I Get Funding?
Funding is one of the biggest challenges in women entrepreneurship. Women venture capital investors are few and far between and males are less likely to invest in female-run businesses.
For Maribel Lara, the answer to this question is two-fold.
First, you need to find the right investors.
Women entrepreneurs and those in the Latinx community can look to the following options, all recommended by Maribel:
Backstage Capital: On its homepage, Backstage Capital highlights the concerning fact that less than 10% of all venture capital funding goes to women, people of color, and LGBTQ founders. Its goal is to improve these statistics by funding underrepresented groups. To date, it has invested in more than 150 companies.
Leap Frog: The Leap Frog book was written by Natalie Molina Niño, an expert in women entrepreneurship. Her words have helped countless women entrepreneurs to follow in her footsteps and it’s worth a look for any female business owners and aspiring brand builders.
Lolita Taub: Lolita is an investor and entrepreneur with years of experience behind her. She is a Latinx founder and a great inspiration to people like Maribel.
Kapor Capital: An Oakland-based venture capital fund working to build transformative and game-changing ideas, with a focus on women and people of color.
IFundWomen: As the name suggests, IFundWomen offers funding, coaching, and networking for women entrepreneurs. Its goal is to help women “with big ideas”.
Once you have the right investors in your sights, you need to create an interesting pitch.
This is where Maribel emphasizes the importance of being unique and personal. Your pitch will be seen alongside many others, and unless you have a completely unique idea, you’ll be competing against countless other companies in an existing and established industry.
You need to give those investors a reason to back you.
You’re selling the world an apple pie. It’s something that everyone has eaten, something that everyone is familiar with, and something that the world is definitely not short of.
So, what makes yours different? Why should they buy your apple pie over everything else that’s out there? Does it use candy floss instead of sugar, do you use cinnamon and other spices, is it baked differently?
Tell the investors your story. Explain what makes you unique, why you founded your business, what inspires you, and what you aspire to be. Make it personal, make it convincing, and make it emotional.
Imagine that you’re watching Shark Tank and see two different pitches for the same product. One makes slightly more financial sense, but it’s pitched by a soulless entrepreneur with whom you just can’t empathize. The other is pitched by a passionate, lively, and personable entrepreneur.
Which one will you be cheering on? And if you were there, which one would you invest in?
I have consulted on Shark Tank for investor Matt Higgins. I understand how important the financials are and how solid a business plan needs to be. But I can also attest to the importance of personality—if an investor doesn’t like you or believe in you, they won’t give you a cent.
How Can I Get Support?
Maribel was heavily influenced by her mother. Not only was her mother an immigrant, but she struggled with a disability and didn’t have an education to fall back on. Despite that, she worked hard, she persisted, and she raised a strong family.
That persistence and that dedication inspired Maribel to become an entrepreneur and even now, 12 years after her death, Maribel’s mother still has a massive influence on her life.
Behind every successful entrepreneur, you will find a story like this. It’s especially important for women entrepreneurs and minorities. They face a longer and tougher journey and don’t have as many supportive people behind them.
As Maribel discussed during our interview, Latina business owners and entrepreneurs used to view their fellow females and Latinas as rivals. They believed that the pool of resources was very limited and that only a few could be successful.
In that sense, the world of Latinx business and entrepreneurship was akin to American Idol in that only a few could make it, and when someone dropped out and failed, your chances to succeed increased.
These days, and for the last decade or so, that just hasn’t been the case.
Latinx entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs are not dealing with finite resources and opportunities anymore. They have just as many opportunities as everyone else. Sure, they might need to work harder to get there, but your chances are not diminished by the success of another.
Some experts have argued that the reason minorities have struggled in America is because they don’t have the connections and the networks afforded to white Americans.
White Americans are roughly 3x more likely to go to college than Latino Americans. At college, they make connections with fellow students and academics. Some of those friends have well-connected friends and family members; others go on to start their own companies.
And as the education divide is much greater now than it was generations ago, a white American is also more likely to have a well-connected parent, grandparent, uncle, or auntie. All of this means they can get funding when they need it. They can get the support, the advice, and the capital.
Networking is essential, and now that the Latinx community is more supportive than competitive, it’s the perfect time to make connections.
One of Maribel’s biggest tips was to use the internet to your advantage because when you have a world of successful people at your fingertips, it doesn’t matter who your parents or friends are.
One of the sites recommended by Maribel is #weallgrow. It is a vast and ever-expanding community of Latinas all seeking to support each other and provide more opportunities for women entrepreneurs while connecting them with women venture capital investors.
How do I Get More Listeners/Followers?
This is one of the most common questions that Maribel receives, but it’s also one of the hardest to answer. She suggests that getting more followers on social media or more listeners on a podcast is an empty goal.
The answer is not a one-step solution that will instantly give you the boost you need. It’s not even a strategy that you should carefully adhere to.
For Maribel, the first step is to ask yourself why you want those followers, subscribers, likes, and listeners.
What problem are you trying to solve, what solution are you trying to achieve?
Take Instagram followers as an example.
Do you want them because you have a solution to a problem and can offer assistance? Is your goal to simply provide tasty recipes and enrich the lives of foodies everywhere? Or do you simply want to emulate your idols and make a lot of money?
If your goal is to fix a problem that many people have, you’re essentially mimicking the success of Instagram stars like Joe Yoon.
He gained over 1.3 million followers by practicing what he preached. He began helping people from the start, offering tips on building muscle, strengthening joints, and recovering from injury.
The more helpful advice he provided, the faster his following grew. He didn’t pay lots of money for marketing. He didn’t use some amazing unknown secret. He just offered helpful advice, stayed active, and eventually became one of the biggest names in his sector.
If your goal is to enrich the lives of others, to offer a product or service, you need to adopt a similar approach.
Rather than filling your feed with promotional posts, create some useful, helpful, and entertaining ones. Followers only pay attention to promotions when they’re already interested in what you have to say. To reach that point, you need to provide value.
Help don’t sell.
Finally, if you’re growing a following just to increase your numbers and become an influencer millionaire, you need to think of yourself as a business.
For the same reason that no one cares about a 10% discount promoted by an obscure profile, no one cares about vacation pictures posted by someone they don’t know.
You have to give them value—provide them with a reason to follow you.
Just because your influencer idols post meaningless pictures and get masses of likes, doesn’t mean you can do the same thing. To attain that level of respect, they had to work hard, post regularly, and build a rapport.
The only people who care about what you eat and where you travel, are the ones who have consumed all of your helpful strategies and tips, the ones who have clung to every helpful word and listened to every positive post.
In other words, only celebrities can get away with posting for posting sake, and even they acknowledge that an account can’t survive on vanity alone.
How Do I Grow my Business?
Understanding what you do and why you do it is crucial to your business, as well as your social media following. It gives you direction and purpose; it ensures you make the right moves and stay on the right course.
Why are you running a business?
Do you want to earn some extra cash on the side, replace your full-time job, give your kids something substantial to inherit, or simply sell it for a profit a few years from now?
How you grow your business will depend on this goal.
If you’re looking to earn a little extra cash while maintaining a full-time job or family life, you should keep your personal investments small and avoid overreaching. The more you invest, the higher that risk becomes, and the more time you will sink into the business.
Before long, you’ll be in over your head and will have veered off course.
Instead, keep it slow and steady. Understand that it may take longer to see the results you’re looking for, but at least you can maintain your distance throughout that period.
If you’re going all-out, building for your future or the future of your family, your financial investment should be greater, you should be willing to invest more of your time, and you’ll likely need some support from venture capital investors.
If it’s all about profit, and your goal is to sell when you’re firmly in the black, you need to keep a close eye on your finances. Invest more time and less money, and work with investors who have the connections you need to sell your business.
There is no easy answer, no simple solution. The goal is to build the right foundation and go from there, and that starts when you acknowledge what your goals are.
How Can I Build a Business on a Budget?
If you watch Shark Tank or just pay attention to the news, you’ll learn about entrepreneurs that apparently started with nothing and then became rich and successful. If you do a little digging, you may discover that “nothing” was actually over $100,000, either in personal capital or investments.
It’s a little disheartening to business owners who genuinely have nothing and are eager to start their business.
For many women entrepreneurs and those in the Latinx community, it’s not possible to get $10,000, let alone $100,000. They don’t have houses to re-mortgage, investors to call upon, or family and friends to loan from.
But that doesn’t mean they need to give up.
So, what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? How can you launch and run a business with little to no capital?
Here are a few tips to help you out, and I promise that “max out your credit cards” won’t be one of them.
1. Spend Smartly
$1 invested wisely is better than $100 invested carelessly.
Think about Kitchen Nightmares for a second. It’s a show that I have mentioned a few times before on This Week With Sabir, and I probably sound like an obsessed fan at this point. I’m not, but it’s an interesting show and it gives you some great insights into why businesses fail.
The show revolves around Chef Gordan Ramsey, who visits many failing restaurants around the country. It’s reality TV, and it’s not scripted, but nearly every episode plays out the same way, showing you just how predictable failing businesses and struggling business owners are.
It typically begins with Gordon discovering that the food is terrible, the menu is too big, and the décor is atrocious. He informs the owner, they get annoyed, look like a chastised child, and invariably tell him, “We must be doing something right, as our customers never complain”.
He’s a professional chef, one of the best in the world, and he’s offering to fix a near-bankrupt restaurant, yet the owner’s reaction is to insist that he somehow knows best.
Without Ramsay’s intervention and persistence, that restaurant would continue to throw good money at bad ideas and within months, it would go under, making the owner bankrupt in the process.
Clearly, these business owners are not acting smartly. If they were, they’d take his advice, pivot, and find a route to success. In fact, they wouldn’t have even gotten to that stage, as the realization would have struck them long before the cursing Scot strode through their doors.
It’s about being willing to adapt. You need to make your business suit your capital, and not force your capital to work for your business. If you only have $10,000, find a business that doesn’t have high overheads, one that doesn’t need premises or staff.
If you only have $1,000, find a business that you can run from your home with minimal stock.
2. Do What You Know
If you’re a professional copywriter and content writer, you probably shouldn’t be opening an art studio. If you’re an artist, an SEO/content agency isn’t the right call.
Do what you know, as that knowledge creates a foundation more valuable than any amount of capital.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you always need to limit yourself to your profession and skillset. If you have a passion for wine and know little about it, it’s okay to take a risk. But only when you have the capital behind you.
As someone without adequate capital, that’s a risk you can’t afford to take.
Keep the passion projects for another day and focus on doing something that you actually know.
3. Swap Money for Time
When you’re doing what you know, your time will always be more valuable than your experience.
Take writing as an example.
If you have been writing content and copy for 10+ years, you don’t need capital to start a content agency. After all, you can write the content for your website, you can complete jobs for clients, and you can cover all of your promotional needs as well.
If you hire someone else to do that, you’ll need to pay them upwards of $50,000 a year. By doing it yourself, you’ve just saved all of that money.
After a year or two, when the agency grows, you can think about hiring others. By that point, you will have earned the capital and can think about growth.
This doesn’t just apply to creative arts, either. Any skillset, whether it’s crafting, designing, writing, or translating, can be a valuable resource for your company.
And if you don’t have any skillset, don’t worry. A retail company needs to pack products, speak with suppliers, manage the accounts, and deal with customers. You can do all of those things yourself.
Sure, it would be easier to hire a customer support team, an accountant, and other skilled team members, but why bother? You have the time, use it. You can learn all of those things and use software and tutorials to help you with the more complicated roles.
If the business grows to a point where you can’t manage all of that yourself, hire someone else.
A friend of mine recently adopted a similar strategy. He worked full-time and didn’t want to risk too much capital, so he began devoting his free time to the business. He had a few hours to pack and ship products on the weekend and used automated software to manage sales and accounts.
His only concern was that he wouldn’t be able to handle the customer support side of things. He stressed over receiving an endless barrage of emails and not being able to keep up.
I spoke with him recently, and he told me that the business now gets over 400 sales a month and generates $6,000, yet he receives approximately 5 customer queries a week.
That’s 5 minutes a day.
In other words, while setting up a business can be stressful, as long as you remain patient, it’s much easier than you might expect. As for the actual day-to-day operations, it becomes easier with time, and the point at which it starts being stressful is often the point that you have enough revenue to hire someone.
How Do I Find a Unique Idea?
You don’t need a unique idea to launch a business.
In fact, originality is rarely the best way to start a business. If you’re trying to do something that no one else has done, you’ll need to worry about patents, trademarks, and supply chains.
It’s an issue I discussed with Gabi and Greg from The Magic Spoon.
Before they launched their cereal brand, which creates healthy versions of popular sugary cereals, they manufactured protein bars from crickets. These insects were already being eaten as a food source and were very high in protein.
They were cheap, sustainable, and by turning them into powder and using them in protein bars, they could make them more appealing to a US audience.
However, because they were the first ones in that business, they had to create a supply chain from scratch, before convincing the American public that cricket protein was a good choice.
It was an expensive, time-consuming, and often frustrating process, and it made them rethink their strategies when they launched their next business.
To the uninitiated, unique ideas are essential for launching a business. To people in the know, it’s all about entering a saturated market and making yourself known.
Whether you do that with your brand story, packaging, customer service, or product, is entirely up to you.
When you’re the loudest, you don’t need to be the first. You don’t even need to be the best.
Take teeth whitening as an example.
There was a time when you had to go to the dentist if you wanted your teeth whitened. It was an expensive process and wasn’t very popular as a result.
Not too long ago, someone realized they could offer the same service in a commercial product. It used weaker bleaches (thus abiding by the law) and incorporated technology so that users could connect to their phones. This would then display a timer and instructions while using the phone’s power to generate blue or red light.
This product has been available for years, but there are brands that launched in 2020 still claiming to be the first. They don’t do anything different. In fact, most of these brands buy from the same manufacturers on Alibaba. But by utilizing effective marketing strategies, they can reach people who have never seen the product before and believe them to be revolutionary.
Throw in an extra tool or feature, and even the ones who know about the industry will consider buying your product.
Another way to introduce existing ideas into “new” markets is to import an idea from abroad.
Think about the massive success that boba tea had when it was first introduced to cities like New York. It was already massive in Taiwan and across most of the east, but it was novel when it landed on our shores and it grew exponentially as a result.
As an immigrant, you have an advantage over the average white American. Immigrants tend to visit their home countries and other countries that speak their native language. As a result, they are exposed to more cultures.
If something works in your home country of Venezuela, why not introduce it to the United States? It worked for boba tea, and it has worked for countless other products and ideas as well.
Of course, there are limits, and this is where you need to do your research.
Sometimes, cultures just aren’t ready or willing to accept a new product or business, even if it has succeeded elsewhere. The UK might be open to embracing America’s obsession with coffee and brunch, but we probably wouldn’t be as accommodating for their afternoon tea.
At this point, being Latinx stops being a hindrance and starts being an advantage. Finding opportunity in hardship is what the best entrepreneurs do.
The same is true for women entrepreneurs. There are fewer women entrepreneurs than men, and as bad as that is, it also means that only a small percentage of entrepreneurs have the same experiences as you.
This is something that Sara Blakely used to her advantage when she founded Spanx. It’s a product that wouldn’t have been created by a man, and yet it’s one that turned Blakely into a billionaire.
Helpful Resources for Women Latinas and Women Entrepreneurs
Maribel discussed many resources during our interview. She is a true credit to her industry. Not only has she acquired a wealth of valuable insights over her career, but she is always happy to share these insights with others.
It’s this active and dedicated support that women entrepreneurs and Latinx entrepreneurs need. White Americans have no shortage of role models to turn to and thanks to Maribel, resources are improving for female and Latina entrepreneurs as well.
I have already highlighted some of the books and communities that Maribel discussed, but here are a few more:
Luminary: Describes itself as a “collaboration hub” designed to help women connect, engage, and learn. It is a global community aimed at women all over the world and hosts many events, programs, and webinars throughout the year. You can sign up for a digital membership and choose from an array of features. It’s a great way to connect with fellow women entrepreneurs and start building a network.
Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative: The SLEI researches Latinx entrepreneurship and operates an education program in collaboration with Stanford GSB Executive Education and Latino Business Action Network. It is targeted toward Latino entrepreneurs that generate 7-figures in annual revenue or have raised at least half a million in outside funding. Its 7-week course aims to educate business owners, enhance their networks, provide them with personal mentors, and teach them about the essentials of building capital and improving revenue.
Columbia (University) Community Business Program: An executive education program aimed at small business owners. The CCBP is aligned with the core curriculum of the MBA program at Columbia Business School. All participants benefit from one-on-one business counseling, peer learning, and advanced entrepreneurial education. It helps established entrepreneurs to focus on their business goals, covering aspects such as building a strong team and growing revenue.
Hispanic Business Center (part of Hello Alice): One of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs in the United States, and a great place for Latinas and Latinos to mix. As discussed already, proper networking is essential for establishing and growing your business. It can be the difference between success and failure; big investments and empty accounts, and it’s something that this community can help with.
These are just a few of the great resources and communities out there. It’s true that Latinx entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs don’t have as many opportunities as white males, but thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, and countless business communities all over the world, that’s changing.
Entrepreneurs like Maribel are also taking great strides toward changing this industry and improving opportunities.
The $100,000 Question
How would you define a non-Latino, non-Black, non-Asian, non-immigrant American? This demographic accounts for the largest population of the United States, and if you ask the average person to define that demographic, they will give you a long list of descriptive terms.
After all, they can be male or female, educated or uneducated, employed or unemployed. It’s a pretty broad statement and it wouldn’t be fair to place all those millions of people under the same umbrella.
However, that’s exactly what we do for the Latinx community and we’ve been doing it for generations.
To the majority of Americans, they are Latinos, Latinas, and Hispanics.
And yet, it’s a demographic that varies considerably. They can be from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and over a dozen over countries. They can speak Spanish, Portuguese, or French. They may be first-generation or second-generation.
It’s unfair to categorize Latinx in such a way, and yet it’s something that had become commonplace throughout the United States, something that holds Latinas back and prevents them from making themselves seen and heard.
This connects to something that Maribel said at the end of our interview.
I asked her what single piece of advice she would give to aspiring Latina and women entrepreneurs. It’s the $100,000 question, the advice that can generate more than 6-figures in value for my dedicated viewers and readers.
Her answer was to:
Be yourself; be unique. Don’t try to be someone else, don’t try to recreate someone else’s journey. You are unique and your business should be unique as well.
It’s a trap that we all fall into.
Whether you aspire to be an athlete, writer, artist, director, actress, or business owner, there’s a good chance you’re trying to replicate someone else.
At the very least, you’re comparing yourself to them when they were the same age. If they made it big at 42, then you have to achieve the same success at the same age. If they sold their first business or made their first million in their 30s, then you have to do the same.
But we can take this obsession to the extreme and try to match everything that they do. I know people who dress and even act like their idols. They want the life that their role models are living, and so they gradually replicate everything that they do in the hope they will have the same opportunities and achieve the same success.
Everyone’s journey is different, everyone is unique, and the real path to success is to understand what makes you special and to use that to your advantage.
That doesn’t always mean that you need to be larger than life and show yourself off to the world. If you’re an introvert, then so be it. It’s not about being a character that everyone likes, it’s about having a reason, a motive, a story.
A few months ago, Cosmopolitan published a list of Latinx-run businesses. If you want to support fellow Latinas and Latinos, I recommend checking it out. You can also take inspiration from some of the other successful women entrepreneurs I have interviewed in the past.
Kristina Bucaram is a great example. I spoke with her in August and discussed the hurdles that small businesses face and the ways you can scale them. Kristina began her business in college and faced numerous challenges on the way. Today, she runs a massive global business that generates huge profits and has made her one of the biggest names in the raw food industry.
Brittany Krystle is another hugely successful female entrepreneur. She is a master of building personal brands and has some very helpful tips on growing your business and social media profiles.
This is just a small selection of the many successful women investors and entrepreneurs I have spoken with on This Week With Sabir. Be sure to visit the homepage for a full list, with interviews, guides, and a host of helpful resources available.
Meet Our Guest – Maribel Lara
Maribel Lara is SVP, Head of Consulting at The Sasha Group a VaynerX company that provides educational, consulting and marketing services to companies with a growth mindset. She has been within the Vayner world since 2014 and her role has included reporting to and partnering with CEO and serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk to execute initiatives tied to the strategic growth of the agency. Maribel entered the marketing space in 2009 after receiving her MBA. Prior to her work in the corporate sector, Maribel spent the first eight years of her career focused on student leadership development at several colleges and universities.