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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ramon Sandoval > www.vinolatinousa.com

Ramon Sandoval, Founder,  Vino Latino

What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
A dream and the ambition to achieve it.

What inspired you to start your business?
I fell in love with Napa and was excited to learn that there are many Latinos making wine here and actually, all across the USA.  This gave me the idea to combining two things I am passionate about wine and supporting Latinos.

How did you finance it?
Lol..one day at a time.  The term “Boot Strapping” comes to mind.

Does being Hispanic/Latina have any influence on your business?
HUGE. IT’s the inspiration behind my business.  It also helps me find customers because Latinos love to support other Latinos.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to drive ahead?
Faith in Jesus Christ, perseverance (never give up), out-of-the-box thinking, and a supportive wife who is also my business partner.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Marketing to consumers on a shoestring budget. 

If you could change one thing about your business. What would it be?
Nothing, I love my business and if there is something I don’t like I can change it.

What was your childhood ambition?
To get out of the ghetto.

Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.
Steve Jobs, Rolando Robledo, Mark Zuckerberg

For business meetings, which do you prefer: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Breakfast or Lunch, I’m an early riser.

What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make in order to become successful in your business?
My corporate job, my fancy car, and vacations.

What is your favorite quote?
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”  ~unknown

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
Not for me, just the opposite in fact.  Following the crowd, towing the corporate line, doing everything the same old way bores me and makes me feel stifled. 

Biggest mistake made?
When I first started I would fall for everyone’s promise of “exposure” by pouring wine for free. I quickly learned the only thing it exposed me to was more requests for free stuff while my bills went unpaid.

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I do because I’m always looking for new and different ways of doing things. I think you have to when you are small.  I don’t have to money and influence of big corporations so the only way I can compete is to come up with new and fun ideas.  Vino With Amigos is a perfect example.  I had to figure out how to get in front of consumers so I started doing in-home wine tasting parties.  I am also launching my own wine label, “Vino S Vida” because no Latino winemakers made an affordable moscato so I decided to make my own.

Description of the company:
Vino Latino is a wine company that supports and promotes Latinos in the American wine industry by selling wine made or owned by Latinos in the USA.  We sell wine via newsletter specials, wine club, Vino With Amigos (in-home wine tastings), and tours.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Juan Manuel Perez > www.pitagrill.com

Juan Manuel Perez, Pita Grill Owner (Chelsea, New York City)

What do you need to be an entrepreneur? 
To be a good entrepreneur-because these days EVERYONE is an entrepreneur-you need to have a vision that you believe in and that drives you to make that vision a reality.  Then, of course, you need to be organized, ambitious and self-confident.  You can't let anyone deter you from realizing your goal, from attaining that dream that mobilized you in the first place.   

What inspired you to start your business?  
My parents bake bread for a living and work out of our home in Mexico.  I grew up watching not only their technical skill in executing great bread but also their entrepreneurial spirit: they always sold their product!  They taught me a great work ethic and they inspire me still, every day to excel.  When I came to the United States, I started at the very bottom of the totem pole so to speak, as a delivery boy.  But nothing was beneath me and I learned every facet of this difficult food industry.  When I finally got the opportunity to run my own restaurant, there was nothing that I did not do or could not do.  The business felt mine because I had cleaned the bathrooms, I had run the register, I had delivered the food and cooked the food.  I felt confident in my abilities because I knew how to do every job in the restaurant.  

How did you finance it?  
I saved for many years.  There were no tricks or gimmicks.  I worked very, very hard.  I worked long hours. I lived frugally and I saved. When the opportunity came to take over the Pita Grill restaurant, I seized the chance and was ready financially. However, I did need some financial help. I received funding through Fora Financial when I needed to fund restaurant renovations shortly after taking over ownership. Fora Financial helped me a great deal.  If you can find funding with a low interest rate, it can be a great financial tool.  It can help push you that extra step further.

Does being Hispanic/Latino have any influence on your business? 
No.  Not at all.    

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to drive ahead? 
My experience and my knowledge push me to excel and when I am faced with difficulties, I just push through.  I never stop or complain.  I never lament.  I just keep going looking for the pot at the end of the rainbow.  I never forget what brought me to where I am today.  I never forget how lucky I am.  I never forget that original vision.  

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?  
The biggest challenge in the food business is the big chain competition. Competing with Chipotle, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, etc. is tough! These big corporate food chains have huge financial backing and huge advertising budgets.  They detract from smaller businesses and open so many stores within 1 square mile, that it takes a great deal of skill to keep a food business open.  It is a case of Simon and Goliath.  But I never lose faith in Simon and in us small business owners.  It is important also, as a consumer that you make purchase choices that help other small businesses.  I try to buy my coffee at the bodega near my house and I like to make local grocery purchases.  Every day we can make choices that help each other out, that can help our communities not get enveloped by the huge corporate chains that want to take over every facet of your daily life from pharmaceutical needs to pizza and coffee etc.  Just remember Simon and Goliath and contribute to the struggle as best you can.  

If you could change one thing about your business. What would it be?  
I don't think I would change anything about my business.  When I want to change something, I change it!  I can, however, think of things I would like to add.  I would like to drive sales up by taking advantage more of the area my restaurant is in.  We are near Port Authority and in the heart of Chelsea.  I would like to introduce more people to Pita Grill.  I am planning to take steps toward this goal this year: advertising, word-of-mouth campaigns, social media etc.    

What was your childhood ambition?  
Most of all I want to be a good human being.  I think being a businessman does not mean that my moral virtues have to fall by the wayside.  I think these can, instead, help me to make my business better in the end.  I grew up in a very poor family.  For a time we had no place to live and worked in the street.  I always dreamed about coming to the United States and I always dreamed of making my parents proud and becoming a success.  At the end of the day, I care most about taking care of others and keeping close to the good moral principals that my parents instilled in me.  I am proud of where I came from and I love the idea of helping others too, aspire to dream big and realize their dreams.
  
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.  
Carlos Slim.  Donald Trump.  Jorge Ramos.

For business meetings, which do you prefer: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?  
Lunch.  Definitely lunch.

What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make in order to become successful in your business?  
My sacrifices have truly been great.  For the last 16 years I have not been able to see my family in Mexico, not been able to hug my mother or kiss my father.  I miss them so much and this sacrifice hurts a lot, it truly does. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of everyone I grew up with and long to abrazarlos.  
I am devoted to my business and I spend my days, my nights, my weekends, and my holidays working.  I love being a businessman and I know what it takes to succeed; but, yes, the sacrifices have been great.  

What is your favorite quote?  
“The biggest thing in life is not money, it is not power, it is not a position that you hold; it is what you hold in your heart and your mind.  Your heart and your mind have no limitations and their potential is never-ending.”  

Is it difficult to be unconventional?  
No, not at all.  When you have a goal, nothing holds you back.  There are no limits or conventions or traditional paths.  You just work toward your goal, you just realize it.

Biggest mistake made?  
I don't think there are mistakes. But there are weaknesses. I tend to trust people too quickly. I should be more wary. I should be more cautious.  I am working toward this. I am always a work-in-progress!

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?  
I do sometimes. I like to bring new concepts to existing businesses and I love to help business evolve. That means I have to observe a lot. I need to watch the needs of the clientele and adapt to suit their needs.

Description of your company: 
Pita Grill is an eclectic and healthy concept that was born in New York City and which I feel proud to be a part of. We sell fast-food cuisine with all-natural ingredients; we don't believe in serving processedfood and make all our food in-house. Our extensive menu offers things such as hummus, fish tacos,smoothies, pita sandwiches.  We serve food in a relaxed atmosphere and believe in always serving food with a smile.  We are always happy to serve you or fulfill your catering needs. See website www.pitagrill.com

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bartek Oparski, CEO, Charlateria.us

Bartek Oparski, CEO, Charlateria.us

What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
Being specialist in my area, vision, passion and willingness to work hard.

What inspired you to start your business?
To develop something meaningful for my customers.

How did you finance it?
Family so far, we might go for first external financing in 2014.

Does being Hispanic/Latino have any influence on your business?
I am actually European but the passion of Hispanic users drives Charlateria.us towards being one of most popular shopping sites in the US. We look also for Hispanic cooperation partners like bloggers and shop owners because they are very meaningful for our business.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to drive ahead?
I am convinced of the success even if it might be necessary to repeatedly align the strategy in a very fast changing business environment.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Technical development - Charlateria’s system might look at first sight quite simple but it has a complex technological backend with diverse interaction possibilities and user friendly privacy settings.

If you could change one thing about your business. What would it be?
We will build out in the coming months the shopping part, Plaza. The direct e-commerce part gets more and more focus, though the social part offers already interesting features.

What was your childhood ambition?
Movie director - I always wanted to create and shape something inspirational and entertaining. Now, in the Internet industry it is also possible but in a slightly different way compared to the show business.

Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.
There are so many who impress me but if I had to tell only three then it would be Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg.

For business meetings, which do you prefer: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Dinner.

What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make in order to become successful in your business?
I moved with my family to another corner of the country, invested all my savings and still work 60+ hours per week.

What is your favorite quote?
"If you're competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering." - Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
Probably trying hard to be unconventional will usually not work out. Be yourself and do what you love and the rest will follow.

Biggest mistake made?
We needed too long for our first Alpha version, there are ways to do it better.

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
Partially but we’re still heading towards enhanced shopping experience and are keen to find the ideal mix, that will be supported by technology and people.

Description of the company
Charlateria.us is a new Spanish language social commerce portal that makes online shopping easier. Visitors can always effortlessly find the right product for them or that special someone. The “Plaza” displays products from numerous American online stores and shoppers can find there virtually everything at the best possible price. An optional signup for a free account takes just a few seconds using own e-mail address or Facebook account.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Luis Escobar > Editor in Chief of LatinVision Media

Luis Escobar, Managing Editor at LatinVision Media Inc. See here: www.latinvision.com/magazine

Being Hispanic…Does it have any influence on your business?
Yes, absolutely. It helps to assimilate the best of both cultures and be more receptive to other cultures as well.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
I just try to learn as much as I can from that experience, forget it and move on.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
It hasn't come yet.

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
I should have paid more attention to my physics teacher in high school.

What was your childhood ambition?
I did not really have any. I was having too much fun that there was not time for being ambitious.

Tell us about three people that you admire.
Saint John Perse, Adam Smith,  Nelson Mandela.

For meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Breakfast. Then I feel free.

What is your favorite quote?
"Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate"

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
Being conventional is difficult.

Biggest mistake made?
The next one.

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
More than and innovator, I’m a curious guy.


About Luis Escobar
Luis Escobar got his masters in Philosophy in La Habana, Cuba and taught at several institutes of higher education. After relocating to the United States, Luis Escobar worked as a translator and business analyst for Moody’s Investors Services. Luis then started his journalism career working for a short time at el diario/La Prensa then moved quickly to The Associated Press as a journalist and copy editor. Gaining 10 years plus experience moved to The Wall Street Journal Interactivo and Dow Jones Newswires. While at WSJ and Dow Jones he continued to study behavioral finance, behavioral economics and international markets at New York University.  He also worked doing research and consulting for Fortune 500 companies.

Follow Luis on www.magazine.latinvision.com


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Carolina Garcia-Aguilera - Independent Writing and Editing Professional

Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Independent Writing and Editing Professional

What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
I don’t think that an individual needs to posses one specific, single characteristic to be a successful entrepreneur. Rather, it is a combination of characteristics that are necessary: unwavering belief in oneself and in the business one wants to create; awareness that it will be a long, difficult road; having the cash resources to weather periods of not having income coming in; self-discipline; strong support group (personally and professional); having a thick skin (not being deflated by being rejected); having flexibility; being open to suggestions, but not being swayed by them; ability to function on little sleep. 

What did inspire you to start your business?
I had always known I wanted to be a writer, and the genre that interested me the most was the mystery field, specifically the one that featured a female private investigator as its protagonist. In order to write credible, believable books, I was convinced that I had to actually work as a private investigator, so I interned at an investigative agency here in Miami to acquire the necessary knowledge. I stayed at that firm for two years, and, then applied for, and was granted, a private investigator’s license (C-8800297). After acquiring my license, with a partner, a former Federal agent, I set up a private investigative agency where we handled all sorts of cases, both criminal and civil. I worked for ten years as a private investigator before writing my first novel, Bloody Waters, which was published by G.P.Putnam’s Sons in 1996. The experience I had acquired during that time proved to be invaluable for writing the novels.

How did you finance it?
My partner and I used some of the money we had saved from working at the agency to pay for the minimal start up costs (corporation fees; liability insurance; stationery; telephones; etc.). Additionally, we made a deal with two attorneys and a former judge who shared office space in a building they owned that we would work three cases a month for only costs and in return we could have use of two empty offices; have the services of the receptionist; share a conference room; use the copy machine, etc. It was a beneficial arrangement for all concerned.

Being Hispanic….Does it have any influence on your business?
Yes, being Hispanic is definitely an asset in my business. I live and work in Miami, a city that is overwhelmingly Hispanic, so the fact that I am Cuban and fluent in Spanish is extremely helpful. I understand my clients’ background and culture so I can relate to their specific situations.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
Fortunately, I have not faced too much adversity- I consider myself to be extremely fortunate in that respect. However, the times when I’ve faced adversity, I’ve always told myself that I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am in life to let a setback stop me. I visualize how I will feel after I’ve resolved the problem, and that is usually enough to help me overcome whatever it is. I transform the situation into an “objective” one from a “subjective” one. In other words, it’s not personal. It is what it is and I just have to deal with it in that way. No feeling sorry for myself, ever, no matter how unfair it might be.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
There is not one “biggest challenge” that I have faced- there are several ones, not surprising, given the field in which I work. Most of my business as a private investigator is as a result of referrals from attorneys. As a private investigator, I usually work alone. After discussing the case with whoever hired me, I study the particular situation and figure out the best way to work the case. The attorneys I work with- especially on criminal cases- rely on my expertise and work product when deciding how best to proceed when crafting a defense. Although I’m very thorough when conducting an investigation, a huge challenge is if I’ve missed something and the final report that I present to the attorney is incomplete. When first starting out, a majority of my cases were domestic- infidelity, bigamy, how genuine so-called “green card marriages” were- but as time passed, I could become more selective. I started working as a private investigator in Miami in the 1980’s, when the city was considered to be the cocaine capital of the world. At times it seemed as if every case I worked had a drug angle to it. Given that, I had to be very, very careful when choosing my clients.

If you could change on thing about your business, what would it be?
I would like to change the perception that private investigators are all sleazy, alcoholic individuals who lurk around wearing trench coats and videotaping spouses screwing around. The public at large believes that we only work cases involving infidelity. Domestic cases are only a small part of our business, a fact that is especially true in Florida, a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that infidelity has no bearing on any financial settlement between spouses.  Private investigators work cases that deal with all sorts of situations- financial, insurance fraud, money laundering, wire transfer fraud, tax evasion, background checks; etc.- but it seems that we cannot get rid of the “sleazy” label.      

What was your childhood ambition?

I always wanted to be an archeologist. In college, I was a history/political science major, so as a requirement for graduation, I had to take many history courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I suppose that working as a private investigator fulfills my need to conduct investigations and look for clues as to what has taken place, a skill that archeologists must possess to discover secrets, albeit ones that took place centuries before.

Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.

Jeff Bezos
Martha Stewart
Charles Schwab

For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Definitely lunch. I am not a morning person, so meeting at breakfast is not an option. I’m Cuban, so I have to have consumed a serious amount of coffee before I become what could be considered operational. Lunch is perfect. Whatever business needs to be discussed can usually be concluded in an hour. Dinner is not good for me, as I like to drink red wine with my meal, and I don’t want my faculties affected by liquor. It’s not that I get sloshed, it’s that I like to be totally clear headed when discussing business- it’s just too important. Also, at dinner, the temptation is to linger at the table after a meal, and I’m not one to do that when discussing dinner. I do that with family and friends.

What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a  business success?
I am the mother of three daughters. When I started working as a private investigator they were three, eight and ten years old. Although I tried not to let work affect my time with them, there is no question that I was forced to make sacrifices if I was to be successful. I could not tell a client that I could not attend a meeting because I had to drive a ballet carpool. After some hits and misses, I learned how to manage my time so that the impact on my family for me to be able to successfully work my cases was minimal. On the other hand, my daughters were able to learn from my juggling my personal and professional life how hard choices are made. I hope I’ve been a good role model for them. Thankfully, they’ve turned out well. My eldest daughter, Sarah, the lawyer, is also a mother to her baby Violet- proving that, with careful planning, it is possible to have both a personal and professional life- although not easy by any means.  

What is your favorite quote?
“The harder I work the luckier I get.”

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
No, not at all. For me, it’s way easier being unconventional than conventional. I became a private investigator in the mid 1980’s in Miami, at a time when only 20% of the investigators in Florida were women, and, of that number, only a very few were Hispanic.  I’ve never really considered my career choice to be unconventional- additionally, much to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve never much cared what anyone thought of me. I never set out to be a private investigator and run such an agency; for me, working in that field was a means to an end. I knew I wanted to write a series of books featuring a Cuban-American female private investigator protagonist who lived and worked in Miami, and becoming one was the best way to achieve that goal. It also gave me “street cred”.

Biggest mistake?
Too many to mention- but, thankfully, nothing that could not be corrected, or used as a painful learning experience- until I got smart. Examples: getting stiffed on fees; trusting the wrong people; doubting the good ones.

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
No, I definitely do not consider myself an innovator. I had a goal, and I limited myself to working towards it.

Your company.
Cuban-born, Miami Beach based Carolina Garcia-Aguilera is the author of ten books as well as a contributor to many anthologies, but she is perhaps best known for her Lupe Solano mystery series. Her books have been translated into twelve languages. One Hot Summer, her seventh novel, was made into a film for Lifetime Television. Ms. Garcia-Aguilera, who has been a private investigator for over twenty-five years, has been the recipient of many awards.


I’ve been very, very lucky (see answer #12). I’ve finally been able to live my life as I wish: I set my own work schedule, working from my office at home, accompanied by my four dogs (all huge; all rescues), often being visited by various members of my family and friends, drinking as much red wine as I want, going to bed at whatever time I want. Perfect.  

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