Monday, May 19, 2008
Annette E. Alvarez > www.tostobueno.com
What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
My first reaction was to write about the need for vision and a 100% devotion to that vision but found that that answer was too simplistic, so I hit delete. I asked my friends for their thoughts. They also talked about vision. So I guess vision wins in everyday conversation, but truth be told I don’t think that’s the magic entrepreneurial ingredient. Lots of people with vision are still punching a clock. What am I missing? I turned to Webster. The dictionary. Entrepreneurs “assume the risk of a business.” Hmmmmm . . . we are risk takers. Got it! Fearlessness! To be an entrepreneur you can’t be afraid. That sounds about right!
What did inspire you to start your business?
How did you finance it?
I own two businesses, with two sets of partners.
A) Multi-Ethnic Talent & Promotion, Inc. manages ethnic actors. As a home business, we were able to keep costs down. Not long after we started in 1992, our first client was hired by MTV as the face of their newly launched MTV Asia network. I remember our first commercial—AT&T; it paid very well. That same actor went on to be one of the first faces of Viagra. Very funny. The Sopranos was good to us. As well as all The Law & Orders. Our actors are now all in Los Angeles, and one just booked a pilot. Let’s hope it gets picked up.
Still, I needed to work for the first five years of our business and I did, as an overnight news editor at WNBC. So if you count, it was 18 hours days.
B) Tostobueno®, LLC designs and distributes high-end, ethnic kitchenware. Our signature product is an eco-friendly, bamboo tostonera. It takes a village to raise a child. In this day and age, it also takes one to get a business going. We
have a wonderful village of family and friends who have surrounded themselves around us, giving of their time and money. So to answer the question we self-financed except for $20,000.
Being Hispanic…Does it have any influence on your business?
The immigrant work ethic. Yes, I work 7 days a week and I am on the computer dealing with both coasts until, basically, my head can’t take it anymore. (Read below) But – here is the big BUT, what I do is because my parents gave me the best education that money could buy. I went all the way to the University of Miami School of Law. There I met my Multi-Ethnic partner, Joan C. Silverman. I studied Broadcasting at Miami-Dade Community College, North Campus. Burt Delgado, the BEST TV professor EVER. He is still there. I worked at WNBC; that is were I met my Tostobueno® partner, Don Williams, the station’s reporter/anchor. My parents were factory workers. What I do is fun. Now, let’s not confuse fun with easy. At Multi-Ethnic my job is to convince people “in power positions” that my actors should be given the opportunity to auditioned for a role that in their minds they see a caucasian actor playing. With Tostobueno® my job is to convince people “in power positions” that America is ready for high-end, ethnic kitchenware, specifically our signature product an eco-friendly dual tostones and rellenos tostonera. My parents worked the same amount of time. SEWING! Their fun, the radio-novelas and the dream of one day having their on place.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
You just “do” with great faith that it will all work out. And it usually does.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Business Challenge:For Multi-Ethnic: keeping afloat after 9/11. For Tostobueno®: educating businesses that Hispanics as well as non-Hispanics will spend money for quality and up-scale ethnic cookware.
Personal Challenge:In 2000, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. I must tell you, it hasn’t been a fun ride, but with the help of family and friends we were all able to keep it going.
If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
Change happens, with or without me.
What was your childhood ambition?
To be a teacher.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire?
When I was younger I read all the business books, etc. However, at the end of my day it's my parents who I admire most - they were my Wharton. And from what I just found out, my mother as a kid loved to work at her dad's "bodega" in Cuba. My father -- when he wasn't at the factory, he was selling jewelry or electronics. I'm a first generation Cuban-American. My parents came to this country in the early 50s, and shortly after I was born in '58, the goal was set: to move from Brooklyn to Miami and open a factory. And they did. Basically, they taught me the value of effort and hardwork.
For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Honestly, I prefer meetings where there is no food. Coffee, si! Meetings for me are all about going in and getting out. Now, for networking I prefer lunch. And when we want them to try, my partner's Don--aka Chef DonClark-- tostones rellenos-with sweet and savory toppings-- and plantain muffins and well, the best Café Espresso EVER . . . it's home for dinner. Don was awarded a design patent on June 27th 2006 after spending three years perfecting the Tostobueno ® design.
What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success?
I don’t know, really. I've modeled my life to accommodate my love of business.
What is your favorite quote?
Luck is the residue of design.
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
I find this to be the question that most resonated in me. I’ve always, always been unconventional, and I guess I still am and probably always will be. I didn’t realize it, until, well, I read this question that being unconventional is a good business trait. I remember being yelled at by my 5th grade teacher for having done something the complete opposite of everyone else in the class. That’s when I realized I was a bit . . . different. And 40 some odd years later, nothing’s changed. The upside—I’m not phased by much and can continue any pursuit without fear. Wow. . . Who would have thought?
Biggest mistake made?
Not buying a Blackberry sooner.
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I can’t answer this question without bringing in ALL my partners. And even then it is not to say we are innovadors but visionaries. Both Multi-Ethnic and Tostobueno® are chipping away at an archaic business model. . . one that doesn’t include the financial power of ethnic America, with Hispanics representing $1 trillion in spending power by 2010, according to Jose Cancela, founder of the marketing and research firm Hispanic USA Inc.
Joan and I started Multi-Ethnic in 1992. It wasn’t until seven years later that what we knew was actually said out loud by the likes of Ricky Martin and then NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. Yes, a very unlikely duo. Ricky’s groundbreaking “Cup of Life” Grammy performance showed EVERYONE that Hispanics were here and, well, HOT and not going anywhere. Mr. Mfume also in 1999 took TV execs to task for what he called the whitewash of TV.
Don, Ainsley C. Williams and I started Tostobueno® a few years ago. . . well, let me leave you with this. Just look at the Food Network. Does it reflect even a little bit the Hispanic population of this country?
Visionaries. Yup . . . that’s what we are.
About the Companies
Multi-Ethnic Talent & Promotion, Inc. manages ethnic actors.
Tostobueno®, LLC designs and distributes high-end ethnic kitchenware. Our signature product is Tostobueno, The Ultimate Tostonera® an eco-friendly, bamboo tostonera that can make up to six toston chips "tostones" or toston cups "tostones rellenos" with one smash.
Contact Annette at http://www.tostobueno.com/
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