Friday, January 14, 2011

Dean Schwartz >

Dean Schwartz, Creator,

What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
Vision, determination and a strong ability to cope with stress.

What did inspire you to start your business?
After having spent a career working in the Latin American and US Hispanic markets, for brands such as Reebok and the NBA, I recognized a need for Latino-inspired fashion. I started by bringing NaCo, a Mexican t-shirt brand, to the US. For those with a deep understanding of Mexican slang, the brand was readily accepted here in the US. However, for the bulk of Latinos who may be second- or third- generation, they needed designs that appealed more to their identity of being Latino in the US. With all the negative stereotypes about Hispanics, I felt t-shirt design was a great way to give an artistic voice to those who wanted to embrace and be proud of their culture. Surropa has and will continue to discover artists and brands from both Latin America and the US that will help Latinos embrace their heritage through fashion.

How did you finance it?
So far everything has been self-financed. We are currently starting to engage in conversations with angel investors and strategic partners to help take Surropa to the next level.

Being Hispanic…Does it have any influence on your business?
I am actually not Hispanic, but fell in love with the culture at a young age and have always felt I have an “Alma Latina.” After having studied and lived in Spain and Panamá, and worked for over 15 years throughout Latin America, I feel as if I have a unique perspective on straddling both Hispanic and American culture. Through my experience building American brands in Latin America, I’ve applied those lessons learned to build Latin brands in the US.

In the face of adversity, how do you decide to keep going?
For me, it’s all about passion. I really love what I do and believe that Surropa can be something bigger than just a mere t-shirt shop. The emails and Facebook postings we receive from customers telling us how much they love what we’re doing is also very encouraging. On the other side, the hate mail we receive from anti-immigration groups (in response to some of our Arizona t-shirts, for example) also reinforces our belief that we’re doing the right thing.

What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
I think the biggest challenge is how to grow your business exponentially without the appropriate funding in place. When you’re just reinvesting your own profits or taking money from savings, it becomes both a scary and risky venture. For an e-commerce business, it’s all about traffic and we’re constantly working on deals and figuring out how to inclemently let more and more people know that we exist.

If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
We are constantly trying to improve our site and shopping experience. Any changes are focused on the customer and his or her experience. We have some great new ideas – you’ll have to keep coming back to see what we have in store.

What was your childhood ambition?
I always wanted to be CEO of a marketing-driven consumer brand.

Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire?
My favorite entrepreneurs are those that understand the difference between “being” and “trying to be.” The leaders I truly admire are those who know exactly where they want to take their company, and are not distracted by what the competition is doing. Some of these include:

Steve Jobs – for his ingenuity, creativity and ability to create products that are not only purchased by the masses, but are truly evangelized by them.

Ralph Lauren – to create a fashion brand that has endured for over 40 years is an unbelievable accomplishment.

Phil Knight – having worked for Reebok in the mid-90’s, I saw the brand rise and fall as it constantly struggled to find the next winning technology or fashion trend to compete with Nike. Nike, on the other hand, never strove to be number one, because they just knew that they were the best. Their focus on the athlete versus the trends also gave the brand the staying power and growth that it sees today.

For business meetings: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?

What sacrifices on your personal life did you have to make in order to become a business success?
Although I try to achieve as much balance between work and family as possible, there are obviously some trade-offs.

What is your favorite quote?
“Anything worth doing is worth doing with WOW.” – Tony Hsieh – Zappos

Is it difficult to be unconventional?
The only way an entrepreneur can be successful is by being unconventional, to try and find both the undiscovered market niche as well as that unique marketing strategy that will separate your brand or idea from all the rest of the clutter. Some may perceive that as difficult, but for an entrepreneur it’s part of the job.

Biggest mistake made?
There have been so many, it’s hard to pick – the key is to learning from them of course. In a previous venture, I was not in complete control of the company vision nor direction. I quickly learned that it’s no use being an entrepreneur if you’re not in control of your own destiny.

Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
So much attention has been focused recently on the negative aspects of being Hispanic. It’s our hope that through, we create a market for products that are aspirational, fashionable, funny, charitable and culturally relevant. If Surropa can play a small role in changing perceptions, then I suppose we will be considered innovators.

About the Company: is the ultimate online shopping destination for street fashion apparel and merchandise from top Latin American brands and designers. The collection of contemporary urban designs includes t-shirts, hoodies, art and jewelry inspired by Latin American style and culture. sells an array of brands and is the exclusive online retailer for Gambeta, Condorito, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, DIMEX, Valiente and NaCo products in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, along with its own original line of clothing, SOBO Gear.

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