For the second year running, In The Know by Yahoo hosted a live panel featuring Latino and Hispanic entrepreneurs in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month. The sold-out show, which took place at Mexican hot spot Cosme, was hosted by In The Know beauty producer Lisa Azcona.
The speakers of the night – including Lyana Blount, the CEO of Black Rican Vegan; Adriana Carrig, founder of the Little Words Project; and Brandon Pena, the CEO of 787 Coffee – all shared insights into how they’ve persevered as small businesses despite the pandemic.
A common theme of their responses had to do with support from their communities. Pena, whose coffee brand hails from Puerto Rico and is named after the island’s area code, was hit hard not only by the pandemic but also by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“We lost 97% of the farm,” Pena recalls. “We closed four stores in New York City, we closed a store in Puerto Rico, we sold a contract with United and we all had doubts.”
Pena felt hopeless, but credited one of his female colleagues, Muriel, with the idea of returning to the company’s startup roots, and the duo began selling coffee at street fairs. The 787 brand started growing again in early 2020, but then the pandemic hit.
“We came back to New York City and took advantage of the experience that Maria gave us,” Pena said of expanding the 787 during a pandemic. “Everyone [other] Café that closed, we opened [ours]. We ended up with 11 cafes that year. It was wonderful.”
Similarly, Carrig was just starting out in the bracelet business. She had 40 employees and overcame the fact that many people did not take her or her ideas seriously enough.
“I felt like I always had to have this uphill battle of ‘trust me, it’s going to work,'” she said. “It was a constant sea of unexpected challenges.”
Carrig did not want to furlough any of her employees or cut salaries. She said she reached out to the close-knit community that has formed around the Little Words Project for help. Carrig said she was able to do this because of her openness to clients — particularly her relationships with other Latino and Hispanic young women.
“I was very transparent from the start… [from] I make these bracelets in my basement with my mom,” she said. “Transparency and honesty across the board.”
Blount, who came up with Black Rican Vegan in 2016, agreed with Carrig about being transparent with customers. She said that everyone who’s been loyal to her brand from the start has watched her grow from cooking in her Bronx apartment, to running a canteen kitchen with staff, to counting Lizzo as a fan, in just a few short years.
“I didn’t know how people would react to that,” she said of the launch of Black Rican Vegan. “I grew up with a group of black friends and a group of Puerto Rican friends, and they both kind of judged me as ‘more than the others,’ and I don’t see myself that way. I just do what I was taught.”
Blount’s mother, who is Puerto Rican and loves to cook, was her inspiration. But the transition from cooking in your kitchen using family recipes to building an entire vegan empire isn’t effortless.
“It really never stops,” Blount said of the obstacles to starting a business. “It is [about] Having passion for what you do and finding ways to just keep going.”
Here’s how to support the Latinx and Hispanic community year-round
Supporting Latinx and Hispanic-based brands shouldn’t be limited to just one month a year. Lisa ended the session by asking panelists how consumers could support Latino and Hispanic entrepreneurs and offer them more seats at the table.
“By working ethically, by working harder than everyone else, by showing up first,” Pena said of advice to other small business owners. “We are a Puerto Rican company, we are a Spanish speaking company. … We’re lucky to have an accent, we’re lucky to be here, we’re very lucky to be brown, and we’re very lucky to be Mexican.”
“More things like that,” Carrig replied, referring to the event. “To be part of this community and to continue showing up in this way for our Latina and Latino brothers and sisters.”
The post Latino and Hispanic entrepreneurs discuss how they found success at In The Know by Yahoo’s live event, first appearing on In The Know.
More of Knowledge:
Financial expert shares tips for women of color to negotiate more money
Everything you need to know about Latinx Heritage Month
Apple spotlights 4 incredible Latinx and Hispanic developers aiming to improve access to mental health, education and social connections
Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with these 4 streaming movies featuring Latinx leads