A Latina entrepreneur, the owner of Brooklyn Cupcakes demonstrates 8 ways to turn lemons into lemonade
Recently, I hosted a conference for women in transition called SHIFT in Naples, FL. It was birthed out of the realization that most women if they are smart, can turn what was a negative in their life into a positive. Learning how to make opportunities out of crisis times is something that we all walked away with during this weekend.
The main purpose of the gathering was to help women understand shifts or changes in life although mostly unexpected, can lead to the next best thing you never imagined. So, instead of wallowing in defeat or plotting revenge in some cases, I wanted women to learn how they could rise from the ashes of unexpected change! Crisis could be the very thing that opens doors to something you’ve dreamed about doing but were too comfortable to take the plunge.
Many Latinas have leveraged a crisis to become accidental entrepreneurs. Some examples are Heidi Rasmussen who turned her layoff into a $3 million dollar business and the Latina I want to feature today, Carmen Rodriguez, the CEO of Brooklyn Cupcakes. When confronted with a lay off in 2009, this fellow Williamsburg, Brooklyn born native turned a baking hobby into a career changing adventure.
In entrepreneurship, one of the biggest hurdles to go forth with a business idea is FEAR. Carmen became an accidental entrepreneur not because the thought of owning a business never crossed her mind but because if it weren’t for her layoff she would have never had the courage to “just do it”. After a retail management career of 20 years she could have decided to stay in the comfort lane and look for another job but it was in the middle of the recession when she got news she wasn’t expecting.
At that moment she says her “I have nothing to lose” philosophy kicked in because “just like many other normal people I didn’t have savings and I lived check to check. I knew I had to do something!”
Carmen was already baking for people at work and family functions for their celebrations and it was these very people on hearing of her layoff that challenged her to do that instead of seeking employment. But with no savings and no job, how on earth was she going to pull that off? Carmen, who is half Puerto Rican and Italian, was surprised to see how her family and friends stepped up to make the soon to be cupcake empire a reality.
“My mom gave me $40K from her 401k, then my Tia said here you go, then little by little people in my life just supported me in an unbelievable way.” This was a crucial next step for her since money is another big factor in dreams coming to reality.
“I was told there was minority funds for small businesses but soon learned that wasn’t really available to me and a great politician friend who took me under her wing introduced me to St. Nick’s Alliance where I was told that banks and venture capitalists wouldn’t fund me because I had no business history, grants would be too slow a turn around to meet my deadline to secure a space so the only option for me was friends and family, thank God they were there. There would be no Brooklyn Cupcake story without them.”
So with the help of these truly supportive friends and family, she opened up her store to the public in 2010 having taken a year to set her business up for success.
The Brooklyn Cupcakes Crew Were Guests of Rosanna Scotto Fox 5 and Greg Kelly on Good Day New York Today!
Today, four years later Brooklyn Cupcakes are a New York cupcake experience, which recently expanded to the The Shops at Atlas Park an open-air lifestyle center located in the Glendale neighborhood of Queens, New York City. Carmen is also a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program and her company was honored in 2012 with Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Neighborhood Achievement Award as ‘Brooklyn’s Small Business of the Year’.
Have you faced or are you facing a career change like a layoff, firing, etc.
Like Carmen, you too can turn a crisis into the launching pad of your own business here are eight tips she recommends:
1. Act on it.
“Latinos have a legacy of entrepreneurship in our blood from the Piragua man to the pastelito lady” she says. Today there are many more tools at your disposal but you have to start where you are.
2. The bank account doesn’t define your future.
If she were solely looking at the bank balance she would not have taken a step in this direction. Starting telling people your dream those who truly believe in you will support you.
3. Use Crowdfunding Resources.
When she started this venture, KickStarter, GoFundMe and other crowd funding sources were not in existence. If you have a dream, friends and family, you have everything you need to at least get started. Let that determine how much you can do by what time, that is better than never getting started.
4. Get a Buzz Going.
If you believe you have a great product get it out to the public. In NYC, if food is your product, there is a Flea Market called smorgasburg.com where you can sign up to share your goodies every weekend in Brooklyn. If you are in South Florida, check out this list. You have to get out there and let people fall in love with your product! Find the places and be there.
5. Create a place for your followers.
Once you get a buzz going, then what? You need to create a place where followers can find out about you and what’s coming next.
6. Join associations. Entrepreneurship can’t be a solo project.
There are many associations out there especially interested in helping minority and/or women small business owners. One in particular that helped Carmen immensely was Minority and Women Businesses (MWBE).
7. Utilize shared resources.
8. Think Virtual Before Physical.
Do you have to sell in a physical location? Perhaps your product is something that can be shipped? Virtual real estate is much less expensive than the physical kind.
Don’t curse your crisis; it could be the very thing you needed to get you where you always wanted to be. And don’t forget to grab a cupcake as you contemplate your next big move. Next time I’m in NYC, I’ll be visiting Carmen for their delicious guava con queso cupcake. Ah, yes life can be sweet after crisis!