Stories of modern business.

Courier Weekly Friday 23 October 2020

Courier Weekly Friday 23 October 2020

Courier Weekly

We’re with Brittany Chavez, CEO of Los Angeles-based Shop Latinx, a newly relaunched marketplace of lifestyle products made by indie Latinx brands.

DANNY GIAOCOPELLI: Hey guys, welcome back to the Weekly. I'm Daniel Giacopelli, Courier's editorial director. This week on the show, I'm joined by Courier reporter Sharlene Gandhi to catch up with one founder who just relaunched her company in a big way. Brittany Chavez is the CEO of Shop Latinx a marketplace of lifestyle products made by independent Latinx brands. Brittany launched the company a few years ago, back in the heady days of 2016. She was looking to support the Latinx community in some way, and decided the best way to do so was to boost the community of small business owners. The project began as an Instagram account, and then a directory and then it grew until it became a properly curated e-commerce market. Lo and behold, Brittany's pushed the company through Techstars recently, and she's completely relaunched the site just this week, which is a great time for Sharlene and I to sit down with Brittany from her perch in LA to find out what she's been up to and what she's learned.

BRITTANY CHAVEZ: It's been an amazing week. It's been a little bit overwhelming, there's been a lot of positive feedback but obviously, too, there's a lot of iterating that we need to do with the platform itself, so we're just working through that. The response that we've been getting from the relaunch has been extremely positive not only from the customers, but also the brands that we have in the marketplace – they're really excited. I feel really good; I feel confident. We just got out of the Techstars programme, and we're headed into our pre seat, so this is pretty validating. We're excited to show the traction and the sales results over the last week to investors. So I feel really good.

DANNY: Amazing. We're gonna dig into the relaunch in just a second. I know you've been around for a few years, the company, from what I read, all started with a trip down to Nicaragua, which sparked something in you to just decide to quit your job.

BRITTANY: Yes. Oh, my gosh. I was working at a record label as a marketing assistant and I felt like there was this glass ceiling you had to hit in order to get a promotion. Frankly, the corporate environment just wasn't my thing. I did take a trip to Nicaragua, that's where my dad's from. For the first time, I was surrounded by people that looked like me. There's nothing like going back to your home country – there is a connection you feel with the earth and the people that you can't get anywhere else, and so I took that energy home with me. That combined with it being the height of the presidential election and then you turn on the TV and you see this rhetoric that's being placed against Latinx folks in the US, I think it was the perfect storm. I had this newfound appreciation and love for my culture that I had never had before; then there was this dark cloud hovering over America that made me want to penetrate it and do something good for my community. 

One night I was Uber driving and I came home from my shift and, for some reason, it felt like this spirit just told me to go online and find like Latinx businesses to support. Any way that you could spell it – Latino, Latina, Hispanic – and try to find a directory or an article listing them. I found nothing, but I came across this Nielsen article that said that by 2030, Latinx will have $1.9trn in spending power. My initial thought was that's awesome, but what good is that if that money is not being redistributed back into our communities? What good is that when Latinx makers and families aren't being highlighted and spotlighted and supported by our own or their own? That was really important to me and that's how Shop Latinx really started. Then we turned into an Instagram account that now turned into our relaunch in an official business model. 

SHARLENE GANDHI: It would be amazing to talk a little bit more about getting started on Instagram and what that was like for you as a content mechanism. In terms of marketing, how did Instagram work for you?

BRITTANY: Instagram is amazing because you're able to build community for free. For me, I've always been extremely empathetic and I've always been a community builder. Instagram allowed me to reach out to Latinx businesses that I found through different hashtags like #latinoowned, #latinaowned and so forth. Then I was able to mobilise leaders within the Latinx community that I had already known in person to help hype and amplify this page that I had built, Shop Latinx. 

Shop Latinx really started through cross promotion. When you tag a business and you highlight them and you spotlight them for free, what are they going to do? They're going to repost you. Then you get the brand trust from their community because they reposted you on their Instagram story and you get to slide in their DMs and have lunch with them in person. That's how these relationships are able to form now with social media, so that's how it grew. We got the attention of Latinx publications and Latinx influencers with a larger following, asking for nothing in return. My sole mission was just to highlight businesses, already then brand trust was formed and people knew that Shop Latinx was run by someone with integrity, who really wants to uplift her Latinx community. That's something that people outside of our community can resonate with, or appreciate and admire. 

Instagram started off as a very activist community page that wasn't curated. It was just slapping different photos. I remember calling out Forever 21 in 2016 – I was angry, I was an activist and I was passionate. I would call it that, I was passionate. Also during that time, I was a freelancer with no real job. After a couple of years, that did take a toll on me. I wasn't making money, if anything, I'm paying for overhead expenses. Personally, I'm going through it, I'm now having this mid- to late-20s crisis, and I'm financially insecure and I don't know what my next step is professionally. It wasn't until two years into making Shop Latinx that I discovered this world of tech. 

When I first thought of tech, I thought of Steve Jobs in a turtleneck. I didn't think that that was a space for me, nor was I ever given the tools to really explore it. I stumbled upon it and I met some incredible black and POC founders that introduced me to this new world. I now had this community of 20,000 engaged followers. I went from having this Instagram account to having a full on directory. Personally, I'm thinking: how do I monetise this? How do I make this scalable? How do I never work in corporate again? Ultimately, how can I set myself up for success through this community that I've created?

Long story short, November of 2019, I had gotten into the accelerator programme called Grid110 in Los Angeles. After three months, we launched our MVP. The MVP was up for six months, then it shut down. Now, we've got into Techstars. I have a co-founder, we have two employees, and we relaunched on Friday. It's been a journey. I feel Shop Latinx is my baby, I've been there since inception. My founder story is one that's filled with a lot of grit. I can only pat myself on the back and say: damn, I really did that. 

SHARLENE: That's so powerful, though, right? You can literally be like: that was all me. 

BRITTANY: I think that's cool. We need to look back and congratulate ourselves more. It is cool to think that I really outdid myself, or see that progression, because this is what I hoped for. I don't really feel that imposter syndrome anymore. It's now confidence.

DANNY: I know that when you did decide to relaunch, you reached out to a few customers to see what their ideal products would be, right?

BRITTANY: My co-founder, Miles, he comes from a product background – he worked as a senior product manager at ADP. For me, I had this R&D that I had done over the last four years. By running the account, I really honed in on who our target consumer was. We have the Gen Z, we have the millennial Latina. And then over time, I started to see that if I kept posting this brand, I was going to get more followers and likes; if I kept posting this etc, and I got to really understand what the Latina consumer's really looking for. Then Miles joined me and he's very big on data. He's not Latinx, he's not a Gen Z, so he came on board and said we needed data to back this all up. We spent months in user research calls when it came to the types of products that they were looking for, the type of user experience that they were looking for. We even went through a rebrand over the last four months. The reason why we've been so successful, that we have this online virality, is because we talk to our consumers and we make that a priority.

DANNY: I feel like that's actually quite unusual for a lot of shops that launch. Usually it's somebody who curates their favourite jumpers and skincare brand just because they look cool. It's more aesthetic rather than intention and data.

BRITTANY: No, we're all about intention and we're all about being conservative with our time and money. When you're a scrappy business, you have to do your research. One wrong move can cause you to lose money and time that you can't get back. Everyone should talk to their consumer. I think it's a little arrogant or unwise to assume that everyone else likes it just because you do. It's really important to talk to your consumer and ask them up front what they want in order that you can deliver.

SHARLENE: You've obviously made a point of becoming a politically active business. You talked about your activist roots and where that's all come from, how that's very much translated into what Shop Latinx is today. So why do you think that's super important to do in this day and age? You have a banner on top of your website to check your voter registration, right?

BRITTANY: Right now, Shop Latinx, aside from being politically active, we pride ourselves on being inclusive across the Latinx diaspora. Even yesterday, we had our first soft commitment from an investor who is black and Mexican. She saw Shop Latinx as the first platform where Afro Latinos were highlighted and celebrated, where they're represented throughout all socials. That's so important, not just from a business standpoint, but also from a community and representation standpoint. I think that Latinx in the US have been portrayed as a monolith and that's what's caused not only myself, but hundreds and thousands of us to grow up with this identity complex that I want to claim responsibility for when it comes to changing that, changing the way we're represented and changing the narrative of what it means to be Latinx. 

Look at the world today, look at who's about to run for office. Every day, there's something. I get choked up. I think it's really important for us to use our voice. Businesses should take a stance, and it is our responsibility to vocalise what our values and what our beliefs are. The data also shows that people want that from brands.

SHARLENE: Yeah, definitely. I love that you don't shy away from that. It's so powerful, and so embedded into your branding and what you stand for. When I think what you guys have done, that is amazing – it created this really strong sense of community. More and more, we see that the term ‘community’ is being diluted, it's being turned into a bit of marketing fodder. From my standpoint, you never see a community as powerful. There's ethnic minorities and diasporic communities around the world just doing bits for themselves, but you've grown so hugely. How do you keep that sense of community strong and powerful, despite the numbers that you've amassed over the last few years?

BRITTANY: For us, our social media manager Natalie does an incredible job at talking to the consumer, talking to our followers, DMing them, sending them personalised cards, getting to know them. Going back to me being able to leverage my empathy: I'm also very fortunate that some of my best friends are also Latina entrepreneurs who are killing it in their own right. One of my best friends has a Latina hair care brand called Rizos Curls and she just got picked up in Target. I'm really fortunate to have a circle of strong women that I can lean on and ask advice from, that can help me find ways to continue to nurture this community that we have. 

But we are also a business, right? So we need to push products and we need to sell but how can we do it in a way that's organic and that can still resonate with our Latina consumer. We are launching an editorial arm, that's really important to us. Storytelling within our community is so big, it's a ritual that we pass on generation over generation. When we launched that editorial arm, it's been important for us to highlight amazing makers, influencers and activists from our community. We have some Instagram posts where we highlight amazing women of colour photographers that you should follow and that allows us to build a relationship with them. We find different ways to highlight people that we admire which are cool and innovative. 

DANNY: You guys obviously relaunched right in the middle of a pandemic, the upswing of the pandemic. In the US, it was better for a little bit, but now it's kind of getting worse and worse and worse. Has that affected you operationally, if not just people's mental health? How has it affected the company? 

BRITTANY: If anything, it's affecting the brands. We pride ourselves on partnering with small businesses that are aligned with our values and the lifestyle that we want to portray. I feel like Shop Latinx now embodies this type of aesthetic that our Latina consumer looks to us to find products that match that. But a lot of them have problems sourcing jars for their serums or for their candles. Even in the last week, we've noticed that this partnership is much deeper than them just joining the marketplace. They look at us, they look at me, they look at Miles as Latinx in tech, and DTC/e-commerce experts. It's cool to see them ask us for advice on operations and marketing. I think it's affected them, which therefore affects us because we need to push out their product. So maybe in terms of inventory and operations it has, but we're thankful that we didn't launch with a brick and mortar and that everything's online, so we're able to sell there and there's little overhead that we carry with that.

SHARLENE: I think sometimes when we think about the glamour of certain small businesses and startups, we completely miss a lot of these grassroots/immigrant-run businesses that really prop up a vast majority of an economy, right? Something that you've done that is amazing is host financial wellness workshops, general wellbeing workshops for these founders and creators. What's been the impact of having that space for them to explore wellness with you as business owners? 

BRITTANY: When the pandemic first hit, Shopify reached out to us, Shopify LA, to host a series of 10 workshops to help online business owners grow during this time. It went on for five weeks, two workshops a week, we created the materials, the slideshows, and over 1,000 business owners from across the country attended. It's something that they still talk about to this day on their IG stories, they tag us and share how it helped them to grow, how it helped them earn X amount in sales. I think that's so important, not only for the brands that are in our marketplace, but I see it as like, if you win, then we all win. It's deeper than a marketplace. For me, Shop Latinx is an entire ecosystem that we want to build out slowly but surely. Making sure that the businesses in our community feel supported, and that they can lean on us in times of uncertainty makes me feel really good. It makes me feel really affirmed. 

In my own founder journey, I've been pretty transparent, because this shit is hard sometimes, especially as a founder of colour, especially as a founder that comes from a low-income background. I'm a little teary eyed. But it's so true. It can be a very overwhelming journey. I can totally empathise with small businesses that are doing what they can or doing what it takes to make their dream come true. I've been there, and I think a lot of this founder journey has to do with wellness. If you're not good, how can this business that is an extension of you be good? So this is the priority. If you're going to be the founder, we need to make sure that the founder is equipped with the tools to be successful both personally and professionally. Even this event last year, we put on this event called Mindful Money Moves, where we not only had a financial wellness speaker come, but also a healing practitioner. We did a sound bath and we did all these affirmations. There were 70 powerful black and brown founders in one room. We got this beautiful mansion in West Hollywood, we got them hors d'oeuvres, and then we sat down and had this incredible bonding experience. I think that's so important just to tap into our power – we're not taught that. 

DANNY: Just a few rapid-fire questions. One: what do you wish you knew before you started all this few years ago?

BRITTANY: I think I'm exactly where I need to be. But I wish I knew how hard it was going to be. I wish I was more prepared. If I'd had a little time in advance to really process the issues that I was going to go through, that would have been nice. 

DANNY: There's a global pandemic happening soon. 

BRITTANY: Exactly. 

DANNY: What piece of advice have you been given that you think might benefit some other entrepreneurs out there listening?

BRITTANY: I've been given some great advice. I feel so overwhelmed with such positive advice. One piece of advice I could give is that you're exactly where you need to be. Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable. You can't grow if you're in the same room surrounded by the same people. 

DANNY: And that was Brittany Chavez from Shop Latinx. And thanks to my co-host today, Sharlene Gandhi. And that's it this week, make sure to tune into our new six-part podcast series we've just launched in partnership with Instagram. It's called Looking Up. Every week we meet founders across six cities in the UK to find out how they've been adapting during the pandemic. Just search for Looking Up on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Then, as always, hit me up with any questions or comments. I'm at [email protected]. The Courier Weekly is back again next Friday. We'll see you then.

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