Ep 28: Miguel connects with his community to grow his brand
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Miguel Connects With His Community to Grow His Brand
Featuring: Miguel Leal, the Co-Founder and CEO of SOMOS Foods
On Episode 28 and the season finale of the second season of This is Small Business, Andrea explores what it means to be a Latinx entrepreneur by talking to a Latino business owner that she admires: Miguel Leal, the Co-Founder and CEO of SOMOS Foods. Miguel shares all of the learnings he picked up along his entrepreneurial journey and talks about the importance of representation, sharing your brand’s story, and how to leverage your community. Join Andrea as she wraps up this season and fills her small business playbook with a bunch of advice and lessons that’ll help you no matter where you are in your small business journey.
[00:00:04] Miguel: I feel like every great news or great decision usually has a lot of work or a lot of resources that have to do at the end. And I can probably say the same thing for when we've gotten the bad news. You know, it was probably too early for us, or, or we wouldn't have been ready, or it would have been more than we can chew.
[00:00:30] Host: Hi, This is Small Business, a weekly podcast brought to you by Amazon and I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. I can't believe that we've reached the end of Season 2 of This is Small Business. This show is all about learning how to start, build and grow your small business. Throughout this season, I've talked to talented and inspiring small business owners and experts who've given me a bunch of advice that I've stored away in my small business playbook. I hope you’ve learned as much as I have.
[00:01:00] As a Latina and aspiring entrepreneur, I wanted to explore what it means to be a Latinx founder and business owner and how we can leverage our communities to start, build, and grow a small business. I wanted to speak to someone who started out in the corporate world and then branched out to do their own thing, and that’s why I reached out to a business owner who I truly admire, Miguel Leal. Miguel is the Co-Founder and CEO of SOMOS Foods, Mexican food with authentic recipes and plant-based, non-GMO ingredients. Before SOMOS, Miguel was the Chief Marketing Officer at Cholula (a personal favorite brand of mine) and he served as Executive Vice President of Marketing at KIND Snacks (another brand I love) where he met SOMOS' co-founders Daniel Lubetzky and Rodrigo Zuloaga. I'm excited for you to meet him.
[00:01:55] Andrea: Miguel, thank you so much for being on This is Small Business. I'm excited to hear your story.
[00:02:00] Miguel: I am so excited about this conversation. Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell a little bit of the SOMOS story.
[00:02:05] Andrea: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got here.
[00:02:08] Miguel: I was born in Monterey. I have a big family, you know, over 31st cousins and all of us get together over the weekends. We used to go a lot to see my great-grandma at the border, and you know how border towns are. I, I don't need to tell you being from Matamoros, but we would always go and see her and then cross the border to do our shopping. And I love those trips. And I think just finding out all these different products that we had in the US that we didn't have in Mexico, like I'm a little bit older than you, but we didn't have any, you know, peanut butter or a hundred different brands of cereals. Really got me into packaged goods, and especially food. And as I moved to the states, I came here to do my college and my graduate degree. [00:03:00] My mom will come and visit me, and she will always make these recipes, you know, chilorio, picadillo, you know, even like her rice that I love. And she would leave me bags in my freezer that I would like treasure and share with friends and take out from time to time. And then, you know, as life went on, I think it was no surprise that I ended up working in food. I, I love food.
[00:03:28] Andrea: At what point did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
[00:03:31] Miguel: I came from a family of entrepreneurs, so everybody in my family. My dad, both of my grandfathers, my uncles. So I think, you know, starting your own business and going down on an entrepreneurial journey was just part of our Saturday conversations. When I thought we were talking about, you know, work or a career, we were really talking about entrepreneurship and my grandfather especially, [00:04:00] I am the oldest grandson in that side of the family. Him and I grew up really, really close. You know, I, I felt in a lot of ways that he was my best friend and, you know, he was an entrepreneur, started many, many different companies. Some of them were very successful. And, and he was really my inspiration in this journey. He would always tell me, it doesn't matter what you do, be the best one at it. And I think, you know, I, I, I thought a lot about him when we decided to start, SOMOS foods.
[00:04:34] Andrea: I grew up with parents who were small business owners, and I relate to the feeling of the inevitability of becoming one yourself. Every time we would talk about anything on the dinner table, it was like, okay, so I know you have this job right now, but what are you learning about this for when you have your own small business? Like it's never about climbing the corporate ladder, it’s more like, okay, [00:05:00] all of these are teachings and learnings for when you're your own boss for when you have your own small business and what are you going to learn from that? And so I feel like it's super ingrained in me. To see everything from that point of view.
[00:05:16] Miguel: You are so right and I can really understand where you're coming from because in a way I was maybe the odd one to be working for someone else in, in my family. And to exactly your point, every, every time that we would go, like Cholula was, just not only an amazing brand and great career-wise, but it was a very rewarding financial transaction for us. And I remember calling my parents and my uncles and they were like, great, now you have money to start your own business. So it was like that was always something to aspire on, but it's like a fish in water. You, you don't even see it until you step out of it.
[00:06:00] Andrea: This is exactly what I want to talk about -- what it means to be a Latinx entrepreneur. Because I think that the journey for Latinx communities in business is different from other groups. Do you think that part of that journey is tied to this idea of the American dream? That this is what you should aspire to be, to build your own legacy?
[00:06:20] Miguel: There are like three different answers that I want to give you here. So I'm gonna start with that notion of is this the American dream and, it's kind of like a journey of one, but I, I would say it is slightly different Andrea. I would say that it is the Mexican-American dream. So a lot of us, like you and me, we were born in Mexico and we love our culture, but appreciate so much about the US, the way business are done here, the way opportunities are here, and a lot of us left families and, you know, different things in order to come in and, and do a life in this country [00:07:00] because we thought there would be so much opportunity and in my story, that was the case. But I think where it is a little bit different for us, Mexicans coming into the countries that we think the epitome is of the dream is not only make it but have something that you created and you called your own. Because as a Mexican culture, we are very entrepreneurs.
So if we are able to not only to start a business, but start a business in the greatest economy that has ever existed, then it means that we have really made it. And I think, you know, that was a little bit of the story of SOMOS. You know, I, I see it very clearly. My, my two co-founders, are also Mexican-Americans. We were all born in Mexico and for different reasons, we, you know, immigrated to the US and, and this country [00:08:00] has been so great to us. We, we don't forget where we come from, but we do think bringing those values and making it happen here is the epitome of the, not only the American dream, but, but like I was saying, the Mexican American dream.
[00:08:14] Andrea: Tell me more about how you’ve leveraged your community to help with the growth of SOMOS.
[00:08:20] Miguel: Well, you know, that is really the story of SOMOS because the story of SOMOS is the story of three friends, you know, the three of us, we're working together. I met Daniel Lubetsky, who's my co-founder because 15 years ago we were probably the only two Mexicans in New York, in the food CPG space, CPG’s, uh, consumer product goods. And a friend of us said, hey, you know, the two of you are from Mexico. The two of you moved here. The two of you work in CPG, you should meet, you know, you should start building this community. [00:09:00] Daniel was the founder of Kind. Rodrigo, also our third co-founder.
And through all those years we would go out to dinner. The three of us in New York City and see how much Mexican food changed at restaurants in the last 10 years, Mexican food became more authentic. It became healthier. It became a lot more like the food we used to eat when we were growing up in Mexico. And we never saw that change on the shelf at retail. And we decided to become that change that we wanted to see. People should be able to cook conveniently delicious and nutritious Mexican food. Not only, you know, hard shell yellow tacos of TexMex cuisine. So I think that was one way that we were able to leverage our community and without that community, [00:10:00] you know, SOMOS wouldn't exist today.
The other piece that I would like to add is where I feel like I have been very lucky that I wish, you know, sometimes the Latino or the Mexican community we don't get enough of is when I started my journey of entrepreneurship, I had someone that looked like me that I could look up to because Daniel Lubetsky is Mexican. He looks like me and he is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in my space. And I think representation really matters. And again, I was, I was very lucky to have met Daniel at the beginning of his journey and see him succeed so much with Kind. But I think, you know, watching him now on Shark Tank with Mark Cuban and very successful people, the top entrepreneurs in this country, you know, makes me realize that, that I also can do it, [00:11:00] and to see him help other entrepreneurs as well. I think, you know, community and representation are two things that have been very important in my journey and the journey of SOMOS.
[00:11:11] Host: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. I'm talking with an amazing entrepreneur -- Miguel Leal, the Co-Founder and CEO of SOMOS Foods. You can find out more about SOMOS in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.
Did you know that nearly 60% of products sold in Amazon's store are from independent sellers - most of which are small and medium-sized businesses? The small businesses we feature on the show are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, [00:12:00] Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
Coming up, we’re continuing the conversation with Miguel and diving into some of the key lessons from his journey as a small business owner. Because this wouldn't be a This is Small Business episode without uncovering key learnings that Miguel picked up along the way.
[00:12:33] Andrea: Miguel tell me some of the most important lessons you’ve a learned as an entrepreneur.
[00:12:38] Miguel: Probably the best advice I received was from Daniel, my partner, who was an entrepreneur before we started SOMOS. And this was so interesting to me. I don't think I really understood it when he said it to me, but I asked him; I'm about to go on this journey, you know, what would you have told yourself [00:13:00] when you were at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey?
And he said: the highs are not as highs and the lows are not as low. And I couldn't really grasp it, you know, before we started our first transaction or we engaged in the first, you know, hire for the company. And now that we are 18 months into it, I totally get it. When you are an entrepreneur, it feels like every decision or every news that you're getting day in and day out, is putting yourself and the company on the line, and it feels like that because it is if you only have one transaction and that transaction is not successful, that is a hundred percent of your transaction so you feel like everything is on the line and it feels incredibly personal, [00:14:00] but now I understand his advice was to look at the journey.
So if I look at myself through the lens of that journey, in order to be able to make it, I need to make sure that when I am having those highs, I am staying grounded. And when things don't come your way, I can be that uplifting voice to lift the rest of my team and kinda keep ourselves looking at the long view of building a beautiful brand through hopefully many, many years. And I think that was great advice for me as a new business owner.
[00:14:40] Andrea: What are some examples of one of those highs and one of those lows?
[00:14:45] Miguel: I mean, I think getting your first big order, your first retail partner that you would go national. You are so excited that all your friends that live in, you know, Oregon or the Midwest [00:15:00] or Florida are able to now buy your products. So your friends are always calling you, where can I buy them? And your first retailer to go national, you are so excited. But then you realize that it's gonna take a lot of money to work out, you know, the working capital required to do something like that. And you know, the journey is always like that. I kind of feel like every great news or great decision usually has a lot of work or a lot of resources that have to do at the end. And I can probably say the same thing for when we've gotten the bad news. You know, it was probably too early for us, or, or we wouldn't have been ready, or it would have been more than we can chew. And, uh, I've, I've been trying to work a lot on giving it everything that you have and then, you know, when things don't go your way find a way to let go and move on and, you know, things will happen in the right time.
[00:16:00] You know, in every relationship that we have with a retailer, with a distributor, with a team member, we've always tried to take the high road even when things didn't come our way. And what you realize is that it is a small industry, and you end up doing businesses with people. You know what they say? That people don't remember what you tell them, but they always remember the way you made them feel. I think when I understood that, things really changed for me, and they really changed for the business. So trying to keep that piece into perspective that it is a long road. The success of SOMOS, you know, is not solely my success or the success of Daniel or Rodrigo or even the success of the team members that we have today. We're a very small but mighty team. It is a success of such a big community [00:17:00] of partners and retailers that have given us the opportunity. And I think those things really progress and build over time.
[00:17:10] Andrea: I want to take you through a lighting round of questions. To get started, tell me one thing you can't live without that helps your business.
[00:17:20] Miguel: It would probably be my Calendly subscription. I think I pay five or $6 a month. You know, we're a small company, so we don't have admins or people managing our calendars. So with a very quick link, I can probably get rid of 10 or 12 back and forth emails to find out time and give someone access to my calendar. It's something so simple, but also that I could not imagine living without.
[00:17:50] Andrea: Is there another small business you admire?
[00:17:53] Miguel: So I've become good friends with the founder of Fly by Jing. And I love [00:18:00] what fly by Jing and what Jing has done for Asian cuisine, especially making Sichuan food more accessible for everyone. I specifically admire her the way that she does storytelling. I love the way she talks about her background and incorporates it to the mission of the company. But even in small things, like when they discontinue a product, I think their storytelling is very intentional, but it's also incredible interesting. And I just love that, I am so glad about our friendship and that we're going in this entrepreneurial path.
[00:18:42] Andrea: What’s a book you recommend aspiring entrepreneurs read?
[00:18:45] Miguel: I would recommend Do the Kind Thing by Daniel Lubezki, my partner. As we mentioned, everybody associates with Kind bars, the end of Kind bars, this super successful [00:19:00] mission driven better for you, iconic brand. But what the book will tell you, and it's a New York Times bestseller, is all the struggles at the beginning and how his first couple of businesses failures led to the success of Kind. So I think it's a great business book and it's also a great book for someone that is thinking about how to incorporate mission, brand and product together. I think it's a beautiful story on those two fronts.
[00:19:36] Andrea: What’s one thing you wish you knew before starting your business?
[00:19:40] Miguel: Well, I feel there is this huge misconception about starting your own business that a lot of people wanna start their own business to quote unquote, set their own hours, and probably nothing could be farther from the truth when you have a small and nimble team. There's always more work to be done and you know, you're always [00:20:00] kind of at the hours that the business needs you to be in, but when you're building something that you love and you believe in, it is definitely worth it. But I would say be prepared to change plans and constantly be available for your partners.
[00:20:15] Andrea: What is your advice to other small business owners in general?
[00:20:20] Miguel: I think everybody feels like entrepreneurship is a solo sport. You know, maybe like tennis, but I think it's a lot more like football or soccer, that you need a strong team. If you are doing things by yourself or you don't surround yourself. I'm very lucky that I have a fantastic thing at SOMOS. But hiring team members that you believe in and trust and that have the same sense of ownership that you do, and probably most importantly, that aren't afraid to disagree with you is has been critical to the success of SOMOS, and I think it's critical to the success of your business.
[00:21:00] Andrea: What is your advice to Latinx entrepreneurs?
[00:21:05] Miguel: My advice to other Latinos that are aspiring entrepreneurs is don't shy away from your story and the why behind the brand that you're building. We have so many great stories of grief and growth and perseverance, and what you're gonna find out is that your story is interesting, and it would allow consumers to connect with your brand.
[00:21:27] Andrea: Miguel, it was a pleasure to have you on This is Small Business. You have an amazing story, and an inspiring brand, and I am very excited to see SOMOS continue to grow. Thank you so much.
[00:21:37] Miguel: Thank you. It's been, uh, such a fun time to spend with you and talk about our backgrounds, talk about SOMOS. I really, really enjoyed it.
[00:21:47] Host: What a wonderful way to end this season. That was Miguel Leal, the Co-Founder and CEO of SOMOS Foods. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from inspiring business owners and experts on This is Small Business so far. [00:22:00] And this episode is no different in terms of more lessons to add to our playbooks, here are some of the key takeaways from my conversation with Miguel:
- Share your story. Don't shy away from making the story behind your brand, a key part of your communication. Like Miguel mentioned, representation is important, and it'll help make your brand memorable and audiences will be able to relate to your story making them potentially life-long customers.
- The highs are not as high and the lows are not as low. When you reach an amazing milestone that you've been dreaming of, you should definitely celebrate -- but this is just part of the journey so make sure you try and stay grounded. And if you've hit a wall or fail at something, you have to try and stay positive so your team members and employees don't get too discouraged. And, yes, think about what went wrong and why, but then, move on.
- Don't burn any bridges. It's a small industry and as Miguel mentioned, [00:23:00] people don't remember what you tell them, but they'll always remember how you made them feel. So, try to take the high road in every relationship whether you're talking to a retailer, a distributer, or a team member.
I'm so glad we got to end this season with Miguel’s story. And some of these lessons reminded us of other topics we’ve covered on the show like making sure you're hiring the correct people for your team and that entrepreneurship isn't -- and shouldn't be -- a solo journey.
I'd love to know your stories wherever you are in your journey. Whether you're about to start your own business, in the process of it, or maybe even developing a new product for your already established business. I'm echoing Miguel here, but it's important to share your brand story and I can't wait to hear what you send me. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
And be on the lookout for more episodes soon! We've got some really exciting things coming up that you won't want to miss.
[00:24:00] And if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
That's it for the season two finale of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon.
Until next time – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:25:10]