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How Josie Arroyo Built the Coolest Brand in Puerto Rico

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment

I bet you didn't even need to see the pictures or what brand I was talking about to guess today's Career Profile. Of course, we are talking about BIEN COOL. The brand that the OG digital marketer, Josie Arroyo built from the ground up on a whim, motivated by the idea of paying off her student loans. 

This entrepreneur knew from the get-go that the key to her success would be her Puertorrican authenticity, humor and of course, ambition! But I don't want to spoil any more details, here is Josie's interview:

What did you dream of becoming when you were growing up?

I wanted to do a lot of stuff! At a time I said a pediatrician, teacher or chemical engineer. I ended up going to college for physical therapy and ended up in advertising. I was never really clear of what I wanted to study. I actually chose advertising because it was the path that included the least amount of math. 

What was your first job before graduating college?

I worked in events promotions with brands like L'Oreal Kids and Pedigree, no alcohol promotions. I didn't want to wear mini skirts for my job. 

One of your first professional experiences was as a Sports intern at Telemundo. Can you tell us about that experience?

I got this internship through Florida International University's internship program. When I was studying my Masters in Investigative Journalism at FIU, I was very clear that I wanted to work in sports journalism. There's nothing that unites a country more than sports!

What did you learn as a sports news intern at telemundo?

I learned a lot about production and editing in digital platforms. 

After that You worked for almost three years in Yahoo. Can you tell us about that experience?

At Yahoo, I started out as a sports intern as well, then I was offered a full time job and I was transferred to Yahoo Mujer to run the LatinAmerican target. Then around 2008, Yahoo had a huge layoff and moved me to International News. That's how I ended up managing Yahoo en Español's homepage and became the youngest journalist managing this section. I loved international news! 

Back in the 2000's, Everything was changing in terms of journalism and how news were made. How was your experience being in the midst of all?

When I worked there, I didn't know anyone from Puerto Rico who worked at one of these big companies, like Yahoo, Facebook or Google. Everything was building up at that time. I remember people asking me where I worked and they were so impressed! 

I learned a lot about monetizing a website, even though I hate sales!

If you hate selling, how have you managed selling your brand, Bien Cool?

Because the nature of my brand is very relaxed. People are usually in a good mood for meetings. 

I have read that you started making greeting cards in order to pay off your student loans. Can you give us some more details?

Even though I had a good salary, I was always on the lookout for a second income. I really felt like paying $600 a month for student loans was crazy! Not many people know this, but when I came back to Puerto Rico I created a Groupon-like website called "Yupiti.com", but I left because I got a job at National University College and I hated selling. 

postales bien cool

One day I saw a meme on Pinterest that made me laugh, but I immediately translated it to Spanish in my head and it turned out even funnier! That's when I figured I could make it into a greeting card. I drove to Walgreens and tried to look for a greeting card similar to the one I had imagined in my head after that meme. I literally texted Mari Nieves, which was my co-worker at the time, to let her know that I had something planned and that I wanted her to design it. I told her "I want a really cool name, like my greeting cards!" So I literally searched if postalesbiencool.com was available and it was! That's how it all started. 

It has since evolved into "Bien Cool", because we are including more merchandise. 

Pic via  Indice

Pic via Indice

Did you ever imagine Bien Cool getting to this level?

Bien Cool is not even at a 1% of how I envision it. It is very different to see your brand from the inside out than from the outside. Sometimes you assume that everyone knows all the struggles that you have to go through and it's not like that.

Are you selling outside of Puerto Rico?

We are currently selling at the Museo del Barrio in New York and we are working on two new retailers in Atlanta. 

Bien Cool is really appealing to the Puertorrican market because of its local jokes. Do you plan on expanding to other parts of the world?

Our plan is to make this a multicultural brand. I believe that Boricuas and LatinAmericans in general are very poorly represented by brands. We tend to have an inferiority complex and think that anything that is well designed is from the States. We have a lot of talent and a lot of emerging artists in Puerto Rico and LatinAmerica who need to be discovered! We want to support artists all around LatinAmerica. 

Pic via  The Media Scoop

You kept working full time during your time at National university college. How did you know it was the time to quit and how did you prepare for the decision?

I realized it was time to leave when I was putting all my heart and soul to BienCool instead of my full time job. One of my good old friends is Arnaldo from Diary of Trips and he was one of my biggest supporters during this time. "You need to quit and see how it goes!", he used to tell me. There will always be an excuse and you will always need more money.

What is the difference between being a Full time employee and being the CEO of a brand you built?

Working for someone else, I experienced physical exhaustion at times. But working for myself, I have never had as much stress in my life than in these last two years! It's different because when it's your brand, it affects you in an emotional level. If you don't get moving, money doesn't come! It's a constant struggle. 

How was that first year after starting Bien Cool full time?

It was very different from now, because I was learning a lot about what I wanted to do as an entrepeneur. By that time I was still using my savings and I launched my store at Old San Juan, which we ended up closing. 

I learned that I don't enjoy running a physical store by myself. Everything that has to do with inventory, prices, visual merchandising, payrolls, etc. isn't for me. I definetely learned to identify the things that I don't enjoy about my business and I will eventually delegate them. 

How and when you jumped on the idea of selling brands that are not biencool, such as bando, in your website?

First of all, I love Bando! I'm selling this brand in my website as a strategy to test the market and see how people respond to lifestyle brands. 

You created a planner! How was that development process?

We worked it along side Muuaaa Design Studio, which is the same agency that helped me build my brand. We sat with them and started planning all our process and see what we could change from last year's to now. 

What's next for bien cool?

We are trying to expand the brand and looking for new investors opportunities.

What is one thing you've learned during this process of running your brand?

You need to be able to let go and let others help you! If I had two "me's" when I was starting out, all the dirty work would've been much easier! Right now I have an amazing employee that goes above and beyond always. I am so grateful for her.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a creative venture on the side but is doubting themselves?

Go for it. There're a lot of things that you can't overthink. The mind is so powerful! Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and is definetely for people who want to do it. I don't blame anyone who prefers a salary over entrepreneurship. It is a cliché, but if it were easy, everyone would do it! You make it or break it. 

Last but not least, prepare financially for your venture. 

Pic via  Facebook

Pic via Facebook

If you could go back to your 25 year old self, what advice would you give yourself?

Read more. One of the things that I loved the most in Yahoo News was exposing myself to information that I would've never look for on my own. I really didn't enjoy reading when I was younger, I was more into pop-culture and mainstream media. But now that I am more of a news junkie, I realize how my mindset has shifted since I started reading more. 

Random Facts about Josie:

  • Vanilla or Chocolate: Chocolate
  • Coffee or Tea: Pff... Coffee!
  • Facebook or Instagram: Instagram
  • AM or PM: I used to be super PM, but now I love the AM and the peace it brings!
  • Book: Somaly Mam's The Road to Lost Innocence and Brian Weiss' Many Lives Many Masters
  • Favorite Destination: Culebra, Puerto Rico
  • Weird Habit: I have to write with blue pens
  • Bucket List: Having a sustainable business that helps me work from anywhere in the world. 
  • Pet Peeve: Loud chewers and farts!
  • Your best quality: I go with the flow. I can get along and have a good time with anyone.

From Copywriter to Business Owner | Annette Borrero from La Vieja Pizza & Beer

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment
annette borrero la vieja pizza and beer

I met Annette through my mutual friend, Silvia who you may have heard of since we started a podcast together! She quickly became one of my closest friends and it has been a pleasure watching her grow from copywriter to a badass business woman who truly believes in herself and her capabilities as an entrepreneur. I have to say, hearing her employees call her "jefa" was very inspiring and I felt extremely proud of her. 

She started La Vieja Pizza and Beer a little over a year ago with Elliot Rodríguez, her boyfriend, now baby daddy (they are expecting a baby girl! 👧) and survived two back to back natural disasters called Irma and María. It hasn't been easy, but according to Annette it has been the most amazing experience of her life. Want to learn more about this super inspiring story? Keep reading! 

María Elena: What do you wanted to be when you were a little girl?

Annette Borrero: Soap Opera Actress! Just because that's what I used to watch everyday with my mom and grandmother. 

ME: What was your first job before college?

AB: After a jewelry class, in which I learned a technique using Swarovski crystals, I decided to start a jewelry line. I started selling my creations at school and soon enough, some jewelry making shops started asking me to give classes in Mayagüez, Ponce, Yauco and even Old San Juan. Then that summer I decided to start a jewelry making camp. My mom was my accountant and she even got me business cards. I was only 13 years old, I felt like a millionaire!

ME: What did you study, where and why?

AB: I studied communication with a minor in languages in Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) in Santurce. Why Santurce? At that moment my parents where in the process of getting a divorce and I wanted to leave home (Yauco) and be independent.

Since I really didn't know what I wanted to study and I really wanted to be an actress, I figured communication was the closest I could get to it. What I did know was that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in an office, so studying communication and how the media works was a way to have several options lined up for me.

ME: What was your first job out of college?

AB: At an advertising agency.

ME: What did you learn from your experience working at an advertising agency?

AB: It developed my patience. I don't like to use the term "working under pressure" because it seems mediocre. There is no need to work under pressure, you just need to do the work. Everyone works at their own pace to accomplish their goals. When you put too much pressure on yourself you are going to fail at something. 

I also learned that not anyone can be a boss and your worth is not measured by how much power you have in an organization. It helped me understand that each person, each department and each position is important. Without your employees you wouldn't be a boss.

annette marie borrero olan

ME: When did you know that the advertising industry wasn't for you?

AB: Don't get me wrong, I love advertising and I specially love to work on my business's branding and sending out the message to my target. But I knew that I had to start making some moves about a year in at the agency, when I figured that the bureaucracy behind the advertising industry wasn't for me. 

ME: But you stayed there for almost 4 years! How did you cope with this frustration?

AB: Money wise, I was completely cut of from my parents since I was 22 years old, so obviously I needed to stay there because it gave me some sort of security for a while. But I knew this wasn't going to be forever. Sure, I had some breakdowns, but I handled them with the therapist you recommended me who helped me a lot to overcome this situation. I knew that I had to accomplish some goals and hang in there for a while without being desperate to leave just because I couldn't handle the bureaucracy. 

I was really clear that I didn't aspire to have the life that I saw 80% of the people around me had. I knew that my time at that agency had an expiration date. 

Looking back now, I know I quit at the perfect moment. I was so much more mature, grown and I had a better intuition towards people's real intention, which you really need when you manage your own business. Now I work three times as much than I did working at the agency but I am so much happier. 

ME: How did your family members and close one reacted to your decision to quit your career to open a pizza place?

There is no need to work under pressure, you just need to do the work.
— Annette Borrero

AB: I started to prepare them mentally, specially my dad! My dad is very traditional and it turns out that the same day I quit the agency, he retired from a company he had worked for more than half of his life. He couldn't understand how I could quit a career that required a degree for what he considered "a hobby" and thought that I would waste my time doing this. But I understand where he was coming from. He really didn't want to see me struggle. 

Soon, he started seeing that this was not a whim, it was a real business that we were creating from the ground up and now he loves to brag about me! 

Nevertheless, my mom is one of those people that won't say anything, but she's always there. She can defer from my opinion, but she always responds with a "I know what my daughters give and if you take a decision is because you can handle it, so go for it and I'll be here for support"

ME: What was the biggest challenge before opening La Vieja Pizza and Beer?

AB: Personally, quitting the agency! I felt ready, I believed in myself, I believed in our concept but it was a personal struggle to set a clear date in which I was going to quit and dedicate my time to my own business. When I finally quit, we were half way through the planning process, but it came to a point where splitting my time between the agency and the business was not enough. 

In terms of the restaurant, the biggest challenge was administrative. Getting all the permissions, creating a corporation, financial statements, projections and all that planning process before opening for business was hectic. 

la vieja pizza and beer

ME: How were those first few months after opening the restaurant?

AB: It was interesting. Even though I love cooking at home, I had no experience in a restaurant kitchen and I certainly had no experience cooking in bigger volumes. Also, customer service was a first for me from a business owner perspective. People often look at me and underestimate me because I look young. 

ME: Let's talk about Hurricanes Irma and María. How was that experience with your business?

AB: It was a religious experience for us. Before we opened the restaurant, we created financial projections for the first and second years of the business, but we never contemplated having two devastating hurricanes. Needless to say, we didn't project our losses after this in terms of money, employment, inventory and even infrastructure. We didn't even have a power plant because while creating our business plan we decided it was an unnecessary investment because we projected that at most, we would be without power for three days. Ha! 

For Irma, we lost more than $2,000 in inventory because we didn't prepare. As many other Puertorricans, we underestimated the hurricane. Then came María and we couldn't open the business for three weeks. Three weeks without money flow, but once we opened after those three weeks of not operating, we doubled our sales because people needed to come to the restaurant to eat, since they didn't have power or water service at their homes! That way we were able to recompense all the loses in September 2017. 

la vieja pizza and beer cupey

ME: What is the most difficult part of owning and managing a business with your life partner?

AB: I would have thought it would be making decisions, but it hasn't been like that. We quickly learned to differ and see each other's weaknesses and strengths in order to make important decisions. The most difficult part has been not having a set routine. Our life is La Vieja so we can't have romantic getaways as much as we used to. 

annette borrero elliott rodriguez

But the best part is that we complement each other and we never compete, which has made us closer and stronger. We have learned a lot about each other that we wouldn't have learned if we weren't business partners as well. We are a team! 

ME: Talking about getting closer... You recently got pregnant! How has been this experience now that you have a relatively new business.

AB: It was absolutely not planned. I discovered that the 1% error margin in anti-contraceptives is real, I'm living it. It was a shock! We had plans and goals for 2018 that didn't include a baby. We had talked about having kids as a long-term goal but this has pushed us to reconsider several future business plans. 

ME: What is next for La Vieja Pizza and Beer?

AB: Our brunch once a month on Sundays! Happy hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we recently started incorporating wine to our menu. Also, since we had to cancel our OktoberFest last year due to the hurricanes, we want to make it happen this year. 

ME: What advice would you give someone who wants to open their own business one day?

AB: Define your concept and believe in it 100%. If you are not in love with your concept, change it until you are sure of what you're doing. And of course, have discipline! 

ME: What would you tell yourself at 18 years old?

AB: Take more advantage of college while still having fun and traveling like you did. 

 

 


Want to try La Vieja Pizza and Beer?

Directions:  400 San Claudio Ave. San Juan, Puerto Rico

Hours:

  • Wednesdays and Sundays: 12PM-9PM

  • Thursdays and Saturdays: 12PM-10PM

  • Fridays: 12PM-11PM

Social Media:

Andrea Batista Moved 11,037 Miles Away from Home for a Dream Job in Sydney, Australia

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment
andreabatista_profilepics3 (1).jpg

It's not everyday that you meet someone who decides to quit her job and move all across the globe (11,037 miles to be exact) to work at a country with a complete different culture and lifestyle from what you are used to. That's the case of Andrea Batista, who left her job as a Media Buyer in San Juan to take the challenge of becoming Digital Manager at Wavemaker, an Advertising Agency in Sidney, Australia. Yes, you read that right, AUSTRALIA. 

I really don't think this badass needs any more introduction after knowing her big move, so let's cut right to the interview:

María Elena: What did you want to do as a little girl? 

Andrea Batista: Ballerina or dolphin trainer. No idea why, I've never even met a dolphin. lol

ME: Where did you study? 

AB: University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus (Colegio!)

ME: What did you study in college and why? 

AB: I started out as a Computer Engineering major but ended up switching to Marketing.

ME: What was your first job experience?

AB: I worked at a Dance Camp as a camp counselor, but then I worked at Gamestop for a while!

ME: Did you have any internship experiences?

AB: I had a mandatory internship as part of my Marketing degree, so I interned at a local Telecommunications company.

andrea batista with a tiger

ME: Did you enroll in any exchange program during college? 

I didn't! It may sound weird, but I didn't see myself leaving Puerto Rico at that point in my life. Of course doing it would have had it's benefits, but I think there's also value in the amount of excitement I left with, having never worked anywhere else...

ME: How did you land your first "real" job in marketing?

AB: I must have sent resumes to 20 advertising agencies after graduation and got ZERO callbacks. It wasn't until one whole year later that I got a call from Initiative San Juan asking if I was interested in interviewing for a Media Buyer position. I jumped at the opportunity, even though I had no idea what a Media Buyer was or did!

ME: When did your interest for digital media planning started?

AB: As soon as I found out people got paid to talk about advertising on the internet I was like, "uh, I wanna do that".

ME: How did you land your job in the other side of the world?! 

AB: I was on vacation in Mexico and met an Aussie girl who worked in tech in Sydney, and she told me that there were heaps of digital jobs there! Believe it or not, 3 margaritas later, I was applying for a couple positions in Sydney through my Indeed app on my phone. I never thought anything would seriously come out of it, but a week later when I was back in Puerto Rico, I got a call late at night from an Australian number asking for an interview. I literally almost fell out of my chair. 

ME: What is one thing you wish you would’ve known before arriving to Australia?

AB: I knew I was moving to one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, but I wasn't ready to be the only Puerto Rican everywhere I go. It's made me realize the difference between nationalities can be quite extreme at times.

ME: Was it hard to accept the offer and lifestyle change?

AB: It was terribly hard. I had a life in Puerto Rico that I was quite content with, but I'd always known deep inside that I wanted to move overseas for a while. What better way to do it than to go all out and move to Australia.

ME: What has been the hardest part about being so far away from home?

AB: Missing my family and friends, especially while they were going through hardships because of the hurricanes. I also had some health issues that I had to deal with on my own, which was pretty rough. 

ME: What has been the biggest culture shock now that you're working in Australia? 

AB: Work-life balance is very important. My workday starts at 9 AM and ends at 5:30 PM -  staying back late isn't encouraged at all and can be seen as a negative. 

ME: What has been the best part about being a Puerto Rican managing a Digital Advertising team in Australia?

AB: My team had never met a Puerto Rican before. They were super interested in hearing about my country but also what the digital landscape was back home. But the best part is actually that Aussie's are 100% open to different cultures and backgrounds. I've never felt out of place at work. We have a Spanish word of the week, and I've taught them about our music and culture back home. I even had to give a full presentation on Puerto Rico to the whole agency because they kept thinking I was from Costa Rica. lol

andrea batista australia

ME: Did you ever thought you would be living this life? 

AB: I would have never thought a year ago I would be here. I always knew I wanted to travel, but I never thought I'd be living in Australia. It's still surreal sometimes. 

ME: Do you see yourself working in Puerto Rico or the USa again? 

AB: Ideally, I learn all I can from other markets and eventually bring it back home to Puerto Rico. It's not news that the digital landscape is growing and changing at a crazy fast rate. My move was based around throwing myself right in the middle of it, and learn as much as I could. What I chose to do after is still to be determined. For now I'm just grateful my company gave me the opportunity to interview for my role and eventually offered me a role from halfway around the world!

ME: How did you cope with Hurricanes Irma and María while living so many miles away from your family and friends?

AB: It was incredibly hard not being able to communicate with friends and family back home. People at work were extremely empathetic, and checked in on my family's status regularly - but I felt completely helpless. 

ME: What advice would you give someone who is looking for a foreign job?

AB: Apply, apply, apply. You think "Oh I'm never gonna get it" because you're not good enough or maybe too far away, but international companies pride themselves (and are actually evaluated) on being diverse with their staffing! I had 3 video interviews on Skype and 35 days later I was in Sydney. If it's something you're really serious about, research the role and apply! 

Andrea Batista teaching her co-workers a little bit about Puertorrican culture.

Andrea Batista teaching her co-workers a little bit about Puertorrican culture.

andrea batista australia advertising

ME: If you could give yourself one piece of advice back when you started working in Marketing, what would it be?

AB: Take ALL the training you can NOW. 

Random Facts about Andrea:

  • Digital or physical calendar - Digital Calendar and Agenda, but I still get a lot of satisfaction from physically checking something off a notepad.
  • Twitter or Facebook - Facebook
  • Snapchat or Instagram - Instagram
  • Mac or PC - PC
  • Plan or improvise - Plan plan plan
  • Morning or Night person - Morning Person 100% I do my best work from 9am to 1pm
  • Something you can't live without - Google Maps - I have no idea where I'm going, ever.
  • If I weren't in digital marketing I would be ___________. - In cooking school, trying to become a chef or baker.

Intern Diaries | Samaris Pagán's Journey at Merodea

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment
Picture by  Rocío Lugo

Picture by Rocío Lugo

I first met Samaris Pagán at a makeup brand launching party. Not at the bar or in the dance floor, but at the makeup display, admiring everything shiny and new. We quickly started talking about makeup and our fascination for Tati Westbrook. So once I learned she used to be an intern at Merodea, I knew I had to interview her for the Intern Diaries Series. Because let's be real here, If I were in college right now, I would've died for an internship at Merodea, so the fact that she's already writing for the website and is one of the publication's faces (similar to Lucie Fink for R29!) before graduating college, amazes me. 

So get ready to get some serious advice from this girl! 

What are you studying in college and why?

I currently study General Communications with a minor in Journalism at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan. I've always loved writing but I felt like I could definitely learn a lot from other areas so that's why I decided on a General Communications Bachelors. I've taken all types of classes from marketing, advertising and public relations to radio. It wasn’t until I took an Introduction to Journalism class that I knew this was the path that I needed to take.

I'll finally be done by December this year. I am so beyond ready to put on that cap and gown and scream freedom.

samaris pagan - merodea at libros ac


How did you learn about the internship at Merodea?

It's actually a really random story. I had met Andrea Devoto, Merodea's Social Media Manager, at an event before, but then I literally never saw her again. Fast forward to a Journalism class we took together, we got to talking on all things fashion, Glossier and tacos. She mentioned that Merodea was looking for interns and next thing you know, I was getting interviewed the next week. So it’s all thanks to Andrea for giving me the heads up and in a way, motivating me to go for it.

Before Merodea, I was an intern assistant to both Beatriz Rodriguez and Margarita Alvarez. I helped them with all kinds of miscellaneous tasks for around 4-5 months and it was an amazing experience. They are such strong and creative women who, to this day, still inspire me. 



How did you imagine your first day at Merodea?


Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. I've followed Merodea almost since the beginning and I’ve always admired everything they do. The thought of going on coffee runs everyday never had crossed my mind but I did imagine doing really simple tasks. I feel like with internships, you can’t expect to do anything major or groundbreaking. It’s a slow process where little by little, you start showing your potential in some areas and where you shine best. 

It’s a slow process where little by little, you start showing your potential in some areas and where you shine best. 
— Samaris Pagán
Samaris with fellow M-Intern, Laura Molina.

Samaris with fellow M-Intern, Laura Molina.


How did your first day go by? 

My first day was very scary but it was all from my part. I always tend to psyche myself out and think of the worst scenarios possible. But overall, it was a super chill first day. Everyone from the Team was so nice and they made me feel very comfortable. I did some pretty easy things (exactly what I had expected) like looking for potential social media images, generating captions for them, potential posts ideas for the website, etc.

What type of tasks were you assigned at the beginning?

I pretty much did the same duties I mentioned before. I didn't do any writing at first. I usually helped Andrea with social media duties. After that, I felt a lot more comfortable and I was able to express my interest in writing. The Team was open to the idea, so I was given creative freedom and it helped me develop a lot more confidence in my work.

I remember my first article, which was 5 things to do in Guánica and I was beyond ecstatic because it performed really well on social media. I got good feedback and even a cookie from Double Cake so I was over the moon.



What was your biggest challenge as an intern?

It definitely came down to one thing: English is my first language so it became a bit of a challenge writing certain things because I would literally translate them. It’s something I struggle with every single day. So when I would send my posts for revision, I would see all of the mistakes I was making, but I didn’t take this the wrong way. On the contrary, thanks to this, I have improved so much. I took advice from Andrea and started reading a lot from Vogue Mexico and España, which helped me even more with my writing. Apart from that, the only big challenge was preparing myself mentally for the end of my internship. [Insert violin sounds here]

From left to right: Andrea Devoto, Kisai Ponce and Samaris Pagán. Source: Facebook.

From left to right: Andrea Devoto, Kisai Ponce and Samaris Pagán. Source: Facebook.

What was your favorite part of the Internship at merodea? 

I love how creative the women I work with are. I swear if you could sit one day in one of our brainstorming sessions, you would be amazed. That definitely had to be my favorite part of being an M-intern. Seeing how these women would make up concepts and later make them come to life and even being behind the whole process and scene of it all was truly rewarding.

 

Merodea could be considered a startup/ small business. How do you compare your internship to the experience of some of your peers that perhaps were doing internships at big and stablished corporations?

The grand majority of my friends would do internships at pharmaceuticals or engineering companies. So it's safe to say that they would do very different tasks than I would do. That doesn't mean that what I do doesn't matter or that it's less important. It still adds some kind of value to someone, somewhere. But at the same time, people have this incorrect perception that the job I’m in is super fabulous because I get to go to events, assist photo shoots and receive goodies. You can’t even imagine how wrong that is. Sure, it’s super fun to be able to do all of that but at the same time, it’s hard work. There are so many details that you have to keep in mind that even forgetting one can change anything. So regardless if you’re doing an internship in fashion or engineering, or if the company is small or big, you’re doing important and valuable work. 

Regardless if you’re doing an internship in fashion or engineering, or if the company is small or big, you’re doing important and valuable work
— Samaris Pagán



How were you offered the job as a writer?

I had started interning around April and by September/October, I was offered the writer position which in my case was altered for beauty and lifestyle. I was extremely surprised and humbled when Melissa, our CEO, sat me down and offered it to me. I couldn't believe it. One of my favorite local publications wants to hire lil' old me? I had various “pinch me I’m dreaming moments”. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that have been brought to me. 



Not only did you become a Merodea writer after your internship, you ended up being one of the faces of publication. tell me a little about your experience representing Merodea in social media?

Again, it has been insanely humbling to represent in any way or form the face of Merodea. I don't want to sound snob-ish but it's an awesome feeling. Simply because like I said before, I feel like doing these things: creating content, doing live first impressions, I’m helping someone with a problem whether it's which face mask in the market is better or if the latest beauty trend is worth your time and money.

 

Was it something that came in natural or was it a process of adaptation?

I'll admit: it didn't come super natural. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I’m the most millennial person you’ll ever meet and I may seem pretty confident at first but I do have my shy moments, especially when cameras are around. This is where my insecurities get the best of me. But I find them very normal and in no way or form should they be hidden. We all have insecurities and we choose when and how we want to work on them but I think the best way to confront them is to stop avoiding them and attack them immediately. Exposing myself to these little things, whether it’s leading Merodea’s Instagram stories or being on the cover photo of one of my posts, has helped me be more open and confident to whatever comes my way. 

samaris pagan merodea


Do you have any organization tips or tricks to keep your academic and work life at check?

As I mentioned before, I am the most millennial person you’ll ever met. I say words like slay and lit and Glossier and Milk Makeup are my mains when it comes to beauty. But when it comes to organization wise, I’m so old school, it’s hilarious. I got my trusty old daily planner from Anthropologie to keep me as organized as possible. Besides Merodea, I work in retail and I go to school so this planner has definitely saved my life because my weeks never look empty. So whether it’s a digital calendar or a physical planner, get one please. They will be your mom when she’s not always around.



What advice would you give other students who are looking for a paying job after finishing an internship?

I would tell them that they need to be open to anything. The word “no” can’t be an answer when you’re interning. The possibilities within internships are endless so denying them would be a shame. I also learned from Melissa that if you see something that is wrong or can be fixed, do something about it. Whining and moaning will get you nowhere. Do your work and if any bumps in the road come your way, find the way to deal with them. 


What have you learned from the Merodea Team?

Persistence is key. You can’t just give up because things get hard. If that were the case, we would all be lost. Also collaboration over competition is very important. As a team consisting of all women, it’s essential for us to always remember to be inclusive because we know, at the end of the day; the job gets done with much ease when we work together. 

Part of the Merodea Team at the #MerodeaSummerCabana this past June. // Picture by Adriana Corbet

Part of the Merodea Team at the #MerodeaSummerCabana this past June. // Picture by Adriana Corbet

As a team consisting of all women, it’s essential for us to always remember to be inclusive because we know, at the end of the day; the job gets done with much ease when we work together. 
— Samaris Pagán


Based on your current work experience and skills, what advice would you give yourself back in your first day of college? 

You’re going to be fine. Stop stressing so much. Breathe, little one. Those are some of the things I would say to 17-year-old Samaris right now. To me, starting college was, in a way, the end of all things regarding my childhood. I avoided adulting as much as possible but I’m glad I got over my silly fears and faced them. Sometimes, I still avoid adulting but taking on so many responsibilities, in my work place and university duties, had done a great deal for me, professionally and personally. 

Random facts about Samaris:

Dog or cat: Dogs
Coffee or tea: Coffee
Lipstick or liquid lipstick: Liquid lipstick (Kylie and Kat Von D)
Snapchat Stories or Instagram Stories: Instagram for aesthetics, Snapchat for silliness
Favorite local brand: LUCA, Necromancy Cosmetica, Sally Torres Vega, Luiny
Favorite blog: Into The Gloss, The Anna Edit, Man Repeller, Atelier Dore
Person you admire: Leandra Medine & Daenerys Targaryen, unapologetic women who don’t give a shiz.
Favorite local shops: Moni & Coli, Love is You and Me and Collective Request.
Favorite makeup brand: Hard question because I’m always rotating but at the moment, Glossier and Burberry Beauty. 
Favorite branding: Glossier forever. Emily Weiss can do no wrong. 
Heels or flats: Flats
Favorite scent: I’m very into woody and smoky scents. 
Must have fashion accessory: Rings


BONUS! Want to be an Intern at Merodea? Send your resumé to info@merodea.com. Good luck! 

Career Profile | Mari Nieves, President and Founder of Pink Studios

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment
Mari Nieves with her business partners:  Pakko and Lola!

Mari Nieves with her business partners: Pakko and Lola!

I believe this will be the most personal career profile I’ve ever made, because even though I've personally known Mari Nieves for a little over 6 months, I knew about Pink Studios before I met her and she knew about ambinity before she met me as well! It was the first time that I had met someone who we mutually followed and even had brand crushes on each other (aww).We literally went to lunch one day, clicked and I asked her to be one of my career profiles, since her story is of course, inspiring and fearless. What a love story! 

She has a broad experience coming from a computer engineering background, being a former Etsy Shop owner, managing a digital marketing team and now as a online marketing boutique agency founder. But what I've always admired about Mari is her online brand presence. She has a firm brand identity and a digital strategy that is clear from her business blog to all her social media channels. I mean, even her two poodles, Pakko Petardo and Lola Inés del Pilar are insta famous! The girl knows business, to the point she was even asked to talk to a group of psychology doctorate students about the importance of building a brand during a Business Development for Psychologists course!

So without further ado, here's the interview:

little mari nieves

What did you want to be as a Little girl?

I wanted to be a teacher, a pathologist or a veterinarian, but only for small dogs!

When did your passion for brands and marketing started?

I would say high school or a little later. I always liked computers, so my mom told me I should study something in that field. I've been creating websites since Sophomore year of high school, so fast forward to Senior year, I decided I wanted to study something that had to do with advertising and Internet. But they told me that didn’t exist! All I knew was that I liked computers, Internet and advertising! So since they told me it didn’t exist, I decided to go for the Computer Engineering major at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (PUPR). Pleasing everyone who believes you should be a doctor, lawyer or engineer to succeed in life. 

During college, I really didn’t feel passion for computer engineering. But I excelled during classes that had to do more with Internet, e-commerce and project management. To the point that I was recommended for an internship at the Bioinformatics Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). 

Mari during her PUPR graduation

Mari during her PUPR graduation

You have experience in graphic design, but you didn't study anything in this field. Tell me a little bit of how it all began? 

I decided to stay in Palm Springs, California after my internship and even though it's a beautiful city, there is really not much to do there. But since I couldn't find a job, I decided to not get bored and started playing around with PhotoShop and Illustrator and sold my designs through my own Etsy Shop: Pink Studios

During my Etsy days, people asked me to design graphics for their businesses, which were mostly wedding and baking related. Then one of them asked me to create a blog website and from then on, the word of mouth kept spreading until Pink Studios became what it did.

Where did the Pink Studios name come from and why did you decide to create it?

It was originally going to be Ink Studios, because I wanted it to be all about prints and designs, but then the domain wasn't available. I asked myself "what about Pink Studios?" And I responded, "Pink Studios it is!" 

The problem is that a lot of people think that it is a super girly stereotype! 

How did you promote your Etsy Shop?

It was truly all word of mouth! Back then social media hadn't had the "big boom" and I also had an "ok" website, so I really didn't invest a dime at the beginning of my business.

But I did build a lot of relationships through Twitter! At that moment I wasn't that busy so I had enough time to go out of my way to tweet to people for business follow ups. 

How was your experience jumping from web development and design into social media strategy at a Telecommunications company?

They hired me and someone else in order to manage their newly launched social media channels. I remember this was during the first days of Facebook Ads and all we wanted was just like $20 to test out boosting and it would always get denied. We were such rookies. 

How was your experience managing digital communications for a private University system? 

After the telecommunications company I was hired to be a web master and social media manager at technical college. Then one day while my boss was on vacation, she put me in charge of media buys. It turns out I loved digital media planning so my boss slowly let me have more control over these topics. After that, I worked my way up the corporate ladder. 

How was that transition from mid level to upper management?

I was promoted by seniority and because I had the most hands on experience in the digital field. My co-workers were actually really nice about it! The only way I had to change was in terms of co-workers relationship. I used to be one of them, so I had to draw the boss line with them. That was the hardest part for me! I wanted to be a cool boss but also be respected. But in the end I realized there's no way to be a cool boss. 

Nevertheless, my second promotion was a little bit more difficult because it's when the company decided to join the Digital and Traditional Marketing Teams, since it was spread out in different business units. I became the manager of my entire team and let's just say, it was pretty competitive! I was also very young and bubbly, so it was harder to gain other people's respect. 

What did you learn from your highest position in this company?

I learned to prioritize, to plan ahead, to create systems and trackers for everything. I have a Type A personality so organization is essential. I also learned that you need to draw line between coworkers to keep a healthy work environment. 

Overall, I learned that tomorrow's a new day and sometimes you can't complete everything "today"; healthy breaks are good to boost productivity. Also, working together as a team is what brings the success of the team; it's not what I do, or you do; it's what we do together. 

What did you like the most about managing a team?

Helping each other grow and becoming a family! 

Mari Nieves and her former team.

Mari Nieves and her former team.

What were the top three lessons you learned from managing a team?

  1. Being friends with your team: Even though I told you earlier not to be one, I do believe it is good to be a family. If they love and respect you, they will do a better job.

  2. Try to find a way to identify with your team: Let them know that you are also working really hard beside them.

  3. Let them know when they do a good job!

Tell me a little bit about the health reasons you decided to quit?

Once I start something, I commit to it. But unfortunately my father was diagnosed with cancer and went under surgery while I was starting my new managing role. 

That's when I started to develop a condition called Costochondritis, which is basically really intense chest pains, but I just kept going with pain killers. I even started to have a weird pain in my toe, which I later found out it was all somatization, which is a way the body looks for other ways to release the stress. 

Now, don't get me wrong, of course I can handle stress! But the level I was in, I needed some type of solution, so I looked for it and look at me know. 

When did you decide to go full time with Pink Studios?

Almost a year ago I decided to quit and give this a chance, even though I loved my duties in my full time job with passion. But I wasn't happy and it was harming my health. I figured that if Pink Studios didn't work out, there's always LinkedIn and Monster, but if I never tried I would never know if it actually worked. I calculated to see how much time I could live off my savings and until now I have been able to achieve my monthly finance goals effectively. 

My decision to quit my full time job was one of the hardest I've ever made, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't be where I am now. I am not a millionaire, but that is the end goal! I would've never met you, or thought that I could be making the income I am making on my own, in my beautiful office with Pakko and Lola and working with such important brands. 

mari nieves pink studios

Did you have any stablished clients once you decided to quit your full time?

No one! I left because my health was being compromised. 

Your brand appeals a lot to feminine qualities. Did you have a clear idea of who your ideal client was?

It certainly helped me attract cool clients like wedding coordinators, event planners, bakers, etc. But it wasn't on purpose.  In the end of the day, I'm not such a pink person, I like all colors! 

I do know it could be a down side because some people think that I'm just an innocent girl behind the company. Sadly, in any industry, when something is too girly, is not that good. 

What is the most difficult part of having your own business in the digital marketing field?

Competition. I'm not the best or the worst, but I've worked really hard to be where I am today. If you think about it, the digital marketing world started in 2008, so anyone who tells you they have 20 years of experience in the digital marketing world is lying. But it's such a brand new industry that there's a lot of ignorant people who think that they know what they're talking about. 

There's also a lot of agencies and freelancers that promote themselves as experts, but they really aren't. So they go ahead and give these ridiculous prices to create or manage something the wrong way. This usually leads the client to look for someone who actually knows what they're doing and once you charge them more, they're thrown away by your prices! 

pink studios digital marketing puerto rico

What would you tell someone who wants to make it in the digital marketing field?

Get educated, read every day and go for it! It is an ever changing industry, where the competition is fierce. 

What do you think has helped you succeed in your career?

What helps me effectively execute in digital marketing is my web development knowledge and experience. I am not a super web master or web designer, but having that knowledge helps me give accurate directions while working with clients.

What advice would you give yourself right after graduating college?

I would tell myself that "what-ifs” get you nowhere. In life you have to take risks in order to follow your dreams.

The things that we want in life rarely come out of nowhere, but some people have a lot of luck! But if you never take a risk you will never know if your dreams could become your lifestyle. It sounds cliché, but it is better an "oops" than a "what if". 

mari nieves pink studios

Random questions with Mari Nieves:

mari nieves pink studios
  • Plan or Improvise: Plan, but I like to improvise every once in a while.

  • Favorite Social Media Channel: Facebook

  • Social Media Story: Snapchat! Since I have a social media strategy for all my channels, I am more selective with who I accept and I can be more free.

  • Home Office Essentials: A fun bulletin board, pins, notebooks and an agenda.

 

Career Profile | Melissa Jiménez, CEO at merodea.com

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment

If you're part of the millennial generation in Puerto Rico, there's a big chance you know about Merodea. While other publications are still copy-pasting press releases and talking about generic lifestyle topics, Merodea is tackling everything that has to do with the life of an intelligent twenty-something year old in Puerto Rico. From the latest local designers and beauty trends to sex toys and women's issues that affect us all in this little Island. In a nutshell: Merodea is a feminist and I always encourage my friends to follow them. 

But nobody talks about the mastermind behind the publication: Melissa Jiménez. A true girlboss that literally followed her curiosity into success while never doubting herself.  So you know me, I had to publish her story for you guys to get some inspiration out of her amazing life. Hope you enjoy this month's career profile! 

WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE AS A little girl?

An engineer or a paleontologist. Believe it or not, never fashion!

When did your interest for fashion started?

I'm always dressed the same: jeans and different blouses. I've never been too into trends and style, but I love the fashion business.

It all began when I started working in Banana Republic as a fashion merchandiser, where I became obsessed with the visual merchandising books. I would literally bring them home with me so I could understand what I was doing. I loved how you could see all the things that you could do in the store, like measurements, colors and even temperatures! I loved how brands study people so they can sell you the right stuff.

That's how my curiosity started and I decided to leave the University of Puerto Rico, where I was studying Marketing, to move to New York City and study Fashion Merchandising at LIM College. I chose fashion merchandising because I needed to learn about the buying process. I knew that I would've never known what these fashion merchandising books were about unless I left Puerto Rico to figure it out. When something grabs my attention, I give it my 100%!

A lot of people who have some type of interest in fashion are discouraged by their friends and family. Did you ever experience this?

I think my dad thought about it, but he knows we have pretty similar personalities. Whatever we want, we get!

Melissa Jiménez with her dad. (Pic provided by Melissa)

Melissa Jiménez with her dad. (Pic provided by Melissa)

Some people see fashion as such a generic thing, but it has so many branches, such as any other career like medicine or law. If you look at it as an overall, you will see all the competition, but if you look a little further into it, you will see that there's a place for everyone! So I figured that someone had to do it and it might as well be me.

What did you learn from your retail job at Banana Republic?

If it wasn't for Banana Republic I wouldn't be where I am today. I organized the very first Banana Republic fashion show in Puerto Rico in order to boost sales. It was such a hit that while the models were walking down the runway, the sellers will literally ask us for the clothes because our clients were already buying them.

How did you make your way to Valentino in New York City?

I chose LIM University because they are more practical than theoretical. It was a very hands-on experience, so I was sending about 20 resumes a week to all the companies and internship websites I knew of. Then M-Missoni, an Italian brand part of the Valentino Fashion Group (VFG) called me to work as an intern in the wholesale division.

My internship included meetings at the showrooms and working side by side with the sellers. I loved working with numbers and knowing where we could make more money! They would even trust me enough to close deals of thousands of clothing pieces.

Pic provided by Melissa Jiménez

Pic provided by Melissa Jiménez

During this time I met Xiomara Contreras, who was VFG’s Visual Manager. She had different markets and was in charge of showrooms and she trusted me enough to assist her a lot more than other interns. It came to a point where the employees were literally fighting for my help! Long story short, when Xiomara had her maternity leave she asked me to be her temporary replacement as a freelancer. I reminded her that this was my last year of school, but she told me that she had already spoken with upper management and they wanted me to be her replacement while she was away.

It's very usual to see European brands being a one man show. While the director was in a trip in Italy, I was running the office so they asked me to work a Valentino fashion show at Dallas' Neiman Marcus! They loved me so much that they offered me a full time job.

The sad part is that they actually fired the entire team and left me in charge of the department. I cried so much because I didn't want to accept the position under those circumstances. But they told me that that is how the industry works and that I should take the chance, so I accepted it. I literally had to do everything until the new director arrived at the company!

Did you experience any anxiety while doing all of this?

I felt a bit alone. I was always traveling and I couldn't party with my friends like most twenty-somethings would because I was tired or out of town. I would come home to my apartment from LA in a red eye flight with absolutely no energy. I was only 22 years old!

after valentino, you worked at st. john knits. How was your experience there?

I hate saying this, but it was a super boring experience. Going from such a creative European brand to an American brand is how I understood that when you standardize things you are abstaining your team from giving their all.

In Valentino I would go from A to Z in no time! I would always make it happen no matter what. But in St. John I had to go through an entire process and I would lose motivation pretty quickly. That's why I'm so free spirited at Merodea. I thought that if I was at my desk, I wasn't doing my job. I lost so much time filling out forms!  

So why did you accept the offer from Valentino to St. John Knits?

Because they doubled my salary. Even though Valentino matched what St. John Knits was offering, I was looking to do something different.

Would you say Merodea was your creative outlet while working at St. John Knits?

You could say so! Even in my days at Banana Republic I would give my ideas and they would get approved. And in Valentino I was practically in charge of everything related to merchandising.

How did you come up with the idea for Merodea?

I finished Merodea's business plan in a business trip from Los Angeles to New York. It was a Valentino store opening in LA and I had literally two hours of sleep.

Melissa and her mom. (Pic provided by Melissa)

Melissa and her mom. (Pic provided by Melissa)

I showed my business plan to my mom and two of my friends but I wasn't ready to make the move yet. My mom would tell me to look at my bosses and ask myself if I would like that lifestyle. If that's the life that I wanted, I should stay, but if it wasn't, it was time to leave. That's how I knew that it was my time to come home. I left my apartment prepaid with three months of rent.

In New York, it doesn't matter how much you make, you are going to have the same lifestyle. Even if you are a CEO, you will have the option of buying more expensive things but that lonely and hecitic lifestyle will always be the same. I really wasn't willing to put up with that. I believe in compensation because I work really hard. What's the point of having an awesome title if you can't enjoy it?

What did people tell you when you made the decision to come back to Puerto Rico and start a business in the middle of the economic crisis?

They called me crazy and they couldn't understand how I could leave a "dream job" to come for something that nobody wants. But I never cared about those comments!

How has been your experience managing people as a CEO?

I think that the hardest part is working with so many opinions. We always brainstorm for at least 2 hours!

I really believe in hiring people that know more than I do. I want their ideas to be heard. My job here is to make their ideas a reality. You can have a really good idea, but the execution is everything! That's my life motto. A lot of people have great ideas but they don't go too far because they're not good at executing it.

You can have a really good idea, but the execution is everything! That’s my life motto. 
— Melissa Jiménez

Merodea started out as an online deals store. How did it evolve into a publication that could be described as a Puerto Rican version of Refinery29?

Melissa with her parents and sister in the Merodea.me launching party. (Pic provided by Melisssa)

Melissa with her parents and sister in the Merodea.me launching party. (Pic provided by Melisssa)

When the success of your new business or startup depends on a small supplier/ manufacturer of a third party it's very difficult to have control over the success of your business. Specially in Puerto Rico, you need to have consistency! It’s really hard keep working towards something when you rely on someone else, and relying on designers was very difficult. Not everything we sold was successful. But if it was successful, the designers would try to raise their prices. I found myself telling them over and over again that this was not how it worked. But I didn't want to be a brand consultant, I wanted a business. It was very difficult! I still believe in local talent, but it's not about creativity it's about business management.

Today, we still rely on third parties, but we still have a lot of content to support us, even if someone fails us. That's why we started to create content about the designers we have worked with that have actually maintained high quality products. Then we created the Merodea Black Box and started creating content for the brands and designers in it.

E-commerce used to be our principal source of income and content the secondary. Now it's the other way around. Evolution is really important for a business environment like Puerto Rico's. Adaptation is everything!

How were you able to find the perfect mix between talking about local talent and talking about political issues?

My goal is not to create negative content, so everything that we talk about is to get you thinking. Every political piece we write is going to be to give you the facts and make you think. Whether you like it or you hate it! To me that's very important. We don't want to tell you how to think! All we want to do is give you the right resources to help you decide.

It's all about balance. We are a group of people at the company, so any topic in the world that is resounding that we talk about in the office, we are probably going to write about it.

How do you deal with haters that don't agree with Merodea talking about these type of issues?

I take it as positive criticism. We actually laugh! It's never been a big deal to us. Our goal is to educate people. Merodea is not a stupid girl.

What are your favorite topics to publish in Merodea?

All of them! But I could say anything that's positive news. Anything that says that Puerto Rico is making some kind of progress is a must.

What would you do if you weren't Merodea's CEO?

I really don't know. All I know is I like to create! I try my best to be different. Like, everything's already being made, but how you make it different is key. Maybe a consultant?

What is the most challenging part of having an online business?

Being aware of what's next. There's no present in the digital world. The present already happened!

What is the most challenging part of being a business owner?

Managing a team. Keeping them inspired and happy. Letting them know that if you're called out is for your career’s benefit. Also, maintaining an open mind when it comes to content.

Balance is the most difficult part of having my own company. I want to keep my personal and business mottos while team building. I want creative minds! It's not the same to be part of a team than managing it. You have to be able to see how far you can take it.

What do you enjoy the most about having your own business?

Watching the end results being exactly what we imagined. I'm always super proud to see the final product. I also love to receive feedback, listen and watch people's expressions. It's very exciting to see people being grateful and enjoying our work in Merodea!

Do you feel like your degree in fashion merchandising was necessary?

Everything that I’ve created was inspired by people.
— Melissa Jiménez

It helped me meet people. Every time I go out, I find a piece of content or close a deal and to me, college was the same thing. Everything that surrounds me, including education is all about getting to know people and knowing how they think.

Maybe someone is studying the same thing as I am but they think different than me. You could learn everything from books, but there’s a difference in discussing these ideas it with other people in a classroom.

Everything that I've created was inspired by people.

What advice would you give someone who wants to make it in the fashion industry?

Don't get carried away by stereotypes. Some people see their peers as threats. But thinking this way will only harm yourself, because your boss will notice! Always try to be a collaborator.

I've talked with Anna Wintour just like I am here with you right now and she’s just human! If you think people are threats or superior to you, you can't be yourself around them. It's ok to admire people, but if you forget about the stereotypes and you're respectful and charming, it will help you to move forward.

Also, ask everything and be willing to offer your help. Is not about being a brown noser, is about being willing to always give your honest help so you can make your whole team look good.

Bonus question: What did you think about Girlboss on Netflix?

I haven't watched it.

I found the book very childish. I don't like how Sophia Amoruso communicates. I'm a very practical person and if you sugar coat things, I can't stand it! I feel like she did that a lot in the book. I think that she is a very admirable person, but whoever wrote for her, didn't get her. She's probably a lot more badass than what it was portrayed in the book.

Random facts about melissa jiménez:

  • Favorite local brand: Cordillera Necklace, Jean Cintrón, Verónika Pagán, Con Calma, LUCA. More than a brand and more than the product, I respect.

  • Favorite magazine: The digital versions of Fast Company, INC Magazine and Digiday.

  • Favorite blog: I follow blogs more for my job. I don't have a personal favorite blog, but I do admire Leandra Medine from Man Repeller as a person.

  • Favorite makeup brand: Bobbi Brown

  • Favorite branding: Refinery29, ban.do and Man Repeller. I really don't like to get attached with things or concepts, but I am really attracted to minimal and strange stuff. I like things with humor and visually attractive.

  • Person you admire: Jenna Lyonns from J. Crew.

  • Heels or flats: Flats

  • Handbag: I have designer bags but I buy them for the simple design.

  • Physical books or e-books: Physical books. I have a Kindle but I'm never able to finish a book there.

  • Favorite scent: Anything that represents freshness. Citrus and clean, nothing sweet!

  • Must have fashion accessory: Rings!

  • Go to coffee order: Double latte with almond milk

Career Profile | Lio Maldonado, Hair and Makeup Artist

CareerMaría Elena RodríguezComment
Picture by  Marcos Caballero/ Sky Lens Media  // Hair by Lio Maldonado

Picture by Marcos Caballero/ Sky Lens Media // Hair by Lio Maldonado

Every three months I go to my routine haircut with one of the funnest and talented persons I know: Lio Maldonado. I first met him back in 2012 when I walked into It's Miranda Salon in Guaynabo and asked for a hair stylist that liked to work on long hair, because I was so tired of hairstylists cutting my hair too short! (I bet we've all been there). They immediately told me "Lio is your guy!" And I've been trusting that guy for the last 5 years with absolutely no regret. 

He's the only hairstylist that I feel completely confident telling him to have fun with my hair. Plus, every time I sit on his chair, it's like I'm talking to a friend. We talk about hair, makeup, fashion and Beyonce, of course. But, I'm always mesmerized by all the advances in his career, by all the celebrities he's been booking and all the traveling he gets to do with them! He's living the life he loves and he has been achieving it by his talent and charm. I always knew I wanted to interview him one day for you guys and the day is finally here! 

What did you want to be as a child and why?

When I was a little boy I always thought I would be a cartoon animator. I loved drawing!

When did your interest in beauty and fashion start?

Lio and his dad // Pic provided by Lio

Lio and his dad // Pic provided by Lio

It's a funny story because I was never too attracted by beauty and fashion. I honestly started in this industry thanks to my dad. While I was enrolling at Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico (EAP), I had to move from Hatillo to San Juan and my dad couldn't afford my entire tuition. So he randomly suggested I took a cosmetology course before I started School so I could work at a beauty salon in San Juan and help him cover my tuition. 

It was super weird and random to me, but once I started studying cosmetology I liked it, so I stayed. Even though I registered for my first class at EAP, I decided to stay in cosmetology school since I already had a job at a beauty salon. 

What was your first experience doing hair and makeup?

Since this was such a random decision, my first experience was in the classroom! I had never done makeup on anyone before. Even though I was always really good drawing and painting, I was terrified of doing makeup. 

What was Your first experience in a beauty salon?

It was at a salon in Arecibo, where I stayed for about 8 months. Once I started getting called for all these shoots in San Juan, I decided to move closer to the fashion scene. 

You grew up miles away from san juan's Fashion Scene. how did get your foot in the door?

Once I started studying cosmetology I was more inclined to fashion. I remember going to Walgreens and seeing a magazine called InFashion and knowing that's what I wanted to do. And I don't know how, maybe by faith, but my first job in San Juan was precisely for that same magazine! A friend of mine, who happens to be the brother in law of one of the Ecliptica designers referred me. We clicked and people kept calling me for their shows from that moment on. All by word of mouth! 

What did you end up studying?

I have a degree in barbershop. Once I started cosmetology school, I knew nothing about the beauty world, so I wanted to learn about everything! I decided to start by what I knew and liked less, which was barbershop. My plan was to finish barbershop and then start studying cosmetology, but I decided to stop at barbershop!

Then how are you so good at makeup?!

I learned my makeup skills from Youtube. I already had a good hand because I had drawing techniques. But I was terrified of makeup! I had no idea of what was a foundation or face powder... That's why I started with hair styling.

Makeup wasn't like I was used to with painting, it was a person's face! It doesn't get more personal than that.

Do you believe that formal education is i important in order to be a hair stylist or makeup artist?

It's all about practice. Whenever someone comes to me and asks me how I do this, I always tell them to be realistic with themselves about their art skills. It is much more about practice than theory. Unless when it comes to hair coloring! 

Who was your first celebrity client?

I don't remember clearly, but I do remember I was very excited when I first started having celebrity clients! ¡Me jayaba! I didn't care that much about having them in my portfolio. I really wanted to satisfy every single client and be nice to them so they would call me back and take me into consideration for other events. 

I really wanted to satisfy every single client and be nice to them so they would call me back and take me into consideration for other events. 
— Lio Maldonado

How did you end up at it's miranda salon?

When they called me I had several offers from other salons and I was really indecisive about which decision to make. But I remember that at one of the Ecliptica shows, Sandra Miranda (It's Miranda's owner) came over to personally make me the offer. I loved how spontaneous and fun Sandra was! Her vibes clicked with me instantly and once she showed me the salon, I fell in love with the place. 

Even though a lot of hairstylists switch salons quite frequently, I have stayed here because I love that we all get along great and the management is super flexible with my bookings. 

To what do you owe your success in the fashion industry?

Lio Maldonado and Annie Jo Galib // Pic provided by Lio

Lio Maldonado and Annie Jo Galib // Pic provided by Lio

I honestly owe most of it to Annie Jo Galib, who was in my opinion, the best stylist Puerto Rico has ever had. 

I still remember that she recommended me for one of my first photoshoots with Gustavo Arango. He told me to do something a vanguard, so I got inspired by an Alexander McQueen runway for the model's hair. But once Annie Jo saw the model, she screamed: "She looks like Frankestein's wife! Take that off right now. So ugly!" I literally started crying while undoing the model's hair.

I really though they were never going to call me back but the complete opposite happened. She was actually the person who introduced me to Kany Garcia! She's definitely my mentor. 

What have you learned about styling big celebrities like Roselyn Sanchez, Tommy Torres, Denise Quiñones, Giselle Blondet, Juanes and Kany García?

The most important quality a stylist needs to make it into the celebrity scene is to be discrete. You can't be a celebrity worshipper if you want to gain the celebrity's trust. You could be out of the game in no time! 

I try to please them as much as I can. They know how the celebrity world works, so whatever they ask for, I deliver. You have to establish your creative stamp, while still pleasing them.

The most important quality a stylist needs to make it into the celebrity scene is to be discrete.
— Lio Maldonado

You were April Carrión's hair and makeup stylist for the reality show, RuPaul Drag's Race. How has that experience helped your career?

I have known Jason Carrión since before he became April, so once he entered the RuPaul Drag's Race, he asked me to be his stylist. 

Even though it was all behind the scenes, it expanded my network a lot. The art of the drag queen or transformation is not very well known in Puerto Rico, so once I helped April in RuPaul, I've had female clients come to me, just because they know my work in the show! 

Lio Maldonado and April Carrión // Pic provided by Lio

Lio Maldonado and April Carrión // Pic provided by Lio

As a makeup and hair stylist with thousands of followers, what social media advice would you give an aspiring artist? 

Social media is the most assertive way to reach people. I can say 85% of my clients are people who know my work from social media. 

I used to have personal accounts where I would share some of my professional work, but it wasn't my priority. Just recently I opened a profesional Instagram account and a Facebook page that have helped me a lot. 

Also, sharing Facebook videos of my makeup transformations has been a huge boost in my career! I really didn't want to do makeup tutorials because I am really private about my makeup secrets, but I wanted to share videos of my work so people could see my artistic skills. I wanted to show that my job is #nofilter!  

What is your proudest moment in your career so far?

Working with L'Oreal as a Brand Ambassador is one of my proudest moments since it is one of the most complete and important brands in the world. 

Also being able to travel with Kany García is super huge for me. I'm so lucky to be able to travel doing what I love. 

What advice will you give someone who wants to make it as a hair and makeup and stylist? 

You better work bitch! Honestly, give it your all and be objective with your work. Go the extra mile, look at your job from another perspective and listen to people's opinion. It's all about image! It's very important for people to like your work. 

Who's your dream client?

Obviously JLo is every makeup artist's dream! But it sounds funny and random, but I would have to say Belinda. I used to love her face since I was a little kid. She's so gorgeous! 

Random facts:

  • Eye Shadow Palette - Urban Decay x Gwen Stefani (sold out!)

  • Highlighter - Anastasia Beverly Hills Glow Kit

  • Lipstick - Zoe's Red by L'Oreal Colour Riche

  • Blush - Infallible Blush by L'Oreal

  • Brows - L'Oreal Brow Stylist Definer

  • Foundation - L'Oreal True Match

  • Concealer - Nars Creamy Radiant Concealer

  • Bronzer - I don't use bronzer.

  • Shampoo - L'Oreal Total Repair

  • Conditioner - L'Oreal Total Repair

  • Leave In - It's a 10 Miracle Leave In Plus Keratin

  • Hair Mask - L'Oreal Total Repair

  • Curls, Blow Dry or Straight Hair - Blow dry always!

 

Shop Lio's Favorites:

Career Profile | Larissa Vázquez Zapata, Editor of GFR Media's Magacín

CareerMaría Elena Rodríguez2 Comments

If you live in Puerto Rico, there's no way you haven't heard that El Nuevo Día is the biggest media outlet and news publication in the Island. As part of GFR Media, this daily newspaper has gained the respect of almost everyone in Puerto Rico for being the most complete in every aspect and being able to evolve with its audience through decades and regardless of harsh economic situations. 

A photo posted by @magacin on

I remember when I was in high school I loved receiving El Nuevo Día's Sunday edition because it had so many interesting articles and special segments, but most importantly, I could read Magacín, their lifestyle section. As an avid magazine reader as a teenager (my favorites where Revista Tú, Seventeen and Cosmo Girl), Magacín felt like a more grown up and sophisticated version of what I was used to reading. Since I was so consumed in Mexican and American magazines, Magacín helped me stay on track of the lifestyle trends in Puerto Rico. But I have to admit, as embarrassing as it sounds, that I loved looking at all the fancy people at extravagant events and imagining myself in their shoes, which were probably Manolos and Jimmy Choos. *sighs* 

Then I started working in the communications industry and noticing the bylines so of course, that's when I started to admire Larissa Vázquez Zapata who has been the Editor at Magacín for the past 8 years. She was the person in charge of making the first digital portal for the publication and is currently in charge of their social media outlet at the same time she manages a team of Lifestyle journalists. And did I mention she has traveled all over the world for this job? Can we say #DreamJob?! 

So needless to say, Larissa has been in my interview bucket list ever since I started this Career Profile series a year ago. I am truly honored that she took the time to answer these questions and hopefully this will help you get to know the life of a super rad Puerto Rican Editor. So without further ado, and great pleasure, I present you with Larissa Vázquez Zapata's Career Profile:

ME: When you were a little girl, what did you wanted to do when you grow up?

Larissa at a Magacín photoshoot. (Photo Cred: magacin.com)

LVZ: The story is a little long, I warn you. When I was a little girl I started to write on every wall I could find, something that my mother didn’t like very much since during this time, mid 70’s, most middle class homes had wall paper and my home was no exception. That’s how I figured a way to practice my calligraphy skills over a bone white moiré wall paper that soon started to show “Bic blue” stains. So after my mom convinced me not to write on the living room’s walls, I moved to my grandma’s room. I started using white chalk to write on her wooden closet doors. Needless to say, I messed them up as well. The wood absorbed the chalk and the doors started to look gray!

I also used to climb on a chair and start giving classes to a group of imaginary kids, so I guess at that time, people thought I would be a teacher.

But I was always curious and used to devour any book in my hands. One of my favorite lectures was the Enciclopedia Salvat, which every once in a while they would come out with a new volume that they used to sell at Pueblo Supermarkets, so I would beg my mom to buy one for me. I even memorized the covers of the 12 volumes: the first one had a papyrus fragment of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the 12th had a NASA picture with the Apolo 13 in space with Earth in the background.

While still in elementary school I began writing science fiction scripts and making cuts out of the fashion and decor magazine my mom used to buy. From that moment on, I gave into the “glossy” and until this day, I’m in love with magazines.

I also had a time in which I wanted to study architecture, but I have to admit that I freaked out over all the things people said about Structure Class. Believe me, numbers and I do not get along.

ME: What did you end up studying in College and why?

University of Puerto Rico (Photo Cred: indicepr.com) 

LVZ: Before starting college, I have to say that I was very involved in the university system since I graduated from University of Puerto Rico’s High School (UHS) and that was a huge privilege and influence in me. Particularly in terms of rounding up my education and afterwards on deciding what I wanted to study since this was the Latin American literature boom and magical realism era. I was getting to know Luis Rafael Sánchez, Magali García Ramis, Gabriel García Márquez, Horacio Quiroga and Alejandro Carpentier. I was sure I was going to choose a career in which I could read and write a lot. I wanted to be a print news journalist because that way people would only recognize my byline, not my face. That’s why I did my bachelors and masters degrees in Journalism at the Public Communication School of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras.

ME: Did you work during college?

LVZ: I had the privilege of having parents that could provide everything for me. I wasn’t rich or anything, but I had the basics, so I was able to focus full-time on school.

ME: What was your first full time job as a journalist?

LVZ: By the end of my bachelors I had a practice course that was supervised by Norma Valle from Imagen Magazine back when Casiano Communications was in charge. I managed to stay there for several years but then I quit to pursue my masters degree. When I graduated they hired me again, but soon I was contacted from El Nuevo Día. I was a little traumatized at first for having to change the glossy paper to a newspaper, but I was very attracted to the journalism challenge of having a daily deadline, something that would require a different work rhythm than I was used to.

That’s how I had the privilege of working as a journalist, in my field of study, since day one.

ME: How did you get your start into the lifestyle and fashion scene?

LVZ: First, I started as a reader. Since I was very young I read a lot of magazines made in Puerto Rico, United States and Europe. In fact, whenever I travel, one of the first things I do is go to a newsstand, get a local newspaper and see what magazines they have, even if I don’t understand the language. This is one of the best ways to train the eye. Not only in terms of topics, but in graphic and design terms. An editor not only works with text and supervising reporters. An editor is in charge of conceptualizing an entire magazine, cover to cover. You must have a much greater vision with your graphic designer and all other artists so your product reflects freshness, innovation and it’s attractive to your audience.

I didn’t end up working at a magazine with strong beauty and fashion content by chance. I looked for it with all my intention.
— Larissa Vázquez Zapata

Larissa with Beyoncé (then pregnant with Blue Ivy) at the launch of one of her perfumes

I didn’t end up working at a magazine with strong beauty and fashion content by chance. I looked for it with all my intention. At that moment it was what I most wanted to do and that’s how I started to get to know people, develop my resources and at the same time, people in the industry started to notice me through my work. And with time, that’s how I started to win the exclusives, big interviews, invitations to cover events around the world and so on.

With more than 20 years as a journalist, with a steady byline and the past 8 years as Editor of Magacín, I’ve developed an expertise in lifestyle topics, luxury marketing and the female audience.

Also in my free time I read a lot of information about lifestyle, because I like it. Apart from fashion and beauty, I read and write a lot about travel, art, design, architecture and gastronomy. Truth be told, part of my job is to be aware of all trends in these topics.

ME: How does it feel to be Editor of one of the best Fashion publications in Puerto Rico?

LVZ: Great! It’s a privilege and a great responsibility. In terms of print only, we are talking about a lifestyle magazine with the most circulation in Puerto Rico. Almost 200,000 copies are inserted in El Nuevo Día every Sunday and Magacin Lifestyle, the magazine we publish in glossy paper every season directed to high income households, has a guaranteed circulation of 30,000 copies.

Magacin Lifestyle print magazine. Read the Summer 2016 issue it here. 

Although for web and social media, that is a whole new world. Now we are not only working with one platform, we have mutated into a monster with several heads. I am responsible for the editorial calendar while creating and executing content strategies for every Magacín platform, among others. But we are also a very small team so we have to be extra efficient.

ME: What do you most like about your career?

Provided Picture 

LVZ: That it demands constant creativity and every day is different. You have the opportunity to get to know extraordinary people, visit new magnificent places, see, listen, smell and appreciate a lot of things first hand. And most importantly, write and being able to tell a story. In the end, it’s the seduction with words, as Álex Grijelmo says.

ME: What is the biggest challenge of your career?

LVZ: Moving at the rhythm of technology, getting to know the audiences better each day and balancing between work and personal life. Anyone who has worked in the communications industry knows that the levels of stress are very high, with super extended hours. In other words:  don't let the job become who you are.

ME: What has been the best moment in your career at Magacín so far?

LVZ: 2008 was very important for me because it was the year that we first published Magacin Lifestyle, which I consider my daughter. Being able to create a product from scratch until having it in your hands is very exciting.

Then in 2011 we became a multi-platform when we launched magacin.com in which I had the opportunity to work on the architecture of the site with my friend Orlando Camperto, which by the way, designed Magacín Lifestyle and now is the Design Director at El Nuevo Día and Primera Hora. I remember how we used to cover the walls with yellow Post-Its in order to visualize the functionalities we wanted the website to have.

These two launches have been the biggest milestones in the history of Magacín and I am very satisfied to know I was the editor during these stages. But as you know, we are moving at the speed of technology and market trends, so soon you will be seeing some changes. I can’t tell you anything else, but we keep evolving and that’s what’s important.

Larissa at the Épernay Vineyards in France, where the Moët & Chandon champagne is made. 

ME: What has been your favorite assignment?

LVZ: During almost more than 20 years working as a journalist it’s probably impossible to remember all of them. I do have special memories for a series of travel chronicles I made through the Middle East in countries like Oman, Qatar, Barein and some of the Arab Emirates like Fujaira, Abu Dabi and Dubai. Those are places that you don’t get to visit every day.

ME: How do you feel you are contributing to the Puerto Rican society?

LVZ: There’s a lot of people who think publications like Magacín are superficial because of its social and lifestyle content. They fail to notice that in 20 years you will be able to know how the economy, fashion and people’s situation was during this time. Magacín is filled with anthropological and social lectures.

From the left: Gustavo Arango, Larissa Vázquez Zapa and Nono Maldonado. (Proviced Picture)

You can figure out what makes a society by carefully studying their lifestyle and how it entertains, among other factors. Magacín is a window to a society sector in Puerto Rico and at the same time, gives you a quick take to the world.

ME: If you weren’t Editor for Magacín, what would you be?

LVZ: An architect or perfumist.

Larissa at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in the outsides of Paris. 

ME: Would you encourage the current generation to pursue journalism as a career?

LVZ: If they have ink in their veins, absolutely! Even though this metaphor is a little out-dated since it refers to traditional print journalism, I like it because it stresses the passion and compromise it requires. Today’s journalism is multitasking. You have to be ready to do everything, but even though the media has changed, the basics are still the same. If you want to be a journalist, you have to understand the ethics, have a profound understanding of your language, develop analysis capabilities and have a great intuition to recognize where’s a story.

Also, remember that journalism doesn’t make anyone rich and the glamour is only a mirage.

If you want to be a journalist, you have to understand the ethics, have a profound understanding of your language, develop analysis capabilities and have a great intuition to recognize where’s a story.
— Larissa Vázquez Zapata

ME: Do you need to study journalism in order to be an Editor?

Behind the Scenes at a Magacín Photoshoot. (Photo Cred: magacin.com)

LVZ: No one would dare ask a surgeon who’s about to do surgery: hey, did you study medicine? Because it’s obvious, we take it for granted. Well Journalism Schools don’t exist by chance. If someone wants to work in the communication industry and be an editor for example, someone who is going to edit and correct what other journalists write, it must be a journalist who supervises you. For the sake of professional respect, someone who knows what the reporter had to go through in order to write that piece. An editor is not an editor because he/ she writes beautifully. An editor is someone who understands much more than just gathering and conceptualizing information.

An editor is not an editor because he/ she writes beautifully. An editor is someone who understands much more than just gathering and conceptualizing information.
— Larissa Vázquez Zapata

The thing is that nowadays there’s a tendency in which any super model, pageant queen or actor who wants to become famous can be given a microphone. And instead of naming them TV Presenters, they call them Journalists. But if the media certifies it, we are doomed. And sadly, TV is filled with cases like these, which harm the profession.

Larissa with Puerto Rican Supermodel Joan Smalls at The Mall of San Juan.

ME: What would you recommend someone who wants to be an Editor of a lifestyle magazine one day?

LVZ: To be up to date, cultivate and get to know every topic that they pretend to cover. That they know how to write, because even if it’s a post on Facebook, a tweet or a caption on Instagram, it has to be well written according to the particularities of each platform. They have to develop a good eye. To learn to work as a team because the newsroom is a work chain.  Enroll in practice courses because that is the best way to network with people in the industry and really know if you like the editorial world.


Larissa's Favorites:

Favorite way to unwind: Sleeping (I really need those extra hours) and reading magazines. I have magazines in every room in my house! I also love spending time with my nephew. I enjoy going out to eat out of town with the family.

Favorite Holiday: None. Every month there’s at least one holiday with questionable origins and there’s no doubt commerce is the one taking advantage of the celebration.

Favorite Social Media: Not too long ago the Sales and Marketing Executives Association of Puerto Rico (SME) presented a study which revealed that 87.7% of the Puerto Rican population prefers Facebook, which is the same tendency we have seen in our followers. So as an editor, I have to be where our audience is. In fact, according to Neiman Lab, 44% of the adult population in the United States access news outlets through Facebook. Which means, we can not leave out Facebook and that Mark Zuckerberg is doing a great job!

Personally as an editor, I use Facebook a lot as, but I prefer my private life to stay private.

Must Have Piece of Clothing: Solid color twin sets, dark jeans and a black lace dress. But the look isn’t complete without a good pair of shoes and I prefer my Tribute T-Strap by Saint Laurent in gold.

Favorite Scent: I can’t choose just one! The first rain drops in soil, white flowers (gardenia, jasmine, nardo and azahar) and the combination of saffron rose and oud.

A necessary luxury: Time above all things. Also perfume, dark chocolate truffles, heels and traveling.

Music Genre: It depends on my mood. What you will never find in my playlist is rap, reggae or reggaeton.

Favorite Book: The Bible. Is the book with the most circulation and the most translated in history. Also Salvadas las distancias: La caverna y Todos los nombres by José Saramago, 100 Years of Solitude and Love in Times of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Reunión de espejos by José Vega (is a story book collection of Puerto Rican writers), and The Perfume by Patrick Süskind.

Must have decor piece: Isamu Noguchi table with a black base.

The Noguchi Coffee Table (Photo Cred: Apartment Therapy)

Favorite Restaurant: Wherever they serve good sushi or Mediterranean cuisine.

Favorite Coffee Shop: Chaguín in Río Piedras beside La Gándara. I don’t even know if it exists anymore, but just for the sake of nostalgia. It used to be the center of encounter of the UPR's Communications School students.

Favorite place you’ve ever visited: Istanbul, Florence and New York are my favorite cities.

Hot air balloons in Capadocia, Turkey. (Photo Cred: Tropdreamer.com)

What is next in your bucket list: 2016 will mark the 20th anniversary since my first trip to Spain so I would love to visit my friends and do a roadtrip along the South once again. Granada blows my mind! Also, my friend Nora and her husband Ettore coordinate an Isabelina route that is historic and fascinating. Then we will eat gazpacho, bulls tail and honey eggplant in Cordoba.

I am also waiting for the opportunity to go see the northern lights, maybe in Tromso, Norway and overfly Capadocia on an air balloon.

But for now, probably a barre workout. Not because I love exercise, but the complete opposite. To see if I start enjoying it a little bit!

 


That's it guys! Hope you really enjoyed this interview. Now that you know Larissa's hard work behind the scenes, make sure you subscribe to magacin.com so you can learn more about the fabulous lifestyle trends in Puerto Rico.  

Who would you like me to interview next? Let me know in the comments bellow. 

Until next time!

María Elena

Career Profile | Zahíra Domenech, Wedding Planner behind Eventus by Zahira

CareerMaría Elena1 Comment

"I love working with down to earth people and I don't like people who mistreat their employees. My life vision is to work with people who are grateful, spiritual, holistic and who always give their 100% in everything they do. People who collaborate and believe in community.  I believe in genuine relationships and  loyalty in business and in life". - Zahira Domenech.

Ever wonder if your BFF could be your wedding planner but then remember she's too busy being your Maid of Honor? Or maybe you thought you could produce your whole wedding on your own but then remember all your family drama and thought you'd be better off with a wedding planner (insert raising hand Emoji here).  Yup, all of these things (and many, many more) come to your mind right after someone puts a ring on your finger. But luckily for me, I've always found the wedding business quite interesting. Not for the clichés, but because I've always wanted to meet a wedding planner and ask her if her career is just crazy as I think it must be. Just imagine the pressure of producing the day that has to be, for most people, one of the most important days of their lives.

So luckily for me, I've been in contact with Zahira Domenech, the founder of Eventus by Zahira, because I just love how she markets herself online and I knew I had to interview her for you guys. You can take a look at her websites here, here and here. And don't even get me started on her social media skills.  Her Instagram account is a wedding fairytale! "My website was custom designed in order to be an extension of me... I'm very girly and sparkly.. but I wanted it to be very inspirational. I want it to look like a luxury magazine", she expressed when I told her how fabulous her websites are.

She has ben recognized as one of the best wedding planners in the world by JuneBug Weddings, as an A+ Wedding Planner by Destination Wedding Magazine and winner of Wedding Wire's Bridal Choice Awards for several years in a row (seriously, look at her reviews), among many other recognitions.

If you thought she had enough in her hands already, Zahíra is engaged to the talented photographer Jose Ruiz and as a response to her fans, she now has a blog were she narrates the excitement of how a Wedding Planner plans her own wedding

So the fact that I interviewed her one week before I got engaged was kind of crazy. Specially since my now fiancé took the photos during the interview. Crazy huh?! Oh I can only imagine his nerves. LOL. To be honest, being with Zahira felt like talking with an old friend and there is no wonder why she's now my wedding planner.

So without further due, here's one of the funnest interviews I've ever done:

ME: When did you know you wanted to be a wedding planner?

ZD: I used to work at a very prestigious Public Relations agency in Puerto Rico and my job was to do corporate events, product launches, social events, galas, etc. That's how I fell in love with this world because I did everything from designing the event to creating the experience. I loved it.

But one day one of my good friends called me because she wanted to get married in The Plaza in New York City and asked me to plan her wedding. She couldn't trust anybody else and I really didn't know anything about it... but I said I'll do it! 

When I came back to Puerto Rico after her wedding, I was definitely not ready to work for anybody else. So I started taking courses and educating myself for the big leap that I knew had to happen.

ME: So how exactly did you make the big leap to the wedding business?

ZD: Eventus has been both a blessing and a challenge. I come from a very humble family and I believe that all my success is thanks to my dad. Since I was 5 years old he always took the time to tell me how important and valuable I was and that I could be anyone I wanted to be. He used to tell me so many wonderful things that I started to believe them! That's why I believe I'm the person that I am today. A person who will just go for it in any situation, no matter what. I'm not scared of failure, because I believe that failure is the only thing that will guide you through the right path. They are the way that God lets you know that you are off track.

So Eventus is basically that. It was a risk that I took while having a secure position at a Public Relations firm. In a matter of three months I basically quitted my job and founded Eventus by Zahira.

ME: But did you have a backup plan? Like a savings account or something?

ZD: I had nothing. Just my last paycheck. If you wait for the perfect moment you'll never get anything done. If you really want something just go for it with whatever you have at the time and you can start building something from the ground up.

I used my last paycheck to design my logo, put an ad out there, create a website and that was it!

My first client was my friend's wedding in NYC, and since she was Asian, the ceremony and the protocol was so much different than what I was used to. It was a great challenge! It was in New York and I had no contacts for vendors or anything. So I took a week of vacations from my current job to travel with her and help her start looking for vendors and just like that I planned the wedding! I basically did her wedding, quitted my full time job and started my own business in 2004. That was it!

ME: How do you have so much engagement in your social media platforms? You have so many comments!

ZD: I think it's due to my openness. I don't let what other people think affect me. Being authentic and expressing my fears even though it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, it's my way to connect with people. Many people think that Eventus is so huge, but I'm just like any other girl! I am dreaming big and building something for me and my family to enjoy. I think it has to do with the fact that when I write something people feel relieved to know that it happens to other people too, and that in some way, it makes it ok for them.

ME: I definitely agree! I remember you once posted an Instagram picture were you shared a very intimate but inspiring story and I thought that was the coolest thing ever! 

ZD: Thank you! Just remember, if your dreams and goals don't scare you, they're not challenging enough and you will not grow!

ME: Tell me about #TuesdaysTogether?

ZD: This is part of The Rising Tide Society in which I talk about community vs competition in the small business owner world. Tuesdays Together is a reunion with creative business owners that takes place the second Tuesday of each month. We talk about different topics that help small business owners grow by knowing the difference between community vs competition. This is a beautiful project that I enjoy so much! I love giving back and helping others so this is a great fit for me and what I stand for in my life and in business. If you want to know more you can join our Facebook group or search our hashtag: #tuesdaystogetherpr.

ME: What about Zahira Domenech Signature Brands? How did it all started?

ZD: Cancer was the biggest blessing of my life. It changed my life perspective in every way. And Sebastian, my son, was my biggest rock during chemo. So even though I was cancer free in 2012, I started life coaching in 2011. People really wanted to know how I created what I have now, so I ended up creating what Zahira Domenech Signature Brands is today: our women entrepreneurs coaching branch. 

It wasn't until last year that I decided that I was at a spiritual and mental level in which I felt it was the time to launch everything for the public. 

ME: So Sparkle and Bliss is inside your Signature Brands umbrella?

ZD: Sparkle and Bliss is our live workshop that started successfully last year in which I give training to small business owners on how to use Instagram, gain followers, create branding and a profit plan. One of the things that differentiate us from other workshops is that we challenge all our attendees to grow in a personal level too. We challenge them to work from the inside out by facing fears. I'm firm believer that if you don't grow as a person, you can't grow your business. As small business owners, our businesses are the reflection of us, so it's so important to grow as a human being by challenging ourselves so we can grow stronger in business too.

And as an extension of these workshops, one of the things that we created this year was our online course were you can learn more about things like how Instagram works, how to get published in media, how to market yourself, how to establish your prices and much more. 

Sparkle and Bliss is one of the most amazing things I have professionally right now. Eventus is super special for me, because it's my baby you know? But this workshop is something else for me. It gives me the opportunity to give back what I've been blessed with over these years. It's my way of healing and letting other people heal and grow. This is the area of my life that I wish to develop in the years to come in order to help create awareness that us women have a huge role in society. Our women instinct makes us want to take care, educate and make sacrifices for others. This is why I have made it my mission to make women search for their value within without comparing themselves to others.

ME: What do you think helped you be in the position you're in right now?

ZD: Perseverance is key! My dad had 0 tolerance whenever I spoke badly about myself or others and that is the way you should live. I mean, you should have your moments to cry and complain, but having that mind set has helped me with my spirituality and understanding that everything that happens to you has a deeper meaning. Some moments make you learn and grow and some of them are made to enjoy what you worked so hard on. 

But most importantly, I think my success is thanks to my love for everyone, doing good no matter to whom and that I have no fear of failure. If I fall, I pick myself up and keep going. If I was wrong I ask for forgiveness. This is the way that I try to make everyday better. 

ME: What do you love most about the wedding industry?

ZD: Being a wedding planner has opened many doors to my creativity. I love working with so many talented and creative people. It helps me to stay challenged and on track.

Also, I love being a Destination Wedding Planner. Not only am I able to promote my beautiful Island, but I get to know so many amazing cultures. It has opened so many doors into bringing more tourism to Puerto Rico and it makes me extremely proud to know that my clients enjoy our service and accommodations. It makes all those challenging hours of hard work feel like I'm not working at all. Because I love what I do.

ME: What do you love most about the coaching industry?

ZD: Being able to help other people. Specially people who didn't have the opportunities I did when I was starting. When they call to tell me that they booked 10 new clients thanks to the services we provided is amazing! 

The thing is I feel great when I hear about other people's successes. When I started out people used to tell me that I was creating a "wedding planner factory". But to me the only competition is myself... The only way I look at my business is by how many people I gave service to, rather than how many weddings I did. When you see life this way you don't feel you have competition. You should be paying attention to yourself and what you should do to improve! 

ME: Every career profile I've made so far, has one thing in common: the person always has some type of vision board. Do you have one?

ZD: OMG this is the first time I talk about this! How embarrassing... I have a gratitude journal that I use as my own little magazine.  I create these journals from magazine cut outs and I even create my own editor's letter with all the things that I want to accomplish and have accomplished. 

I write everything good that is happening in my life as a way to program my brain to focus on positive things. This is the way I count my blessings. If you focus on these things you create more of the good things without even trying. 

ME: What has been the most challenging situation you've had so far? 

ZD: Keeping the right balance between being a mom and an entrepreneur. Since I love working so much, it makes it really hard, specially when he calls me out on it! When you're a mom it's like you automatically feel guilty for everything. 

Even though society is so much more advanced now in which women work and accomplish their dreams, we have a huge pressure to be super moms! 

ME: How do you find time to do everything you do: Wedding Planning, Life Coaching, Social Media and Blogging?

ZD: The key to success is being organized. In order to be a multi-tasker you need to be organized. I use the app gTasks, which is my life saver because it helps me prioritize my to-do lists. I try to go step by step. For example, instead of adding "Create a workshop" to my to-do list I just write "print out promotional items". That way I don't get overwhelmed.

There are no excuses... You have 24 hours a day, just like Beyoncé and JLo!  

ME: What are your normal duties as a Wedding Planner?

ZD: First of all, we create a budget. Then we get to meet our clients before we start looking for vendors according to the size, look and feel. We specially love to know how they met in order to incorporate it in the wedding. It's very important for me to make weddings that are personalized and unique. Nothing cookie cutter or copy pasted. 

ME: What has been the most significant moment in your career so far?

ZD: Actually, it's happening right now: Eventus is expanding outside of Puerto Rico! But I can't say where yet... Stay tuned! 

ME: What advice would you give someone trying to make it as an event planner?

ZD: First of all, you need good branding. You will need to have the guts to be genuine and not copy others. Also don't compare your beginning with someone who has had many years of experience in the industry! Being authentic will be the key to your success.

ME: What are the rules of etiquette to work with your wedding planner?

ZD: Know that your wedding planner is a professional. There can only be one planner, not your mom and not you. You have to let it go and let us do our job without stress because we do weddings almost every weekend. And also be grateful! We'll be there with you for the entire process... Our job is very complex and some people can't see it... we can even be therapists and seamstresses!

Random Facts about Zahira:

  • Favorite Scent: Gardenias
  • Favorite Music: 80's and pop music
  • Favorite Book: The Secret
  • Favorite Way to Unwind: Daily Yoga
  • Favorite Restaurant: East
  • Favorite Social Media: Instagram
  • Favorite Coffee Shop: Le Macaroon
  • Favorite Drink: Addicted to Pepsi, but I'm in recovery!
  • Favorite Home Decor Piece: Much more than a decor piece, it's having a good terrace. I need it for my daily 5:30AM yoga.
  • Favorite Fashion Accessory: Shoes and big jewelry!
  • What are you most proud of: My son
  • Necessary Luxury: Traveling and doing my hair at the salon
  • What's next on your bucket list: That Eventus continues to grow, to indulge in a 2 week vacation and to help more and more women feel empowered.
  • Best Place you've ever visited: Madrid. I have great memories in Madrid dancing with my Flamenco team when I was a little girl.

So there you go! A little glimpse inside a (fabulous) wedding planner's life. If you are engaged and would love to receive advice right to your inbox, you can subscribe to Zahira's wedding newsletter here. But if you're a Creative Small Business Owner or you have or are planning on having a business in the Wedding Industry you can get tips on how to grow your business by subscribing to her newsletter here.

Hope you enjoyed!

XO,

María Elena