As we move in a cashless society, a mobile payment app is as necessary as your wallet. The Bravo Pay App scored a $150,000 investment from ABC’s Shark Tank and ever since has revolutionized the industry. Running on its own blockchain platform, the Bravo App has tens of thousands of active users across the US. The seed to create something bigger than herself was watered by her economic circumstances in Puerto Rico. With a single mother and 4 other siblings, it was not an option for her to not pursue an education that would later enable her to explore entrepreneurial opportunities. In my conversation with Maria, we discussed the disadvantages that have incapacitated minority owned businesses, her approach to facing disparities in capital access and the principles adopted from her upbringing that have contributed to her success in business.
“In my case, I wanted to find the fastest way I could get out of poverty. My teacher told me to study really hard, and I did all those things, I graduated and did my masters degree but I had that entrepreneurial drive to become resourceful that my mother instilled in us.” Maria remembers picking out a name out of a basket during Christmas time, and for the entire month of December, would have to do something nice for that person. It was their way of being resourceful. “From there I realized, to give something of value, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something material. Then I applied the same tactic and realized if I do something nice for my neighbor, she would give me ten cents and then I could buy candy for my sister, etc. I realized, okay, doing stuff, people pay, and then I save. As a college student, I came to live with 14 women who were sharing one house. And then I realized they did not have time to cook, so I started cooking for them and charging to prepare their meals and started making money doing that. After college I went into the corporate world but I always knew that at one point I wanted to do my own thing.”
Is entrepreneurship innate or adopted?
“I think an individual must have that little spark in their heart to become an entrepreneur, but I think it’s something that is totally teachable. There are some people that are innate business people but I think that if you want to pursue it, there are skills that you can definitely learn.”
Integrating cultural values with business
“My north and my guiding principles in life are just the same if I’m going to do something personal or for business. To give you an example, the strong work ethics that I learned from my community and people around me are not just something that I put into my business, but if I commit to volunteering or do something personal, I’m going to apply the same commitment regardless if I’m going to be paid or not. The other is the integrity and the mutual respect. I grew up in a family that was poor on resources but we were absolutely rich in terms of values and love. So one thing that I would say, my mother raised us alone and we were 5 children with limited resources so she was really strict and there were rules of mutual respect. I was the youngest and regardless of my age, my brothers and sisters respected me the very same way I respected them. So I applied that to my business to the point that every single employee that comes to work with me, signs a mutual respect policy and that applies to not only within each employee, but to anyone that we encounter and walks trough the door.”
Acquiring the building blocks
Entrepreneurship was always in the back of her head and everything she did in her professional life was done with a double purpose: to excel in her career, but also use the same skills earned towards her own idea. “I always had aspirations of being an entrepreneur. Before Bravo, my first corporate job thought me a lot about research, taking a product to market and they also taught me a lot about lean operations. After that I worked in the pharmaceutical industry and then I decided to test the waters with entrepreneurship, but instead of selling something, I started to sell my services as a consultant for launching new products or new businesses. The reason I was good at it was because in my years of experience, I learned how to do lean launches and how to take a product to market with very few resources, without spending a lot of money. I did consulting for 7 years. After that I gathered that confidence. I thought, If I can advice other people, then I have what it takes to invest in my own idea. I took notes, for example, I picked up that if you do not instill your company culture and values from really early on, even at the interview stage with prospective employees, then you are not putting your best foot forward. You need to weed away the people that would not agree with those values. I took notes of do’s and don’ts that have helped me with my own company now. And there’s nothing wrong with jumping right into an idea without many years of experience in launching a product, but because I come from that ‘lean’ mentality, I wanted to go to the market with the instruments that I thought I needed at the moment.”
Minorities and disadvantages
Instead of being discouraged by the statistics that plague minority owned businesses today, Maria utilized those same numbers as a compass, pointing her towards diverse conscientious investors.”It’s true, the statistics, if you look at VC investment in minorities, specially female minorities are close to zero.”
That taught me to be more precise in my research, that encouraged me to try harder and whenever I put my foot forward, I prepare for it, I just don’t go and wing it. I know my numbers, I know my pitch and I am ready.
“One of the things that I learned is to learn your circumstances, and learn as much as you can but not to get discouraged by the statistics, but instead focus on groups that are paying attention and are trying to flip the coin. I tried to identify those companies. There’s one that I can think of from the top of m mind is Chingona Ventures, this is a woman that is walking the walk. She changed her own circumstances and now wants to pay it forward. And that is something that I plan to so with my own success: help others. And right now I am doing it through knowledge, but one day I want to do it through capital.”
A ripple effect of empowerment
“There’s two things that we can do as a community. Number one is educate ourselves about everything. About our business, about what we are doing and become the best. Number two is educate our children and instill in them to pursue higher education. There is a lot more work to do in order to pay it forward. Always keep in mind that it is not necessary to wait until I have millions of dollars to help others. Spending time educating and mentoring, and public speaking so we can paint the picture for people that look like us or have the same accent.”
Cryptocurrency for the future
Maria shed some light into Cryptocurrency. The medium of exchange that deviates away from a centralized financial institution such as a bank, that some would say, would benefit developing countries or nations ruled by oppression. “Cryptocurrency is here to stay, there’s a need for those types of services I just hope for the good of humanity that there is also a lot of transparency in the process so that it does not serve money laundering. But I think that as long as the technology in blockchain facilitates transparency with contacts that execute themselves and are not in the hands of people that can rip other people off then it would be great. I think in terms of ecosystem in general, let’s not think about crypto only, but let’s say the entire financial ecosystem, I think it’s going to continue to evolve into putting it into the palms of the people, instruments to empower them in different aspects of their lives”.
Maria opened doors for herself and is making sure she is leaving them wide open for others to follow. Her innate determination to get out of poverty, work ethic adopted from her upbringing in Puerto Rico and the words from Mrs. Santiago advising her of the power of education became an insurmountable force that enabled her to become a catalyst of wealth creation and innovation.