It all began on the 27th of July, 2011. An idea started percolating in my mind, persisting like a water drop that after splashing consistently with its soft strength, can break a solid rock. At the time, I was going through the last remaining parts of the wreckage of my family real estate company; another casualty of the industry meltdown that started in 2008. I was too young to retire, but too old to start looking for an associate position as a lawyer (my chosen but unwanted profession), I was at a crossroads. Going everyday to my office and sitting at my desk that for many years was bursting with papers, phone calls and meetings related to our residential development projects and now seeing it looked like a desolated military base after the war is over. At that moment, I knew that I needed to make a change. However, the question was: what to do?
Since a was a little kid, my most cherished memories of my father were his work stories related to his real estate business. I have to admit, for me real estate was a very seductive siren. Its melody was hypnotic to my ears: the deal making, the negotiating, the adrenaline fueled conversations with bankers, public officials, contractors, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and environmentalists, among others were a tailored made profession for me. The art of putting together teams of people to develop a parcel of land that will have an impact on the community for many years and the potential to create place making locations that can hopefully be cherished by its visitors for decades were extremely important elements that permeated my thoughts and actions during those happy years, then one day there were no more…
I am not bitter. As much as I loved real estate, after the crash, now it all seems as a distant memory of what now I considered my first career, not my life. I was lucky that during that time I found the November 2011 issue of the magazine Entrepreneur. Its cover title was “Reinvention”. The featured article was on how Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer turned their failing website Fabulis.com into Fab.com and how successful they were due to the changes they made at the right time (well, as you my esteemed reader might know by now, Fab.com also failed even bigger than Fabulis.com did, but the point still the same). One needs to continue to reinvent oneself, especially when all appears to be going great. I was reading last month, this time on another tech magazine, that after Fab.com failed as a business venture, both Founders have gone to do other successful ventures and have learned again the dos and don’ts of the entrepreneur’s life. After reflecting on those stories, I was able to see that I wasn’t a real estate developer; I am an entrepreneur. My own limited vision had portrayed me as a “one hit wonder” professional when in reality humans are capable of reinventing themselves as necessary to adapt to their new environment, time and time again.
I needed to do that. So, when I read the article it hit me. I wanted to use my experience as real estate developer without actually developing land. A well known axiom in real estate is: “location, location, location” and that principle is very relevant in the startup world. The truth is that real estate and startups have a lot in common. It all about putting the right team together, finding the right location (in this case the right name) and identifying a demand for your product. I needed to decide on a plan. I started asking myself what I knew, who I knew and how and when can I make the switch.
If you were wondering what was the idea, that itch that I had in July 2011 had to do with my own experience as a Latino in the U.S. Truthfully, Latinos are not a homogeneous group of people, with a common background. We all have different accents (even if we speak Spanish), heritages, mores, idiosyncrasies and insights. Those differences might be subtle for the untrained eye, but not for us. Although, we are all proud of our common idioma and shared tradiciones, we enjoy our uniqueness in food and flavors, familiy ties and ethnicity. Looking in the cyber world, I wasn’t able to identify a website that can portray that singularidad.
I was fortunate that from the early stages of this journey I found great mentors, developers, amigos y hermanos, who lent me their hands, energy, ideas and help when I needed it the most and many are still part of our team. One serendipitous moment came on July 2012, when I had the blessing of attending the 2nd LATISM (Latinos in Technology and Social Media) Conference in Chicago, Illinois. It was my first experience immersing myself with the U.S. Latino Millennial and realizing how interconnected they are. During various brainstorming sessions with my new amigos looking for answers to my earlier questions, the word “Buydega” was created. It was love at first sight. For me, “Buydega” said it all.
Initially, the idea behind Buydega was to create an ecommerce marketplace of Latino handcraft products for Latinos living in the U.S. We defined it then as follows:
“In Buydega, through beautiful craftsmanship you can express your desire to be heard and be appreciated for who you are or it can also help you find a unique memento for that special someone. You might also want to preserve and even nurture your cultural traditions.
We know how you feel. Buydega strives to be a place for Latino hand-crafted goods that can be authentic and meaningful. By combining the words “buy” and the quintessential Latino meeting place to buy something from home “La Bodega”, we are trying, in a playful manner, to engage the Latino community, by creating a space for self-searching and cultural expression through hand made crafts.”
After many months of developing mockups, we created a beta website but never launched it. It wasn’t ready. It wasn’t special. It didn’t conveyed the right tone, feel or relevance. We had to go back to our brainstorming sessions. During those long and important meetings, more questions than answers were surfacing. We knew that we didn’t want to be neither an Etsy marketplace (the now behemoth website for handcrafted and vintage products) nor a regular local webpage for Latino art crafts. In our minds, Etsy has become a Wal-Mart, a place so big and impersonal that any Latino handcraft creation, its essence and cultural traditions, were lost in translation. On the other hand, national online marketplaces, like ebay or Amazon lacked the local flavor and traditions so important to Latino communities across the U.S.
Thus, after many days, months and YEARS of work, we came up with these three maxims:
- We wanted to create a unique space for the Latino communities in the U.S. Our goal is to take the Latino experience from “local to national”. One city at a time.
- Our mantra is: “Sharing experiences locally”. Each city will have its own team and page (ie. sanantonio.buydega.com) with its own people’s articles, news, photos, videos, schedules, blogs and products.
- Buydega grassroots strength and approach will strive to be a true voice for Latino communities in the U.S.
In a nutshell: “We want to empower Latinos!” That simple!
We appreciate the need for younger generation Latinos to share their unique experiences in the U.S. through various prominent social media platforms. By doing that they are paving the road to create a network of “digital neighborhoods” or “vecindades virtuales” at a local level rather than a forced U.S. Latino identity fostered by officebound executives or government bureaucrats.
Based on those maxims, we hope to create a unique and special place for all of you. A local hub for Latino communities. We strive to bring Latinos closer together, celebrating our common heritage while keeping our uniqueness. We want to learn about your local eventos, and find unique handcrafted products from artesanos locales that will showcase how distinctive we are. Help us learn and explore each city’s Latino flavor and be part of real social interaction and natural evolution, as we intend to translate our local experience into a unified voice.