Martha de la Torre admits she was a rather reluctant entrepreneur. In fact, when she told her parents that she and her now-husband, Joe Badame, were starting a business, they weren't exactly thrilled. That's because de la Torre was a successful business woman, climbing the ranks of the corporate ladder, with, in her mother's eyes, absolutely no reason to take the risk.
But now, years later, de la Torre and Badame's Spanish-language classified publication, El Clasificado, is bringing in an expected $11.5 million in revenue this year. "It's definitely worth it," says de la Torre. "I've caught the entrepreneurial bug."
Today, El Clasificado is just one of the approximately 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses is growing about three times faster than the national average. The states with the fastest growth for such companies include New York, Rhode Island, Georgia, Nevada and South Carolina.
The Startup and La Familia
What sets Hispanic entrepreneurs apart from other enterprising small-business owners? The very reason they decide to become entrepreneurs is a big factor. According to Louis Barajas, a small-business consultant and author of Small Business, Big Life, most Hispanics start their own businesses out of necessity. "Most Hispanics aren't paid enough in major urban areas to have a decent life. They want to help their family live a better life, so they take a risk and start their own company," says Barajas. That's exactly what his father, a Mexican immigrant, did when Barajas was growing up in Boyle Heights, California. Barajas recalls working as his father's translator at 11 years old, trying to complete tax returns since his father couldn't understand them.
Another key factor is the importance of family. "For many Hispanics, it's very difficult to separate business from personal because their families are so immersed in the business," Barajas says. In fact, in his consulting, Barajas says every restaurant startup that comes through his doors involves two partners, typically a husband and wife. De la Torre's parents, though unsure about her new business at first, supported her through it all, and even came to work for her during the first 10 years, when she and Badame weren't able to take a salary.
It's All About La Cultura
Perhaps just as important as family to many Hispanic entrepreneurs is ensuring their culture is reflected in the way they run their business. That's exactly what Cuban-American rapper Pitbull has done in building his music empire. Pitbull, born Armando Pérez to first-generation Cuban immigrant parents, first came on the scene with his breakout hit, "Culo," a collaboration with Lil John. So far, he's sold about 1.5 million records independently.
Just about every business venture Pitbull's involved with somehow integrates his culture. His website can be viewed in both English and Spanish, and many of his songs integrate both languages. The rapper is featured in public service announcements for Voto Latino, and he also has his own TV show on Mun2, a bilingual network for Latino youth, called La Esquina. It's an original reality humor series mixing "street sitcom" with variety-style entertainment. Also in the works for the Latin rapper: Creating his own animation, starting his own label and publishing company, and negotiating real estate deals.
Despite his focus on it now, Pitbull says his culture was actually an obstacle when he first started in the music business. "I already had three strikes against me. One, I have light skin. Two, I'm from Miami, which wasn't getting looked at at the time. Three, I'm Cuban. But now, I've made everything that stacked against me into a virtue," he says.
Culture is also reflected in El Clasificado's ties to the community. De la Torre points out that when the publication first launched, it was distributed directly to homes. But the method wasn't working. That's when they discovered that Latinos were much more likely to pick up the publication in a store or on the street when they were out in the community.
Now, the publication has increased distribution to about 300,000 weekly periodicals. El Clasificado operates an annual "Quincearera Expo and Fashion Show" along with a "Rock N' Bliss Fest" concert to promote their alternative publication, Al Borde, and a small-business workshop series, "Su Socio de Negocios."
Barajas is also no stranger to community involvement. After making his way from Boyle Heights to UCLA, Barajas was heading toward corporate success until several major events in his life, including the death of his grandmother and the birth of his daughter, helped him realize the importance of purpose and living a full life. Within hours of this realization, he gave notice at his firm and decided to move back to East Los Angeles to help the community he grew up in. And now, that's exactly what he does, writing books on the subject and speaking to underserved across the country.
How Far Have We Come?
Overall, both de la Torre and Barajas agree that the entrepreneurial opportunities for Hispanics have come a long way. "Today, it's so much easier for Hispanics to get into the market," says de la Torre. "Of course, it depends where you live and you must have a good product. But there are many more sources for capital, the internet makes research so much easier and people recognize just how big the Hispanic market is."
But Barajas points out there's definitely room for growth. "Everything you hear is about the enormous buying power of Hispanics," he says. "Yet nobody talks about Hispanics as the largest ethnic minority, yet the poorest, too. Nobody says this. That's why I believe entrepreneurship gives Hispanics the opportunity to level the playing field."