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This Mexican-American Founder Is Challenging Biases About Mexican Cuisine Through Culturally-Diverse Products. Now His Brand Is Sold in Over 11,000 Stores Nationwide. Building and scaling SOMOS, while challenging bias about Mexican food and culture, hasn't been easy for Miguel Leal and his co-founders. Here's what he wants other entrepreneurs to learn from his experiences.

By Mita Mallick Edited by Kara McIntyre

Key Takeaways

  • Pay attention to the accounting details — you absolutely will need those skills as a founder.
  • Meet your customers where they are. Make sure your product is easy to understand and stands out from the competition.
  • Building your venture with co-founders can leverage your different strengths for a better business.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Jessica Attie
From left to right: Miguel Leal, Daniel Lubetzky, Rodrigo Zuloaga.

"I love the notion that once you fall in love with the food, you fall in love with the culture. That's really what we want to do with SOMOS," says Miguel Leal, co-founder and CEO of SOMOS Foods. "There is often a blanket approach when it comes to Mexican food. Many of the offerings at retailers are Americanized versions of Mexican food. Spoiler alert: Taco salads and chimichangas don't exist in Mexico."

Miguel Leal started SOMOS with his co-founders Daniel Lubetzky, founder of KIND Snacks, and Rodrigo Zuloaga, KIND's former head of product development, who were all born in Mexico. They started SOMOS for the American consumer who loves Mexican food, but is intimidated by how to make it at home.

Leal shared that they are on a mission to demystify a category that has been binary for so long: The options have either been purchasing ingredients to make recipes from scratch, which first-generation Mexicans often do with the help of a family member, or purchasing stripped-down options — Americanized versions of Mexican food, like hard shell tacos and taco seasoning packets.

"Mexican cuisine is extremely diverse by region," says Leal. "The food I grew up eating in Monterrey is very different from the food Daniel grew up eating in Mexico City and Rodrigo grew up eating in Guadalajara. We are introducing the diversity of Mexican cuisine to households with meals they can quickly get on the table for their families."

In just under three years in business, SOMOS is available at more than 11,000 retail doors nationwide, including Whole Foods Market, Target, Walmart, HEB, Publix and more. In 2024, slightly over 70% of the brand's spending supports the Mexican community. They produce all of SOMOS products in Mexico, sourcing as many ingredients as possible in Mexico, and look to partner with Mexican suppliers and vendors. This includes packaging designers, photographers, food stylists and ingredient suppliers.

Building and scaling SOMOS, while challenging bias about Mexican food and culture, hasn't been easy. Leal and his co-founders have relied on each other, while also going back to some basic business fundamentals to ensure they are setting up the business for long-term success. Here are three lessons Miguel Leal has learned on his way to building SOMOS.

Related: This Woman Founder Is on a Mission to Make Education Accessible for All — No Matter Your Race or Gender. These Are the Three Lessons She Wants Other Industry Disruptors to Learn.

1. Pay attention to the accounting details

"I wish I had paid more attention in accounting classes in business school," says Leal. "I was trained as an engineer who got an MBA and was very focused on P&L management. Early on, I was chasing growth when I should have been more focused on profitability."

Leal urges founders to get into the details: accounts payable, receivable and how much inventory you have on hand, focusing on business fundamentals. He shares that most investors will be interested in not just your sales, but your path to profitability. He reminds founders the balance is that growing your inventory can require a lot more cash, and to be mindful if you are chasing the right metrics. Leal also shares that scaling a business for profitability can also be tough in a market where interest rates are so high right now.

"Your balance sheet can be your best friend or your adversary," says Leal. "My advice to founders: Get down to understanding the basics of accounting. Make that balance sheet your best friend."

2. Meet your customers where they are

"Mexican food is a $68 billion addressable market, yet 82% of the consumption is happening in restaurants," says Leal. "When you walk the aisles in grocery stores, you'll see there hasn't been a lot of innovation in the Mexican set in years. We know SOMOS can fill that gap, offering Mexican food that celebrates vegetables, grains and legumes."

One of the early lessons Leal recalls is how the co-founders were choosing to name their products. "When we first launched SOMOS, one of the products we were most excited about were our 'pea-cadillos,' a plant-based protein alternative to my favorite picadillo that my mom would make for me on my birthday each year," says Leal. "Not only does the average American not know what picadillo is, by calling it 'pea-cadillo,' to reference the pea-protein in the product, we thought we were being clever when in fact, we were just confusing our consumer."

It was an important reminder that when a consumer is walking down the aisles of a grocery store or scrolling on their phone, they are making purchase decisions within a couple of seconds. It was another basic business fundamental Leal and his co-founders leaned into. For future products, Leal and his team made the naming and details clear while remaining true to their Mexican heritage.

"Meet your customers where they are," says Leal. "Make it easy for them to understand what your product is, how to use it and ultimately decide to buy it."

Related: After Her Unexpected Layoff, This Founder's Love of Fragrances and Self-Care Helped Her Cope. Now She's Disrupting the Fragrance Industry.

3. Building a business with others can leverage different strengths

Leal, Lubetzky and Zuloaga all crossed paths at KIND Snacks. After their time together at KIND Snacks, they parted ways and realized they hadn't talked to each other in over a year. They missed their friendship and missed building together.

"I feel very fortunate to be on this journey with Rodrigo and Daniel," says Leal. "Rodrigo comes from a family of chefs and is an incredibly talented product innovator. I admire Daniel's leadership style and the culture he built at KIND. And I am passionate about connecting all the dots and executing. Together, we all bring different strengths to the table."

As they continue to build SOMOS, their friendships have been strengthened. And this time around, they are spending more time with each other's families, who also bring different skills and expertise. One of Lubetzky's family members came up with the name for the brand, which means "we are" in Spanish. Rodrigo's family has weighed in on the development of SOMOS's Mexican Chili Crisp product, a.k.a. salsa macha, and one of Miguel's family members regularly shares ideas for the brand's social media strategy.

"We definitely don't agree on everything, but we always respect each other's opinions. This is what makes us stronger," says Leal. "Different perspectives result in the best ideas. At the end of the day, it is not about who is right or wrong; we all just want to see SOMOS succeed."

Mita Mallick

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact

Mita Mallick is a change-maker with a track record of transforming culture and business. Her book, Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace, is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. She's the Head of DEI at Carta, a LinkedIn Top Voice and a sought-after speaker.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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