Heritage in Hair: A Conversation with Babba Rivera, Founder and CEO of Ceremonia

Abena Anim-Somuah
Dec 11, 2020 · 9 min read

Babba Rivera is a true force of nature with a list of achievements to boot. From leading marketing teams at Away and Uber to building HER, a community for women developing their careers, Babba is on her next mission to transform the beauty industry for Latina consumers. In October, Rivera launched Ceremonia, a clean hair brand rooted in celebrating traditional Latina hair care. In this interview, Babba shares details about her arduous fundraising journey, the life lessons in her career, and the fashion pieces that she can’t live without!

What inspired you to start Ceremonia?

Babba Rivera: Growing up as a Latin American immigrant in a homogenous country like Sweden, I never found myself represented in mainstream media and the products I consumed. Especially in beauty. Upon arriving in the U.S., I reconnected with my Latinx heritage thanks to the large population of Hispanics here. For the first time, I could see myself in others and realized how many have grown up in-between cultures, just like myself.

Despite the modern Latinx community, and the fact that Hispanics account for 20% of the U.S. population, I still witnessed an enormous void of Latinx representation in almost every aspect of my life; professionally, in the media, the brands I consumed and not to mention role models in entrepreneurship. As such, I began to feel a strong sense of responsibility to propel change.

Ceremonia was born out of the desire to celebrate Latin culture’s richness while highlighting Latinx’s next generation. Inspired by the rituals I grew up with, alongside a strong understanding of the modern consumer, Ceremonia provides a new-age perspective to hair care for all. Through this journey, I hope to inspire and pave the way for more Latinx founders and businesses.

Ceremonia products include a hair oil and scalp massager

Reading through your market research for Ceremonia was fascinating. It’s interesting that Hispanics are spending 46% more on hair care products than non-Hispanics, but very few products are genuinely catering to their needs. What role do you see Ceremonia playing in changing the narrative about representation in the beauty industry?

Babba: By creating a brand that caters to all hair types while celebrating Latinx culture in everything we do, I envision Ceremonia leading the way towards a more inclusive future that goes beyond just checking a box. By actively highlighting Latinx faces, creatives, and community members, while participating in important conversations about the lack of representation of this demographic, we hope we can inspire other brands and founders to pay attention to the often i Latinx community. Ceremonia isn’t a brand exclusively for Latinx consumers, but rather a modern beauty brand that finds its inspiration and purpose in the Latinx culture. I hope there comes a time when minority founders can build big brands inspired by their culture without the assumption that their products are only for the ethnicity they represent.

By creating a brand that caters to all hair types while celebrating Latinx culture in everything we do, I envision Ceremonia to lead the way towards a more inclusive future that goes beyond just checking a box.

You have an impressive resume with stints at Away and Uber, just to name a few. Are there any lessons from your marketing career that transferred into you becoming a founder?

Babba: Yes, I attribute a lot of my entrepreneurial spirit to my early days at Uber. It was so amazing (yet challenging and exhausting!) to have that kind of work experience at such an early age. It truly shaped my professional self and helped me develop a growth mindset. Today, I am comfortable with change and fast-paced environments and I know how to move fast and slow at the same time thanks to the ‘things are better done than perfect’ culture at Uber. Getting things done is basically my middle name!

Fundraising for a new company is tiresome, but it’s more difficult for women, and we have the statistics to back this up. Talk to me about the fundraising journey. What were some positive and negative aspects of the experience?

Babba: Yes, it is definitely discouraging to know that less than 0.4% of VC funding goes to Latina founders. While I know being VC-backed has its advantages, it is also not the only way to build a big business–and it’s also not always the best option to do so. Because of that, I felt as if I wasn’t really raising money. For us, it was more important to build the foundation to a category-defining business through the right people. Ultimately, I wanted my cap table to reflect the values of the company I’m building.

Interestingly enough, I found that angel investors have come much further in their bet for diverse founders than traditional VCs. Many angel investors are former founders themselves and can as such relate to the journey of a founder very well, whereas VCs are mainly looking to replicate their known formula of success — which traditionally doesn’t include people like me.

On a more positive note, the pandemic has simultaneously become a great equalizer for expecting and new moms, as it allows us to be home and work on the same premises as men. With everyone working from home, and travel and late-night dinners (often including large amounts of alcohol) no longer being required, or even possible, we can create new ways of doing business. In a way, I feel like the pandemic is shaking up the way we do business forever.

With innovative companies such as Shopify and Microsoft announcing remote work as their default from now on, I have high hopes for where the business world is going. When high-profile work can happen anywhere, it gives us permission to design our own work environments without needing to obey old structures — which largely have been created by and for men.

For us, it was more important to build the foundation to a category-defining business through the right people. Ultimately, I wanted my cap table to reflect the values of the company I’m building.

In 2015, you created HER, a community for women with the mission to challenge the status quo. Why are communities like those critical for women as they develop in their careers?

Babba: Having a strong professional network is one of the most important pillars of career development, add a support network into the mix and you have a powerful combination of professional and personal growth.

As someone who rarely saw myself represented within the companies I worked at, the need for a community like HER was obvious for me. I wanted to build a community of women who genuinely wanted to see each other advance. By sharing experiences, resources and contacts, we could multiply our knowledge and access to opportunities.

What I found to be the secret sauce to the success of HER was the fact that we encourage vulnerability within the community — and that truly sets us apart from any other networking organization out there. Inside of HER, people are able to put down their guard, leave their business cards and titles behind, and connect with each other as unfiltered human beings. When we connect on this level, interactions become deeper than a transactional business encounter. I’ve met some of my best friends and professional expanders through HER!

Babba Rivera, 2nd from left, at By Babba Career Day. Photo credit: Nordic Style Magazine

Having a strong professional network is one of the most important pillars of career development, add a support network into the mix and you have a powerful combination of professional and personal growth.

What are the three things that are important for building a brand, be it professional or personal?

Babba: To know the “Why”! Why does this brand need to exist? Why is this important to you? What sets you apart to fill this gap?

For example, my personal brand on Instagram started off from the desire to showcase fashion and lifestyle through a business woman’s lens. While I found many influencers to have amazingly inspiring photos and outfits, most of them were not relatable for someone like me who had an office job to go to every day.

Simultaneously, most business professionals didn’t share my passion for fashion. As such, my ‘why’ was to explore my interest in style in a way that was compatible with being a business professional. My ‘why’ has since evolved as my influence has grown. Today, I feel a responsibility to be a voice for women in business beyond the fashion aspect — and I hope to challenge stereotypes and outdated expectations for what a business woman should be or look like.

What are a few misconceptions or myths you’ve encountered on your journey, that you wish were busted by more people in the world of entrepreneurship?

Babba: I feel like people love to tell you how much of a struggle it is to be an entrepreneur, not to mention being a mother. You would think people are actively trying to steer others away from both of those things! I wish we could see more uplifting stories in this regard. While both of these journeys obviously come with their own set of challenges, I can gladly report that I am actively enjoying myself and wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

What’s the best/worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Babba: The best advice I have received is from my husband, who always encourages me to ask myself “what is the worst thing that can happen, realistically?” More often than not, you’ll find that the so-called ‘worst-case scenario’ isn’t much different than the status quo. We rarely lose anything by trying something new, even if we fail we will come out on the other side with new valuable knowledge.

The best advice I have received is from my husband, who always encourages me to ask myself “what is the worst thing that can happen, realistically?

Babba and her best bud, her puppy Blue!

You are a strong advocate for being open and vulnerable, from sharing your journey as a mother to starting a business from the ground up and all the challenges along the way. Do you have any advice for someone in their 20s who is trying to figure things out?

Babba: To trust the process. The moment I started to focus on the journey and not so much on the so-called end destination, I was able to unlock greater happiness and as a result, success. The truth is, we are our most successful when we do things that bring us joy. Allow yourself to enjoy the ride without fixating on the end destination, you can always add extra stops along the way and more importantly–happiness is not an end destination, it’s a mindset.

I love following you on Instagram because you have such an appreciation for quality things. What are three products that are getting you through these times?

  • The Ceremonia scalp power-duo is a must for healthy scalp and hair, with a home spa feeling.
  • The Saie beauty Super Glow Serum and their brow butter are my go-to beauty items for lazy no-makeup days (aka every day for me).
  • I am currently living in these boots from Swedish brand ATP Atelier. Super comfortable and chic, and perfect for cold winter walks.

Abena Anim-Somuah is a contributing writer at All Raise. When she is not working on the Business Development team at Mercury, she is avidly baking and elevating Black culinary creatives on Instagram , listening to a podcast, or digging into a good book. You can find her on Twitter.

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