Dreamers: “They told me It was impossible and I did it anyway” With Ana Flores of #WeAllGrow Latina Network
…I quickly understood that I had to be my own biggest advocate and stubbornly believe in my vision. I had to find and create my own community of other women and Latinas that were also invested in their vision. We would become each other’s cheerleaders and mentors as we would uncover the path and together pave the road to a new industry that would eventually garner respect and value.
As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ana Flores.
Ana Flores is the founder and CEO of #WeAllGrow Latina Network, the first and largest network of Latina digital influencers with a mission to elevate the voices and stories of Latinas through the power of community. The company’s annual #WeAllGrow Summit was named by Forbes.com as one of “19 Conferences Every Creative Should Attend in 2018” and again on the 2019 list.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?
I’ve always lived my life navigating between two cultures, two languages and crossing borders. I was born in Houston, TX to parents from El Salvador. They were young and living in the U.S. for my dad’s job. Thanks to their divorce, my mom moved back to El Salvador with my sister and me.
I called this tiny yet beautiful country my home until I was 18th. During that time, I would spend summers and some holidays with my dad and his new blended family in Houston. The contrasts I would experience between both cultures and having to fully assimilate to both, and yet to none, are really what helped shape my outlook in life, as well as my resiliency and adaptability.
As soon as I graduated high school from the American School in El Salvador, I left the many comforts of the privileged life I had, even in the midst of a horrible civil war, to go to college in Florida and learn to take care of myself.
I studied TV Production and landed my dream job at Univision Network in Miami as soon as I graduated. It was the late 90’s and the Hispanic media and music industry in the U.S. was in its infancy, which meant opportunities abounded for those of us who knew that this was the place to be if you wanted to be part of the eventual boom. My media career took me to Mexico City where I worked at MTV Latin America as part of the first in-house production team and eventually to L.A. to be part of the team that relaunched mun2 (now NBC Universo), a channel for Latino youth.
My then-husband and I had only been in L.A. for two years when we had our daughter. I quit my job at mun2 to attempt to be a stay-at-home mom, but faith had it that the recession would hit us just a few months after I received my last check. My husband lost all his clients and we were faced with a horrible economic crisis with a baby at home and no family in L.A. to rely on for any type of support.
As hard as it was, I recognized that I had to keep creating and building. It was then that I was fully introduced into the world of mom bloggers that was booming in 2008. Not only did I find the parenting resources I needed, but also an online community that became my support system.
However, as much as I searched for blogs by Latina moms and resources for parents raising bilingual kids like I was, I couldn’t find them. That’s when I recognized that I could fill that void. I had always been a content creator and digital was a new medium that was completely accessible, and I could do it on my own and during nap times. So, I called my best friend from college who now had a few regional Emmys and journalism awards under her belt but had also quit working after becoming a mom and got her excited about launching a blog. We partnered to launch SpanglishBaby, the first blog with stories, expert resources, and community for parents raising bilingual and bicultural kids.
That blog, which we started during our worst financial times but with a very clear vision, led us to the most incredible brand partnerships, opportunities, awards, and even a book, Bilingual is Better, that was featured on the TODAY Show.
Almost two years after launching SpanglishBaby, I founded what is now #WeAllGrow Latina Network in 2010 as Latina Bloggers Connect. It was the very first network connecting Latina bloggers with brands years before influencer marketing became recognized as an industry. At the core, my intention was to foster a community of fellow Latina bloggers where we could first and foremost find each other since the blogging/digital creator industry was so new. We needed a way to connect to teach each other what we were individually learning about things like SEO, HTML, design, pitching to brands, contributing with media platforms, growing audiences, plugins, Twitter best practices, etc. Back then there were only a handful of communities for digital creators and none addressing the needs of Latinas directly. We were blogging in culture, some in Spanish and others in both English and Spanish. In order to keep serving the audiences we had nurtured, we needed to monetize our content. In order to monetize, we needed direct access to brands looking to reach Hispanic audiences and we had to do it in the most professional way.
All of this led to our motto of “When one grows, we all grow.” I knew this was a new frontier for us with limitless potential for growth. But since there was no one ahead of us treading the path, we had to do it and continuously pass along the learnings, resources and connections.
Five years later, I decided it was time to host our first conference in Los Angeles and thus #WeAllGrow Summit was born. I had made most of my brand and peer connections by attending and speaking at conferences like BlogHer, Mom 2.0, Alt Summit and others. Though I was always accepted and respected, I was usually the token Latina and one of a handful there. It definitely served to my advantage because as the token Latina I was receiving many brand and media opportunities. I utilized those connections to open up space where they could find hundreds of Latina influencers to partner with. The influencers already trusted us because for many we had been the first network to offer them paid opportunities and real online connections. Brands like Neutrogena, Dove, Disney, and YouTube also trusted us because we had been working on campaigns together for the last 5 years.
#WeAllGrow has now matured into a social impact company fueling the most relevant community of Latina influencers, entrepreneurs and creatives with a mission to elevate the voices and stories of Latinas via the power of community.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Absolutely! We’ve recognized that the one cause where we can truly make an impact with our community is pay equity, specifically Latina Equal Pay. Last year we partnered with The Riveter to co-host a series of events at their L.A., Austin, and Dallas locations on Latina Equal Pay Day. We invited powerful Latinas to share their experiences, tips, and resources to advance pay equity and all events were sold out. We were surprised to learn that most of the attendees were not aware of just how large the pay gap is and that Latinas are the most affected by it.
They were all ignited and ready to arm themselves with knowledge and skills to advocate and negotiate for themselves and their colleagues for the wages they deserve.
We also learned that most were not aware that there are bills sitting at the legislative level that can impact the wage gap, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act.
So, for 2020, we’re going bigger and taking on equal pay for Latinas as our main advocacy project. We’re creating more events and content throughout the year to inform and empower Latinas with the negotiation tips and to understand their own value. We will create a cohort that will commit to putting the knowledge to use and report back on their progress. Our goal is to be able to showcase stories of success so we can make real progress towards equal pay one Latina at a time.
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?
Our largest project every year is #WeAllGrow Summit and this year we’re doubling the number of attendees because for the past few years we would sell out within hours. The message was clear that Latinas are craving spaces where they feel seen, heard and valued and #WeAllGrow Summit is just that meeting place. As much as a risk that it is for us as a self-funded company to more than double our capacity, we’re going for it because we know our community is asking for it.
Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?
I feel that even more difficult than having someone tell you your idea or business is impossible is launching something that almost no one around you understands or sees any sort of value in. When I launched SpanglishBaby and Latina Bloggers Connect/#WeAllGrow Latina, I knew it in my gut and my whole body that I was onto something with so much potential that the possibilities for growth were unlimited and really depended on my own sense of value. Yet, blogging was still so new and being labeled as a “mom blogger” in many ways diminished our worth. In 2010 the influencer marketing industry didn’t really exist yet and saying that I was building a business connecting Latina bloggers with brands seemed so foreign and unimportant to most.
When I first received the inspiration for SpanglishBaby, I called two male friends and previous colleagues who were the only ones I knew who were creating content online for their corporate jobs. Both were in important decision-making positions and were struggling to get the budgets and appreciation to grow the online divisions of the media companies they worked with. I needed guidance and I knew they would be the only ones who would understand me. Armed with a recent, and likely the first, New York Times article about the explosion of mom blogs centered around the 2008 BlogHer conference, I called each one individually. I felt completely deflated after the calls. They didn’t outright tell me my idea and vision were impossible, they just didn’t get it and, maybe worse, they saw it as something nice for me to practically pass my time as a new mom but that I wouldn’t be able to monetize and scale.
I proved them wrong within two years.
In the end, how we're all the naysayers proven wrong? :-)
I quickly understood that I had to be my own biggest advocate and stubbornly believe in my vision. I had to find and create my own community of other women and Latinas that were also invested in their vision. We would become each other’s cheerleaders and mentors as we would uncover the path and together pave the road to a new industry that would eventually garner respect and value.
Within less than 5 years and with absolutely no investment funds, I had scaled the company to over one million in revenue and doubled it the next year. This is even a bigger deal when you know that only 1% of Latina-owned companies ever hit the 1-million-dollar revenue mark. And I did it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That would have to be Jennifer James, founder of the Mom Bloggers Club and Mom Bloggers for Social Good. She was one of the first mom bloggers I found and followed obsessively. And by “follow” in those years, I meant reading everything she posted on her blogs and connecting via Twitter. I could tell she had the same vision of creating content to build and unite a community and she was doing it successfully. She was also one of the first ones to offer bloggers paid campaigns with brands and other opportunities.
One day I received an email from the founder of Blogalicious, the first conference for women bloggers of color. Stacey Ferguson, now my good friend, reached out to invite me to be a speaker at the conference’s second annual event and I was being placed on a panel with Jennifer James. I could barely believe it and felt completely unworthy because I had barely made my first few hundred dollars with SpanglishBaby.
That invitation armed me with the guts to reach out to Jennifer James, now as a co-panelist, to ask her for a meetup at the upcoming BlogHer conference in NYC. She was a rockstar there but made the time to sit with me for lunch in between all the huge brand events I wasn’t invited to yet.
The most important thing that happened during that lunch was Jennifer looking at me straight in the eye and asking me who was going to do for Latina bloggers what she had done for African American and mom bloggers at large. And then followed up by saying that someone had to be me.
I already had the vision for Latina Bloggers Connect and that conversation with her solidified it and put me into action. I had an advocate. I had someone who believed in me that had already blazed the trail and was willing to share her knowledge with me.
Within two months I launched Latina Bloggers Connect. That same month, I was on the cover of Hispanic Business as “The New Face of Social Media.”
It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?
I truly believe that the fact that I had to grow up navigating two cultures, two languages, two families across different borders in completely different realities built a lifelong resiliency in me because I was always having to adapt, and I knew nothing is permanent.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)
- Believe in your vision way before you have any evidence of success.
- Develop your own sense of value and be unapologetic about it.
- Be your own biggest advocate.
- Embrace failure as an opportunity.
- Share what you learn and open doors for others along the way.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
It’s actually a very common quote but one that I always keep top of mind and soothes me every time the path gets rough: “The darkest hour is just before dawn.”
No matter how tough it might get and how dark things might seem, I’ve learned to just hold on because it’s part of a natural cycle and if I just let the moment flow through me in full presence and acceptance, I can become an observer and learn from it to be ready for the moment of dawn with a new perspective and elevated consciousness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I stand strong in our current mission of elevating the voices and stories of Latinas and creating a more equitable playing field for us because there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Imagine what could happen if we had opportunities in proportion to the impact we have on this country’s economy and culture?
Imagine what could happen if we all rise as one?
I want to see more spaces where all women of color feel seen and understood.
If you have access to the purse strings, fund those communities and leaders. If you have access to a stage or boardroom, invite us in.
If you can use your voice and influence to amplify our stories, do it. If you’re unsure how but know it’s the right thing to do, talk to us.
Latinas are at the forefront of shaping culture and driving the country’s economy.
Creating more visibility and an equitable playing field for Latinas must be a business priority for all. It’s also a social justice imperative.
Can our readers follow you on social media?
My personal accounts are all on @laflowers and #WeAllGrow is @weallgrowlatina.
I also invite all to join our online community at amigas.weallgrowlatina.com.
Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!
Thanks for the opportunity!