From fleeing Venezuela to conquering the Spanish beauty market — An Entrepreneur’s Story
Maria Andreina Gómez Torres had come up with the perfect product for the Venezuelan beauty market. Until she had to drop everything and start from scratch — more than 7,258 kilometers away.
In Venezuela, 9 out of 10 think that good looks are essential. For the longest time, women, no matter their socio-economic background, would go to the salon at least once a week and spend around a fifth of their income on beauty products. An unprecedented political and economic crisis, however, profoundly transformed many habits.
In a context of skyrocketing hyperinflation, power cuts, high crime and shortages of food, medicine, and essential products; beauty was no longer a priority. Venezuelans had to cut back on their expenses and focus on the very basics.
It also drove four million people to leave the country, including María Andreina Gómez Torres, founder of Wakuy, and her team.
Eager to create something new and highly aware of the need to digitize the experience of going to the beauty salon, they had begun working on a minimum viable product (MVP) a year prior. They had their eyes set on launching Wakuy in Venezuela and later exporting it to Mexico, another Latin American country with similar consumption trends and needs.
But the political and economic situations forced them to reconsider — not just their business model, but their whole life. By coincidence, they all moved to Spain; which soon proved to be a very good business decision.
“We ‘imported’ our project and decided to redirect its focus to the Spanish market. Grateful to have been welcomed with open arms, we wanted to contribute to this country’s economy and create job opportunities.” María Andreina Gómez Torres.
Spain has almost double the number of salons per person than the average in Europe, with 110,000 beauty salons and spas in total. Yet, it’s just as difficult for people to discover, compare, and book appointments. Only 7% of them have online presence and booking available — and they’re usually in the higher price range.
Despite an existing market for their service, María Andreina and the Wakuy team had to face several challenges.
Starting from scratch in an unfamiliar country
Although they already had an MVP, they had to adapt it in order to achieve product-market fit: understanding the local mindset, culture, habits, and wants of their target clients, learning from their competitors, building a new network, studying the entrepreneurial landscape and the resources available, both for startups and foreigners alike.
The second challenge had to do with the skills available in their team.
“We had an amazing, talented team whose expertise ranged from business strategy and software development to law, digital marketing, and customer success. We’re resourceful: whenever we don’t know something, we’re ready to tackle the learning curve, as steep as it may be.”
They learned about cloud infrastructure, the “beauty world,” UX/UI, onboarding experience, content marketing, copy, go-to-market strategies, you name it. But there was one crucial skill that presented the steepest of learning curves: sales!
That's when María Andreina decided to seek help from incubation programs.
“We started researching incubators because we wanted structure and help to validate our project, to make sure we were covering all necessary bases. The idea of a platform based on a proven entrepreneurship methodology, where we could advance step-by-step and build our business plan, was particularly appealing to us.”
With one member of the team still in Venezuela and the rest in different cities throughout Spain, Wakuy couldn't apply to traditional incubation programs that required a physical presence.
Stumbling upon The Leap, Bridge for Billions’ incubation program for early-stage entrepreneurs, María Andreina knew she had found what she was looking for.
Lost in a sea of knowledge
“ I love learning, but I have one problem: I don’t know when to stop ‘research mode’. I wanted to have a guiding hand, someone who had gone through this process already.
Who could act as a sounding board, give us pointers, challenge our ideas and preconceived notions, push us to think outside the box. I, personally, really wanted a mentor.”
When she took The Leap in May 2019, she found not only one but two mentors ready to dedicate 3 months of their time to helping Wakuy: Nelson Romero and Roger Hidalgo.
As a fellow Venezuelan who emigrated to Spain and reinvented himself in the process, Nelson Romero was like a guiding light to the Wakuy team. He explained the main cultural differences, how to develop an appropriate strategy and adjust the message.
“He was our coach. One generous with his time and knowledge.”
Roger Hidalgo, on his part, had a wealth of experience and an ability to explain complicated concepts in simple, digestible bits that the team could take with them along the process.
“They’ve accompanied us every step of the way and helped us move faster. They’ve brought focus to our brainstorming sessions, solved our doubts, shared additional resources. They’ve become a part of Wakuy.”
Now that Wakuy has completed the program, María Andreina has two life-changing concepts and a piece of advice she gives to every entrepreneur:
- perfectionism is the enemy of done. It sounds nice, but it’s seriously problematic. If you are a perfectionist, you’ll postpone the launch of a feature, a strategy, or the product itself, until it is “good enough.” This is subjective, might take a while and keep you on a track where you are wasting resources and not validating your ideas.
- as marketer Seth Godin stated in his Smallest Viable Market, don’t try to make a product or service for “everyone”. You’ll only be too vague and end up pleasing absolutely no one.
- invest in personal development and emotional awareness just as much as in professional development and learning new skills. A great way to start is to read the work of Brené Brown. Her latest book, “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts” is an excellent introduction to leadership, vulnerability, courage, empathy, and resilience.
“In the end, entrepreneurship is vulnerability. It’s not about mindless hustle, pitching, and making money. It’s risk, uncertainty, discomfort. It pushes everyone outside of their comfort zones. Constantly.”