Latinx In Power
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Latinx In Power

From Corporate Tech to Building her Own Body Care Brand

Based on an episode with Karla Aguilar 🇨🇷

We talked with Karla Aguilar (she/her), a recent entrepreneur who left her tech job to launch her own body care brand. She’s the founder of CLUB PIEL — a genderless and inclusive subscription based body care brand in Latam and in a previous life a senior strategic partnerships and business development manager in tech.

In this episode we talked more about Karla’s journey entering corporate tech as a Business Developer and also leaving tech after many years, doing a sabbatical during the pandemic and launching her body care brand.

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What does it mean to be Latina for you?

I think in one word, to me, it means culture, because one of my favorite things about being Latina is how diverse and rich our culture is. I think some Americans try to put all of us in a box, but we’re so different and that’s just beautiful. Maybe I might be getting ahead of myself here, but I was born in Costa Rica and moved to the States when I was a kid. Being a Costa Rican immigrant meant that I was the only one in every city we lived in, which I did live in many, because Costa Rica is a very small country, there aren’t that many of us outside. So, that led me to just become friends with so many different Latinx people from all over and learn about their culture, their food, the way they speak, and I just love that because we’re amazing.

Can you give us an overview about your journey and how everything started?

My journey, where to start? It was a long one. I think I landed in tech by being just very persistent and not giving up. I did not go to a fancy school, I did not major in anything related to tech. When I entered tech, I didn’t live in a city that was particularly known for having a lot of tech companies. I remember wanting to do it because I had taught myself how to build websites, and I always consider myself being very tech savvy. To be honest, I should have probably gone to school for engineering, but that really wasn’t an option for me back then. I just knew that I needed to try to get in however I could.

Up until that point, my job experience had consisted of small sales jobs throughout late high school and early in my college career. I remember finding one e-commerce tech startup that I thought, “Okay, this was it. I’m going to work here.” I think I stalked the hiring manager for a while until he just gave me a job. He said, “Okay, I think you’ll be good at an entry-level business development job.” To be completely honest, at that point, I had no idea what business development meant. But I thought, “Great, I’ll do it. I’ll figure it out.” I went in not knowing anything. It was a startup. And for those that don’t know much about startups, a lot of times, you get no training, no anything. It’s just like, “Here’s what we think you should do, go figure it out.” I very quickly learned and started to grow within the company. Within two years, I became the head of partnerships for that company, and that opened up a lot of opportunities including moving to San Francisco and then getting many other jobs within tech. I’ll say that was the beginning of my business in tech and business development.

I’m very grateful to that startup for giving me the opportunity. Because up to that point, I had knocked on many, many doors, and I’d gotten many noes because I had no experience in tech. And like I said, no fancy degree, nothing, like no experience in tech whatsoever. I am still very persistent. And I think that’s been key to what I’ve been able to accomplish in my life.

Can you share more about your entrepreneurship journey?

I decided to quit my tech job in early 2020, right as the pandemic was starting. Obviously, no one knew what it would become. But that led me into an amazing adventure. When I was in Southeast Asia, I ran out of my razors that I would get in the US. I remember going into a supermarket and realizing, “Oh, there’s only the big brand.” The big brands that you always find in the supermarkets, and realizing we don’t have the same options that you have in the US.

In the US, you don’t only have the big brands, you have many other businesses like Dollar Shave Club and Billie. And realizing, “Wow, these brands don’t go to undeveloped markets,” because there are many challenges which I understand. I’m vegan and those supermarket brands are not vegan. To me, that was something that I just refused to use the supermarket brands because of that.

That led me to start doing more research about Latin America specifically, because I knew Southeast Asia was just temporary. I was thinking about where to go next. Should I go back to San Francisco and go back to another tech job? Or do I try to do something different? I started to do research in Latin America and realized, “Oh, yeah, these companies have not made it to Latin America either,” because there are so many challenges with doing e-commerce in general in Latin America.

One of the good things that the pandemic left behind is that it accelerated the e-commerce space in Latin America. Prior to the pandemic, especially in Costa Rica, which is the market that I know the most, it was pretty much nonexistent. People were not comfortable buying things online. With the pandemic, everything changed. You couldn’t go to the stores for a while, you had to buy things online. While in Latin America, there’s still a lot of just Instagram and WhatsApp shopping, more and more e-commerce sites started to pop up. My background is actually e-commerce, and I thought, “Okay, I think this is the right time to get into e-commerce in Latin America. I think it’s the right time because e-commerce is accelerating. I think there’s a problem to solve because there are no subscription-based body care brands in Latin America.” The razor, while it’s more of a personal problem, because I’m vegan, and you can’t find any vegan razors, I thought, “Other people must think the same.” So yeah, I created CLUB PIEL.

Part of what the brand I wanted to build was, I wanted a brand that is inclusive, that is genderless. Part of this is because traditionally even in the United States, the razor market or the skin care market has traditionally charged women more for these products. The concept is called “pink tax”. That was very and still is very real in Latin America and most people don’t realize it because they’ve never had a brand talk about it. I wanted to make sure we got rid of the pink tax. There’s no pink tax and by also getting rid of the pink tax, I wanted to make sure that there were products that anybody could use. If you shave and you want to shave, you can use those products without feeling like, “Oh, no. This is just a woman’s product, or this is just a product for men.”

We launched with a razor and very quickly realized that, not only do you need a razor, but you need the proper products to care for your skin. Traditionally, in Latin America, you go to a store, and yes, you find your shaving cream and your razor. Usually, those products are sold specifically for men, not for women, but no one really teaches you or shows you how to use them. I believe that there is a right way for shaving your body to avoid irritation or ingrown hairs. I wanted to combine all of that, and not only create a brand that is for anybody, it’s also a brand that cares for your body. And it is gentle enough for your skin so you don’t get irritation.

I feel like the success so far of CLUB PIEL has been because I have focused so much on teaching people how to shave, which no one had done before. No one had taught us how to shave. And as part of that education is the line of products to go along with the razor. What you should do before you shave, what you should use while you shave, and what you should use after you shave.

Not everyone has access to laser hair removal or other more expensive ways. Razor or shaving is still the most common way to get rid of body hair if that’s your choice. I just want to teach people that there is a right way to do it so that you care for your skin, and you don’t get irritation. Not only do razor brands don’t teach you or show you, traditionally they have just shown you images of perfect skin. They don’t even show your body hair, they just show you a smooth, perfect looking skin without any hair. Part of what we tried with CLUB PIEL as well, is for the first time in Latin America is showing you body hair and showing you that it’s okay to have body hair if that it’s your choice whether you want to take that body hair off or not

What made you most excited about your entrepreneurship journey or what scares you the most to face?

Excited? There are a few things. One is I wanted to be my own boss, and I wanted to have the flexibility to create something from scratch. That also means creating a culture or a work culture that I like and that I feel comfortable in. That’s one of the most exciting things. Also, just solving a new problem. I love solving problems. So, I really just wanted to start something new.

What scares me the most is even though I said previously, yes, e-commerce is accelerating in Latin America, there are still a lot of challenges. They scare me because I don’t know how things are going to continue to move. They scare me and they excite me because it also means, “Okay, I just have to find solutions for those challenges.”

I would add some funny and interesting things because I am from Latin America, I was born here but I grew up in the United States and my work culture, it’s very much, let’s say, an American work culture, and working in Latin America, it’s very different from working in the United States. That’s been something I’ve had to learn and adapt to the working culture in Latin America, and it’s been great so far.

A lot of our audience wants to migrate to tech and learn more about it. Can you share more about the role of a business developer, and what are the things people should keep in mind and consider when migrating to this role?

Business development means a lot of different things at different companies. It could be a sales role. It could also mean strategic partnerships, where you are building alliances with other companies, either because you want to grow your user base, or because there’s maybe a feature that company has that can complement your current product, or because you want to enter a brand-new market.

What I love about business development is that you get to work with many different people within a company. Naturally, I’m a very curious person, and I love learning new things. To me, the thing I love the most, especially when I worked at startups, was not only do you have to work with marketing, engineering, product, legal, and many customer services, social media, any department you can think of you have to work with, sometimes at a startup, it means you also have to wear that has basically, because maybe you don’t have a legal department. Maybe you have a lawyer that you can consult, but you might only get one hour a day. Then, you have to absorb as much as you can from that person, and then go do the job yourself, which was very different when I worked at bigger companies because I had to adapt to learning that now there’s a whole marketing department, a whole legal department, a whole customer service department that handles that.

You have to interact with so many different people with a company internally and externally. Because as you’re exploring these opportunities, you’re also having to have conversations with these different departments at different companies. You get so many perspectives, you learn about how these different departments do the job differently. If you want to get into business development, I think you have to be someone that is very curious, really willing to learn. very proactive.

What’s the best business advice you heard?

I would say the best business advice I’ve learned is that it’s okay to make mistakes, no one is perfect, and mistakes and bumps along the way are going to happen. You shouldn’t see them as a failure. You should take a moment to learn from them, adapt, align, and find a solution if that’s possible. If not, move on. I think mistakes teach us a lot and make us better people. I say this because I feel sometimes in business, we try to be perfectionists, or we want to do everything right. When we make a mistake, we think like, “Oh, it’s the end of the world,” because everything should be perfect. And it’s not. That’s something I struggle with, but I’m learning, learning to be better because it is hard. It is hard to let go of the idea that everything has to be worked out. Basically, it’s okay to make mistakes.

Which resource helped you in your journey?

I’m a huge podcast person. A podcast that I’ve listened to religiously since it started — I think it started maybe in 2016 is How I Built This by Guy Ross. I love listening to other people’s stories in general, and especially in that podcast entrepreneurs that are telling their stories of how they built their businesses, the challenges they faced, how they made it happen, basically. I think it’s inspired me in so many ways. It’s also helped me keep that entrepreneur spark that I knew I had in me all these years and that I wanted to try at some point. I’ve actually read their book too, it’s pretty much a summary of all the learnings from all the different entrepreneurs he’s talked to. If you’ve never listened to the show, it could be a good idea to start with the book. Then you can go find your favorite brands to listen to.

Where can people find you?

People can find me on LinkedIn for personal connections or at CLUB PIEL that’s on Instagram. If you’re curious to learn more about the brand go to CLUB PIEL.com. The products are only available in Costa Rica right now. We’ve only launched six months ago. So far, we’re only focusing on Costa Rica, but we do have plans to expand to other Latin American countries very soon.

I hope you enjoyed the podcast. We will have more interviews with amazing Latinx leaders the first Tuesday of every month. Check out our website Latinx In Power to hear more. Don’t forget to share comments and feedback, always with kindness. See you soon.

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Thaisa Fernandes

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings