Latinx In Power
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Latinx In Power

Making History in the Gaming Industry

Based on an episode with Carolina Acosta 🇨🇴🇩🇴

We talked with Carolina Acosta (she/her), a Latina entrepreneur from Queens NY with a background in graphic design. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design. Carolina launched a game dedicated to Latinos and she’s making history in the process since the gaming industry is overwhelmingly white, cisgender, male-dominated, and often overlooks people of color and women.

In this episode we’ll talk more about entrepreneurship. This year we have been enjoying learning from other Latinx entrepreneurs. We hope this conversation can inspire other folks that are also thinking about entrepreneurship and don’t know how to start.

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What does it mean to be a Latina for you?

I love this question, because for me, the term ‘Latina’ has changed a lot throughout my life and just thinking about how I used to be when I was younger, my mom used to call me “La Americana,” The American, because I stopped speaking Spanish at an early age. I felt all the kids in school would speak English, and speaking Spanish wasn’t really something I wanted to do anymore. I was like, “No, we’re in America, mom. We’ve got to speak English.” It’s horrible thinking about it now but I’m really happy that I can still speak Spanish, more or less.

When I was growing up, I thought being Latina meant looking perfect all the time with your hair done, your nails done, big hoop earrings, and being very feminine and bossy because that’s how the women in my family were. Reconnecting with my culture through Tragos is the first time that I feel I don’t have to be any of those things. I particularly enjoy it now as a grownup to have that Latina feminine power. But what I love the most about it is feeling I can connect to multiple cultures and really connect with multiple people as well in different places. So, having that sense of community through my culture is amazing, and being able to just enjoy it and be able to identify with it despite any other person’s definition of the word ‘Latina.’

Of course, Latinx on TV and movies is a huge thing. It’s a stereotype but the more that you meet people and the more you grow, you’re like, “Okay, well, there’s the nerdy Latina. There’s the Goth Latina.” There’s so many different kinds of people, don’t try to bucket up into different labels, but you can be all of those things in one, but it doesn’t really make you any less Latina, even if you don’t speak Spanish as well.

How does everything start in your life?

I would say the journey started with the last full-time job that I had. This was straight out of college. I graduated majoring in graphic design and looking for work in the digital space. The first place I had worked at was a startup and I quickly grew through the ranks, I’d say, working really close with a small team and doing a lot of design and project management. After four years, it became very overwhelming. It was around the time that my aunt actually invited me to Colombia for the first time. I went to Colombia, I visited there, and it was just amazing. I love traveling, period, but it was the first time in South America and my mother’s country, and I wanted to go back right away. That was one thing I knew that I wanted to do.

Then, came an opportunity when it was just advertised to me this program that allowed me to travel working remotely for four months. I decided to go for it. I spoke with the recruiter and they said, “When do you want to start? Because in two months, you could be living in South America for four months.” I thought, “Whoa, that’s very quick. I don’t know.” They said, “Do it now or else you might not get the chance later on.” I convinced my company to let me go do this, and it was the best decision I ever made in my life, because I was able to see my culture firsthand, living there. I lived in Peru for one month, Colombia for two months, and Mexico for the last month.

It was so much fun. Any way that you can do that in the future, some type of traveling abroad for a bit of time, I so recommend it. That’s actually how I met my business partner who came up with the idea for Tragos. The first game that we actually came up with, we had come back to the US after our travels, I decided I didn’t want to work in my company anymore. So, I was freelancing and he came up to me with the idea like, “Oh, well, what do you think about a cultural game?” because we had really connected through our cultures. He’s actually Korean American, and I said, “I love the idea, we have to do it. But then if we’re doing it, we have to do it for Latinos.” So, we both worked on the product together, the branding, the website, and when we released the Asian game, which is called AZN Flush, then we immediately went to work on the Hispanic game, which ended up being Tragos.

In 2019, with zero investors and just $500, you launched the game, Tragos. Can you share more with us what the game is about?

The game mechanics are very easy. You play with a bunch of friends, on your turn, you pick up a card, and the card will tell you basically what to do. Those are the instructions. The cards contain all Latino references that have something to do with mainly growing up Latino in the US, because I guess that’s my experience, but it does extend internationally, we’ve noticed. One example would be, if you still have to greet everyone individually when you walk into the room, take three sips. It is a drinking game, so you could play with or without alcohol. It’s usually something that the adults lean towards. But we have sometimes played with our family, just making sure that it’s with juice or coffee or things like that.

It’s very exciting. It’s created for a party culture, because that’s something that I felt I wanted to play myself when the concept came up. The idea for the game is very simple. There’s also different cards that contain categories or group trivia. There are references that relate to Latino pop culture. There’s things related to Selena, Walter Mercado, for example. It’s just an homage to how I grew up and the part of culture that I felt close with all my life. Despite that separation, it was always like that. Those people, those references, the TV music that I felt I could connect with. And then, of course, the crazy family that everybody has.

We definitely had a spike in sales during quarantine, which we did not think, we were like, “Oh, gosh, that’s it. It’s the end of our business.” The complete opposite happened, because, yeah, people, I guess, were bored of doing the same things at home or just being stuck on their screens all the time. So, that is also a beautiful thing about physical games, which I see more now, now that I’m in the industry. But before, it was always just something that I liked. But it is an industry that is 100% growing year over year. So, it’s an exciting time to be in it, especially because there are a lot of cultural games out there.

You created Tragos for Latinos and Latinas, and also you wanted to question our traditions serving as a reminder to the mainstream that Latinos shouldn’t be a market afterthought.

Being in this space now, and speaking to more people, especially within Latin America, you start to realize, “Okay, who can connect? Who relates to this? Who doesn’t?” Something that we’ve tried to really do with the game, is try to make it appeal to all. I think there is definitely room for Tragos to explore more deeply within cultures too. And that’s something that we also try to find a balance because sometimes people are like, “Oh, when are you going to come out with our country pack?”, the point is to unite everybody because we don’t want that type of segregation, especially now in the US with trying to, I guess, find our voice or be heard, it’s better to be united than divided.

We’re constantly thinking about how we position it as a celebration of each individual country as opposed to, “No, we are Mexican,” or, “No, we are Peruvian or Colombian.” So, it’s something interesting that is always a topic of conversation for our team. A lot of our cards have mixed cultures in them. So, there are cards that definitely pertain more to Caribbean culture, other ones that are definitely more Mexican. And it’s fun to kind of see people be like, “What is that? I’ve never heard of that.” And then, they immediately turn to Google, like, “Oh, okay. That’s what the card is.” And sometimes it’s like, “Oh, we call it this,” or, “Oh, I never heard of that. I just learned it.” So, it is a fun, educational experience.

Your startup has grown 224% since it launched in 2019. Also, you donated more than $20,000 under a year for charities in need. I’m wondering what advice would you give to other folks that want to become an entrepreneur?

I’ve actually gone through quite a few phases. I’m calling myself an accidental entrepreneur, it’s a term that we’re all using, where you don’t really try to be, ends up happening that way. A lot of it has just been learning as you go, a lot of mistakes made, lessons learned. I would say that for anyone that’s aspiring to be it, the fact that you even want to be it is already like something that says a lot about your character. This is probably going to change, like every month. It’s just a different mindset, and a lot of things that I’m learning.

I think to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to have two things, vision and the ability to delegate. I’ve had the vision from the beginning, and I’m a terrible delegator. What I’m trying to work on now, and I think having the right team with you and understanding, what is it that you want to accomplish at the end of the day, or the quarter of the year, and long term is also going to help feed your decision making every single day because it’s a lot of decision making. And a lot of things that if you don’t know it, you have to learn immediately. So, it’s like a gift that I’m in this position. It’s not easy to say the least, but it’s also something that anyone that doesn’t want to can’t do it, definitely go for it, especially if you have an idea that you’re passionate about.

For the most part that is definitely something that I’ve noticed, isn’t really a thing, until recently, I think just even our generation has just felt like our parents, as immigrants told us, “Go out there and get a job that’s stable, and that’s it, because I brought you to this country to have a decent life and for you to be risking it and doing something like this is like unheard of almost.” Now that we’re shifting that story and showing and having more successful stories, I think the kids that are coming after us might see it as more of a possibility for sure. We have to break those stereotypes, those barriers of what the media says about us or what other people think or even what our parents think, because then we’re just putting ourselves in a box and not really being able to explore whatever it is that we might want to do, which wouldn’t necessarily be the 9 to 5 that most people think of when they just think career or their job.

What has changed in your life since you were on Forbes as part of the 30 Under 30?

That still has come as a surprise. It has been a little over half a year since I found out and I still haven’t registered. It’s still something when people mention it, then I remember it because it’s just a shock factor to my life. That is really a big deal, and I should make it more of a big deal in my head. But then I have a hard time just really relishing in it. I think because also at the time, or this year in particular, has been full of so many challenges that, in my head, sometimes I think, “Well, okay, that’s great. But what are we actually going to do to get more jobs here or keep our jobs or expand on the brand and actually scale and do what the whole team wants to do?” We definitely want to scale, but it’s been a tough year, I guess. I don’t want this to come out as ungrateful either. I really value, I guess, things that I can find tangible and actually affect other people more so. When I see people sharing their stories that they play their game, or that they had a great time at somebody’s birthday, or somebody’s wedding, it’s like, “Oh, wow. I can’t believe that I’m actually touching people halfway across the country.” That to me just feels super exciting than like my own merits, if that makes sense.

Which resource helped you in your journey? In this season, we have been enjoying asking folks what helped, and any resource that you want to share.

I am trying to think because there are so many people and, yes, certain books that I’ve read. Well, I’d say absolutely the person that has helped me get here, and I always have to give credit because I don’t know where I would be had I not met them, is John, my business partner. He’s my advisor, but also helps out with Tragos when he can. I think he’s like the Tragos whisperer. Sometimes, I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m thinking about this idea.” And he’ll either say yay or nay. Whenever we’re both excited about an idea, whether he comes up with it, I come up with it, and it actually happens when we really thrive. That’s something that I’m super grateful for.

As far as media, I have to give credit now to the Selena series on Netflix. I did watch it, I didn’t really want to because I know it’s a sad story. I already knew what happened. I grew up with Selena. I remember watching the movie with JLo when I was like four or something. But the series is actually really interesting because, and this is spoiler alert for anybody that hasn’t watched it, towards the end, Selena is seen carrying a huge weight on her shoulders. She’s trying to open up her boutique, her fashion show, her this or that, and setting up her label. She just looks so overwhelmed and tired, but still glamorous. It just made me feel a little better, because I’m like, “Wow,” if she could have done it back then where there’s less technology and less people saying like, “Yeah, women can do it,” that she was doing all this stuff at such a young age. She’s only like 23, then I just feel like I have it super easy. You’ve just got to look up to women like that and be like, “Okay, well stop crying. You can absolutely, 100% get this done.” So, I will leave it at that.

Aside from that, I’m also a big Tim Ferriss fan, I think he’s like a total life hacker. I’m constantly trying to break down the way that I am and try to do everything myself and delegate or make things easier. I really like his books and articles to help streamline my life because I’m still getting there.

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