Entrepreneur Profile - Alejandro Ramirez - Founder, Fiesta Ziesta
By Lamin TurayThe dictionary defines the word handmade as, "Made by hand not by machine, and typically therefore of superior quality." This is not only one of the unique aspects of Alejandro Ramirez's company's products, but also of himself as an entrepreneur. Alejandro's life journey has made him into the entrepreneur who he is today. From learning the ins and outs of the lifestyle product industry at large corporations, to spending time studying international business in foreign countries, he has tread a positive path toward creating something of his own. Now, as the Founder of Fiesta Ziesta, a lifestyle goods company, he continues to follow that path and drive his company toward an admirable purpose for all those involved. I recently spoke with Alejandro about how his journey began and what sets his company apart from all the other lifestyle brands out there. Here's what he had to say...What does your company Fiesta Ziesta do, and what problem do you solve?We manufacture handmade beach blankets, ponchos, and dog collars. All of our products are individually crafted by local artisans in Mexico. The problem that we solve for our customers is providing quality goods for the beach and outdoor lifestyle market. That lifestyle in particular, is ripe for disruption. We wish to inject commodities and accessories that possess really well crafted design, and that are sourced from skilled craftsman. That's the motivation behind the beach blankets, ponchos, and dog collars we provide.Our artisans are located in various locations across Mexico. Some of them are from Oaxaca, some are from Chiapas, and others are located in multiple areas of South Mexico. Each of them have specific skills. Some will manufacture the beach blankets, while others create our ponchos and dog collars.What is unique about your approach to business that has made you a successful entrepreneur?I originally came up with the idea for Fiesta Ziesta while thinking about the products that I was constantly using when I traveled in Mexico and around the world. They were something very natural that I would consistently have with me. When I used to go surfing I’d carry a beach blanket, and maybe a hammock as well. I’d also have a collar for my dog. At night I’d always whip out my Mexican poncho to keep me warm while near the ocean breeze. I thought about developing a brand that provided the same lifestyle I had grown accustomed to, while offering purpose-built products. I wanted to make sure the products were being created by skilled artisans, from sustainably sourced materials, and that they were of the highest level of quality.In school I studied International business, and worked for many years with different brands at their retail locations. In the early days of my professional career I worked for electronics companies like IBM and Siemens, where I gained a lot of experience in planning, buying, production, and sourcing. I also worked for Quiksilver, and for a friend of mine’s company called Everyday California. I was highly valued there due to being bilingual. That was great experience, and also drove me to want to start my own business.After gaining that experience how did you get your initial start with entrepreneurship?When I was younger I always wanted to work for a big corporation in order to gain experience, learn business curriculum, and use that as a solid reference. However, in my late twenties I felt like it was time to get back into school and gain another degree so that I could leverage that knowledge and use it in starting something of my own. It’s been two years since I began, and i still feel like I’m learning everyday.Before I started my own brand I had moved to San Diego to support my friend in building his company, Everyday California. Working for another company, making good money, and being in that corporate environment is starkly different than entrepreneurship. I’m currently doing most everything on my own with the help of a very small team now. You learn a lot, you sacrifice a lot, and you work even harder when it’s your own. I think it’s something that will pay off, but I have to remain patient.Describe why you decided to create this type of company and not something else?I always wanted to live close to the ocean, and I’ve always used these types of products when I venture out to the beach or just going on outdoor adventures. So it’s kind of always been in my mind that I should create a brand, and live the dream! (laughs). That’s what I’m attempting to do. I love the products. They’re something that have been in my family and my background. They’re something very natural that I use everyday.I decided that I should create my own brand and produces the same products that I use in my personal experiences. The goal is to make products that are better than what’s currently available in the market.Another factor was the fact that I studied International Business while in an undergraduate program in Mexico, and that Mexico and The United States have a free trade agreement. I also learned a lot more while pursuing my master’s degree at a university in Sydney, Australia. The information I absorbed from those activities are things that crossed my mind when developing the idea for the company, and that motivated me to get started.
Has travel affected the way you go about your business?
Yes! I think that through traveling and working with people in other countries or from other cultures you learn a whole lot. Creating a brand that encompasses elements of my own culture and nature has been made a lot easier knowing that I’ve experienced various differing cultures across the globe. It’s something inspired by my experiences traveling, the interesting individuals that I’ve come across, and products that I’ve enjoyed using.
Traveling and being exposed to different beach scenes in the United States, Mexico, and Australia I’ve seen a lot of beach and outdoor lifestyle products. One of the things I noticed upon returning home was a market opportunity to create a brand that brings all of these products together under a quality banner. I saw a lot of beach blankets with no brand, or beach blankets from Mexico that were cheaply made with poor materials. There needed to be a brand that people could rely on for well-made goods. So I came up with that brand.
How has pursuing your entrepreneurial journey changed your life?
It’s changed a whole lot! I fell at the beginning when I was getting my start. It felt like I was pushing the “reset” button on my life. A lot of sacrifices were made. Especially when it came to budget. You learn a lot. I’ve met, and I’m still meeting a lot of people. It’s all part of the process. You absolutely have to work hard, and be busy. I’ll add that you should work smart, and be patient as well. Those things will keep you in the game. I know that all of the hard work will pay off. It’s been two year so far. We’re getting better and better everyday. Keeping yourself motivated I think is one of the biggest challenges all entrepreneurs face. You are your own boss and must be positive and motivate yourself every single day...no matter what!
What initial challenges did you face in going from a safe and secure corporate job into starting your own company?
Capitol was an issue at first. I used my savings and had to acquire a family loan as well. You’re usually limited when you first start out. Before, when I was working for other people, I had a steady and consistent income. I knew how much I could spend and on what. Now it’s much more defined and budget-based. That’s one of the more explicit challenges up front. It’s one of the reasons that I’m developing a Kickstarter campaign for my products.
All that said, I believe it’s (Fiesta Ziesta) going to be a successful business, and the Kickstarter campaign will be a successful project. Once it all starts to pay back in beneficial ways it will all be worth the effort. It will be even better than the safe route of being an employee.
When I worked for other corporations like IBM Computers and Siemens Electronics I didn't feel like the scenario I was meant to be in. I saw how they’d fire some of their older employees, people in their 50’s or 60’s, to make room for younger, less-expensive workers. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be like these guys.” That also pushed me to start my own business, and to offer opportunities to a diverse workforce.
What’s something unique about you as an entrepreneur that you wish more people knew?
That’s an interesting question. I think it’s a combination of my cultural background, the companies where I’ve worked, and the way I go about accomplishing tasks. I’m pretty organized and a hard worker. When it’s time to work I work, and when it’s time to party and be with friends I know how to manage that balance. I know how to manage my time and budgets effectively as well. That's a crucial component of running your own business.
My skills, background, experience, travels, being bilingual, and my attention to detail all help to create my superpower. I’m very involved in all facets of my business. I work close with our artisans and explain how we can make products better. I sit down with them and map out designs. That’s something which is very fulfilling as the business owner. Getting involved and working with everyone in the company is a must for me. I know that’s not so common. Some people like to be more hands-off and delegate, but that’s just not me. I need to be incorporated in all of the challenges and business channels at Fiesta Ziesta.
How have you overcome adversity in being an entrepreneur?
I’m not afraid to raise my hand and ask for help. I also ask for advice and feedback from friends who have their own business. I go to meetups as well. Within all of these methods is the ability to listen to other people and learn about their experiences as well as their failures. I am able to absorb that information and use it help grow my own company. I don’t like to be quiet when things are not working. I like to share what’s going on, learn from the current state of things, and move forward.
What’s some of the best advice you have received about entrepreneurship?
Be patient, work hard and smart, talk to others and learn from them, read a lot, and watch a lot of videos. Always be learning. Something that I see as the most important thing is to believe in yourself and in your dream. If you don’t believe in yourself you’re screwed. You have to have a stubbornness that drives you to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Those are some things that I’ve come to understand, and I’m always trying to keep them in mind. I meditate everyday, and remain strong.
You also have to motivate yourself as the leader of your business. You have to be the one who is showing strength to your employees and partners. You also need to maintain a positive outlook in order to make it all happen. Even when it seems like it’s not going be the greatest of days, you still want to exude positivity. It takes time to learn all of these things as well. I’ve been told many times that it takes a lot of time to develop your entrepreneurial skills, and it’s true. You need to be patient and enjoy the journey. That’s what I try to do. Take it day-by-day and step-by-step.
How do you maintain your industry knowledge and self-educate?
I like to go to meetups. I like to go to trade shows. Sometimes I’ll meet with people who work in the companies that I used to work in, and I’ll listen to what they have to say about what’s going on at these large corporations. I like to know what’s going on at the large department stores as well. What are they selling, who are they partnering with and why.
Reading is also very important. I like to read the newspaper or relevant articles on the internet. I always want to know what’s going on in the industry. What are my competitors doing to get ahead? I need to know these things to have a pulse on my space.
What does the future hold for you as an entrepreneur? Where are you focusing your energy moving forward?
Right now most of my passion and energy is focused on the project that is Fiesta Ziesta. I want to make it happen! To help it grow and bring more people on board. Hiring more artisans and generating enough demand for my artisans to maintain full-time work for this company. We’ll continue to create products that are handmade and support the artisans that we source from. Eventually we’ll be donating ten percent of our net profits toward education opportunities for the artisans that we partner with. They help us develop our brand and our products, so we should be able to help them grow and prosper outside of just pay for their labor. It’s a worthy cause that I choose to champion.
The world is changing. More people are thinking about corporate social responsibility. Things like global warming, sustainable materials and jobs, and fair labor practices are all prominent issues. I want my company to represent a brilliant example of how things should be done.
What’s the best advice you can offer to someone who wants to build a brand like Fiesta Ziesta?
First you need to gain some experience. Work for a couple or a few companies in your industry of choice. Learn the ins and outs of how these larger companies operate. Once you have a base understanding of business, do not hesitate to chase your dream. You have to try it at least. It doesn’t matter if you’re successful or not. You’re going to learn, you're going to get experience, you’re going to get some great contacts. You HAVE to try! Otherwise you’re going to grow old and be filled with regret, thinking about what could have been if you had tried. If you try and it doesn’t work out at least you can say that you learned how not to do it. Believe, try, and work as much as you can.
Where can we find and follow you?
I'd would like to thank Alejandro for sharing his story of entrepreneurship with us. It's refreshing to hear from a purpose-driven founder with a meaningful cause that will affect both his business partners and customer following in a positive way. Do you have any questions or feedback for Alejandro? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!