Not only do we celebrate Mother’s Day in May, but now, President Joe Biden has declared the week of May 1-7, National Small Business Week, so we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate both moms and small business owners than to showcase one of our favorite Latina mompreneurs. We had the chance to connect with Mexican American Nopalera founder, Sandra Velasquez, and got to pick her brain about what it’s like to be a busy mom and entrepreneur, and her journey is truly inspiring. She went from corporate sales manager and part-time musician to the founder and CEO of one of the most beloved new Latina-owned skincare brands. Her story is proof that no matter where you are in your career, no matter your age, no matter if you have kids or not, you have the power to live out your dreams. Velasquez, who has a 14-year-old daughter, launched Nopalera in 2020 amid the pandemic and while she’s faced struggles, she’s also found success.
“The idea for creating this brand was a step into self-responsibility for me,” Velasquez says. For years, she had focused most of her attention on the success of her Latin Alternative band, Pistolera, while holding down a day job as a sales distribution manager for various food and beverage brands. “However, income from music is inconsistent and I found myself with no savings and a child at the age of 43, and realized the only way my financial situation was going to change was if I changed it.”
Velasquez studied music at the California Institute of the Arts and is able to use her talent, skill, and passion to write songs in Spanish that helped her “celebrate and elevate” her culture. She’s been quite successful too, with several albums under her belt, as well as tours with big-name acts including Los Lobos and Lila Downs.
With her next venture, Velasquez hoped to continue to uplift and honor her heritage. “I started Nopalera on November 2, 2020, to coincide with the Mexican holiday, Dia De Muertos, signaling our commitment to celebrating Mexican culture and the wisdom and resilience of our ancestors.”
“I knew that I had the authentic story to be the leader of this brand. I created this brand to celebrate my culture,” she shares. “Celebrating our culture and changing the cultural perception of the value of Latino goods in the marketplace is my mission.”
Getting to that point though, presented a challenge we’ve heard all too often from Latinx entrepreneurs: securing funding. At this point, she had no personal savings. She had vision and determination though, and step by step she worked to create her product line which includes a range of cactus-based (nopal), soaps, exfoliants, and moisturizers. They are all made by hand using clean ingredients, and free of synthetic dyes and fragrances.
“Once I gained traction and had sales history, the lenders started knocking,” Velasquez recalls. Nopalera is now sold at high-end retailers including Nordstrom, Credo Beauty, Free People, and Whole Foods. While Velasquez knows how significant that is, she’s most proud of the community that supports Nopalera. “I have letters from customers and other founders thanking me for building this brand and [saying] that it makes them feel proud,” she explains. “Even though we are a bootstrapped brand and always searching for funding, we have succeeded in our mission.”
In just two years, Velasquez has changed careers, launched her own business, and experienced incredible success all while raising a child. But, Velasquez, likes to keep it real. She tells us she doesn’t think that achieving balance as a mom and business owner is totally possible. Instead, she focuses on prioritizing and outsourcing what she can.
“I outsource my laundry and meal prep and I have an executive assistant to manage my calendar and email inbox. As the CEO, I need to focus on building the brand, looking at the money, and preparing for next year. My recommendation to all entrepreneurs out there is to hire help. You cannot build an empire and run a household alone.”
But you can’t outsource parenting, and one of Velasquez’s biggest daily challenges is the constant interruptions from her daughter, as anyone who works from home these days can likely relate to. Everything gets put on hold when our kids need us, and that can definitely put a damper on workflow. “I get texts from my daughter about how she needs me to order her something on Amazon. Or I get a call from the school that she is sick. Luckily, my daughter is a teenager so I don’t have to deal with childcare anymore. I don’t miss those days!” Velasquez says. But, she’s also proud of the example she’s setting for her daughter.
“As a mother, I know my child is learning by watching me be me. I want her to see that with dedication and persistence, you can build something out of nothing,” she says, adding that she wants her daughter to know that it’s possible to change your life at any time.
“I hope that my daughter thinks entrepreneurship is normal. Nobody in my family was an entrepreneur. I had no role models.” She also has a message for other Latinas like her, who need to make a change, but don’t know where, how, or even when, to begin.
“There is never a good time. You will never have enough money to start. You either want to do this or you don’t,” Velasquez says. “If you are comfortable in your life then there is no incentive to take a risk and aim higher. I became an entrepreneur because it was do or die. I did not start this brand to be cute or because I thought it would be easy and fun. I started it to change my financial future and for my family.”
Being honest with yourself about your future is a great first step. Motivation is key, but you also have to believe in yourself just like Velasquez did. She wants us all to know that we have the power to change our circumstances for the better and that we don’t have to stay in negative, toxic, dangerous, or unhappy situations.
“On a bigger level, what I want is for more women to have the financial option to leave. Leave the bad job. Leave the crappy apartment. Leave the bad relationship,” she says. “I haven’t always had that option and stayed in bad situations too long. The more women I can inspire to become entrepreneurs and take control of their financial future, the better.”