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Stronger Together: Why Two Entrepreneurs Joined Forces

Founding and running any kind of small business can be an uphill battle. However, founding two small businesses while also maintaining a consistent vision and authentic relationships with clients can seem downright unrealistic. From total strangers to partners in two international business ventures, this next story can teach us all about finding success in unexpected places.

Natasha Pongonis, a native Argentinean, along with her business partner Eric Diaz, a second-generation Peruvian, are leading an agency — Nativa — that has become a great influencer and leader in the digital media multicultural marketing space.

Recently, Natasha and Eric gave the Nationwide Business Solutions Center podcast series a chance to listen to their story. In this episode, they share some experiences on building Nativa from scratch, selecting a business partner and securing possible funding strategies for small businesses.

Joining Forces

Individually, both Natasha and Eric had entrepreneurial aspirations, but it wasn’t until 2010 when a chance meeting revealed a new opportunity. The foundation for a great partnership was laid when both attended a local networking event in Columbus, Ohio.

After some meetings and discussion, it was obvious that they both shared the same passion and vision of running a business. More importantly, however, they recognized an underserved segment within the digital space in helping brands connect with Hispanic markets.

“We wanted to serve as a ‘cultural center of excellence’ when helping brands connect with minority communities, without watering down messaging or warping a company’s intent,” Natasha says.

Offering full-scale marketing services as a small business can have its challenges. One person can rarely complete every task and assignment themselves. Managing a budget and client relationships while also producing customized marketing plans and messaging can be a handful. Having the perfect partner for your business is imperative to juggling the workload. But how do you select an ideal business partner? Natasha believes it’s all about complementary parts.

“One of the factors that worked in our favor is the fact that we complement each other,” Natasha says. “While one is detail oriented, the other is a big picture thinker. One has a strong finance background, the other brings years of communication experience. We advise business owners to choose wisely the right partner, not only because you may have a strong friendship with someone... Instead, business owners must identify someone that would complement their experience, training and skills, as well as someone that shares the same passion, vision and dedication.”

The partnership has paid dividends and allows the duo to divide and conquer any project they take on. Their dynamic partnership has expanded Nativa from just one office in Columbus to a second office in Phoenix in 2011.

The awards and milestones that followed have landed them opportunities to work on national campaigns with prominent brands and organizations, including Kroger Pharmacy, Henkel Corp., Charmin and Fox Broadcasting Company.

Investor vs. Self-Funding

Great ideas and a dynamic partnership are not the only things needed to begin a startup of your own. You will need some capital to back your venture. Some startup founders may seek out various private investor options, while many decide to go it alone.

Startup founders often have two main strategies to acquire funding:

  • Debt financing refers to taking out loans and paying them back at specific interest rates. You retain profits and control if your business succeeds.
  • Equity financing refers to selling shares or ownership in your startup. You owe less money, but you won't be the only one profiting upon success because your investors or part-owners will split it with you.

It's up to you to decide whether you want to seek outside financing or use your own money. Remember to get it in writing regardless of which route you take. Natasha and Eric decided to go the self-funded or “bootstrapping” route to help grow their business initially. As time progressed and they took on more clients and responsibilities, they constantly analyzed their financial needs.

“There is a stigma in the Latino community against taking on debt of any kind,” Natasha says. “When we were considering all our options, we decided to fund ourselves because our operation was so grassroots at the beginning. It was a more hands-on approach that we could handle. But, I wouldn’t go as far to say this is the best method for everyone. Every business is different.”

Using your own money doesn't take away the need to have a solid business plan and contingency plan in place. Any business plan enables you to see your specific needs and determine how much money is needed. It also gives you legitimacy when approaching banks or other lenders. You also want to make sure you can turn your idea into a business before potentially going into debt.

OYE! Business Intelligence and beyond

Picking a home base for your business is also an important step. What does the address say about your business? If you are targeting a local market, you should ensure that your location reflects the picture that you want to project and the demographic you want to serve.

“Our main office is based in Columbus, Ohio, home to some of the largest corporations in America,” Natasha says. “We were fortunate to have developed strong relations with those organizations. They support diversity, innovation and the growth of small businesses. Columbus has a lower Hispanic population (only 4 percent). That’s why we opened a second location in Phoenix, Arizona (40 percent Hispanic). It was an important match both professionally and demographically. It represented an opportunity to be totally immersed in the community we were serving. Then, in 2015, with the increased buying power among Hispanics and demand of data intelligence among our clients, we developed a proprietary data analytic solution, OYE! Business Intelligence. Business owners must embrace change, find creative and innovative ways to expand, and stay relevant.”

Having multiple locations represents an increase in operational costs, time, management and more overhead. Evaluate if there are additional market demands and what the competition might be like in your new market. Adding additional locations over time may allow you to grow your business by simply replicating your business model across a wider region, much like Natasha and Eric did.

We can’t forget about branding when it comes to potential challenges for new business owners. Branding is a critical area that affects companies every day, and Natasha believes it holds more significance now than ever before.

“Branding involves identifying the right channel of communication and reinventing messaging while still considering market trends,” Natasha says. “The most important thing is to be able to adapt quickly to these kinds of changes and giving yourself the opportunity to find new ways to innovate and work together to continue serving our clients and partners.”