Interview with Alejandro Russo of Candela Mamajuana Spiced Rum 0

What was the first business you started?

I’ve been hustling and selling things since I was a kid! I’d be slinging chocolate bars outside of Publix at age six and doing odd jobs throughout high school.

In college, I would organize parties. I did pretty well until I had a massive failure. That’s when I started my first company, together with a close friend. It was called SoyGourmet, and it was Chile’s version of Yelp. It blew up and topped app store charts many times. It was a lot of fun.

What is your background, and did it help you get where you are today?

I come from a very entrepreneurial family. My mom, especially, always encouraged me to apply myself and make my own way. 

Also, I studied finance and economics, which are definitely related to running a business, but in practice, have less of an impact than the actual work I’ve had to do over the years. You can study all you want and fill your wall with diplomas, but nothing beats real-world experience.

How did the idea for your current business come about?

I was on vacation in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, having drinks at the glorious swim-up bar at the resort I was staying at. That’s where I had my first shot of mamajuana, and boom, I was hooked. I guess you could call it ‘the shot that changed my life!’

What was your key driving force in becoming an entrepreneur?

I grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs; some became incredibly successful, others not so much. Growing up watching the highs and lows of building your own business was incredibly inspiring and humbling. From a very young age, I realized I wanted to create something otherworldly, even if it meant going through some difficult moments. I guess when you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have a choice; building your own reality is something that you simply have to do.

Did you raise funding for your business or bootstrap it?

Initially, Candela Mamajuana was all bootstrapped between my mother and me. We barely had money to do anything, but we made it work. Once the business was in a better place and ready to scale, we raised money from a couple of VCs.

How did you build a successful customer base?

In our case, it was about having an excellent product, getting as many people as possible to taste it, and spread the word organically. We couldn’t just be a little bit better than the other mamajuana rums out there. We decided we had to be at least 10x better to make this work. 

Which marketing tactics have been the most successful for you?

We’re a pretty small brand, so we don’t have the budgets that our competitors do! That means we have to excel in ways they can’t. Our strategy consists of getting liquid to lips – making tastings as accessible as they can be is what it’s all about. For now, it’s mostly been the product speaking for itself and then spreading through word of mouth.

Our product is unique in the sense that it provides a much smoother rum that stands apart from any other bottle on the shelf. We’re big on getting the product in front of new audiences through tastings and also through our hotels in the Dominican Republic, where thousands of people try Candela every day!

What kind of culture exists in your organization, and how did you establish it?

We’re a small team but very driven and hungry. We dream big, set ambitious goals, and then work very hard to accomplish them. Our culture is open and transparent; there’s no room for BS. If you screw up, you recognize it immediately and solve it as fast as possible. We don’t waste time thinking about the should’ve or would’ve. We’re focused on moving forward at a fast pace and with no distractions. We’re also very lean and efficient. We try to get a lot done with very little.

Can you describe/outline your typical day?

I usually get up around 6 am and then go to the gym. After that, I love waking up my baby and playing with her for a bit! Then, I’ll start working around 8 am. I’ll spend the morning working on pure execution and not too much planning or high-level thinking. After a quick lunch, I’ll dedicate a bit more time to meetings, ideas, and thoughts. At around 8 pm, my wife and I will cook dinner and spend some family time.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

How do you generate new ideas?

The best ideas come after you’ve been exposed to different stimuli, then your brain magically blends these things into a new idea. It’s important to get out, experience different things, and always be receptive to new ideas, concepts, and ways of doing things. The brain can get used to the same things very quickly! So make sure you’re always challenging your mind.

How do you define success?

Success to me goes beyond money, fame, or status. To me, success means reaching your full potential, in whatever you decide to do. If you decide to be a full-time mom, then you’re a success if you’ve been the best mom you can be. If you’re starting a business, you’re a success if you’ve developed that concept to its full potential. 

When you’re old, and you look back, you want to say “I gave it my all. I really squeezed every drop out of that lemon”.

Do you believe there is a pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

I’m not sure if there’s a pattern about what makes a successful entrepreneur. What I can say with confidence is that if you don’t work hard, you will fail 100% guaranteed.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

The freedom to develop ideas into reality. I love owning my success and also owning my failures. It’s frustrating when you fail because your boss or colleague screwed things up, not you. Being an entrepreneur means you are ultimately responsible for the success of your business. It doesn’t matter what happens; it’s all you in the end.

What is a favorite quote from an entrepreneur that has inspired you?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.

“I shall find a way or make one.”

“Who dares, wins.”

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

Just jump in. Find an opportunity you like and dive in head first. Don’t do things half way. Don’t overthink things either. You probably won’t know many of the answers and you will certainly make a bunch of mistakes. The earlier you start, the faster you will get to success.

What is next? Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?

It doesn’t matter if it’s next year or ten years from now: I’ll be working non-stop, taking my business to the next level, developing generating ideas into reality, and having fun.

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