Latina E-Commerce Founder Inspires Women To Take The Entrepreneurial Leap

Diversity isn’t just gender, race, and ethnicity. It’s whether you were born in the US, where you live, your parent’s income status, and where you went to school. Selene Cruz couldn’t be more different than the white men who had the privilege of going to an elite college paid for by their parents. It’s not just that they have savings, family and friends with capital. They have access to networks with connections. 

According to Q4 2020 Pitchbook and NVCA Venture Monitor, while the amount of venture capital raised in 2020 by startups with female founders on the team is at an all-time high—$22.1 billion—the percentage of dollars is down from the record set in 2017—15.2% compared to 12.3% in 2020. Deal count and the proportion of deals going to teams with female founders is down from the peaks set in 2019. 

Black and Latinx women receive a minuscule percentage of venture capital—just 0.64% of venture investment since 2018, according to ProjectDiane 2020. Latinas represent 31% of net new women-owned businesses, according to the American Express 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses.* The percentage is nearly double their share of the female population (17%).

It isn’t just that raising money is challenging for women, especially those of color. Cruz’s biggest struggle was internal. She felt the weight of family responsibility on her shoulders. Was it selfish or even reckless to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams or should she seek a steady paycheck to help her parents? In the end, she leaped, not once but three times. She now wants to inspire other women, Latinx, and immigrants by being a role model. Her path can light the way for others.

“It’s important to highlight those with drive and hustle,” exclaimed Cruz. She was born in Argentina. Her family migrated to Florida and was considered low income. She went to Miami Dade College before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania. 

While still at UPenn, Cruz wanted to start paying back her student loan. She was studying political communication and didn’t see a path to a well-paying job working part-time. Instead, Cruz used her retail skills—she always sold things she made to her classmates—to start a company. In 2014—the year she graduated from school—Cruz launched Archer Brighton, a direct-to-consumer brand that created chic and geek organizer bags and accessories. Back then, it was easy for a small, online brand to gain traction using social media, marketing, and search engine optimization.

As a tech founder, Cruz thought being part of San Francisco’s funding ecosystem would be advantageous. She moved there in 2015. Coming from the political space, not tech, she didn’t know anyone. Networking became the way she met people. 

By 2016, Cruz started thinking about other ways to reach customers. She homed in on the importance of community. As a home-based e-commerce business, “I wished there was a place that I could work with people in my industry,” she said. Cruz wanted to collaborate on products, marketing, and share a retail location. The idea formed the foundation for what would become Re:store—a retail-as-a-service platform that provides retail and community physical space, plus turnkey placement with a proprietary dashboard, giving real-time visibility to automate merchandising, buying, and logistics. 

At a networking event, she met someone involved in Female Founders Office Hours, now called All Raise. Up until then she had no luck meeting venture capitalists and angel investors. “This was a time when people were really fed up with the lack of resources female founders had,” emphasized Cruz. “The group started holding office hours. I believe I was one of the first to go through the program.” 

Cruz learned what kind of capital was right to achieve her vision for Re:store, what VCs look for in a startup’s business model, how to put together a top-notch pitch deck, and the language of venture capitalists. “When you take venture capital, there’s an expectation that you’re going to grow fast,” she emphasized. “You have people [your investors] that you have to answer to.” With Archer Brighton, Cruz’s her first company, she is the boss.

“Through their [All Raise’s] referrals, I met my investors and raised $1.7 million in preseed in 2018,” Cruz said. Investors include Sequoia Capital’s Jess Lee, South Park Commons’ Ruchi Sanghvi, XFactor Ventures’ Jessica Mah, and Lightspeed Ventures’ Jana Messerschmidt. The company launched in 2019. Cruz is one of 90 Latinx women who have raised more than $1 million, according to ProjectDiane 2020.

Covid-19 was an inflection point. To grow, Re:store needed more storefronts in more markets. That’s an expensive proposition with social distancing orders, which reduced foot-traffic. It required raising more money. Instead, she chose to be acquired by B8ta. B8ta is in multiple markets, and it wanted to expand into selling fashion and lifestyle brands. 

San Francisco was the first city in the US to go into lockdown. So many local small businesses were hurting, but Cruz knew she would be okay. Her company was funded and was going through acquisition talks. She wanted to help those who weren’t as lucky. Many local businesses didn’t have websites or weren’t effective at driving business. How could she help them create an effective online presence quickly and easily? 

To give back, she started live streaming events in which San Francisco local business owners highlight their merchandise. Shoppers attend virtual events, learn about products and services, and get their questions answered. Events are archived in a virtual neighborhood where anyone can check them out. Videos are great for social media and search engine optimization. It’s a great discovery platform. 

“What started as a side project is getting serious,” said Cruz. Through word of mouth, retail stores in Los Angeles and New York are on the waitlist to join. She’s now testing this as a bigger idea—a discovery channel for local small businesses—called KnocknockTV. “We’ll be opening it up for everyone to use anywhere this year.”

What’s your idea for a business?

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