In an industry—event planning services—that was rocked to its core by Covid-19, Kim Gamez finds satisfaction in having an exit. After Mi Padrino shrank during the pandemic, the startup didn’t have the exponential exit she and her investors had hoped for; nonetheless, it had one that was good enough. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The company’s value was its large Latina user base, social media following, and trusted reputation.
In 2015, when Gamez and her husband were asked to be padrinos for their niece’s quinceañera, they were delighted. In Latin America, padrinos sponsor different aspects of a celebration, including the dress, venue, music, and cake.
Quinceañeras celebrate a girl’s 15th birthday and transition from childhood to adulthood. “It isn’t done because of the financial status of a family but because the community is honoring the person being celebrated,” said Gamez.
A padrino may also take on the role of organizing the gifts, which was the case for Gamez. “It’s a beautiful part of [her husband’s Mexican] culture, but I hated the process. At the time, there was nothing that organized the process.
Gamez saw a hole in the market she could fill by organizing the gift-giving process online. PayPal, Venmo, and Facebook could be used to give cash gifts, so she focused elsewhere.
There was an untapped opportunity to connect gift givers to the gift manufacturers. She used a dropship model that enabled wholesalers and artists to sell their wares without going through distributors. The sellers were responsible for fulfilling the orders. I first wrote about Mi Padrino and its business model in 2019.
Later, Mi Padrino enabled vendors like DJs, musicians, photographers, and venues, among others, to advertise their services.
Mi Padrino grew from 50,000 users in the first year to millions of users before the pandemic. It had a significant social media following, too.
When the pandemic struck, events stopped. The company pivoted.
One of Mi Padrino’s manufacturers started making masks. Mi Padrino facilitated schools’ and health systems’ purchase of them at no cost. Later, it built a website to sell masks to make money. The masks helped sustain them through the summer of 2020, then everyone got into the mask game.
By the winter of 2021, Gamez laid off 17 of her 20 employees. However, she knew she had something of value to any company that wanted to break into the Latina market. “Mi Padrino was considered a trusted brand,” she said. “We had millions of users and a huge social media following.”
Gamez was introduced to Queenly, a marketplace for formal wear for women of all ages and sizes. Andreessen Horowitz is among its investors. “It [Mi Padrino] is a great fit for them,” Gamez said. “And it was great timing for us,”.
“It wasn’t the exit everyone wanted, but it was an exit,” said Gamez. Mi Padrino’s investors included Astia Angels, Chloe Capital, Invest in Detroit, Invest in Michigan, Portfolia, and Texas HALO.
During the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, Gamez grew her reputation as a thought leader and parlayed that into a job as the head of digital marketing at David’s Bridal. She started as a consultant and impressed them with her ideas on how to build organic traffic.
Gamez is also leveraging her startup experience as Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Her advice to startup founders who are raising money during the current venture capital downturn:
- Focus: “Don’t boil the ocean,” she said. Mi Padrino didn’t use off-the-shelf software. Instead, it built different systems for the three lines of business and had to maintain them all. It was a lot for a small team.
- Grow slower: Discover what customers want rather than relying on assumptions. Even if they’re built using Excel spreadsheets, test concepts.
- The proof is in the pudding: Before raising venture capital, show that the company can generate revenue.
What lessons have you learned by navigating through the pandemic?