Vanessa Santos is an award-winning entrepreneur, global brand strategist, business & life coach, and heart-centric speaker with success in transforming mindsets and driving digital innovation. She is a catalyst and thought leader for accelerating culture shift, mindset elevation, and business growth. Vanessa helps founders organize the chaos of their startups, and coaches women to unlock their power in business and in life.
With over 12 years of experience in leadership, product management, business & brand strategy, creative direction, customer experience, and start-ups, Vanessa is regarded as an agent for change. She has been instrumental in horizon planning and future-proofing game-changing businesses. Vanessa has developed innovative products and created impactful global campaigns for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Vanessa coaches women-founded businesses at the pre-seed stage, placing them in a competitive position to raise capital. She helps empower women of color to flourish in their entrepreneurial ventures, career pivots, and to create transformations in their personal lives.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Vanessa Santos: I’m a multi-passionate entrepreneur, investor, life and business coach, motivational speaker, and mom of two fur babies. I have over 16+ years of leadership experience at large multi-national corporations and in the startup space. Throughout my executive journey, I came across many ambitious women who were feeling stuck, needed a mentor, and also wanted much more than working for someone else 9-5. I began to mentor and coach countless women as a gesture of support and to help elevate other women. It wasn’t until reaching burnout in my own career that I recognized I too needed a change. I retired from the corporate world to launch my own consultancy that focuses on supporting ambitious women of color to help them create a life and a business they love.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Vanessa Santos: Entrepreneurship is a choice. A choice to be brave, to pursue the path less traveled, to create your own rules, and have financial freedom. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and you can choose to be an entrepreneur at any stage in life, you just have to want it bad enough to do the things that most people are too afraid to try,
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Vanessa Santos: My entrepreneurship mantra is all about working smart, not hard, leading and creating with empathy and integrity, and owning my quirks. As a Latina, we often feel like we must look, sound, and behave a certain way and I’m all about doing things that feel good to me not doing things based on what is expected of me. I create my own rules and am an entrepreneur and those values guide my behavior.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Vanessa Santos: My consultancy focuses on empowering women of color to create their dream life, to build and launch scalable businesses, and to advise other organizations on branding, product development, and user experience. It began as a mentorship organization and when the pandemic forced many to reevaluate their lives, we expanded as a coaching and advisory organization to nourish both the person behind the brand in addition to the business.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Vanessa Santos: Every entrepreneur must assume that even with a good launch plan, things won’t always go as planned. Learn how to adjust with the circumstances and whenever things don’t go as planned, look at those as opportunities to redirect to something better that you may have not considered in the first place.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Vanessa Santos: I made so many wrong assumptions. During one of my first ventures, I believed that I needed to do it all myself which led to some oversights and things falling through the cracks because building and launching a business requires much more than the product or service you are selling and slapping a pretty logo on it. I recognized that growth is allowing others to help you so that you can focus on the aspects of the business that you are really good at.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Vanessa Santos: Don’t fall for the comparison trap. Competition is everywhere. Competition is not new. What is new is the touch you give to your business and how you execute. Looking to the competition is great for research and to be aware of your industry but it’s not necessarily a measure as to how you should model your business. Have the confidence within yourself and your offering to show up authentically.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Vanessa Santos: That you need to raise a lot of money before launching and that working around the clock will help you build a successful business. I’m a big fan of the lean startup method and I am also a big fan of working intuitively and intentionally. Working around the clock doesn’t necessarily produce big results.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Vanessa Santos: COVID-19 may have forced entrepreneurs to adjust their messaging and how they engage with their customers or potential customers, During this period, digital sales reached an all-time high and consumers have plenty of options to choose from. It no longer mattered how aesthetic your branding looks, it became clear that how you connect with your consumer’s matters much more than the branding. Therefore assuming that running paid ads will convert to customers has drastically changed in the current landscape. What hasn’t changed is the desire for consumers to feel a connection to the brand and this has now become a deciding factor in purchase decisions.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Vanessa Santos: Social media has glamorized entrepreneurship with many “influencers” claiming that it’s so easy to make money. While the opportunities to make money are endless, unless you have created hype for your brand, nurtured your audience, and are clear on how your offering will improve your customers’ lives, you aren’t going to make millions right out the gate. I would recommend entrepreneurs to set strategic goals for their launch, have a marketing strategy in place that focuses beyond the launch phase, and give yourself and your business 6-months of financial runway so that you can focus on cultivating a loyal fan base instead of some quick sales.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Vanessa Santos: Flexibility, adaptability, persistence, and patience. Whether this is your first or third venture, no two businesses will experience the same exact growth patterns because there are so many factors at play that can impact your business performance.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Vanessa Santos: There is much you can do to educate yourself and put yourself in the right headspace for what will be a thrilling journey. I recommend the following books and podcasts that have helped me and my clients to create a sustainable and scalable business.
‘Never Split The Difference’ by Christopher Voss, has incredible insights about negotiating.
‘Feeling is the Secret’, by Neville Goddard. It will help you remain grounded and focused on your purpose. Mindset is so incredibly important when it comes to entrepreneurship and being in the right emotional headspace will help you prepare for future challenges.
‘Build A Brand From The Bottom Up’, a premium e-course by Vanessa Santos, available on teachable that helps walk you through some foundational practices to build a brand with purpose.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Vanessa Santos: That’s a toughie, as a multi-passionate entrepreneur, there are many things that pique my interest. I always love embarking on new adventures and releasing what the universe has in store for me. While I love coaching and public speaking, I would also like to act and direct.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Vanessa Santos: I would add Brene Brown. She has created a wonderful movement and space for people to feel comfortable with vulnerability in order to uncover your true self. When you think about it, putting yourself out there with any new venture is a display of vulnerability and I think we need to celebrate that more!
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Vanessa Santos for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Vanessa Santos or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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