As I walked in to The Baila Boogaloo Dance Company, I could not help but notice the tremendous energy in the air. The crowd was buzzing with excitement as friends and strangers alike were gearing up for their next lesson. No one was more excited than Darlene Wang De Martinez (pronounced WONG).
As a mom running businesses, there is nothing typical about my days.
This self described “momprenuer” has her hands full with a 4 “babies”; one named Isabella and the others are the 3 businesses that she continues to nurture:
Toronto Home and Life (THL): is a Real Estate company that provides a full service experience for their clients. They help their clients from planning to the purchase of a property and everything in-between which may include designing, development, renovations and building of residential and/or investment and commercial properties.
“We educate our clients, they are in control and we give them the best tools to make their dream/goals happen. Over the past 7 years we have developed relationships with other partner companies (such as lenders, lawyers, architects, builders/contractors, insurance etc.,) to provide our clients with a full complement of services”. www.torontohomeandlife.com
The Baila Boogaloo Dance Company (BBDC): is a Salsa and Latin dance school for beginner to advance level students. They offer both public and private classes.
The BBDC is also a professional dance troupe – explosive Latin dance entertainment for all occasions/events. It’s been in business for almost 10 years in business with 3 different locations. The dance troupe is comprised of 18 lead dancers/ instructors plus several valued assistants and apprentices. www.bailaboogaloo.com
Toronto Last Minute Weddings (TLMW): is a full service wedding/event planning company that was created with – a long time event planner and friend from Pink Peach Events. It is the perfect pairing of professional wedding/event oriented services with the experience and longevity of someone in the industry to ensure quality to provide last minute services such as photography, catering, first dance choreography, wedding entertainment for those frantic brides/grooms. www.torontolastminuteweddings.com
How did the idea for these businesses come about?
I worked backwards from my vision of what my ideal life would be. I asked myself, “How can I be respected and successful in industries where I could make money efficiently, be satisfied and live in the fashion that I’m accustomed to?”
My Answers: With Real Estate, I enjoy working with clients – this creates commissions and cash flow and holding properties generates passive income and equity.
BBDC incorporates both dance and entertainment – well, nothing beats being center stage and being paid for it.
And for TLMW, I meet a lot of people in my business and this was a great way to connect people in a meaningful way.
What were some of the difficulties you ran into when starting up your companies?
There are many emotional challenges that come when you first start up you business. There were some people along the way that people snickered or scoffed my ideas, but I kept myself away from such negative attitudes. Don’t let them spoil what you want in life.
For BBDC, I wanted to build a high quality dance school that dropped the pretentiousness and still offer the luxury and social aspect within classes and our shows.
For THL, we started in our 20’s — with very, very young faces. Sometimes having youth on your side does have its drawbacks because it was harder for us to get the lenders /clients/lawyers to work with us. Now I’m happy to say we have amazing teams. THL works closely with companies like DesignBuild Management and Dominion Lending-First Class Equity- these partners allow us to facilitate seamless start to finish projects –clients are thrilled.
For TLMW, we had some issues around logistics initially, but once we worked that out, it now runs like a well oiled wheel. We all worked in the same industries, join forces and become stronger together.
With each of the businesses, our services, integrity and ability are the key factors that got us through some of the difficulties that most start-ups encounter. Another challenge of course was finding the RIGHT people to work with. Once we had these in place, we were able to deliver and get the job done well. That’s why I talk often about integrity- it goes a long way.
What three pieces of advice would you give to others who want to become entrepreneurs?
Have integrity, plan and be flexible and work backwards from your goals.
As I said you need to have integrity, your clients, staff and vendors look for that.
Plan and start with a good foundation, you can do anything. Many people take for granted the amount of planning it takes to get anything successful off the ground. It’s like condos, most people think that they just ‘pop up’ out of nowhere, but what people don’t realize the amount of years of planning that went behind it.
Be flexible, anticipate that things will happen and be able to adjust. For me, flexibility means if we close 3 deals in 1 week and 2 back-to-back shows go off without a hitch – I’m content. The next week, if I eat breakfast everyday, I’m content. Sometime you just got to laugh at yourself.
…you need time management, product knowledge/salesmanship and the ability to dream BIG. The best way to achieve long-term success is to plan it big, work at it, and change it to make it work.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
In my opinion you need time management, product knowledge/salesmanship and the ability to dream BIG.
The best way to achieve long-term success is to plan it big, work at it, and change it to make it work.
Yes, I sound like a broken record, but plan it. Plan today, tomorrow and have 1, 5 and 10 years goals. Assess it regularly and change when necessary to make it work.
So many people just wing things, without thinking it through, and then are stuck when a minor situation happens. This becomes their downfall. When I started, I created about 10 backup plans for each of my plans. The saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
Freedom. From driving in traffic to desired salary/income, for the most part, it’s all in my control. If I want to make more money, I don’t ask anyone, I just book it or create business.
When you work for someone, you need to wait to be recognized for your accomplishments to increase income. I have the freedom to choose anything – who I see, which business I want to close, if I want to eat popcorn in my pyjamas with my husband and Isabella in the middle of the day – that’s my choice.
What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
1. Create a plan
2. Know your product
3. Learn to sell (if you can’t sell yourself, who can?)
4. Learn to manage cash flow (this seems to be difficult for many- entrepreneur or not)
5. Adapt when needed. The best businesses adapt and do not fear change.
I’d also like to add #6 which is ‘give back’. Successful people are successful because of the help someone gave them at some point. It’s good to give back.
How did you obtain investors for your venture?
I presented a detailed plan that included what I was using the money for, my ROI, their ROI and the date of it. It included the reasoning behind my methods as well as an alternative plan in case something didn’t happen on time etc. I think if you present a well thought out plan and your rationale with concrete data to support your plan with alternatives, this gives investors not only faith but satisfaction that they have covered their bases as well. Everyone wants to know when they will get their money or money back.
Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
For real estate, initially it was the bank of mom and dad. People often take for granted resources that are obtainable and work logistically. Lenders, whether it be the big banks or mom/dad need to know you have some skin in it, in one of our earlier projects we put up the down payment and I asked them for the renovations costs. Having already estimated the real costs and projected value of the project upon completion again gave them the sense of security. Of course, when it was said and done, and the project went well, they were more than pleased with their ROI and general successes. For me it wasn’t hard to ask my parents, as they were entrepreneurs themselves but I still presented the details and use the factual data to support it. Once people recognize your successes, money starts to come in from all over- then THEY want to invest with/in you. Depending on the amount, now it’s not as difficult to raise capital and currently I use various lenders to fund our projects.
For my parents, our pre-revenue pitch was very simple that went along the lines of: “We need this much, you will get back this much at this date, regardless of what happens. But this will succeed because of this – (insert detailed research and our spin).” I had our lawyer draw up an agreement and had all parties sign it so that it was on paper. Not that my parents didn’t trust me but I needed them to know we were serious, and in this for the long run and with success in mind.
Starting up a business can be costly, what were some of things you did to keep these costs manageable?
For Baila Boogaloo – we are service based, so we didn’t need much to start. I made (and still do) most of our costumes and worked those costs into our show prices. Our studio rent for classes was flexible, again finding the right person helps. Our agent who houses our studio is still who we work with today –DLM dance & entertainment.
Our product which are classes/style/culture are our signature, once people are in they love it. For our satellite locations, we can project the amount of students that will attend, so I know the margins I’m working in. For our new permanent locations, it’s a little different. I project and plan to have X amount of new students, and then create a marketing plan/campaign to reach that goal by a certain period. We estimate best case and worst case scenarios based on the number of new students but we are realistic and know that ONLY INITIALLY may we be in a loss position – however, this is an long term investment made for a positive return, based on a system that we created and know works well.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I want to say so many things…I love when clients are ecstatic with our work and they tell us!
On that note, how have you be able to build a successful customer base?
80/20 rule and delivering exceptional product/service that keeps them coming back for more, with their friends. This applies in all our work.
What has been your most successful form of marketing?
As mentioned earlier, using the 80/20 rule and online advertising recourses available – i.e. kijiji/craigslist/facebook/twitter. Nowadays, everyone has a choice in price ranges in terms of advertising, from free to small fees to the $000’s. Coming from an advertising background, repetition is king.
How do you recognize and reward your employees?
By giving providing them with the best opportunities and first choice of projects. This applies everywhere. We also encourage communication and respect ideas and try to implement them. They have a vested interest in us, as we do in them. They have the opportunity to do as much as they like with us and we will support ideas that make sense.
I keep them motivated and engaged by mixing it up! New ideas and new projects keep everyone on their toes, and a little competition doesn’t hurt.
What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
At BBDC our culture is what attracts people. We emit high energy and are an approachable, fun and inclusive group -everyone is welcome. When students arrive in class, they run up to hug their instructors. We are also true to Latin Dance which is a social experience. Instructors are expected to be well maintained and have a certain look/ presence when teaching. Going out dancing was meant to be an experience, eat a nice meal, look and smell good. This is translated in our school but without the pretentiousness.
For real estate, our culture is upscale yet approachable and very professional- you are designing or buying someone’s personal dream, they are spending a lot of money so you need to understand them, they need to feel secure and trust you. Many of the clients are invited to our home for meetings.
Once people recognise your successes, money starts to come in from all over- then THEY want to invest with/in you.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Listening to people’s advice that is unsolicited and useless – free advice is often the one that costs the most. As my husband says, look at the validity of the source.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Taking on too much and working with the wrong people. Sometimes you can’t prevent mistakes. In my opinion, they are one of the best educational tools. If you don’t learn from them that’s the mistake. When there’s damage, you just have to make it right and eat humble pie!
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
I think early on in my career, I learned to look at it like game or a challenge. If I can get over X, that’s one point for me! Those fears have long gone, but there are always new ones.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
The best part of owning a business is the satisfaction of creating and completing everything I decide to do. I don’t really give up, I change the idea to make it work.
How do you generate new ideas?
I was always creative. As a kid, I didn’t have many toys so I was forced to use my imagination. Now, I can brainstorm ideas and what doesn’t work can be amended. I also think it’s a honed skill that becomes easier as you use it.
How do you define success?
We go above and beyond what is expected in order to succeed, however, having said that, success is subjective. For me, if I hit my goals I’m successful. So having my family, being surrounded by friends, being healthy and making money while helping others – I’m successful.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
As a mom running businesses, there is nothing typical about my days. Some days I can work an hour, and then others days 14 hours for about 4 days straight, but then take 4 days off and hit the cottage…or VEGAS!
As you can tell, I can work all day into night so I need to schedule in personal time to balance it off. It is a different now since the birth of my daughter. It makes me happy to watch my daughter laugh at herself. We have a lot more time to spend with our daughter at home. I love this.
I attribute much of my success to Joaquin, who is my husband and my partner in the companies. We work together at everything and one of my biggest motivators is spending time with my daughter and my husband on family vacations.
What are some of your hobbies?
By hobbies – do you mean “What do you do in your non-work time”? Is sleeping a hobby?
Actually, I love interior design. I’m constantly buying furniture, painting. I think it makes my (architecturally trained) husband nuts.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Initially, it was having to forgo the expensive bags, shoes and long vacations. Now, with the birth of my daughter, SLEEP is the sacrifice.
If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Leonardo Da Vinci, he was a genius. His creatively saw no boundaries. He was an artist and an engineer – those 2 combinations are amazing.
What is your favourite book?
If you could have a do-over, what would that be?
Some of my costumes!
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My mom. She went back to school after selling her businesses, and at the age of 55 graduated as their highest academic student. She still runs my brother’s business and helps me take care of my baby. Besides her, I’d have to say Oprah! She created a world that is unlike any other!
Other companies and business that I would admire include, HARPO, Trump Industries, Martha Stewart – she recovered and grew even after going to jail. In fact they each had had to overcome significant fates.
What future plans do you have for your businesses?
Our work is connected.
For BBDC, we would franchise!
In real estate, we want to acquire more holdings and properties, such as dance studios for us and rental to others.
For our corporate real estate clients we will design and build bigger projects with more franchise companies. Currently we have the contract to redesign a major franchise’s store fronts. For our residential side, design bigger mansions and bigger pool houses in those mansions.
What plans do you have to diversify or expand your business?
Both Toronto Last Minute Weddings and Toronto Home and Life are full service. Baila Boogaloo will be offering more services – but at this time I cannot divulge, your readers will have to wait and see.
It’s clear that Darlene values the time, friendship and the freedom that comes with running three businesses! While at first glance, each of these business concepts are vastly different and seemingly unique. Darlene has a knack for identifying opportunities that fit well with what she is passionate about and is able to turn each into profitable businesses. When asked what she would do if she had the chance to start her career over again, what she would do differently, she said, “I would start earlier”. Sound advice from a woman who’s fancy footwork keeps her businesses humming at a pace that would make most people’s head spin and yet is able juggle it all and then some.
If you are interested in learning more about any of Darlene’s companies, click on the website listed below for more contact information.
Toronto Home and Life – www.torontohomeandlife.com
The Baila Boogaloo Dance Company – www.bailaboogaloo.com
Toronto Last Minute Weddings – www.torontolastminuteweddings.com