Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ashley Vasquez, owner of TBD Coffee Co, located in Los Angeles, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My coffee company started as a hobby, with my boyfriend drawing all the labels and my 10-pound dog, Marlee, as the Director of Consumer Affairs (I bought her little glasses and a new outfit just for the role). It grew into a passion as we realized how fun it was working together. Now it’s a full-blown business with a piece of my heart and soul.
Not only is TBD a creative outlet, but it’s also a way for me to connect with the community. We bring our products to local markets where I’ve met the coolest people of all ages and walks of life, who just want to chat about coffee — their first time trying a sip off their dad’s cup, farms they’ve visited in Peru and Bali, the best cups they’ve had…and the worst. Experiencing how coffee brings people together has been humbling and inspiring.
Our customers are people just like us. Coffee lovers who appreciate internet humor and want to spend their dollars with small businesses that are dedicated to ethical sourcing.
Tell us about yourself
Two key pieces of my identity were the catalysts for starting my business and remain the main drivers behind my daily motivation.
The first is that my father is an immigrant business owner. He immigrated to the U.S. from Michoacan, Mexico, when he was 18. He learned English, became a citizen, raised three wonderful children (if I do say so myself), and has owned a small business for more than 30 years. I grew up helping out at the family business, and that’s where I learned most of my life lessons. I would be wiping down a table, and my dad would say, “Mija, if you’re nice to people and work hard, you can have anything you want in this world.” And I would roll my eyes because I had heard it a million times, but now, I’m grateful for all his advice because it has shaped my values and the way I’ve modeled TBD.
The second piece is that I love to travel! I’ve fished for piranhas in the Amazon river, snowmobiled in the Colorado mountains, four-wheeled through forests in Mexico, climbed volcanoes in Italy, visited mosques in Istanbul, trekked the Inca Trail, and explored castles in Romania. Seeking out other cultures and immersing myself in the local experience is part of my DNA. Almost all of the money I save for leisure goes to traveling. I’d rather see new places and meet new people than buy expensive clothes or drive a luxury car.
Because of that, I’ve always wanted to build a life that gives me freedom and flexibility. I like to make my own schedule and handpick who I work with.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Creating a company that has ethics and a vocal belief system at its core. For starters, TBD Coffee Co is a member of World Coffee Research, an organization that has a direct positive influence on coffee farmers around the world. And beyond that, when we dive into the products themselves, TBD has a platform that it uses to stand in solidarity with our values and our customers.
For instance, like many, we’re shocked and saddened by the news of Roe V Wade being overturned, so we channeled our anger into our latest coffee. It’s called Duck the Patriarchy, and 50% of proceeds from every bag sold will be donated to Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Colorado.
Having a platform to fight back from is hands down my biggest accomplishment as a business owner.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Time. Boundaries around time. Creating more time. Using too much time. Time, all around. It’s easy to feel like you have to be always on when the company is yours, so creating the right routines and guardrails against overworking is difficult but imperative.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network.
- Listen to advice. You don’t have to take it, but listen and keep an open mind. Be open to people asking challenging questions.
- Put your ego away. Try making a TikTok, test out different email copies, and share a photo you took yourself. It might feel scary or embarrassing to put yourself out there, but if you get out of your head and put your ego away, that can be a space with a whole lot of learning.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Having an entrepreneurial mindset is a gift. I’ve met so many people that say they could never do it. I’m honored to be able to do what I do, and I hope other entrepreneurs out there aren’t holding their gifts back and are taking the leap.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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