Alan Taveras still remembers the care packages his mother would send from Puerto Rico when he was studying abroad. “To cure our nostalgia, she would send my brother and I Adobo, coffee, chocolate and all the authentic products we missed from back home.” Those parcels filled with love sustained him during his years away from the Caribbean island, and are also what propelled him into entrepreneurship when he returned to Puerto Rico after obtaining his education. The Afro-Puerto Rican businessman, is now the co-founder and CMO of Brands of Puerto Rico, a digital platform and initiative that gives Puerto Rican entrepreneurs an opportunity to make their products accessible to the world.
The website promotes local products and offerings that are made directly on the Island and elevates the eCommerce industry in Puerto Rico. Taveras and his brother returned from their studies at the peak of the island’s financial crisis. “Most of our friends and family where planning to leave to the mainland or had already left,” Taveras recalls. “That socioeconomic landscape sparked the birth of our company. We set out to create an economic tool to bring new money to our communities by helping small businesses and artisans reach new markets while we made those who left the island feel at home.”
Launching an e-commerce platform wasn’t without its hurdles, however. Taveras says that in 2016 Puerto Rico did not have an entrepreneurship ecosystem, and that startup and venture capital funding were alien concepts to a country that viewed entrepreneurship as something to avoid. Puerto Rico thrives on tourism. And it’s economic strategy is around bringing multinationals and big government to thie island. “Our biggest hurdle was financing our company,” the former advertising major admits. “We had to look for capital outside of the island to start.” He adds that learning how to grow a startup in Puerto Rico was also difficult. The company counts itself among the first generation of startups that has paved the way in the island’s local ecosystem.
Thankfully, those roadblocks didn’t deter him. According to Taveras, Brands of Puerto Rico’s current compounded annual growth (CAGR) is 115 percent in a 7-year span. They collaborate with more than 300 entrepreneurs from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico while serving thousands of customers in the mainland who are looking for authentic products and culture form Latin America. Since the launch of the operation, they have secured strategic partnerships with the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee, Discover Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico and the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture. These partnerships help them collaborate with artisans whom Taveras says, “wouldn’t even consider having their handcraft on a website.” He believes that these partnerships, which they are working on replicating in the Dominican Republic and in Mexico, also make their catalog unique and make the brand relevant while competing with U.S.-based larger e-commerce companies. “You won’t find our product mix in other websites,” he notes.
While Taveras takes great pride in how far the business has come, his excitement truly revolves around the people he works with to get these cherished goods out to the world. “Our sellers are the heart of our company. We go out of the traditional path to look for the best and most authentic products, from coffee farms in the mountains of Puerto Rico, books from the best authors in the Dominican Republic and artisan markets in Mexico,” Taveras explains. “We are aligned in our mission to make our customers feel at home.”
The startup founder wholeheartedly believes that our purchases define us, and that where we put our dollars is as important as who we vote for. “Conscious consumers are those who support the local economies, who look for fair trade products and who go the extra mile to make those dollars count.” Patrons don’t come to Brands of Puerto Rico for cheap coffee or books. Taveras says it’s much more than that. It’s about fulfilling their sense of belonging and to discover authentic Latino culture. On a regular basis the company receives handwritten letters, large amounts of emails with pictures and videos of unboxings. “We particularly love when customers send us messages of how our platform helps them educate their family, born in the mainland, and their friends about their country of origin. People discover their culture through our website, that is powerful and not easily replicated,” the burgeoning entrepreneur adds.
After launching in Puerto Rico, Taveras realized there was a great opportunity to cater to the entire Latino population in the mainland. From Mexico to Argentina, millions of people moved to the USA in search of a better quality of life. Brands of Puerto Rico looks to make them feel at home by providing the best authentic products and a piece of their culture. Taveras professes that the feeling he gets from being able to give others a sense of his country, a sense of home is “indescribable.” “Not only do we help local entrepreneurs expand their reach and grow their businesses but we also offer the feeling of making a customer happy and fulfilled, which is special.”