You know that feeling you get when you meet someone who is so bold and has so much gumption that you just want to bottle it up so you can take a swig whenever you need a little boost? This is how I felt when I spoke with Deldelp Medina. Co-founder of Avion Ventures, Deldelp is helping Latinas all over the country bring their useful and often revolutionary ideas to market. And she’s doing it with such passion that I wanted to introduce you to her and the great work she is doing in the world.
I recently spoke with Deldelp to find out about key decisions she’s made in her life, her career path, and what advice she has for young Latina women who are ready to make their mark.
What do you do?
Our company Avion Ventures runs a pre-accelerator for Latinas in the mobile space. That means that if you’re a Latina and you’re already making something or you already have a platform and you want to create a mobile app, I can help you. Let me rephrase that, I WANT to help you.
It is an eight-week program that consists of two weeks in San Francisco (we pay for your housing and food while you’re there) and then it’s four-and-a-half weeks back home, and we finish up with a week-and-a-half back in San Francisco. In exchange for that we ask for 3% equity. One of the things that we also provide is mentorship, a key component of our proven curriculum that has already accelerated over three hundred businesses, connections and opportunities.
I’m also in the process of raising a fund that would actually be able to give cash on hand. Hopefully I’ll be able to announce something around that soon.
I’m really excited to be able to invest in Latinas. The fact is, Latinas are starting businesses at six times the rate of any other group in the United States, which means that not only do we have a desire to change our path but we are also backed by a culture that wants us to be successful. The challenge is that we don’t always have the tools and/or the know how to actually get our ideas off the ground. And that’s not okay with me because one of the things that I’m really, really clear about is we are the future owners of this country, yet we aren’t acting like it.
What I mean by that is we’re not thinking about building wealth, we’re not thinking about building influence, and if we don’t do that really quickly, we’ll have the population numbers but we won’t have the power to go beyond an economic apartheid. So, this is my way of being able to advance the ball.
There are amazing Latina women in this country who are building incredible solutions that address community needs and world needs. They are building apps that address health care, medical care, financial services and more. They are taking the biggest problems we’re facing right now and they are putting a voice to them and that is powerful.
There is so much passion in your voice. Where do you think it comes from?
Well I think part of it comes from just continuing to put myself in situations where I have the chance to learn and grow. For example, I was speaking at a conference in Atlanta this past October and I had this moment of profound realization that our demographics are shifting, but our way of thinking isn’t shifting, and that if you don’t have these conversations, nothing’s going to change. Culture is a malleable thing, it’s not a fixed point, it’s not a building. Culture is the people in the building. It’s the people who are willing to make change happen, in non-profits, at big companies, and in entrepreneurial ventures everywhere.
What has the journey to this way of thinking been like for you?
I jokingly say I’ve gotten to this point because I’ve failed, and failed a lot, but at every moment that I failed I tried to learn something from it. I think that the best thing that you can do in general for yourself and for the world is to know yourself, and know yourself well. The more you know yourself and the less you listen to other people’s advice that has nothing to do with what your essence is, the better off you are. I think when I was younger a lot of people really tried to put me in the nonprofit bucket because it made sense. I was Latina, I spoke Spanish fluently, I have a passion for helping people out, and so naturally the non-profit world would be a good fit for me. But that wasn’t the path I was drawn to.
Technology is something I’ve always liked. And because I was always using it, I don’t think the switch from being a passive consumer to a proactive creator was that big of a leap to take. It was just a matter of getting the right training.
Can you share a little bit about your career story and how you got to where you are today?
It’s kind of funny because people ask me all the time if I studied computer science in college but the truth is I didn’t because nobody ever told me that there was a degree in that. I actually studied international relations, but the whole time I was doing that I was working at an internet company. I worked at a dot.com, I trained myself or was trained informally by others, but I’ve never taken any formal classes. I’ve just always had a passion and interest in it so I figured out how to work in the industry. Nothing else ever felt right.
Once again, I think this goes back to knowing who you are and what you’re about. I think when you’re young you want to please your parents and/or you want to please your grandparents. My parents arrived in New York in 1968 and most of my family worked in factories, with few exceptions, and so the idea of having a nine-to-five job and having stability and a future set for you with benefits was the ideal. Everybody always said, “Get a real job, go work for somebody.” At the same time, I come from highly entrepreneurial people. Both my grandmothers had really successful businesses in Colombia.
The idea of entrepreneurialism being a way into poverty rather than the way out of it was very ingrained. However, when I think about it now, I realize that working in my grandmother’s store beginning at the age of 5 taught me so much about working and how business works. I learned how to do sales, stock inventory, give credit, order products, etc. It’s just that my family defined that type of work as very difficult and unsecure.
But I also think that experience played a lot into how I view the world of work. I loved the idea that it was my grandmother’s store and it sparked my entrepreneurial curiosity, even if I didn’t know what that meant at 5 years old.
Once I reached my mid 30s and I was done working for other people, I knew that I wanted to captain my own ship. I wanted to be the one to make the rules. The only question was, how was I going to do it.
I think that’s the big question for everyone, right? How are you going to do your work in the world? How are you going to be in the world in a way that makes you comfortable and makes you successful? At the end of the day you are only accountable to yourself, and you need to have a certain amount of self-awareness for you to know what it is that gets in your way of you showing up as your best and brightest self.
You say that you failed a lot. Can you speak more about that? How do you even know that you have failed?
I use that word loosely I guess. Failure to me means I lost money. Or I didn’t achieve the goals that I wanted to. However, at the same time, the amount of learning that came as a result of those failures was huge. When I fail, especially when I seem to make the same mistake over and over, the question always becomes, what is it about me or how I’m going about things that is causing me to make this mistake over and over again?
I think we can all benefit from that type of honest introspection. What was it? Was it your actions or your inactions, or your lack of understanding, the change in landscape? What are the possible reasons why you are not taking steps that you need to take? Is it your programming? Whatever it is we have to step back, hold ourselves accountable and do better.
I think my background helped me to be able to see myself in the world the way I do and the responsibility I have to be the best version of me that I can. I think coming from parents who are willing to challenge their own culture has made me less afraid to also challenge it, and also challenge myself because the truth is that culture lies within me.
And the best part about that is that I get to define what Latino culture is, period. I get to define what your culture is, period. There’s no one who can challenge me on that, and I think that once you know that, you are more willing to be bold. I think that that’s something that I see in most Latinas – we have a certain work ethic that’s hugely important and we have a desire for educational attainment, which is hugely important; however, we need to be more bold. We need to listen to the voices inside ourselves first.
I agree. I think about this all the time – this idea of asking for forgiveness for who we are or what we want. I still do it all the time. How did you train yourself to think about it differently and to be more bold even if that’s not how you were raised?
You take it step by step. I’m not saying I’m perfect and I’m not saying I always get it right, but I’m learning. For example, there was that New York Times article recently that pretty much stated the fact that only seven percent of women ever negotiate for their pay. When I started my first job, I didn’t know that you could do that. I didn’t know that there was a procedure you could go through. Nobody ever said to me, “Don’t just take whatever they offer you. Negotiate for it.” Because, to be honest, my parents didn’t know that, and my family members didn’t know that, and there was nobody in my community who told me that.
I think it’s a simple thing like that, of saying negotiate for what you think you’re worth, without fear. I think that that’s part of the trauma of immigration, where first of all you’re an outlier in your country, that’s why you come here, and/or we’re leaving something that’s so horrendous that there’s a reason why you’ve come here. As a side note, I love how people think that it’s a whim that people come here. As if one day they just wake up and decide to cross the border. It’s not like that at all. It’s a huge decision to leave everything behind that you know, the system that you know, the language that you know, the foods that you love, the people you love.
All of those things are traumatic, and so on some level I guess people think they should take whatever somebody gives them, but we’re getting to this point, where economically speaking that is no longer acceptable, and if we’re really going to be an integral part of the United States, then we also have to negotiate. You have to know what you’re worth, and you have to do the research. There are plenty of websites out there that tell you what salaries are going for, and you should take a look at what you do, and how you do it. It’s painful and it’s not an easy process, but it’s just like training for a marathon. The first couple of jogs are painful, but after a while, you get better at it, and it just becomes a part of what you do every day.
How would you train someone in negotiation skills?
What I’ve done is, I’ve sat down with a friend and he’s done a mock interview. The first person who gives a number is the person who loses. So, how long can you hold off before you give a number? You get good at negotiations through practice. Yes, there are a lot of great books out there but the reality is, putting yourself in practice situations is how you’re going to find the words and the tone that work for you. If you can find someone to practice with, just sit down and pretend you’re negotiating a contract, a job offer, a house price, or whatever it is for you and do it several times. The key thing about negotiation is that you have to take the emotion out of it. You have to go into it with a goal and then not care what the other person says. That’s when you get the leverage. I have to say that when I have been able to go into a negotiation with the attitude of “If you want to give me money great, and if you don’t, my life goes on”, those are the times when I’ve gotten the most amounts from anybody, because I think that the person picks ups on your certainty and confidence.
You have said that you’ve gotten used to failure and that you don’t see it as a bad thing but how do you know when it’s time to stick out your neck and try again?
This most recent time it was by circumstance. I got laid off from a job that I loved and that I was successful at, and I had an idea to start a company, but I hadn’t built anything in a really long time. My husband just took a look at me and said, “You know what? This is your moment to do it. You’ve just got laid off from something that you were successful at. This is the moment that you know that you have the skills to be able to build something. Go do it.”
Since then, it’s been four years of starting and closing companies but learning a lot along the way, and then finally building Avion Ventures because I just saw that there was a need in the market.
It’s funny when I think about my work and all of the failures I’ve had and where I am now. I think I’m doing great. My mother sees things differently. She thinks, “Why haven’t you done better, you are really smart, you’re really hard working.” Somewhere in her mind she thinks I have not reached a certain place because I’ve made so many mistakes. There’s not a lot of sugar coating in my family:)
What advice do you have for Latinas who are trying to be heard whether in their families or out in the business world?
Know who you are, remember where you came from but don’t be controlled by it, be proud of who you are, stand up for yourself, and be bold. We are at a point where we have the ability to be a very powerful presence in this country but we have to take steps to use that power for the good of not just our own culture but for the good of everyone. That is when we’ll be taken seriously.
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