Valentina Nuñez is a 17-year-old, owner of the company Val’s Sweets. Valentina started selling cookies at school, and afterward, she was able to create a small business that has over a year now. She opened her Instagram account and with the support of her family and friends, Val’s Sweets was born.
What or who motivated you into starting your small business?
“What most motivated me is that I wanted to graduate and have my own thing. That’s always been something that I’ve wanted, and I didn’t know what [I wanted to do] because I like a lot of stuff and I have worked in multiple areas, but pastries have always been a big thing for me, so I turned it into a small business. Four people inspired me into starting my business: First my parents because they’ve been entrepreneurs since they were 18, and also, my boyfriend wanted for me to make him cookies. For me, cookies were something that I would never do since I was really indisposed to making the cookies because every time I made them they were so crispy and they were not turning the way I wanted them to. Afterward, I entered into New Horizons, I met Jose Peña, so I tried his cookies and I loved his cookies. Later on, I went to the supermarket, I got everything I needed and I started making cookies so that I could improve my recipe.”
Valentina says that while she was improving her recipe, she made a lot of cookies, and she had no idea what to do with them, so she decided to sell them at school. She was able to improve her recipe and people were asking for more cookies, but they also wanted for her to create an Instagram account. After this, Val’s Sweets was created.
“My main goal is to have a certain amount of money from my personal gain before I leave to study outside the country. Another goal I have is being able to manage in the best way possible my business when I get to move outside the country. I want to decide if I will leave the business here [in the Dominican Republic] or if I will continue growing it while living in another country. I want to make the right decisions and that is a big goal for me. Finally, another goal I have is for me to be the best pastry chef I can be.”
How did cooking become a passion for you?
“It all started with pancakes. My uncle made the best pancakes, and he lives in the United States, so here, there was nobody that could do such great pancakes, so I was the first one to do it. It turned into something that my dad would ask for me to do, and I would just make him pancakes. When my family was visiting my home I would make the burgers, brunch, and do everything by myself for them and it would make me feel good vibes while cooking. That’s why when I cook and bake, I do it while I am in a good mood, and if I’m in a bad mood I don’t do it, because for me to maintain that good vibe while I’m cooking I need to do it while being in a good mood.”
Valentina brought happiness and love to her family while cooking for them, and she believes that her family encouraged her to provide that happiness to her clients too. Valentina says that there is no better feeling when a client tells her how good her product was, and when they order again. She also stated that the best revenue she can get is the feedback from someone that has tried her product.
“What inspires me to continue cooking for my small business are my desires on personal growth and on being the businesswoman that I’ve always wanted to be. It is important for me to continue working hard so that I can be the best version of myself in the business area, because if I don’t do that then I will never reach that peak because nobody can do it for me.”
When the bad times come, what encourages you to not surrender?
“What definitely encourages me is all the money I owe to my dad. It may sound funny, but that is the real life of being an entrepreneur. In my case, my investor is my dad. At first, I had my own money and I got everything with my own resources, but then, in quarantine, the business grew a lot, so I had to get amounts of ingredients that I just couldn’t afford. I can’t stop because I owe money to my dad, but another thing is that I push myself a lot into my responsibilities, and that’s because I started something that I need to finish correctly, and I haven’t reached that point yet. So the things that most encourage me are the responsibilities I have, my parents, and who helps me not surrender is also my boyfriend because he is very supportive.”
“I get very frustrated at times because I am a really small business and I am always focused on the innovations other people are doing. In some way that is bad and in some ways that help: It’s bad because at times, like in quarantine, I am still a small business, so there are people that stop buying from you because they start spending money on fewer things, and they don’t do it because they don’t like my products, but they do it because they have to cut expenses. So what I do is see the innovations inside my niche, and whenever I am frustrated I research. I am really interested in pastry technology, which is something that not many people touch, but it is something that I love and it truly helps a lot with failing as little as possible. I read a lot of new things that inspire me, and that’s my main source of inspiration, and what doesn’t let me surrender. There is always something that you can create which can help you get back up again. Even though you may get down a thousand times, there is always something that you can look for, that you can transform into your own that your audience will love.”
Valentina says that something that has surprised her during the journey of having a small business is the negative and positive things that you can encounter. The Dominican client has surprised her a lot throughout her journey because she says that the negative things that may be experienced demotivate her at times since she puts a lot of hard work into her company.
“I’ve worked on a lot of things and one of those things is branding and marketing strategies. I love that and those were two of the things that I wanted to study, so I dedicated two years to working on that. I know the creative process and it’s something that is very hard since it’s really time-consuming.”
How did your parents react to the idea of having a small business?
“They reacted really well. My mom told me “you are your father’s daughter” because I’ve always been a hustler and my dad too since we are very ambitious, on the good side. I have never been bothered while working on something because I have worked a lot in different areas. My dad owns EGO shoes, so I worked there for two years focusing on the marketing campaign. I made my own shoe collection and I presented it in the DR Fashion Week, and I also covered the project management of the photoshoots. I used to wake up at 5 AM to have reunions for the rest of the day and then I got home at 12 AM because at night I had many events, and I did it with all the happiness in the world from Monday to Sunday.”
Valentina says that her family supports her a lot by buying her products, spreading the word and her friends do the same too. She says that the new clients she receives, come back to back and that they choose her over anybody else. Valentina states that the best thing for her is the back to back clients that always return for more. She also enjoyed the opportunity of creating a monthly cookie with Jompeame because the cause was made to help a woman in need. Valentina says that she has never felt so good about doing something.
“I think that any entrepreneur that has not had a work experience, has the opportunity of failing because if they don’t know the things that can happen inside a business, they may not know the responsibilities a person can have, how good can people be while making negotiations, how much can you learn, and many more, so I think that any entrepreneur without a working background, is destined to fail because there is no better tool than experience. I have failed, but I have failed more in the product area than in the countability and marketing, and that’s because of the experiences I’ve had.”
Valentina says that nobody has done a small business about pastry in her family but her entire family on her dad’s side has started with a small business. She also says that without social media she wouldn’t have made her small business possible. Valentina states that she didn’t have social media at first because she started selling her cookies at school, but afterward when quarantine came, her products were sold through Instagram.
“The pandemic has really affected the business because there have been so many businesses like mine that have been created during quarantine that is also selling sweets. It has affected it negatively in that aspect because there are times where the sales get down way too much but there are times that they get up way too much. There have been weeks where I have to do a minimum of ten batches of cookies and a minimum of two cakes, but there have also been weeks where I only do like five cookies. Also, the pandemic has given me many tools for me to get to know my business better because I have invested in capacitation for myself, I have also invested in capacitation to amplify my menu, I invested in my branding, my digital identity, and many more.”
What is something that you have learned throughout your experience as a teenage entrepreneur?
“Something that I’ve learned is that customer service is something that you need to have patience with, and even though someone else doesn’t know how to give this service, you need to give the best customer service you can, and also, I have learned that I need to give value to my work. Having a small business has taught me to be way more responsible because I have to take care of my things but I also have to take care of the client’s things, and I have also learned to be way more empathic because I am the one representing my brand.”
Valentina says that it’s really hard for her to manage school and her small business at the same time because while she has breaks and recess she needs to cook for the orders her clients requested. She says that she has months without going to the supermarket by herself to buy the things that she needs for her business and that she constantly needs to send the messenger to the market because she doesn’t have that much time anymore. Valentina says that she has had to cut some orders because of the demand she has had from school, and since she is in her senior year, she needs to prepare herself for the SAT’s and college, but she says that there is nothing that cannot be achieved.
“In the personal area, I always give myself the permission to stop anything that I’m doing if I don’t feel good, but at times I push myself a lot because I am very responsible with my things. Those are things that I have to assume because I am the one behind the brand. I’m always trying to be in the most realistic place I could be, because if I am positive all the time, then I will be solving everyone’s life since, and I can’t do everything at the same time, that’s why I give myself the permission to stop if I need to. I try to stay positive, but I think it is important to give yourself that permission for you to not create that fake positivity that can influence your brand.”
What recommendation would you give to someone who wants to start a small business?
“I would say, research before you take the step, and if you are not willing to research, then I think you need to be 100% ready to assume anything that comes in your way. Otherwise, I think you should train yourself as much as you can because you won’t know everything from the beginning, and until you don’t work hard to achieve something on your own, then you won’t be able to fully learn something. You should also learn a lot about the marketing inside your industry because these are all small details that really make a difference.”
Valentina says “nobody will do for you what you want to achieve”. She also says that you need to work hard to get ahead in life because nobody will give priority to your things and do the things that you want to achieve more than you.