Welcome to Mompreneur Monday, an ongoing series featuring amazing women whose stories are sure to inspire you!
I first met Vivian Tenorio at Tory Johnson‘s Spark & Hustle in Los Angeles in February of 2011. She spoke on a panel about how she created Signature Flan, a high-end pre-packaged dessert now sold to national chains like Whole Foods. (The flan is incredible, worthy of high foodie praise!) In person, Vivian is a lovely and soft-spoken person who is approachable and friendly.
Vivian’s entrepreneurial journey began in high school, when she became a young mother at the age of 16. She married her high school sweetheart, Aris, and now, 16 years later, they are still together, now raising their two children.
I asked Vivian some questions that I hope will shed some light on her inspiring life and will give you some food for thought about taking risks and reaching your goals:
MBM: When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Vivian: I don’t recall what I wanted to be but I do recall feeling like I could be successful at anything I wanted to do. I guess that I have always had the mindset that I could do anything that I put my mind to.
MBM: What sort of people did you have in your life to inspire you?
Vivian: My mother, of course, was a huge inspiration for me as a young lady. She taught me to be a lady that ran her home (old school, some would say), have deep faith and still be a strong woman. In my late teens/early twenties I started really connecting the dots on how it all made me “me”. I see myself as a strong modern female, with deep deep christian believes, with an old school style of handling my marriage as well as raising my daughter. And for all that I can give my mother the credit.
MBM: At what point in your life did you decide to open a restaurant?
Vivian: After working at the same corporate job for 4 years, I was inspired to open a restaurant. We had taken a family vacation to Puerto Rico the summer of 2004 and by the time that we had landed back in Texas, my husband and I were deciding which city we would launch the restaurant in. We wanted to bring a piece of the island to Texas for others to enjoy.
MBM: How did that work out for you?
Vivian: Well, first I had no idea NONE of how hard running a restaurant would be. We had huge success and plenty of media coverage so the business was crazy to say the least, but I was just not prepared for the amount of work that it takes to run a “successful” restaurant. Operating a restaurant is a huge sacrifice and I respect anyone that has chosen that as there business. It just wasn’t for me and where I wanted to be.
MBM: Why did you decide to close it?
Vivian: There came a point when I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would be done with it all. So, when our restaurant manager quit, then I went through 3 head chefs in 2 months, I was done. It wasn’t my passion and I knew that it was going to be a slow death for me if I continued with it.
MBM: How was it for you transitioning from a a business owner to an employee after your restaurant closed?
Vivian: I was doing both at the same time, so it wasn’t a real transition for me at the time. I was trying to be careful by keeping my job and not just jumping in completely until I knew it was going to work.
MBM: At what point and why did you decide that you wanted/needed to open your own business?
Vivian: Closing the restaurant was just like me going back to the drawing board. It was just a matter of time until I jumped in again. Entrepreneurship is in your DNA, you can’t turn if off. I would call myself a serial entrepreneur.
MBM: How did you decide on starting a flan company?
Vivian: During our time at the restaurant our #1 seller hands down was the flan. Food critics would come in and rave about it and customers would come in just for the flan, so I knew that we had something very special in that flan. I after we closed the restaurant I would joke with my husband and tell him that I was going to sell that flan one day. I always had the idea in my back pocket, I was just waiting for the right time.
MBM: How many years has the recipe been in your family?
Vivian: Well, the method of artisanal flan making has been passed down, thanks to my mother-in-law. But the recipes are my own and they didn’t come easy. I tested many ingredients and combinations of ingredients in order to find the best flavors to create the creamiest, most flavorsome flans you have ever tasted.
MBM: Did you gain weight (and did your family?) testing all the recipes?
Vivian: Yes, goodness yes, because I’m such a control freak I was sampling every single batch that we were making. I couldn’t just take someone’s word for it, I had to sample it to make sure the flavors were right, make sure the texture was perfect and no one else could have given me that feedback. I was obsessed with it which then resulted in 20 lbs of extra weight.
MBM: Tell us how you got your first meeting with Whole Foods…
Vivian: On Sunday afternoon after a long weekend of making samples I decided to drive down to Austin, TX, which is about 4 hours away from where I was but I didn’t care. I just wanted to see what would happen…what could they say “No, Thank You”. The following morning I packed my car and a cooler with samples and we drove to the WF headquarters. I dropped off my samples and waited to see what would happened and much to my surprise I was having a face to face meeting with the buyer 2 days later. Making the decision to just go and not over think it was a turning point in my life. If I would have thought it out and planned it for the following week it may have played out very differently for me, so take action as soon as you get inspired to make a move. But as a side note, I was prepared for the meeting, I had been preparing for months. By this point I had been living on 3 hours sleep per night. I was working full time and on nights and weekends I was working on flan stuff. I wasn’t sleep nor eating much during this time (besides flan sampling). I was focused on preparing myself of the opportunity. Again, I was obsessed with it.
MBM: Where you terrified? Did you believe you would be a hit or where you shocked by their reaction?
Vivian: I wasn’t terrified I was validated. In the beginning not a lot of people were cheering me on, I got crazy looks more then anything, so hearing it from the WF buyer was almost like, “You see, I told you I had something here”. I always knew I had an amazing product, I just needed someone to give me the chance.
MBM: So you got the buyers interest.. .then what? What did you have to do?
Vivian: I went to work…I had no inventory, no kitchen to call my own. I hired a commercial real estate agent had made him work for his money. I had him looking high and low for a commercial kitchen space for me to rent ASAP at the same time I was ordering supplies and filling out new vendor forms. My focus had now shifted to getting everything in place to start working on my first order.
MBM: Did you ever envision that your life could be like this? That you would be this successful?
Vivian: No, but I was confident that I could make anything happen or at least make enough that we could live a good life and provide for my little girl. But it has now taken on a life of its own…the Today Show, The Talk, a book, Tory Johnson…I could not have planned or expected all of this.
MBM: Why did you decide to write the book? (Vivian recently published “From Pink Slip to Product Launch In a Weak Economy.“)
Vivian: One day while I was speaking with Tory, (my mentor, my fairy godmother Tory Johnson), I was asking for her advice on what I should do next and she told me, “write a book, a book about your life and about the business”, I had never thought about writing a book and even when she told me I kind of just said ok but I didn’t really consider it until about four months later. Then one day, I received an email from someone that had heard my story, and she was so inspired by it that it moved me to start writing the book. I figured with I book I can reach more people and maybe inspire them.
MBM: How do you envision your company growing and evolving from this point forward?
Vivian: I envision Signature Flan evolving with the help of partners, in order to take Signature Flan to the next level I need to pull in people that are experts in their fields. We also have plans to grow the brand with other products and even take Signature Flan international.
MBM: How do you utilize social media to enhance your brand?
Vivian: I use it to spread the word of the business but also the story behind the business. Sharing my story online as well as information about the product has worked very well for me. When you are just starting out you need to utilize any and all avenues to spread the word. One thing that has really helped us is when people get to see who is behind the business, they connect with us on a different level, they become loyal fans and help us grow.
MBM: Why and how did you become a part of Tory’s Spark and Hustle?
Vivian: One Sunday afternoon I was watching television and she was on talking about jobs. I had not seen her before but for some reason she caught my attention. Later that evening I was channel surfing again and there she was again…that little voice inside me told me to check her out, so I did. I contacted her and she wanted to know more about me and my business. The rest is history, from that moment she has been by my side, my biggest cheerleader and I’m so thankful for her. She has included me in all of her Spark & Hustle conferences, she held my hand during the entire book project, she wrote the foreword for my book and she has advised me the entire way. She is pretty amazing at what she does. She is the real deal and anyone looking to start a business or even grow their business should be attending a Spark & Hustle conference. Her no BS style is what entrepreneurs need if they want to make it long term. She is my fairy godmother.
MBM: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Vivian: I wish I knew that the story behind the product is just as important as the product. In the beginning I was just selling a product now I’m a brand that inspires others to follow their dreams and we happen to sell flans.
Isn’t that the truth? I think she’s amazing. And next time you are near a Whole Foods, stop by and pick up one of Vivian’s Signature Flans. You will love it!
I have one copy of her book, From Pink Slip to Product Launch In A Weak Economy, to give away to one lucky winner. If you’d like to enter, please leave a comment here about why you want to win. After that, for extra entries, please tweet the following message: I entered @MBMomBloggers contest http://wp.me/p1rGlf-r1 for @Vivian_Tenorio’s book about @SignatureFlan. The contest will end on 10/7 at 5:00 pm. Winners must live within the continental US and will be chosen using Random.org.
Please follow Vivian on Twitter: @SignatureFlan & @Vivian_Tenorio