Celina Nogueras Cuevas of Muuaaa on the importance of creating purpose driven branding

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Celina Nogueras Cuevas chats with us about why branding is a verb, why advertising is essential, and why the need for a work-life balance is a double standard for women.

Describe your business in a few words?

Muuaaa is an award winning design and branding agency offering design as a solution to increase market share.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

The first years of my professional career I spent chasing my passion as a cultural manager. My formation and background in culture led me to generate projects of high impact. I must say, it comes with a price! Creating culture is not a business, it’s a purpose. Back then I started feeling like I had to worry about the economic aspect of it and decided to start a business in which creativity would have a primary role, while also having the capacity to expand and become a business in itself and carry that underlying and still relevant purpose: to be able to help small businesses grow. 

Finding and fitting in the right space to nurture your passion while making a living is difficult. There are many instances in which an entrepreneur starts an endeavor because of that precise reason! Not finding the adequate space to execute your vision is an important catalyst for the rest of the journey. 

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I have a background in Semiotics, Philosophy and Art History. I launched my career creating cultural projects of high visibility that I treated as brands. Ideating, creating, and supervising the brand aspect of these projects gave me a new understanding of branding and the tools needed for building brands that people love.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Although I come from a family of business owners, where I spent long afternoons after school when I was a kid. When I got to college, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. My relation with entrepreneurship is a growing love! Even today and after the pandemic, I can say I keep falling in love with being a serial entrepreneur every day.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

One of the mistakes we made at the beginning was thinking that we did not need to create marketing or sales strategies. We founded Muuaaa 12 years ago, and social media was blooming! It certainly wasn’t like today, therefore we thought people were going to call and come to us organically; and that we did not need to promote ourselves. This is obviously a big mistake. After all, what is not advertised won’t be sold. 

It was at a time of great darkness, where we simply couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel! Right then and there we decided to change our approach. We changed our message on the web page, on the social networks, and in the way we communicated our elevator pitch to every person we met… needless to say this produced a 180 degree change.

In the end, Branding  is a verb. You can have an excellent logo or brand design, but if you don’t perform the act of promoting it, you won’t achieve Branding in its complete form.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

As mentioned before, a big mistake in our business journey was thinking we didn’t need to advertise our services because people would come to us organically! 

We learned the basic principle of no marketing, no sales and learned to use our portfolio in our favor. 

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

We are a purpose driven agency. Our goal is to stimulate the economy through our work with Small Businesses. In 10 years we have designed more than 350 brands, of which more than 80% of them are well-known brands loved by the people, and also successful businesses that move the economy and employ and support families; that is our greatest achievement. 

In 2018 we were selected among the best designers in the world by the London Design Biennale, where we spent a month with our pavilion titled: Soft Identity Makers.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

I have two questions that I understand are important when approaching the hiring process. The first is more of a prompt: “Tell me something about yourself that is not in your resume.” Candidates put in their resume all the information they want you to hear, so it’s important for interviewers to drift them away from the script they have in their mind and get to know them a little more. Beyond the information that people put in their resume, I personally  think it’s important to know if the person is a good fit in terms of corporate culture and that type of question helps you understand the person from another perspective.

Regarding their resume, the second question is: “What is the biggest job obstacle you have had in your career?” This one I have found useful in helping you understand which situation has been the most unpleasant or has caused the most stress. The provided answer will hint towards tasks they don’t enjoy, goals they weren’t able to meet, and even other insights on performance. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

As we all know, COVID has greatly impacted some industries, specifically entertainment and gastronomy. However, when it comes to branding and marketing, they are both disciplines that in times of crisis become super necessary to keep businesses afloat.

From new businesses that are always emerging, to existing businesses that need to find increasingly cost-effective ways to reach and grow their audiences, branding and marketing are growing markets with high demand. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Growing the Brand Growth and Muuaaa Spaces business verticals, as well as the development of our own product lines. We have been growing brands for our clients for a long time and one of our goals is having products of our own. To us, It seems like an excellent way to test all the ideas we have to create and grow brands.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Protect your team. Take care of them financially and emotionally, and they will take care of you and the business.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

One of the most accessible things for new entrepreneurs is called an entrepreneurial ecosystem; Accelerators, mentors, programs, and funding towards entrepreneurship. When we launched our company twelve years ago, the ecosystem was just beginning to form, hence we were creating and growing our business alone. Having a support system and  mentors is simply essential for faster growth. 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

I believe a lot in introspection and being very aware of what makes you happy and grounds you. I am very disciplined and I react very quickly in times of crisis. It is extremely important to understand and keep your goal clear. If you have that clear and you have discipline, you can achieve what you set out to do. This 2020 I read more business and personal finance books than ever. Taking advantage of the slower pace the lockdown put us through was a vital part of my professional growth.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Excellent question! The idea of having a work/life balance is a myth that women want to believe and subsequently impose on ourselves. Women put so much pressure on themselves; they want to be perfect moms, wives, friends, jevas, entrepreneurs… all while taking perfect care of themselves.

 I truly believe it’s not emotionally or physically possible and that’s OK, you just need to understand which of those life choices are more meaningful to you on a personal level.  I haven’t seen men consistently getting asked the same, whether or not they are managing with the stress of balancing work and leisure! Men are simply not put up to this expectation.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

That I did not study marketing or advertising, I studied Humanities and Semiotics. However, that is precisely what I understand makes me approach brands and brand growth strategies differently. Cultural baggage is a lifelong learning process that no one can take away from you and informs everything you do. So open that book, visit that place, and take a long hard look at everything around you. Exploring with fresh eyes opens up a world of possibility and opportunity.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Wake up and drink 2 Espressos (no sugar) and while you’re sipping, ask yourself what is the one thing you can do that day to be closer to your big goals.
  • I have a Daily Huddle every single day  at 10am with the whole team in which we review the 3 most important things of each for the day in 30 minutes. The huddle gives us an overview of the office and it saves a lot of time in meetings.
  • I have Post-its of all sizes and colors!! The smaller the post-it, the more urgent the task: Weekly To do, Daily To do, Next couple of hours To do

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being a Jefa y Jeva, empowered, focused and with set goals. Nothing is getting between her and her goals!

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