Denise A. Castro on helping mothers connect and find support with The Virtual Mom Collective
Describe your business in a few words?
VMC was Founded by two working Moms as a response to the spread of COVID-19, and the need to connect moms during these times of quarantine and social distancing. We built our foundation on creating an online platform for Mothers seeking support and community. Our goals are to empower, uplift the working and SAHM Mom during #thisnewnormal.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Previously to founding The Virtual Mom Collective alongside my dear friend Odalys Quevedo, I am owner of a photography business called Dac Mac Photography. Due to the pandemic my business suffered greatly which led me to take the leap into creating this new project. A community solely dedicated to the Mom navigating Motherhood pre and post pandemic. As a woman returning to the workforce after a brief maternity leave; I tackled many challenges along the way but persevering from the bottom to the top allowed for humble success.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I currently hold a dual BFA in Photography and Graphic Design and Marketing and Business Management, and an MBA in Leadership from Florida International University. My entrepreneurial background highlights marketing strategies, graphic consulting, and business leadership expertise. I have been actively working in the corporate world for 12 years. You could say I am jack of all trades, owner of many.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yes. I have my Dad to thank for that. Being an entrepreneur means being a self-starter. You have to be your own self-motivator and that can be hard to achieve if you’re not really sure what it entails. My father is an imaginative dreamer. He always wanted me to follow and pursue what makes me happy. So being an entrepreneur was fueled by his tenacity to always be your most authentic self no matter what.
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?
When we launched Virtual Mom Collective it was jumping into unknown territory especially with Covid-19 impacting all our businesses – we did not know if we would receive the response to the demographic we hoped to serve. Our marketing strategy was a digital campaign fueled by hope, kindness and support. It was meant to say; Mom we see you; we are here for you – always. Our plan worked and its success was due to its authenticity – a project to help empower and support the SAHM and working Mother in quarantine. Within a year we have grown exponentially – reaching women in a way we never knew possible. When the world was upside down; VMC stood as a beacon of support and we still do.
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?
My mistake was underestimating the power of kindness for collaboration. Having a small budget does not attribute to the success of a project. I chose to redefine the true meaning of a social media influencer for my business. If I am meant to influence anyone or any movement through my projects; it’s to be kind; to sit back and learn continuously and have grace in doing so. We do not evolve if we don’t make mistakes. All my business outlooks are the same; a work in progress; for betterment and empowerment.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
My greatest accomplishments to date are that both my businesses were inspired by my Motherhood journey. I was pregnant during the pandemic, founded the VMC and managed to help and connect a community that now holds space for a membership community of 250 Mothers around the globe. To me, that is a shiny medal of honor that I wear with the greatest pride.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
What does multitasking mean to you? Because this question is ever evolving. I feel women evolved with multi-tasking embedded in their DNA. And sometimes; re-shifting priorities is multitasking one’s needs versus wants. I am all about hiring someone who says to me; I will have that pitch piece done for you but I need to take care of my child first. Or I need to take a day to myself so I can re-focus on that piece for you. Because #burnout culture in my opinion needs to be cancelled. So hire and work in environments where people get that multitasking is a strength but only when balanced correctly.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
As previously mentioned the VMC was a project created as a response to the spread of COVID-19. Due to the need of connecting moms with their own businesses during these times of quarantine and social distancing. Our foundation was created as an online platform for Mothers seeking support and community.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
The VMC’s mission will continue to promote its mission to empower Moms to speak about their own stories and areas of expertise. We will continue to advocate for gender equality in the workplace for women. Treating gender diversity like the business priority it is, promotes self-worth empowerment for working Mothers. You can expect the VMC to be a virtual/in-person conference or summit in the next few years with all the incredible women we connected with during quarantine in attendance.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Never underestimate the power of kindness. Let your fear drive you to explore unknown territories. If you fail, you get up and try again. 2020 was a lesson in itself – we learned humanity is far from perfection and we need to do better for ourselves and for the future of our children.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
That the seeds of success can take a long time to grow. Patience is key in being a business owner. I see my business now as a child that’s grown, you need to be patient, give it a lot of love and kindness and it will blossom on its own.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
My husband and children are the roots that kept me grounded during my worst moments during the pandemic. I have had to re-learn the wheel many times in giving myself grace. My mother is also a working Mom and I have so much respect for all that she has done this past year in balancing it all; she leads by example. There are things that you cannot control; so instead of retracting into my feelings I wrote and journaled which truly kept me sane.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Work life balance shifted dramatically the moment I became a Mother. My priorities shifted overnight and the merit of being a working mom took precedence over many things. I truly believe that Mothers are masters in the art of balancing it all. I am a career driven woman, always aspiring for self enrichment through education and leadership. When I started my business my balance shifted even more. You have to really invest your time and love into your projects to see them flourish and that can severely alter your personal time. Being a Mother is also a very committed role so your personal time also shifts drastically. My tips are – make a mental list and color code it in your head. Red means do within 24 hours, yellow 48 hours and green means within a week or so. Putting this in your agenda also helps if you are a visual person like me.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a Cuban American who was raised abroad in Central and South America alongside my younger brother Marcus. It impacted me deeply in the way I see the world today. My Abuelo was a photographer in Cuba and continued a very fruitful career here in Miami. He left me two things, a series of old vintage cameras from the 50’s to 70’s and a lifetime of memories full of love and creativity. He is and will continue to be a great source of inspiration in all that I do.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
As a Mom being productive is essential. 3 tips that work for me – start your day with a coffee or beverage that fuels you, put on some music that inspires you and take breaks when necessary – recharge yourself – no great ideas can be created on low or zero battery charge.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
An Entreprenista is a self starter and self motivator. The key is being the coach who pushes you to be your best and most inspiring self. You are innovative, authentic, inspiring and a motivator to those who surround you. I always say to all the women I connect with – I shine because of you; my success is your success. Being an entrepreneur is empowering yourself with the knowledge that your business is impacting other peoples lives in the best way possible.
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