Day #14: Sexism is Real (An Entrepreneur’s Story)

jessicasabogal-womenareperfect-1I’m often laughed at. Directly in my face, so there is no error in my misinterpretation of the situation. I know my assertiveness and blunt speech goes against what a traditional woman should be, but I’m from L.A. and we Californians are a different breed as seen with our governor ready to take on our new president.

But what I do expect is respect as a business person when conducting business transitions. I’m a professional and try my hardest to behave like one. I ask clear questions in hope of getting clear answers, but sometimes this isn’t the case all the times. Sometimes my gender is a hindrance to equal treatment in the business world.

I told my landlord’s father & handyman that there were problems at my location, specifically with the electric outlets in the walls. They didn’t listen to me. They stared at me, baffled by gringo-accented Spanish words. Then they laughed at me. As usual, I tried to cover up my frustration and hurt feeling by mocking myself, “Gringa Loca, si?” It was a way to lighten the mood that my questioning of things often created. However, my  two-month-old refrigerator doesn’t work because the electric outlet has a problem, a problem that I pointed out to them and they dismissed it. They said I only needed to change the face of the outlet nothing more. But I knew there was a problem. Now I have to pay out of pocket to repair my new refrigerator.

What does this situation teach me? I don’t know. Maybe I need to find a new approach to deal with the sexism I encounter. I want and deserve some degree  of respect as member of this society as I do pay taxes, employee local people and offer a service to the tourists (this is a touristy city). Maybe more learning from successful female entrepreneurs is needed.  Also, no more mocking of self. Say what I mean and stick by it.jessicasabogal-womenareperfect-1

Day #14: Developing a Brand (An Entrepreneur’s Story)


What does it mean to develop a brand? It means having a vision and sticking with it, It means pushing through discouragement and self doubt to create an experience for customers and hopefully ad to life’s memories. But most of all it means showing the world a piece of yourself in a manner in which others connect to your message and support you.

Here are some FB status updates from this past week, which reflect the reality of creating a new brand.

Keep it Simple: Simple Slogan, Simple Agenda, Simple Service

This has been a very encouraging work week at my teahouse. Foreigners and Ecuadorians have been able to chat over tea, cupcakes, coloring & board games. My “Why Sip Alone?” motto is living itself out as I develop into a spot for exchanging ideas and learning about each others’ cultures. Plus, I’ve learned from a pro-Trump American, an anti-Hillary American, an anti-Trump American, & I-don’t-care American, I need to refrain from sharing my views so strongly and remember the point of chatting over tea is to really listen to others’ points of view & find common ground. (I’ve noticed people are coming to chat with Mama California bc I actually do listen to them.

Team Development: Explain clearly the logic of brand building

My new employee is a super energetic young lady bursting with a strong desire to show me all her college/culinary knowledge. Now comes turning that energy into focused skills and enhancing her ability to execute my vision while allowing her to enhance the vision and become an engaged member of the IncaZen/Mama California family. It’s possible bc my manager-in-training understands after 6 weeks, we are brand building and China will cover the bills.
To be young, female and full of bright ideas — I remember those days.

False Advertising: Build a Brand with Integrity 

Lesson of the day: If I say my teahouse is open at 10am, then I need to be opened at 10am. (A client said she stopped by but I was closed. Then she asked, “What time do you open?”)

Team Building: Let Others Enhance the Vision of the Brand
i’m a fan of choices, so i like to give other choices, too. this would deeply confuse my students when i would tell them to set the due dates of project. (when are you not going to give me crap to read? how much time is needed for something decent to come across my desk?)
*for the past 2 weeks, my employee has been struggling to pick her schedule.
“your other boss just told you the hours. you had no freedom, right?”
she smiled and nodded as if to say, “duh! that’s how the normal world works.” (we’ve already established i’m not her typical boss in some ways.)
** but i sit it out like the seasoned teacher i am. i clearly remember playing on my cell phone waiting for a student to figure out a sentence “i won’t think for you.” .i’m trying to develop a manager, so minor decisions are critical building blocks.
Branding the Image: Setting Yourself Apart by Challenging Assumptions
I’ve been trying to figure out why so many people are surprised when I say the teahouse is mine. Yesterday when a group of gringas visited and were surprised, I understood they were surprised that an expat had actually stopped talking about opening a biz, but had taken action and opened an “elegant” teahouse.
**Next up – opening that small English center.
What Have I learned at the start of my 2nd month of operating?
Create a Unique Experience
Reflecting on these posts and almost 1.5 year of entrepreneurship, I am fully accepting the truth — I am my brand. My tastes, my travel experiences, my Seoul Cafe Diaries blog, my likes/dislikes — all of these things are what customers are paying for. Thus, I must stick to my vision/my ideas when presenting them to the public, to friends, to employees, to potential partners. If I always remember that, I should be able to fully establish a unique brand that will let me stand among giants.

Day #13: Developing a Manager (An Entrepreneur’s story)


I like this design for a small tea spot in a small town.

I’m a fan of choices. I like to know all my options and be clear on them. So,  I like to give other choices, too.
This flow of mine would deeply confuse my college students when I would tell them to select the due dates of projects. My logic, which I would share, When are you not going to give me crap to read? How much time is needed for something decent to come across my desk?
For the past two weeks, my employee has been struggling to pick her schedule. Work 8 hours/5 days or 10hours/4 days? What’s a good start time? What’s a good finishing time? Lunch at the normal almuerzo time or later?
Today after pushing her gently to finalize her decision. I watched her.”Your other boss just told you the hours; you had no freedom, right?”
She smiled and nodded as if to say, “Duh! That’s how the normal world works.” (We’ve already established I’m not her typical boss in some ways.)
But I sat her think-tank session out like the seasoned teacher I am. I clearly remember playing on my cell phone waiting for a Korean student to figure out a sentence during my office hours. “I won’t think for you” was & is my mindset. I’m trying to develop a manager, so minor decisions are critical building blocks.

Day#11: Different Life Frequency (An Entrepreneur’s Story)


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“some ecuadorian teachers were complaining about the low salary of the job i posted, but i have to say, money isn’t everything; maybe some english teacher just wants to experience ecuadorian culture and/or the Galapagos Islands. when i first came to ecuador, i made $1,000/month teaching lovely lojanos. i knew leaving asia, i surely wasn’t going to make money teaching english in latin america. (and my lovely mother commented, “you have some degrees when you decide to use them.” so yeah, some family members weren’t feeling my life choices.) but i wanted the experience of living in a different culture. (the Soc in me is very strong.) you only have one life to live and you have to take a chance at living and try something that sounds intriguing. sidetone: i was poor in Chile and it sucked! (like “can i afford cheese?” poor), but nowadays, teacher can make extra money teaching online #vivalavida #chasethedream #livefulldieonempty

FB status 1/30/17


Chase the Dream– I’ve been using this hashtag as a personal motivation


it’s about creating something. contributing something to society. leaving a mark as you advanced. you really have to be on another vibe flow to be able to step away from the

when start stretching yourself to see what you are capable of doing. what you are meant to be doing. living on a

Day #10: Hiring New “Global Citizens” Employees (An Entreprenuer’s Stor


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I spent the weekend interviewing for “Mama’s helpers” at the teahouse. I did the initial discussion of the job when people walked in off the streets to inquire more about the job posting outside of my teahouse door.

I stressed two important qualities that one must have to succeed in this positions (the two qualities that led to the firing of the other employees).

#1. You must like/respect/work with everyone . That means people who indigenous, mestizo, gay, black, non-believers in God.

#2. Customer service — American style — is a must. Hence, you must smile, give off a positive energy and ask if clients need something.

Some of the applicants were like “Duh! I know this.” But in reality, people don’t. I assumed everyone living in 2016/2017 would understand that respect and hospitality were the cornerstones of any business. But having to fire two young male employees, after giving them direct warnings, was an eye-opener in creating my brand/philosophy.

I have not written a mission statement for my new teahouse. This week I will clarify my vision for my English center. But I do know, I want to have a space that all are welcomed and treated with respect. Something that used to be the idea of the “American Dream.” My country, the USA, is having great turmoil right now; and at the center of this chaos is fear of others and lack of respect of others.

I am not sure how my country’s situation will turn out, but I know there are millions of Americans who are speaking out against this lack of Americanism. Many who are saying, “Hey, that’s not what I stand for and that’s not what I want my country to stand for.”

What will my tea franchise and English center stand for? At the minimum they will be places to feel a sense of community and a place to grow as global citizens who contributes to our world’s advancement.

Day #7: WorkSmarter (An Entrepreneur’s Story)


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“The electricity in my teahouse was cut off this week (my neighbor/shoe store owner pointed to the cut wires when I was confused about the light situation.)…but as my other neighbor told me as I was sitting kinda in the dark in my teahouse, “2 years!” That’s right 2 years to learn how to pay bills in-person and keep the electricity flowing.
#knowbetterdobetter #thehustle…” (FB status 1/25/17)

I have never been the smartest person in the room. I’m usually surrounded by smart people of all races/nationalities/gender/sexuality/religion. Even my students — from the young Chinese students online to the adult bankers of the Chilean national bank — teach me knew things about their cultures and their experience with life.

I’m cool with that, too. No big ego here.

But what has been slowly infiltrating my work & personal spaces is the “I’m the smartest person here” syndrome.

It really started with the Trump victory. And the outrage that people felt over his surprised victory. As expected an easy scapegoat was needed to burden the blame for Americans voting for this type of man. The word “ignorance” was used often to describe people who didn’t vote in the same manner as the speaker. I was directly called “ignorant” by a Facebook “friend.”  I was also called “sexist” by someone on FB because I said Hillary didn’t sell herself well and that is why she lost. (Then I asked if I had missed something since leaving abroad and receiving my Graduate Certificate in Gender Studies in 2005. No response.) Emotions were high and a vulnerable slash of humanity was exposed.

I understood this. But what I don’t understand is the continual “ignorance” label of people who don’t fully agree with a speaker. Also the over aggressive  communication via Facebook when someone stands in disagreement with an idea (It’s that “Internet courage” my friend tells me.) This is problematic. There is no community building when conversations are shut down because someone feels “I’m smarter than you are.” The only way I know how to push back against this “ignorance” breakdown of communication is to understand I’m not the smartest person in every conversation that I have with others.

I watch so many videos about successful entrepreneurs, and many of them talk about having a desire to learn more, to grow, to expand their knowledge of the world. Some big CEOs go off for a month or so to just think and read. (I hope to get to this point some day. I did take two weeks in between moving from Caranqui-Ibarra to Otavalo to think about the new businesses that I were about to create.) Hence, they are saying, “I don’t know everything, and I am willing to learn more to gain more knowledge about the people and cultures of the world.”

A reminder that life is a process of growing and learning was that my lights in my teahouse were cut off this week.  There were miscommunication and misunderstanding in who would pay the lights in my teahouse as there are multiple tenants in my building. After two days with no lights/electricity, I reflected on the situation. What did I learn from getting my lights cut off? I learned I’m no longer “playing teahouse.” I have a real business and I need to get organized and create a system/process for paying bills and keeping receipts. I also need to fully understand the societal norms of the community in which I operate. I need to learn and listen from other members because they are surely smarter about the way of life in Otavalo. If I want to truly have an international tea franchise, I must work smarter and learn from all who have valuable lessons/info to share.

As they say, “It’s not a mistake if you learn something…” So don’t fear not being the smartest person in the room. Fear feeling like you know everything and no one can add to your knowledge because if you have this “I’m smarter than you” feeling, you surely cannot grow into that successful entrepreneur that is the goal.

#PlayTimeIsOver #TheHustleIsReal

Day #6: Lights Cut Off, but The Hustle Continues in the Dark (An Entrepreneur’s Story)


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The electricity in my teahouse was cut off this morning. My neighbor/shoe store owner pointed to the cut wires when I was confused about the light situation.

My lovely neighbor/former employee — who told me “They’re just cupcakes!”, “And this is just your job” was my response– didn’t keep his word and give the bill to his mother.  You see, I got confused on which bill I was supposed share with the other people in the building and which bill I needed to pay on my own. I accept that this was my fault. But I also know that my neighbor/former employee took the bill and said he would give it to his mother and she would talk with me. But when confronted about this, he shrugged. It wasn’t his problem nor his concern. And that, my friend, sums up the biggest truth in starting a biz abroad — misunderstanding and unfamiliarity with the social norms (like electricity wires being cut after two months and without a warning) is just a part of developing a business and growing as an entrepreneur. What I have learned is learning is the process of growing. I saw some rich/CEO person said it’s not a mistake if you are learning.

As my other neighbor told me as I was sitting kinda in the dark in my teahouse, “2 years!” I tell him that I am here for two yeas, so don’t worry if there is no one in the teahouse. And in two years, I  will learn how to pay bills in-person and keep the electricity flowing.
#knowbetterdobetter #thehustle 

This is why I’m in the “soft open” phase of my tea house. Soft open as I have been translating to Spanish speaker is the “practice time.” They don’t necessarily get it because there are few businesses that do a “soft open” in Ecuador; you open and try to make as much money as possible. Yet the learning curve is so important in establishing something that is long-lasting. I’m a strong believer in creating a strong foundation on which you can modify. But without the initial blue print — girl, we’re talking about a hot mess situation.

So what have I learned in my one-month of a “soft open.”

  1. A franchise is possible. People like my ideas, my products, my vibe.
  2. People can only enhance my vision but not diminish it.
  3. Be professional even when others are not.
  4. Stay focused. Stay Hungry. Stay goal-centered.
  5. Speak directly and assertively in order to get things done in the manner you want. Don’t accept poor quality products because I’m creating a brand.
  6. Give solutions to problems. This is what a leader must do to have a strong team.
  7. Micromanaging is horrific.
  8. Yoga & Meditation are so necessary.
  9. I’m worth 4 hours of writing on Tuesday. The Next Great American Novel. I can have my indie publishing company.
  10. I can stand alone, but I prefer to sip with others.

1 month down– 23 months to go till…

** as my new venture begins so does my country’s venture*** #wethepeopleShepard-GreaterThanFear

Day #5: Gaining Respect (An Entrepreneur’s Story)


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No more delaying. I must start the second round of contractors working to properly launch IncaZen Tea House and Global English (Centro de Inglés) in February. For about a month, I have not been looking forward to another round. The first round of working with about 10 different people, mostly men, was challenging. I remember writing on FB that I have never smoked, but all I feel like doing is lighting up and listening to blues music in a dimly lit bar. It was rough; it was definitely an unpleasant experience having to yell at grown men, having men not want to speak with me but take my money. The inability to trust people to finish projects properly and timely.

I think gender and gringo factors played a big role. I was disrespected by several, laughed at by all and viewed as an assertive woman by most. But I don’t have the leisure of being lightweight when speaking; I speak to communicate things I want done, and it must be done properly. I have learned flowery talk confuses people even more, especially with my horrific gringo accent. Getting straight to the point is what I’m about in my strive to achieve goals and keep it moving.

What I have learned is that I might not be invited to dinner at someone’s house nor will someone send me a birthday card, but people will want to do business with me because I am serious, reliable and about biz. When I was living in Seoul, I complained to my fellow waygook Felipe that people didn’t want to hang out with me, but they wanted my advice on work. He told me that was called “respect.” This simply reply made me view myself differently. Like friends are cool and I have some good friends that I communicated with when I got fired unexpectedly and can communicate with when I’m feeling overwhelmed and lonely (sides effects of entrepreneurship in a foreign land). But to have non-friends and strange be able to respect is a good thing. And I now know people respect me because they know I’m one of those bitches that get shit done.

As I get more comfortable being viewed as a business owner and an entrepreneur who has worthy ideas that should/will be implemented, I understand the importance of respect in the business world and my community. You want your customers to respect you and your services/products because that is steady business and a self-esteem boost. You want colleagues to respect you because you are not alone in the business world and need people to bounce ideas off of; being a part of a community has always been important me. You want employees/contractors to respect you because you need help to realize big dreams and the teacher in me wants to inspire others. More importantly, I believe in karma, so respect is a sign I’m putting more good into the world than negativity.




Day #4: Shining Like a Female Pioneer (An Entrepreneur’s Story)


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One of my favorite novels that I read as an undergraduate at UCLA was “Oh Pioneer.”

After reading it, I remember doing an interview and I was asked to give a word to describe myself, I said “I’m a pioneer.” But that sentiment had faded. Until today.

In opening my teahouse in Otavalo, Ecuador, I decided it was better that I play the back role and not be the face of my company. Keeping it real is what I do, so I know there are clear limits to my appearance in Latin America. Not many people grow up saying I want to be black with nappy hair; but it is my reality. For one year, I didn’t run from “NegraGringa” identity as I ran my teahouse, Mama California, in Ibarra, Ecuador. But I did feel a disconnect with potential clients. I felt a distance between us. But what really nailed it for me is the poor treatment I regularly receive in Quito at semi-high-end places. I don’t do flashy name brands nor do I do bourgeois behavior in public (well most of the time, lol), so I’m often not viewed a real client. Thus, subpar service is delivered to me.  Lately, I’ve been walking out of the stores, without saying a word in my gringo accent.

With this understanding of Ecuador, I decided it was best that I lead from behind. Hire “Ecuadorian-looking” people to sell my tea products and language services. (I’ve been told some of the discrimination that I receive is because I look Colombian and we all know borders create issues.) It was a hard decision to succumb to my racially-charged environment, but I just couldn’t be bothered to deal with this factor as I need to focus on building my tea franchise.

Besides, I figured foreigners would automatically know that this was my teahouse and I was a foreigner. Joke’s on me. After several surprised faces that yes, this fellow expat is running the tea house. I was surprised and confused that the obvious wasn’t been seen by my peers. I was also getting tired of debating my answer each time someone asked me if I was the owner. The self-talk that went on in my head  –tiring nonsense of an insecure woman. Was I chasing the dream or was I chasing the money in confining myself to the kitchen? How could I help progress be made if I was hiding?

A tidal wave of frustration arrived this morning as I sent venting messages to my FB support team.

My fellow Afro-Am entrepreneur in Korea told me, “You’re a pioneer.” And I was like, “O Pioneer.”

My other fellow Afro-Am expat in the UK told me not to dim my light and to let it shine, so others can see the result of my faith and hard work.

As I thought about my place in the entrepreneur world, I saw an unprecedented amount of FB photos/videos from people I actually know protesting Trump in the #WomensMarch. The FB bitching had stopped; people were stepping up to do something in the real world.

A white, British male friend asked what this protest was all about. That made me think, what were people doing in those photos/videos. As I started listening to the women speak, I realized it’s the silence that divides us. We silently accept the second-class treatment in public and find ways to deal with it (aka my “leading from behind” strategy). This video about what mothers wanted their daughters to learn from the march, made me think — I’m doing what I want in the style that I want– and that is the wish of many of those moms.  So I shouldn’t run from my “owner” title because people just assume I am not the owner and maybe put off my appearance. Nor should I get supper offended bc they assume that I’m working for someone else or I have a partner; why they can’t assume I can be an entrepreneur isn’t my concern. I just need a clever response to the “You aren’t the owner, right?”  Maybe it’s as simple as saying “I’m pioneer.”

***My favorite quote from O, Pioneer, which deeply impacted me as a young college student trying to figure out what makes people become cold; what turns hippies into CEOs. — the thoughts of a young woman coming into shape in California in 2000s.***

“I’d rather have had your freedom than my land.”
Carl shook his head mournfully. “Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in the theaters. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.”
– Willa Cather, O Pioneers!



Day #3: Sick Day? I don’t think so (An Entrepreneur’s Story)

Nothing takes me down more quickly than menstrual cramps. This morning it was extremely rough getting up to teach a 3:30am class. Besides the freezing temperature inside my apt (need a space heater asap), Aunt Flo always brings a special chilly flair during her monthly visit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my aspirin, so I had to ride it out.

By the end of teaching 6 hours, I had to turn off the camera because I looked so pitiful with my beanie on my head, a scarf around my neck and thick coat wrapped around my body. I had moved from the dining room table to my bed. I surely wasn’t a pretty sight for my student, who politely laughed at her sick teacher. (This is why adoption is for me.)

I treated myself to a 15-minute nap and then debated self about having a “sick day.” I wasn’t in the best of moods yesterday; I can detect my not-right vibe more easily nowadays; so, I stayed to myself, sparing my employee my ain’t-right vibe.But today is Saturday the busiest day in Otavalo and my teahouse is on the main street. I was confident that she could run the teahouse by herself, but I still need to be there because foundation laying is my responsiblity bc it’s my vision that I’m implementing.

Thus, I came to the teahouse about 20 minutes late and standing outside was a line of Ecuadorians and foreigners speaking in English. I was stunned! Then I saw a fellow English teacher; he had brought his students to practice speaking English. As I welcomed them into my teahouse, another person arrived. She informed me a friend would be meeting me here. And with that, my Saturday was off to a quick start.

I prayed for strengthen because there was no time take the aspirins I had just bought at the pharmacy. What I learned which is the purpose of my teahouse in Ecuador — faith carries me through those challenging times. Faith is what I must lean on in times of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is what I’m building my empire upon.