Kayla Castañeda and Erin PonTell, founders of Agua Bonita, on building a heritage brand
In Bustle’s quick question, we ask female leaders for advice – from the best advice they’ve ever received to what they still understand. Here, the founders of Agua Bonita, Kayla Castañeda and Erin PonTell, share what they’ve learned from running a business built on both sustainability and heritage.
Kayla Castañeda and Erin PonTell had known each other for about a month before deciding they would make great business partners. Castañeda, 29, had been hired at a beverage startup to replace PonTell, 31, who was about to have her first child. Only it was in March 2020; before PonTell could return from maternity leave, the startup had closed, thanks to the lockdown.
“We were out of work, but we still had a lot of fighting inside of us,” Castañeda told Bustle. “We joke a lot – when life gives you lemons, make aguas frescas.”
Thereby Agua Bonita – beautiful water, in Spanish – was born. The brand makes canned aguas frescas, a mixed fruit drink popular in Mexico and Central America, taking inspiration from Castañeda’s grandfather, who made the drink from the berries he worked in. “We thought it was a treat, but it was really a way to make it last,” she says. Their version uses products that would otherwise be thrown away and cans, rather than bottles, to make the product more durable. It’s also much less sugar than traditional aguas frescas, a nod to “new wellness trends,” according to PonTell. Since launching in fall 2020, the two flavors – pineapple cucumber and watermelon chili – have both sold out, and in September the founders took another big step: The company became the very first beverage startup run by a Latina to raise over a million dollars. in financing.
Below, PonTell and Castañeda share the lessons they learned from growing a business as founders, the advice they immediately ignore, and the role models that inspire them.
Aside from hydrating well, of course, how do you pump up before you give a big party?
Castañeda: Literally every time, I go with a do or die mentality. I give myself a pep talk, saying, “If we are to continue our business, we need so much money.” Luckily it’s not do or die at all anymore, but in those early days it was really like, “Hey, we need $ 30,000 or else I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
PonTell: I jump a bit before each call to get rid of it. And then Kayla and I always text each other that we have this – with lots of emojis.
Wait, what emojis?
Castañeda: The hands of praise are mine.
PonTell: I do a lot of caps, which isn’t an emoji, and exclamation marks. Then the guy in the party hat.
Ha, we stan the party hat guy. So, once you’re done with the big presentation, how do you turn your brain off?
PonTell: I have now looked Friends probably 30 times. I play it in the background to disconnect.
Castañeda: If I really need to get away from the world, I’ll have a drink with my three brothers or something. Personally, I would like to have advice to better reconcile professional and private life. Especially when you work from home all the time, it’s really hard to draw that line between work and private time.
From a business point of view, do you need advice?
PonTell: I always think about very technical things, like how do you transport freight? [Laughing.] This point in growing a business is new territory for both of us – we spent the first year without money and trying to bring a product to market. Now that we really have opportunities, we ask ourselves how to use our capital most efficiently while growing as much as possible.
Castañeda: Many women and founders of minorities probably face this dilemma. If you grow up with nothing, you’re used to running a business with fumes to do it. Then once you have the money, you don’t feel good about spending it all. We want to be good stewards of our money. We feel very lucky, but it’s also a bit surreal.
Did you get Wrong advice on starting your business?
Castañeda: “It’s too hard. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it. Sometimes that’s exactly what sets you apart from other businesses.
PonTell: We’ve gotten a lot of advice from people who say, “Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 40 years and that’s still the way it is. The reason there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in this very specific space – canned drinks – is because people say, “It’s been done this way for so many years, then you have to do it like that “- when that is not true.
Last question: who are your models?
PonTell: I have an old one. One of my best friends in college is one of the youngest female venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. I’ve known her as my best friend for over a decade, but she works on billion dollar contracts all the time. She reminds me that there is also a space in this playground for women and women of minorities.
Castañeda: I would say Dany garcia. She’s Dwayne Johnson’s ex-wife, and they still go along with a lot of trade deals. She’s also a bodybuilder – not that I want to be a bodybuilder, but it takes such dedication and confidence. I really admire how she is able to balance all of this really awesome business with her health and family, while also being a Mexican-American businesswoman.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.